My context is under the umbrella of a nonprofit organization that serves refugees such as displaced peoples from war torn places such as Ukraine. In addition, we serve newcomers to Canada who arrive under our skilled workers visa program and who have sacrificed their careers, their homes, and family to try to make a better life in Canada, all the while working as dishwashers and cooks to pay the bills as they try to learn the English and skills they will need to survive here. Learning soft skills and hard skills to make it through this three-to-six-year quest with a pathway to residency and hopefully citizenship, is not easy. After the Covid-19 pandemic, our learners participate in a HyFlex learning model.
Teaching presence in my context is especially important due to the competing cultural expectations that students bring to the classroom as well as students’ understanding of the role that technology plays. First, I must facilitate discourse that reinforces the idea that learning in a digital environment is real learning. Students’ finesse with technology is sometimes skilled but at times rudimentary and so I must provide a safe space for them to explore and feel good about making mistakes. I try to do this through encouragement and setting a climate of low stakes playfulness. Very often I encounter a classroom where the learners have little or nothing in common, so it is up to me to be the facilitator to seek areas of agreement to reach consensus when possible. I can do this by establishing time parameters and continuing to learn and update my effectiveness with technology as it is ever-changing. One of the most difficult things is establishing netiquette. For instance, many learners are in a situation where they cannot afford a computer, or a babysitter so there can be many interruptions and unexpected situations yet as a facilitator I have to balance being flexible but respecting other learners needs and wishes.
Two spheres that I fear I have not been successful at, and I am still struggling to find a way to facilitate better are in the spheres of social presence and cognitive presence. These spheres are impacted by students who do not turn on their cameras or participate. My organization does not allow us to make any policies regarding cameras being on or cameras being off. Learners are permitted to make their own decisions. Much of the work we do involves multilateral communication so when students log on to class and they do not turn on their cameras it can make other students uncomfortable and impact their opportunities for optimal learning. In student surveys, other students have said it puts them at unease and that they do not enjoy having these “phantom classmates.” My only strategy for this has been to call on them from time to time and to ask students to turn on their cameras on at the beginning of class even if it is just for a moment. I have yet to figure out how to mitigate this conundrum. My hands are tied now until our board makes a final decision. If Professor Lalonde or my fellow classmates have any facilitation strategies or insights please let me know.
Clint Lalonde. (2020, August 23). Facilitation in a Community of Inquiry [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved September 12, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv1bUZv5PLs&t=2s
Shea, P., Alexandra M., P., & Pelz, W. E. (2019). A FOLLOW-UP INVESTIGATION OF “TEACHING PRESENCE” IN THE SUNY LEARNING NETWORK. Online Learning, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.24059/OLJ.V7I2.1856