Lesson Learnt

On Friday, we met for the very last time in our PBL-group. It feels like we just started functioning together as a group, and now we have to part ways. Maybe there should be a sequel to this course, where you continue half pace?

We discussed our experiences of the course, the positives and the less positive aspects. I think our facilitator summed it up very well, when she said, “The course is the course”. By that, she meant (to my understanding) that everything beside the actual topics also is the learning outcome or the hidden curriculum. The course is a learning experience where team building and group dynamics, PBL-work as a method, stepping out of your comfort zone and interaction is as important as the actual theories or topics we cover. At least for me, I really do feel that the way in which you work in this course is the foundation of this course.

What are the lessons learnt and what do we do in the future? What I am going to do from now on is to introduce more collaborative and interactive methods online in my practice. I don´t think I am the only one who have had the perception that online courses often are very individual and you work alone in your on pace. It is convenient to take an online course, since you get to choose when and where you do your tasks. However, the fact that you do feel alone in a course in a crucial way also lead to much completion fails. During the second topic, we discussed dropouts in e.g. Moocs. The statistics shows, that astonishing many drop out, already after the first week. The same applies to our PBL-group and apparently other groups as well. Some people never showed up, even though I respect their reasons for it, it is still a pity.   

Statistics of how drastically students drop off MOOCs. The Battle for Open by Martin Weller (2014). https://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/books/10.5334/bam/

My practice is in no way massive open online courses, I have very limited groups of students, but I think the same psychology applies. If you feel anonymous, invisible or alone – or maybe even worse, the teacher is anonymous and invisible, it is hard to motivate yourself to finish the course. What I have experienced during ONL, is that online courses can and should be very collaborative, interactive, playful and fun.

I feel that, I have received tools and somewhat developed my digital literacy in order to work further on course design and plan useful and hopefully enjoyable courses for our students.

ONL has been a good experience. Very frustrating and hectic at times. When I scroll around in the course content and my own contribution, I hardly even remember talking or writing about certain topics. It is a time- and energy-consuming course. I would still recommend the course to everyone. It is a great opportunity to learn, grow and question your own practice. It is also very healthy occasionally to be the student yourself.


Halfway there

The forth topic is Design for online and blended learning. This is the topic I have been looking forward to the most. This one feels most hands on and most urgent. Unfortunately I have been very busy with other obligations during these two weeks, and I somewhat lost the thread.

The required reading included a presentation by Gilly Salmon. She is presenting a scaffold for designing an online course. The stages are kind of obvious; stage 1 Access and motivation, stage 2 Online socialization, stage 3 Information exchange, stage 4 Knowledge Construction and stage 5 Development. However, the reality often is the obvious. Why make it more complicated than it has to be?

This ONL course is clearly designed based on this scaffold, both the course as a whole, and each topic separately. In our PBL- group for this topic, we focused on evaluating our courses (or single sequences) from a student perspective, by filling an empathy template. We tried to put ourselves in the students’ situation and empathize with what they think, feel, say, do, see, and hear during the learning environment. The observations could work as guidance for identifying which aspects of the teacher presence, learning prerequisites, atmosphere or communication needs development or re-thinking. Honestly, I must say, it was more difficult than I thought to fill out the empathy template. It was helpful to read what the other group members had written, in order to understand my own situation better and deeper.

Due to other engagements, this topic is the one I had the least time to get involved with, which is a pity since I had high expectations. I would have liked to get even more hands on tips on how to design online and blended learning. Therefor I am happy the ONL course itself is so well designed, as the course itself is a lesson in how to design and communicate a course. Naturally, you have to design learning with the student in focus, and the empathy exercise we did in our group is a start for that process.

One of my group members told us about and shared the ABC-method (Arena Blended Connected). It is a method to sum up what the core of the course is, and then develop the pedagogy and increase the variety of activities you use as learning methods. It is very inspiring and I am a little bit sad about the fact, that our institution is rather small, and I don´t have that many colleagues on campus (teaching same subjects that I am), to do work-shops around our courses together with. However, I am definitely going to have a look at the ABC-method when I start planning the next semester.   

The resources for topic 4 are in general also material I am going to return to many times after this course.

Embrace the frustration!

Frustration is a necessity for learning. Without some level of frustration, there is no learning. When you struggle to learn something new, you are going to feel frustrated. When you get new information or facts that requires an update of your way of thinking, it causes frustration.

Capdeferro & Romano are investigating frustration in online collaborative learning. Their research shows that there is a lot of frustration involved in collaborative work. The frustration is of various type, mostly poor group work ethic, uneven workload and imbalance between commitment and responsibility. It is fair to say, it is not the online environment or challenges with digital tools, which rise frustration, but rather poor group dynamics, bad communication and unshared views of the goal.

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

My PBL group focused on how teachers can motivate students to explore the values of a successful collaborative work, and in addition why it is important to surround yourself with a good personal learning network. We decided to compile experiences of the values of collaborative work as short videos. I felt a lot of frustration when doing my contribution. Firstly, because my experiences of successful group work are from outside work or study life. Secondly, English is not my first or second language, and I feel brainless trying to express myself. The third source of frustration was making the video. I wanted to film outdoors, since our campus is located close to the bay and nice nature and views. It was impossible because the wind and the seagulls drowned my voice. Instead, I filmed in a boring conference room. When trying to upload the clip, my 2 minute clip was 10 x bigger than the allowed size in Padlet. Obviously, I had no patience to google solutions for me on Friday afternoon, so I did what I usually do – I called my brother. The process to upload the clip to YouTube, took 20 (!) minutes. I wanted to keep the clip private and only share the link. It didn´t work in padlet, so I had to make the clip accessible to anyone. I can assure you that the amount of frustration was high at this point!

Oh well. I still claim that frustration is a necessity for learning and growing. One of the respondents in Capdeferro & Romero´s report states: “I feel frustrated when I work with people who are more competent than me and I become more and more aware of not being at their level.” This is a rewarding kind of frustration. When you surround yourself with people, you can learn from, it might increase the feeling of frustration in the short run, but in the long run it will help you broaden your knowledge.

My life hack is that you should always try to get into situations where you feel that you are the most stupid. If you think you are the smartest in a room, either it is the wrong place to be, or it is time to look yourself in the mirror and peel off the arrogance.

Sharing is caring!

Photo by Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Sharing is not scary; I guess everyone I work or collaborate together with, are way passed the point where you feel that sharing or openness is something you even need to question. However, my subject area is language writing and communication – obviously we don´t have secrets or do research on sensitive materials that can´t be shared to the world.

I would say, sharing materials for education, ideas for assignments, pedagogical methods or interesting articles is a given, but I do understand and respect my colleague’s resistance on going open in terms of e.g. showing your own face in videos that are accessible for anyone anywhere. I don´t feel comfortable myself, uploading videos, but on the other hand, I don´t think the rest of the world are that interested or would find and watch videos made for our students… (How sad, in this world where you count likes and views 😂 )

I must admit, that I have been rather lazy when it comes to insuring that pictures I use in e.g. documents I share with students are free to use. Therefore, I really appreciated the update on copyrights and creative commons and the links to resources that are free to use. Here are some useful resources for nice pictures to freshen up your presentations and documents! https://unsplash.com/ and https://pixabay.com/

Without touching problems like financing systems for Higher education, annual fees, acknowledgement of knowledge or getting an actual degree, one must rejoice over the possibility and access to education and knowledge that millions and millions of people are provided with, thanks you online learning and open education systems. It is a huge step and progress for democracy and equal rights. I was absolutely blown away by the numbers (from 2010) presented in David Wiley´s TedTalk. At the moment 120M people are in HE, and the number is expected to grow by staggering 150M more participants worldwide in the next 25 years. In India alone, that would mean 2400 new universities, aka one new university every second week for the next 25 years. It goes without saying, that online education is the only possible way in the future (= as in now).

These are numbers I can´t even begin to grasp in my small corner of the world, where our university accept about 600 new students per year, and the number is not expected to grow, at least not when it comes to native Swedish speaking students.

The first log

The end of the first topic in this course is getting closer. It has been an interesting start of the course, getting to know my group members, becoming acquainted to the materials and trying to figure out how the course is structured. The first webinar was an interesting experience, since I have never participated in such a big group meeting online. I like the break out room function very much; it is exciting to see whom you pair up with! The insight I got during the webinar, is that interaction in large groups online doesn´t work very good, e.g. answering questions in a chat. Interaction is more rewarding in smaller groups.   

PBL-work has been motivating and fun. It is a privilege to have two truly dedicated facilitators. It is rare to have an opportunity like this – to be the student yourself and have two helping mentors! I though think, we still need to develop our group work, and find strategies that works for us.

We have been discussing a lot during our meetings, not fearing to dig deep. We have had both an ethical and philosophical approach to the topics, discussing how we define and recognize knowledge in the online landscape of today, and a more practical discussion about professional vs private appearance online. I think people in general are aware of that what you share online stays online forever, and are thinking about their personal brand or reputation. Schools in Finland are quite good at training students in responsible media behavior. What I personally worry more about, is a lack of knowledge of what stylistic level one should use when communicating online or even writing essays. I see that many students have a vague perception of the difference between informal and formal language.        

The most interesting question for me is what digital literacies I need as a teacher in an open learning environment online. I really like Dough Belshaw´s list of digital literacies, which in the picture is presented as elements in the periodic table. The elements summaries the core of good pedagogy, which is reinsuring since I strongly believe online teaching and learning has to build upon well- thought out pedagogy. The tools or platforms we use are important, but they are still secondary to didactics and pedagogy.