coffee and notebookHello everyone!




Overall Reflection


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.


PBL Group

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?

What now?

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.

Better collaboration

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.


Better flexibility

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.

Better design

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.


And Finally…

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.

Collaborative Learning – No Man is an Island


Topic 3, Collaborative Learning and Topic 4, Mobile and Flexible Learning

Brindley et al addressed collaborative learning and outlined ten factors for success. Interestingly, being graded for collaboration wasn’t one of them. The following are the main factors that matter:

Clarity of expectations, instructions, a task that is suitable for group work, a task that is meaningful (example linking theory to practice and prior knowledge), learners who are ready for group work, timing of group work, learner autonomy, monitoring and feedback, sufficient time for the task.

Successful groups need to be supported for the duration of the teamwork project. This typically is the role of a facilitator, who can monitor, encourage and guide the group and individual members of it. Close observation of the group’s work and approach to the task and to each other should mean that any issues can be nipped in the bud. This support can be scaffolded to be more intense during the ‘start up’ phase of teamwork, but some groups or individuals may need more support at different points. Motivation may dip over time and sometimes, if starting a project is hard, finishing it can be just as challenging.

Some discussion may be beneficial in terms of what to expect as part of a collaborative learning group. This is where clear expectations and instructions can help. If everyone has a clear and common understanding of what they are expected to do, they may be more confident about starting, maintaining momentum and finishing their project.

Certain skills may need to be taught in order for the group to succeed. These skills may vary depending on the individuals, their prior knowledge and the task at hand. Digital literacies, intercultural communication and understanding team dynamics are just some skills that may be beneficial to the group and its individual members.

Course design has an important role to play too, in terms of the type of tasks that are given, when in the course life cycle they appear, the degree of learner autonomy and personalisation that is possible and the amount of time allocated for the work. It should be noted that some learners may need additional time, including those with dyslexia, those who are working in an unfamiliar language or with unfamiliar technology, or those whose external commitments mean that study time has been temporarily squeezed.

During the mobile and flexible learning lesson (topic 4), Alastair Creelman discussed his 2012 research into completion rates in MOOCs and interestingly, many of the same predictors of success appeared there too. Course design, especially in terms of connecting with others through peer review or synchronous meetings were vitally important, as were scaffolding and clear guidelines. Autonomy appeared too, more linked to course design and the VLE this time, but the ability to access material and record evidence of learning in a variety of formats was highly valued by participants.


Given this weight of evidence for MOOCs, flexible courses and collaboration in general, wouldn’t it make sense for educators to be trained in course design, in embedding support and feedback and in encouraging collaboration in the classroom?


In English, there are many idioms that convey the notion of interdependence, but perhaps the most evocative of them all is ‘no man is an island’. By virtue of our human condition, we need each other for support and for the creation of meaning.

Open Educational Resources…making the impossible possible.

impossible-701686_1280The topic of OER took me back a few years. It got me thinking about the time my then employer decided to create a new course to train language teachers.

Everyone on the team was very excited about the possibilities and we talked at length about who our students would be, what their needs were, and how best to design the course. We mapped out the skills the students would need to master and the tricky points (like grammar) that they would need to be able to explain to the pupils in their own classrooms.

We knew what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it and the reasons for our chosen approach. The development team were spread across three different locations and were used to working closely, if remotely. We were delighted with our plan and felt energised to create it.

The devil is in the detail they say and the ‘detail’ here is that we needed content for 72 lessons in a variety of languages and in a range of levels, from beginner to advanced.  All of a sudden our wonderful course plan seemed to evaporate before our eyes. We were a small team with a tight deadline. How could we do this on time and in budget? Now it felt like we had signed up to do the impossible…


…until we discovered OER!

Suddenly, the impossible became quite doable. We soon found a range of resources, some of which were perfect for our purposes, others could be ‘tweaked’ or used as examples to inspire the students.

Not only that, but many resources had been commented on by other users, which speeded up the selection process, as we could bypass the ones marked as containing errors and focus on the material that got a 5 star rating.

As usual, in terms of original authors, we saw the same names coming up time and again, which also helped grow our network. Many of these people were active on Twitter, or had websites of their own, so we had new people to follow, new sources of inspiration.


More recently, through new colleagues, I have started to find scientific OER, many of which were entirely suited to our purpose, in terms of content. Access, though, was a different matter.

While some material was downloadable, it was not universally so. External websites and their contents can come and go. Being solely reliant on them for lesson content, or preparatory material for a flipped classroom may increase perceived risk and decrease faculty enthusiasm for using them.

Making resources available in read-only format reduces their ‘openness’ and effectively renders them inaccessible to those who would value them most. No matter which country you are in, Internet access can vary greatly based on geography, and in the developing world, cost is a factor added to the usual mix of speed and reliability of connection. Once again, the devil is in the detail.


In our OER lesson, there was a suggestion to include material from MOOCs as part of the traditional course material. While there is logic both to not reinventing the wheel and to enabling students to learn online and from highly respected institutions, one element of the conversation that was missing, was the level of support required.


By the nature of their size, MOOCs can be a daunting environment, where significant motivation is required of learners, in addition to time management and independent learning skills. Somebody needs to teach those skills to the students before sending them off to sign up for an open course. Somebody also needs to be there to support the students during their MOOC studies and somebody may need to facilitate discussion and reflection on how the MOOC material links to the traditional course. And that ‘somebody’ will most likely be the class teacher. Has anybody trained them for this?


So, maybe its time now to make conversation around OER, both as users and producers. (Anyone interested in policies, try Torsten Reimer’s blog post for Jisc). As users, where can we find OER? How might we use them? What are the potential benefits for teaching, learning and networking? As producers, how and where can we publish? How will other people know the resources exist? Will they be truly ‘open’ and accessible?  And perhaps, the most crucial detail of all, will we have institutional support?

Image: CCO available at Pixabay.com


Digital Literacies



There are so many aspects to digital literacies it’s no wonder that it’s plural!  The well known Jisc infographic, ‘seven elements of digital literacies’ captures a lot, except perhaps, that these literacies need to be taught.

The myth of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants has been well and truly busted by David White with his theory of digital residents and visitors. This should give hope to those of us who remember a time before mobile phones, affordable Internet and all the tools, Apps and gadgets that go with it.

In my PBL group, for this topic we also discussed Doug Belshaw and his work on digital badges. These can be used to certify particular skills. Sometimes one teacher might design their own digital badges and in discussion with the class, decide what they should be awarded for. They could be used for anything, but could be particularly useful to give credit for soft skills, like communication, teamwork and yes, even digital literacies! Certain digital badges are recognised by professional bodies and at EU level, there is now talk of how they may assist refugees prove the skillsets that they have.

So digital literacies are important and are likely to become even more so in the years ahead.


What stood out for me in all of this is PURPOSE. It is too easy to assume that everyone of a certain age is fluent in digital skills. Assumptions can be dangerous at the best of times. In the classroom, assuming prior knowledge or expertise, simply based on the student’s age or attachment to a smart phone does a disservice to everyone and misses the opportunity for discussion, collaboration and teachable moments.

Gathering evidence rather than making broad assumptions is not new to me. I started out as a language teacher, where one of the biggest assumptions we were taught to avoid, is the assumption that the ability to speak your native language means you understand a wide range of grammatical concepts and will automatically apply them to any new language you learn. Often, teachers may need to begin by teaching the grammar of the native language, before moving on to the new language, in order to ensure that every student has a shared understanding of key concepts. Maybe teaching digital literacies isn’t that different…

Just because someone is on Facebook or Twitter, it does not necessarily mean that they know how to use them for an educational purpose. It is unfair of us as teachers to assume students know what to do, without first teaching them, giving guidance or discussing expectations, prior knowledge and available support.

Discussion – let’s find out what devices our students and teachers have and what they currently use them for. In an online classroom, it’s also good to check what Internet access is like for students. (Kay O made a similar point in relation to the flipped classroom during the ONL 161, OER webinar). There may not be a signal at home or in rural areas. Outside of work or university hours, students may be reliant on Internet cafés.

Collaboration – let’s learn from each other about useful Apps, good resources and how to Tweet, Blog, create a Facebook group, or a Google Hangout, or whatever.

Teachable moments – then let’s teach each other, or learn by doing, how we might use a particular digital option for our specific educational purpose.

If someone in the class has experience, ask them to lead and if no-one is too sure, see how willing some or all of the class are to try out something new and evaluate it, to see if it might work for them for a specific purpose.

In my PBL group, we talked a lot about a teacher’s responsibility to learn about a new digital tool before using it in class. This includes how to use it and how to troubleshoot when technical hiccups occur. Many teachers will be in the happy position of having a pedagogy or tech support team to call on, and I’m all in favour of knowing as much as you can about what you are introducing and why. Sometimes, though, trying something new can evolve out of a conversation with the class and it can be nice to try out a new tool or strategy in an exploratory way, between teacher and students. The success of this can depend on how well teacher and students each other and how open they are to genuinely collaborating and learning with and from each other, but collaboration is a topic for another blog.


Purpose and Blogging.

Blogging can be a very central aspect of digital literacies, as it can be a way to connect with others, thereby building a network while you build your profile.

I must admit that blogging for an academic purpose was a fairly new concept for me. Until now, I’ve only ever heard of food bloggers, stay-at-home mum bloggers, or perhaps the odd travel writer whose blog made them famous and quite wealthy. To me, blogging seemed to be in some way connected with ‘celebrity’ status or advertising.

I have encountered a postgrad course where, fairly regularly, students had to blog the answers to a question. The blogs just seemed to sit in a vacuum and no-one seemed to know what to do with them. Students were asked to blog because that was an option on the institution’s VLE. In other words, the blogs had no purpose. Needless to say, neither students nor teachers embraced the concept. Blogging was a chore and an isolating one at that, rather than an opportunity to reach out and connect with like-minded or not so like-minded classmates.

So, it has been eye opening to see blogs used as part of the certification criteria on my ONL course. I’m probably most confused about the purpose my blogs should have. Should they be reflective, where I think about what I have learned, relate it to prior knowledge or experience and think about how I might put some of the new learning into practice?

Or should they be used to add to the discussion? Should I build on the main points of the lesson and go off and find new references that may be of interest to the class? Perhaps the best I can do is decide on a purpose for each blog and see it through.


Interestingly, we had a chat about this in my PBL group where some people who are used to academic writing find blogging a challenge as they try to make it less academic in tone, whereas others find the challenge is to add references and make their blog more academic. Either way, my PBL friends encouraged me to take the plunge and write something. They tell me it’s worth it, especially when people comment, so please do.



Digital Me

typewriter-801921_1280Ironically, although I’ve taught online and blended courses for almost a decade, and encouraged all my students to feel the fear and actively use the VLE anyway, I’m not the most ‘connected’ person in the world. I have very few Apps on my phone and apart from the weather and a newspaper I can’t seem to get any of them to work…


So, personally, I’m not so ‘digital’.  I’m on Facebook, where I’m connected with a small number of people I actually know and like. Many of them are now scattered around the world so it’s an easy way to keep in touch, though I do miss the old days when the postman might bring an actual letter, instead of just bills!


My professional profile is on LinkedIn and it is nice to stay connected and to grow my network as I meet new people.

I joined Twitter in a personal capacity but now use it more for work. It’s a good read and I find it fascinating to follow the chain of re-tweets back to original authors and discover interesting people, communities and organisations along the way. I’m a bit slow to post my own thoughts on it, as yet.

In fact, until I joined this course I had only ever tweeted to outer space. A few years back, when Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, was commander of the International Space Station, he tweeted a picture of Ireland and wrote the caption in the Irish language. Well, the whole country was intrigued – who was this guy, how did he know Irish and why was he tweeting to us? Then, we ‘adopted‘ him. Lots of Irish people signed up to Twitter around that time, myself included, just to tweet a ‘hello’ to Cmdr Hadfield.

Interestingly, during his time as commander, Chris Hadfield tweeted many beautiful photos of earth, did plenty of live broadcasts and made lots of cool Youtube videos.

He inspired people all over the globe and massively increased his number of followers on Twitter.

What struck me at the time was that I had just met a new class of online students, and was hoping that they would connect with the material and with each other. I was planning all sorts of digital interventions to get them engaged and motivated. Then I saw Chris Hadfield. He was so inspiring! Here he was engaging so many people from so many cultures and he was doing it all from space. Well, I thought, if he can stay connected and keep people engaged from outer space, surely I can encourage this class to post on the discussion forums…OK, so maybe part of the allure of Chris Hadfield was precisely that he was in space…

Anyway, he used a few strategies that I tried to borrow

  • He kept it short (huge challenge for me since I kissed the Blarney stone);
  • He sent out really interesting information. I couldn’t swear that every element of every lesson would have you on the edge of your seat, but I did try to get to know the students and their goals so that, as much as possible, content was relevant and useful to them. We discussed things they really wanted to talk about and understand better.
  • He made frequent tweets and videos and there were a number of ways to contact him. So, I decided to have a very visible presence with the students. I was on the discussion forums multiple times a day to catch people in each time zone, and students had my email, skype and phone details.

Those borrowed strategies worked well at the time and I have re-used them since.


This course has fired my thinking, though, and not just on all the ways we can connect. Over the years, I’ve had countless chats with students of all ages worried that they didn’t have enough technical knowledge to succeed, or worried that they didn’t have the right personality for online learning. I think a lot of this boils down to confidence around digital literacies. My thoughts on that follow in my next blog.


Connecting and Networking

Photo by Ryan McGuire at Gratisography.com

Week 1 of ONL 161 has been all about connecting and networking. We connect to the course material and to each other via Google drive, WordPress, Adobe Connect and Twitter. Setting up blogs, Google plus accounts and twitter handles was not new to a number of participants, but it was a huge learning curve for some of us.

It was such a relief to have attended the face to face starter meeting at KI to figure all this out with my peer group. At least when you feel lost, you can look at the body language around the room and be pretty sure you are not alone! Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development came to mind, when the totally inexperienced (me) found people with a bit more knowledge and so, got the main tools set up. As mentioned in my first blog post, just getting started on the basics felt like a huge achievement. What I hadn’t fully appreciated at the time, was that that meeting set the tone for the connections and networks that would develop in the weeks ahead.

The first practical step this week was to meet my PBL group and facilitators. We used Adobe Connect, which was great because of its multi-sensory nature. We could see, hear and write to each other. Seeing and speaking to each other meant that we quickly got a sense of each other’s personalities and thankfully, we seemed to hit it off from the beginning. Had this been a flat, text based or asynchronous introduction I don’t think it would have given us such a solid foundation.

Creating a prezi of our team meant we shared some personal details and quickly started to get to know each other better, not as teammates or classmates, but as people you wouldn’t mind having a coffee with, some of whom can BBQ, some of whom can even fly.


All of us in the PBL group could relate to elements of this week’s scenario, so we had plenty of inspiration for our project. When working towards a common goal, a shared understanding is a good starting point! Having a shared understanding does not mean that we are a homogenous unit. We have different skills and backgrounds and personalities, but we like each other and we are interested in the course. As Rita Pierson states in her TED talk, ‘Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like’! Well, I’m not sure adults do either. So, we connected with each other because we were assigned to this PBL group. As adults, we would likely only stay connected if it was a positive experience. Already in week 1, one of our group decided that the PBL group was not for him, and moved on.

So, the technical and personal connections have begun. What about networking?


At this early stage, and especially for newcomers to these technologies, jumping right in to networking may not be top of the agenda. Figuring out what to do, where and by when is a far more pertinent concern. However, sharing each group’s work with the wider class should allow for connections to grow over time, for old acquaintances to be renewed and for new networks and friendships to flourish. For me, much what I hope to gain from the connecting and networking involves building my awareness of the tools that are ‘out there’, and thinking about how I could incorporate some of them into my own courses. Being part of this ONL group and having a network of classmates to ask about how they did something or where they found it, is worth its weight in gold!


To sum up then, connecting and networking doesn’t just happen. Firstly, the conditions have to be right. With scaffolded support from facilitators, course leaders and peers, we may gain the confidence to reach out to each other and make connections that will help us navigate this course and beyond.

In a recent article, Doug Belshaw claims we bring three sets of ‘baggage’ to technology – toolsets, skillsets and mindsets. If anything can grow and update all three, surely, it is connecting and networking with great people about very interesting topics!





Vygotsky, Lev; Zone of Proximal Development, discussed in http://www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal-Development.html (accessed 29th April 2016)


Pierson, Rita; TED talks education, May 2013, available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/rita_pierson_every_kid_needs_a_champion (accessed 29th April 2016)


Belshaw, Doug, 2016, available at: http://dmlcentral.net/3-types-edtech-baggage-toolsets-mindsets-skillsets/ (accessed 28th April 2016)