Image CC0 at http://www.pixabay.com
A note about the image -this frog could be me. She has kept her head above water (just about) and the butterfly represents my thoughts as shaped by ONL161. The butterfly is ready to take flight, just as I am preparing to put my thoughts into action as we take our leave of the course.
I started this blog with a working title of ‘final reflection’, but that felt all wrong. The course may officially have come to a close, but my learning journey continues. In fact, it feels as if it is just beginning. It is now that ideas are starting to percolate, and the links between the different topics we studied seem stronger. Now I can make concrete plans to use some of the cool tools that I’ve seen in other people’s presentations and to put into practice what I’ve learned as part of ONL161.
The seeds of success were sown in the first introductory weeks when I got to know my teammates in PBL group 8. It quickly became apparent that we would work well together and enjoy meeting up to discuss each scenario. We had similar, but different backgrounds and we represented three countries. Our diversity added fun to our meetings and enriched our learning experience. We quickly established a pattern of ‘same time, same place’ for our meetings and met on Adobe every Monday at 7 for an initial look at the topic in general and the scenario in particular. We then made a skeleton action plan and arranged when to meet later in the week to finalise our work. This was a 7 day a week mission! Our live meetings always lasted an hour. Sometimes we got so carried away in the detail of our work that we ended up talking for longer. Often, the extra time was the glue that held us together, because that’s when we chatted and laughed and solidified our sense of being a real team of peers who actually knew each other. Meeting live enabled us to connect in a very real way. I doubt we would have bonded so well or gotten a sense of each others personalities over email. I feel so incredibly lucky to have had such wonderful teammates to learn with and laugh with.
One of the key points made during the course was the importance of support and in my PBL group, support was there by the bucketload! To be honest, I’d never appreciated how valuable peer support was to learning. For me, feeling connected to my peer group deepened my personal commitment to each task and to giving it my best shot, because, apart form my own intrinsic motivation, I didn’t want to let my teammates down.
What I hadn’t appreciated until now is the structure and scaffolding that is needed in order to establish and maintain an online team. Based on my ONL experience, I now have some ideas of what can work well, so the challenge for me is to ensure that any teamwork I include for my own students is as positive an experience.
Alastair’s videos provided great scaffolding and not least, taught me to Tweet! I’m now making regular use of Twitter and am enjoying following interesting discussions and re-tweeting other people’s great ideas. It is also interesting to see the care that some people take to curate their tweets and therefore also their image.
Live webinars proved very interesting and again, Alastair’s smiling presence and words of welcome set a very positive, supportive atmosphere. That made it a pleasant place to be and it felt ok to ask questions, so you could think more clearly about the topic in relation to your own context. So, it was time well spent. That sense of webinars being worthwhile was especially important when they were on during working hours (don’t get me wrong, a mix of day and evening meetings was very nice).
Sincere thanks to Alastair, Lars, Maria and the whole team for creating such an enjoyable learning environment and for being so accessible and kind throughout. It is amazing the impact that a sense of friendliness can have, even on adult learners…
In terms of structure, the course worked well in that each week built on from the previous one. Its not that the topics were identical, rather that the scenarios increased in detail, so it felt almost like building something out of Lego, where you just add a new brick onto what is already there. For me, this helped with cognitive load and enabled me to consolidate my understanding of prior topics and it helped clarify the connections between seemingly different lessons, especially as we moved very quickly from one topic to the next.
Facilitation has a huge role to play in online learning, especially in the early days where it can provide a sense of protection, direction and order. It was great to have our first meeting facilitated, because we would otherwise have forgotten to arrange a follow-up meeting. If our PBL group had not met again, we would have missed out on a lot of ‘sunshine’. I’ve borrowed that term from Veronica’s blog (https://villywonka.wordpress.com).
Likewise, in our final meeting, our co-facilitator asked about our blogs, which resulted in lots of sharing of our uncertainties – too scary? Unsure of where to start or quite what was expected? Is it too academic or not academic enough? What tone to use? We asked and answered each other as best we could. That discussion is what encouraged me to at least try it. I’m grateful to my teammates! It is a pity we didn’t have that chat earlier, but such is life. In Ireland, when someone has had a stressful or eventful journey and arrives late, offering a multitude of apologies, a typical response would be ‘sure, you’re here now’. Indeed, I am. And because ‘I’m here now’, I suppose the logical question is what next?
Already, I’ve changed some of my habits – I’ve taken to Twitter albeit in a ‘safe’ way and am planning how best to curate my digital footprint. Inspired by Kay O’s comment that she uses one photo as her professional image across different platforms, I’ve decided to ditch my ancient (but not so grey or lined) photo and replace it with something better.
Actually, maybe ‘better’ could be an appropriate tag for the impact this course is having on me…
Better digital citizenship
Now that I understand about creative commons and have found a few places to get really great CC0 images, I will be a better online citizen. I’ve never set out to take anyone else’s images or to abuse copyright, but I’m sure I’ve done just that more often than not. No longer can I plead ignorance! That is a great feeling and a scary one too. With a little knowledge comes a huge sense of responsibility to do things right.
Thanks to the connections I’ve made through this course I now realise that I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. There are lots of people who know far more than I and it is great to have some idea of who I can ask for help when I’m unsure.
Just as I have found comfort and inspiration in group work, I want to create opportunities for my own students to connect with each other and collaborate on meaningful tasks. Based on my experiences these past weeks, I have clear ideas around structure, scaffolding and ongoing pastoral support and guidance.
Through the PBL work, I’ve seen the value of building flexibility and autonomy into the learning design. Looking at the results of each team’s work on the various topics is, in a very real sense, awesome! The range of digital tools used, the variety of approaches taken and the depth and breadth of research that went into the responses was amazing.
For me, the challenge will be to ‘free’ my own students and enable them to unleash their creativity if it will help them to learn or to show what they know.
That said, I believe that flexibility should have limits. I have experience of a course in the past where students could complete it in 12 weeks or 12 months. The idea was that this would enable more diversity in the student body, and it did. In practice, though, it also caused a lot of confusion for students and for faculty. For faculty it proved quite difficult to monitor progress and to know who might need more support to stay on track and who was just trying to fit everything in to a busy life.
Students found it difficult to know if they were working through the material fast enough to make the final deadline and the fact that people worked at their own pace meant that chat on asynchronous forums became disjointed and opportunities for peer feedback lessened. That meant that quite a number of students felt rather isolated in their studies.
Overall, the ONL course has started me thinking differently about the design of my own courses. I have specific ideas that I plan to implement, some of which I’ve already mentioned. Within my workplace team we are now thinking about the skills that we should teach explicitly, like digital literacy and teamwork; about the information that we should add to the student handbook and we are thinking very much about the pace of delivery and how to keep things moving fast enough to maintain momentum and motivation and how to balance that with moving slowly enough to manage the cognitive load and allow for deep learning to take place.
I recently heard someone suggest that good course design was like a good garden design. You should create clear paths to bring visitors from one place of interest to the next and you should clearly signpost those paths and what can be seen along the way.
Regrets, I have a few…
If I were to do a course like this in the future, there are a few things I would do differently and the main one would be to ‘fly the nest’ every now and then and leave the comfort of the PBL group to take a more considered look at the wider class. All sorts of interesting posts popped up on the main ONL Google+ page and I was taken aback by how overwhelming it felt just to see the vast number of posts, the tools that were used and the approaches that were taken to each topic by other teams and individuals.
I was unsure about what depth of detail was expected in the scenario answers, as were my teammates. We decided to do what we thought was right and hope that someone would tell us if we were on the wrong track. In hindsight, it’s a pity I didn’t ask a course leaser. That clarity would have been helpful.
I do feel that it’s a missed opportunity that I didn’t start blogging earlier. All I can do at this point is to learn from that feeling and resolve to feel the fear and jump in anyway, the next time such a collaborative opportunity arises.
I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this course. It was stimulating to work as part of a small group and it has been wonderful to meet such fantastic people across the course. It has been a fantastic journey and I truly believe it has marked me, for the better. Sincere thanks to my peers who have made this such a pleasant and worthwhile place to be and huge gratitude to Alastair, Lars, Maria and the team for designing such a terrific course and for creating such a warm and friendly atmosphere.