Can you add a few more tips to my short list?
Thoughts on Facilitation:
For me, discussion is the heart of the matter. Let me summarize some of my insights with the hope they will help.
1 Less is more
. I'd prefer to do just one discussion a week. (This week, we have the icebreaker redux and this discussion... but I saw no way around it. You all need practice in Moodle Forum discussion because next week you're creating your own prompts and facilitating a discussion. )
2 Start social.
The icebreaker has many purposes. It teaches new online students how to use the software, without an academic overload. It provides the instructor with a first 'touch' of presence. Students learn there really are people involved. It is an opportunity to create a safe environment with a supportive mood.
3 Craft Prompts.
A well crafted prompt can make all the difference. Your prompt should promote discussion by providing choices framed as open ended questions. Avoid questions that can be answered yes or no. Also, push users to Ask as well as Answer questions.
4 Wait time and feedback:
IF an instructor replies too soon, you may turn off the discussion because students assume you have the final say. At the same time if a good question goes without a response for 24 hours you can step in and speak to just a portion of the question, then turn around and ask the class to comment. The 'art' is to fan the flame and then step back. Intercede only to redirect.
5 Behind the scenes encouragement:
Pep talk and positive comments via email are very powerful. Spot folks doing the right thing and praise it specifically (and privately). Pour the energy on early, but then be prepared to step back as the learners take over the space.
6 Provide a social space:
Create a discussion area for off topic communication. Give folks a place to relax and connect. This helps build community. Occasionally add content yourself, but tread lightly. Allow anonymous postings in this area to encourage honest dialog.
7 Provide a community Q&A:
By driving the entire group to a central collaborative problem solving space you promote constructivism and interdependence. You also lighten your load as the instructor. You want students to have practice solving problems... the Q& A is a way to do this. When the Collaborative Brain of a class takes off, I begin to relax. It's also where I look for the natural facilitators. They step up, share, and learn more than others!
Hope this helps!