The sixth topic in Introduction to K-12 Online Learning Research is “Research into the Facilitation of K-12 Online Learning.” The first blogging activity for this topic is:
Have you ever been or have you known someone who has been a facilitator? What was that experience like for you or them? In what ways does your or their experience reflect and/or conflict with the research and text discussed above.
I have not personally been a facilitator. I have been an online teacher and I have had some of my own online students at my school, but I have never played the role of the facilitator myself. In fact, it is the only one of Davis’ roles that I have not performed.
I have conducted research into this role. In fact, you’ll note that two of the citations that Matt includes in his materials are studies that I conducted with mediating teachers (the term used by the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation (CDLI) in the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador for their school-based facilitators). Interestingly, the CDLI has actually organized their mediating teachers into a mediating team, divided into three specific roles: administrative, technical, and coach. The mediating teacher that performs the administrative role is responsible for things like proctoring exams, taking attendance, entering grades into the school-based systems, communicating with the virtual school teacher (or e-teacher as they call it) about administrative items. The mediating teacher performing the technical role is responsible for ensuring that the computers the online students need to use has all of the appropriate software, responsible for ensuring adequate bandwidth, and any sort of technical troubleshooting. Finally, the mediating teacher responsible for the coach role is supposed to help the students with those soft learning skills, to work with them to teach them time management, self-regulation, self-directedness, and other things.
As you might imagine in many small, rural schools a single individual performs all three roles. As you might also imagine, the administrative and technical roles – or the things that have to be done – often overtake the coaching role, which is quite often totally neglected. There is also a role that isn’t mentioned in the formal structure, but has been the dirty little secret of K-12 distance education for quite some time (and Dennis and I mention this in our work). Often these school-based facilitators, even though they have little or no subject matter expertise, often perform substantial tutoring for these students. In know in my own dissertation work, I found that the students I studied were much more likely to ask a school-based teacher for content-based help – regardless if they had any subject matter expertise in that area. In fact, contacting their virtual school teacher was often low on the list of things they would do when they did require content-based assistance.
I refer to this as the dirty little secret because what is means is that many distance education programs would often fail without the volunteer teaching done by school-based teachers. While this is great for the students, as as Matt and his colleagues have recently begun to explore in their own work, it increases the level of teacher presence (or distributes the teacher presence to be a teacher co-presence), what does it say about the quality of our online programs and the instruction being provided?