In international service-learning, facilitators seek to engage students in the process of transformative learning by presenting a platform for open dialogue and experiential learning via group processing of service experiences. We strive to provide students with a means of accessing their own learning through a holistic understanding of themselves. One way in which instructors can engage students is through guided questions and consistent faculty/facilitator presence.
Further Reading: Experiential Education and NSEE’s 8 Principles of Good Practice
This presence can be in part equated with facilitator ability to create and manage a classroom environment that aids students in navigating their reflective processes, while simultaneously allowing them the freedom to dictate its specific direction.
Three key factors play in to facilitator ability to do this: facilitator personality, behavior, and presence.
A key ingredient with facilitation is instructor flexibility to recognize different learning styles and student needs. This means being aware of and involved with students. Effective facilitators are curious, open-minded, eager to learn, able to cope with criticism, flexible, have a sociable attitude and a positive self-image, engage in life-long learning as professionals, and partake in a constant analysis of their own actions (or self-critique). As experiential learning is a pedagogy that is constantly changing, so too must facilitators of it be willing to shift and develop as different contexts arise.
Further Reading: Understanding David Kolb’s Experiential Theory of Learning
At its most basic level, the facilitator’s position is one of being there to ensure the team works effectively and that team members’ learning needs are met. Part of creating a successful learning climate is also the facilitator’s ability to promote a team culture so that positive group relations are built. This involves challenging students, and balancing tasks with processes in order to enable students to own their thought processes. Facilitators must behave in a manner that is collaborative, yet firm, in order to provide necessary guidelines for students’ self-directed learning.
Further Reading: Exploring the Role of the Facilitator Part I: 5 Common Descriptions
Research has suggested how an effective facilitator creates the “space and presence” in which students may process the many complexities inherent with their educational experiences. As a result, facilitation is more than simply knowing and teaching, but is rather “a shift in the way knowledge spaces are used.” Especially in a service-learning context, where transitions are plentiful and uncertainties are bound to arise, the ideal classroom consists of a continuous dialogue between the facilitator and participants. This on-going dialogue would also ensure that power dynamics are maintained through the proper formation and articulation of learning objectives.
Further reading: Defining Critical Reflection
If this sounds somewhat difficult to comprehend, don’t worry; you’re not alone! As Maggi Savin-Baden describes:
“The task of the facilitator is necessarily ambiguous, and, therefore, the articulation of it as a role demands that we engage with the tensions, dilemmas and risks implicit in it…what we need to explore is not what constitutes a clear role for a facilitator, but the nature of the boundaries between teaching and facilitation, since the notion of “role” in facilitation is contested ground. Facilitation is not about procedures or rules, but about creating different possibilities for learning, particularly ones that resist reductionist accounts and techniques for becoming…Facilitation has a plurality of boundaries and roles where previous beliefs and practices become vulnerable.”
A next step for our exploration of facilitation is to uncover the complexities involved with these boundaries, and what implications they hold for us as educators.
For even further reading, please see:
Fransson, G., Van Lakerveld, J., & Rohtma, V. (2009). To be a facilitator of in-service learning: Challenges, roles and professional development. Netherlands: Springer.
Neville, A. J. (1999). The problem-based learning tutor: Teacher? Facilitator? Evaluator? Medical teacher, 21(4), 393-401.
Savin-Baden, M. (2003). Facilitating problem-based learning. United Kingdom: McGraw-Hill Education.
Think a service learning course might be a good fit for you? GVI is a multi-award winning International Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.