Scaffolding uncertainty

Reflections of a co-facilitator of PBL9

The #ONL162 course has started, PBL9 has started. We have seven participants: Mats, Natalia, Miriam, Asa, Sonja, Raphael and Gizeh. Mohammed is facilitator and I (Francisca) am a co-facilitator for PBL9 group. In this blog you read my experiences as a co-faciltator.

Communicating in the synchronous online session challenges

Last week we had our second live, online and synchronous session with PBL9. Adobe Connect Pro was not working for the two South African group members. First Mohammed tried to use Skype, but after 3 participants, the fourth could not join the session. Was it bandwidth? The next session I invited the group members in a group Skype session, because I thought it could work. But it didn’t. The same problems occur; only 4 people could join. Then Sonja invited us in a Blackboard Collaborate sesion. That worked for most of us. We had to log in with Chrome and the browser had to permit headset and webcam in the preferences of Chrome.

Two group member were not there. As a co-facilitator I wanted to try to get them on board by sending them a Skype chat. I Skyped with Raphael before. But Raphael was trying to get online and he didn’t answer my Skype-chat messages. I saw he was trying to join the Collaborate session, but I couldn’t help him because his audio and webcam were not working. My messages in the Collaborate chat to Raphael were probably not be seen by hem nor he give some reaction.

Natalia was also missing. Her Skype name was not on the Google document wit contact information, so I had to ask Mohammed in the chat of Collaborate if he knew the Skype name… but Mohammed was not looking in the chat, so I had to wait till there was some space in the live sessions to ask Mohammed for the Skype name. In the meanwhile, without communicating with me, Mohammed had already send an email to Natalia….
We did not succeed to get Raphael and Natalia on board this meeting. I decided to initiate a test session with these two group members to get them technically online before they lose their motivation and enthusiasm. This is planned for next week.

Then another Learning Spaces infrastructural problem occur: last synchronous session I promised to give group members an example FISH-document of PBL1 of #ONL161. I copied the document and put it in an folder of PBL9, but oho… the folder was not shared with PBL9, so they couldn’t read it… The document could only be shared with PBL9 if they asked for permission. Of course… last week we had a webinar with Sara Mörtsell about the ownership of documents. The documents in the folders of Google drive were protected… I am pretty sure  that my group members of PBL1 #ONL161 do not have problems with sharing a Fish-document, but I was warned.

After the session I was happy… because we learned so much.


Lessons learned as a co-facilitator

Socialize …

…on Google+, by Email, by Skype-chats, by individual Skype-talks…to give group members motivation to join the online sessions and to try hard to overcome technical problems if they occur.

Use suitable software

Find the best software to meet online. The question is not “What is the best software?”, but the question is “What software suits the group members best for participating in an online session without technical problems”? “What is working the best for them?”

Technical issues online meeting

Find out what technical issues can threshold group members to join and find out how to they can be helped. Some tips are:

How to communicate effectively in an online meeting?

If you are the lead in the session and you want to know what your peers are thinking about a topic. What do you have to do for a satisfying result? When you are online you have more tools then IRL. – In Real Life. Here is an example how to share thoughts in an effective way:

Example 1: Slow down

  • “Please use the icon “hand” if you want to speak”.
  • Give peers the floor and let them speak.
  • Make the ground rule to speak short, clear and focused.
  • Give group members the instruction to put questions in the chat during the talk.
  • After someone has shared his thoughts etcetera, everyone is silent for the time the speaker has spoken.
  • Then the next speaker will share his thoughts.

Why to be silent? Because everyone has time to think over what was said. Participants learn to listen, they are getting aware of their own thinking process. Later on they will be asked if they want to reflect on their thinking process when writing a blog post.

Example 2: Formulate the question

  • Ask a question to the other group members.(See the questions on the Fish-document)
  • Ask group members to formulate their most important thoughts in the chat. Maximum 4
  • Cluster the thoughts from the chat and put some representative ones on the whiteboard.
  • Tell participants: “Choose just one thought to discuss. Try to formulate why you want to discuss this thought.”
  • Talk about why you need what to know.
  • Make “Investigation nuggets” by formulating new questions.

Online logistical challenges in Learning Spaces for the co-facilitator

  • How do I share a document in Google Drive with group members which I used in another PBL group
  • How to put all my Learning Spaces and most important documents in order, so I can use them fast An quickly.
  • Could I share documents of other PBL-groups where I was a participant – or not? If there are no Creative Common or other rights on the documents? Is it private information when groupmembers share their thoughts? If it was produced in a groupfolder, could we use it for other purposes? Did we made some rules for sharing these documents in for example PBL1?

Connecting challenges

We connected on Google+ community first. But… does everyone get an email to see if someone post a message on Google+? And how often do you check your email? We all have to work during this course.

  • How often do you look on Google+ if you don’t get a message? Once a day? 3 times a week?
  • Adobe Connect Pro was not working because of bandwidth problems in some regions of South Africa.
  • Group Skype was not working for more than 4 participants. Why, because the Skype information was clear that
  • So one of the group members uses Blackboard Collaborate and made our own PBL9 meeting room which we can use. This a great attribution to our group.
  • We conquered some technical problems, but most of us are in now. Two persons who weren’t in are invited by me to test the online and synchronous meeting.
  • During the live and synchronous session I wanted to connect with Mohammed in the chat of Collaborate, but that was not working.


  • We are in the same timezone, that is great
  • Group members are using Doodle as a tool for finding synchronous meeting time. They learned how to design and how to use it.
  • At this moment Doodles are made for just the next week. Most of the group members have already planned activities for the next week, so it will be better to plan till the end of the course.
  • Diversity in the groups means also a different way to use your time. Do you prefer group meetings in the evening because you have young children which you want to give some quality time, or are you an entrepreneur with an agenda full of non structural activities for the next three weeks?


  • What is the impact of live sessions on the motivation of participants?
  • Should we therefore stimulate prioritizing the online & synchronous session?
  • It seems nearly impossible to find a suitable meeting time for all group members. Should everyone join the live meetings always?
  • How do we react when group members couldn’t join the synchronous session?

Atmosphere and feelings

Everyone is somewhat insecure and confused in the second week of the course. In week 1, during the first synchronous and online session we had some nice laughs about being newbies in this learning forest. This weeks meeting (week 2) we had to be more serious because of challenging connecting problems. The atmosphere in the group was OK, but some impatience occurred.

As a co-facilitator I had some doubts about ”How to be a trusted by group members when I am not sharing my thoughts on the Fish document”? It felt like I was a voyeur. After talking with Mohammed and thinking it over I see more clearly that the group need the facilitators in another way:

What are facilitators for?

  1. We can help to make situations more explicit, lighten up some discussions or challenges. We can stop the discussion to focus or to dive deeper into an issue, conflict, situation or question.
  2. We pick up suggestions of group members and make them more explicit by repeating or asking questions. Valuable contribution of group members is highlighted this way.
  3. We could help group members to divide the problem in more smaller problems, which results in Investigation nuggets (or questions).
  4. We can help group members to obtain consciousness about “The course is the course”, by speaking out loud the learning moments or repeating what was said.
  5. We can give context of the scenario of topic we are talking about. What was suggested by the course team to do? What was on the website?, What were the aims? How did you prepare. What is the time scheme?
  6. We can give some additional information about the Learning Spaces we use. Like making post on Google+, like using tools to share collaborative findings.
  7. We can give some direction at strategic points. For example to emphasize the importance of ground rules.
  8. We can help them by telling group members now and then that they are responsible for their own learning process. So if they don’t want ground rules, it is OK. When they want to change the ground rules they made last week in the future weeks, it is also OK. The ground rules are theirs and dynamic, fluid.
  9. We inspire group members by giving practical and useful tips. For example: how to communicate online. How to make appointments for the group.
  10. We deliver technical service and support as long as colleagues, not as professionals, because we have, as volunteers, also lack of time.
  11. We help group members to deal with uncertainty. Mohammed said that not working on “the scenario” -the content part of the course- is totally normal and part of the learning process. This message was very comforting for group members. Normally not being busy with content is “false” or “not right” when we are not busy with content.

    These moments are so valuable because we design new attitude, new ways of thinking about the values of our educational activities. We discover the power to control our own learning process by collaborating and thinking from our own perspective to the aims we want to achieve. Here is were empowering students is taken place.

Francisca Frenks. 10-10-2016


2 thoughts on “Scaffolding uncertainty

  1. All these challenges are wonderful learning curves. As frustrating as it may be at times, when we get it right we have learnt something from one another. We need to share this knowledge to enable others.

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