Online and blended – what’s all the fuss?

We’re not alone in wanting to explore the opportunities and challenges of holding events online, or blended face-to-face (f2f) and online. Suddenly the web is full of courses and primers on how to do it, like this first in a series of webinars from the deeply experienced Martin Galbraith, or this one on virtual collaboration from Grove. And in our blog on Coming to Agreement in meetings we highlighted the great resource on web meetings just released by the wondrous Nancy White.FB knows Im a dog Everyone’s talking digital.

Today was the online introduction to the three-day Facilitation Anywhere course, which begins next week. It was wonderful to meet the participants, after all our preparations, and we’re both excited – and properly apprehensive – about next week. After several introduction exercises, increasing the bandwidth as we went along – from text chat to video and audio – we introduced some of the concepts underpinning our design.

Apart from big, all-purpose events, most gatherings engage a group of people with a common purpose. This could be a product they need to develop together, or some planning, or some ideas they need to work through in detail, or a programme they want to share experience and learning on. But of course a whole range of personal, emotional, social and organisational currents operate in and around the formal agenda.

As with all those events, we see the Facilitation Anywhere course happening at broadly three levels:

  1. The fundamental level of exploring and sharing practice around designing and facilitating events and workshops
  2. The reflexive level – a process in which we will all be reflecting on our experience during the course
  3. And the level of a specific ‘topic thread’ around blended and online learning.

We’re proposing three enquiry questions as a way to connect these levels, and frame the process and our learning together:

  1. What does it mean to be a participant and a facilitator in f2f, online and blended environments? (a reflexive question)
  2. How can we maximise engagement making full use of participatory f2f approaches and digital tools or channels?
  3. What are the core conditions for effective f2f, online and blended gatherings? (including people, processes, tech and self)

Our digital footprints

As we start it’s interesting to reflect on our own experience over the months we’ve been thinking about and designing the programme, since we come to the event with very different digital trajectories.

Isobel: “I’ve been facilitating groups for many years, but until now I haven’t done much online, apart from using Skype.  Sometimes we just need a push, and the course has given me that.   The last few weeks have been a steep learning curve, doing a whole lot of new things at once – blogging with Pete, using googledocs, making a start with online facilitation, and getting used to a new computer.  It’s reminded me what resistance to change feels like – I’ve had it in spade loads!  Getting out of the comfort zone and into the learning zone is what we’re often asking groups and teams to be doing.  It feels really important to be doing that myself as a facilitator, especially as I’m now seeing what’s possible when combining core process skills with skilful management of different communication channels.”

Pete: “I’ve been involved with things digital since the introduction into UK public education of the early mass-produced PCs in the mid 1980’s. rm380zIn the 1990’s I began working online, riding the Internet wave into Oxfam GB, infuriating some and enthusing others (only a few at first) with email and talk of global networks. I’ve been using online communication channels since that era. I’m still an enthusiast, less for the tech. itself than for what it can enable people to do, especially how it can link, connect, enable people to collaborate and communicate”. So I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with and learning how to integrate social and online digital media into events I facilitate.

We’ve both been living the process of blending deep experience in face-to-face facilitation with online technologies, feeling what it’s like introducing and being introduced to the possibilities opened up by the new digital platforms. We’re looking forward enormously to exploring the issues with the participants, and will be reporting back here on how it goes – what people say, how we’ve learnt and what is changing about our own practice.

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