Which online activities have I learned the most from?

This blog post could pretty much start with stating: «What Fran said».

For the past weeks Fran’s and my blog posts have built on each other, and in his latest post Fran is putting words to what I am feeling. He explains that building on the blog posts of each other is tremendously engaging. You receive feedback on your perspectives and it is exciting to see your own thoughts be developed further by others. Like Fran I also have the feeling of «I have to keep the ball running»!

This is my final blog post as a participant in ONL 172, and it is time for some concluding reflections.

The ONL journey has consisted of many different activities, and now I could mention all the things I have learned. But I would rather focus on which activities have I learned the most from, as I think that is equally valuable considering that many members of the huge ONL community are interested in designing online courses.

So, which activities have I learned the most from?

I will estimate something like this:

  • Course activities have constituted 10 % of my learning outcome.
  • Blogging and commenting on peers’ blog posts have constituted 20 % of my learning outcome.
  • Collaboration with my PBL group has constituted 70 % of my learning outcome.

The title of Fran’s last post is «Emotionally connected», which I think provides some explanation to why it is like this.

Fran writers: «The more you connect, the more you feel part of it, the more you will care for it and try to do your best to succeed. Provoking these kinds of emotions is not the main objective of the teacher of course – that should actually be to teach – but it could be seen as a tool or a means for teaching».

Let me elaborate on how I view this in relation to the different parts of the ONL course mentioned above:

The common course activities (webinars, reading resources and TweetChats) engaged me cognitively, but for the most part I only passively listened to others or passively read what others had written. Yes, there were engaging elements in the course activities (breakout rooms, tweeting, polls, chats…), but it did not create the same level of emotional engagement as the blogging and the PBL group collaboration.

Blogging also engaged my cognitively, because I was actively creating something on my own (based on inspiration from the common course activities and discussions in the PBL group). During the first half of the course I did not feel that I received as much feedback on my blog posts as I desired, which was actually discouraging. Therefore Fran’s collaborative blogging concept was a much welcomed invention, making me much more emotionally engaged and increased the learning outcome. My conclusion is that blogging and commenting on peers’ blogs have a greater learning potential than I experienced through the first topics of this course.

Moving on to the work in the PBL group, which to me has definitely been the greatest source of learning in the ONL course. All the activities in the course have provided me with new insight, but nothing really sticks with me the same way as the knowledge and experiences I have gained from discussions and collaborative tasks with my fellow PBL groups members. I believe this is because I have been both cognitively and emotionally engaged in the PBL group work through the whole course, and in collaboration with the other group members I have been an active co-creator of knowledge.

And maybe this is a recipe for success? Give enough insight through common course activities to generate cognitive and emotional engagement in the groups?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my excellent team members: Fran, Ove, Liljana and Christa.

And thank you to the course team for creating this community where thoughts about online learning can be shared.

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The feedback potential

In my opinion, one of the advantages of an online course is that there are many possibilities for both asynchronous and synchronous feedback between the participants of the course, as well as between the teachers and the students. Considering that students can join the course from a distance as well, one student in the course could potentially receive feedback from peers from all over the world, in addition to feedback from the teachers. I believe that engaging in discussions with peers and teachers may be a tremendous motivation for the students.

But how does the teacher create an online course that ensures the utilization of this feedback potential? It is probably impossible to give a complete answer to this question, and certainly not in the scope of this blog post.

At this moment I will focus on highlighting an idea from one of my terrific colleagues in PBL group 9, Fran Marquez. He introduced me to the concept «collaborative blogging», which is the title of his blog post for topic 3. This is how he explains collaborative blogging: «I could read some blog posts from my fellow students, find interesting arguments and develop them further. Then, in order to close the loop, I will leave them a comment on their blog so they can participate on the discussion». To me this concept contributes to engagement among the participants, to creating a learning environment of curiosity towards the thoughts of others, and to utilization of the feedback potential. I will aspire to do try this out in this blog post.

Emotions

In his blog post on topic four «Emotion as the 4th category in teaching presence?», Urban Göranson’s challenges the participants in the ONL 172 community with a question that stuck with him after attending the webinar of Dr. Martha Cleveland-Innes: What thoughts do you have on emotion as the 4th category in teaching presence?

I also attended this webinar and what came to mind when I listened to the Martha was the research of Hjertø and Kuvaas about conflicts. In their study they find that: «Cognitive task conflict was negatively related to team performance, emotional relationship conflict was negatively related to team job satisfaction and emotional task conflict was positively related to team performance (…)» (2017, p. 50) [my underlining]. In their conclusion Hjertø and Kuvaas state that emotional task conflicts «in which team members manage to combine intense, task-oriented communication with a non-negative emotional climate are conducive to good team performance. Passion within a team may be an important driver of beneficial changes that result in improved team performance and ultimately benefit the whole organization» (p. 66). In the webinar Cleveland-Innes says that teachers should probably not seek to have certain emotions emerging, but I am wondering, based on the research of Hjertø and Kuvaas, if teachers may want to welcome emotional task conflicts? As they state in their article, emotions may be the source of excitement and a motivational drive (even in cases where the persons have incompatible views on an issue).

Squinting into the Future

Moving on to another blog post, “Squinting into the Future”, by Charlotte Nilsson. She refers to the webinar by Alec Cuoros as an inspiration regarding creative ways to conduct online learning. At the same time she explains that not all courses are suitable for the utter most creative expressions, because the content of the course is somewhat «drier».

I do not necessarily believe that the teacher needs to present the content in the most fresh and imaginative way, but rather that the students should be engaged. For example; a lecture can be switching between presentation, individual work, group work and plenary discussions. The teacher may present some facts first and then pose a question to the class, before allowing the students a couple of minutes of individual reflection. Then he/she can ask the students to discuss in small groups (the persons next to each other if face-to-face teaching, and in breakout rooms if is a webinar), and then sharing and discussions in plenum. I think that by discussing the facts, instead of merely listening to a presentation of the facts, it might be easier for students to remember them (enhancing the learning).

Please utilize the feedback potential – by adding comments and questions below 🙂

References:

Kjell B. Hjerto, Bård Kuvaas, (2017) “Burning hearts in conflict: New perspectives on the intragroup conflict and team effectiveness relationship”, International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 28 Issue: 1, pp.50-73, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCMA-02-2016-0009
(This post was revised 23 November 2017. The original blog post was unclear regarding what Dr. Cleveland-Innes said about emotions in her webinar, I apologize for this).

Reflections on teamwork in my PBL-group with EiT-facilitation as a starting point

I am now half way on my journey as a student in the online course ONL 172, and as companions on this journey I have had my peers in PBL-group 9. The current topic we are facing on now is Learning in communities – networked & collaborative learning, and after our last meeting I took some time to reflect upon our teamwork so far.

I thought I’d share some of these reflections using EiT-facilitation as a starting point.

EiT-facilitation

On a daily basis I work with a course called Experts in Teamwork (EiT) at NTNU, in which the students develop interdisciplinary teamwork skills by reflecting on situations from their own teamwork. Reflection is a unfamiliar activity for many students, and in EiT we do several things to help the students in their reflection processes. One of the most important things we do is that we facilitate the student teams, but our facilitator-role is different compared to the facilitator-role in ONL 172 course (at least as I have experienced it so far).

In EiT the facilitators observe the groups when they work, and sometimes they share their observations with the groups and ask an open question to inspire further reflections.

Facilitation on our group work (so far)

If an EiT-facilitator had observed the group work in PBL-group 9 so far, I can imagine that he/she would have asked us questions such as:

  • How would you describe the group work so far?
  • I observe that some of you talk more than others during the meetings, what do you think about that?
  • How do you reach decisions in your group?

The facilitator’s task is not to point out negative sides with our group work (e. g. he/she does not think we have a bad decision-making process), but he/she draws our attention to various sides of our teamwork and encourages us to talk openly about these.

My reflections

My thoughts on the above questions:

– How would you describe the group work so far?

I think the climate in our PBL group 9 is highly supportive and encouraging. During our meetings I genuinely feel that all viewpoints and ideas are welcome, and we build on each other’s points. No contribution to the discussions is met with critique, but on the contrary the different contributions are met with openness and interest. Such group climate cannot be taken for granted; many groups have a climate of more negativity and closed-mindedness amongst the group members. I believe our group climate is a great starting point for learning.

– I observe that some of you talk more than others during the meetings, what do you think about that?

This I can agree on. For my part I would like to participate more than I do today. So, why don’t I participate, especially considering that we have such a supportive group climate? I think there are several reasons why I do not participate as much as I want to:

  1. I do not have any experience with online learning (in August I had never heard about a MOOC or creative commons, and had never participated in a webinar), so I do not feel I have as much to contribute with (compared to my peers).
  2. I only speak Norwegian at work, so to me speaking English is a barrier.
  3. On top of this I am a person who thinks before I talk, so when it takes me longer than usual to process the content of our conversation (due to the lack of experience and digital knowledge) and afterwords I need to spend time to figure out how to formulate an opinion in English, then my participation is lower than desired. This may be reinforced because the communication in Adobe Connect heavily relies on oral presentation skills, as body language is not so visible and I do not have the opportunity to visualize my thoughts on a piece of paper (to complement what I am saying).

– How do you reach decisions in your group?

I have actually not thought about this. The group has made many decisions so far, but I haven’t really thought about what the decision-making process is like. Maybe I would notice this more carefully in our next meeting?

Final remarks

The idea in the EiT-course is that by talking openly about our teamwork, we will get an increased awareness on how we work together, which gives us the opportunity to implement actions to improve our teamwork (if we would like to do something differently in the work to come).

One of my main motivations for taking the ONL 172 course is curiosity to see if, and how, facilitation as we practice it in EiT, could be implemented in online teamwork as well. I would really appreciate it if you could share your thoughts in this? Does any of you have experience with something similar? Can other aspects of teamwork be observed in groups that are working online, compared to groups working face-to-face?

Face-to-face, blended or fully online?

Continuum-of-technology-based-teaching-2The continuum of technology-based teaching“, adapted from Bates and Poole, 2003, presented in Bates, 2015, is licensed under CC BY NC.

I am not easily carried away with new technologies and digital solutions, so I entered this week’s topic of openness and sharing being hesitant and restrained, but still with a fairly open mind.

My initial thoughts of this topic was pretty much summed up by Alastair Creelman at the ONL172 Topic 2 Webinar: Open Education, Openness and Sharing “We all want to be open, and it sounds very wonderful. It’s hard to say: ‘I’m against openness’”. However, as indicated above, I am a cautious person who do not want to enthusiastically embrace the idea of freely sharing all the material I have been working with, unless I have examined the consequences thoroughly.

After having a closer look at the recommended resources for this topic I have realized that there are no easy answers or clear definitions that you may decide to embrace or reject. It seems to me that openness in education is a rapidly developing, complex field; a sort of global initiative of exploring if and how technology can enhance learning. One specific example of this exploratory mode is MOOCs. At first I thought that there would be a specific definition of what constitutes a MOOC, but I have now learned that every letter in MOOC is debatable.

MOOC

MOOC, every letter is negotiable“, Mathieu Plourde, 2013, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

On my quest of exploring the world of open education, one question in particular caught my interest: Which courses are suitable for face-to-face, blended or fully online learning?

With that question in mind I have looked at the book Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (Bates, 2015), where you can read that:

«…we have enough experience now of teaching online to know that in most subject areas, a great deal of the skills and content needed to achieve learning outcomes can be taught online. It is no longer possible to argue that the default decision must always be to do the teaching in a face-to-face manner» (p 325).

Bates also presents some useful questions institutions and teachers can consider when designing a course, to choose if the course benefits from being face-to-face, blended or fully online. These questions shed some light on my question above.

However, to get an even better idea of which content and/or skills that one may teach most effectively either face-to-face, blended or fully online, it would be highly useful to gain insight in the experiences of others.

I hope that my colleagues in the ONL 172 community can help me with this – it would be great if you could post answers and reflections to these questions (or just one of them) as comments to this blog post:

Based on your experience

  • which content and/or skills can be taught really well face-to-face?
  • which content and/or skills can be taught really well by using a combination of face-to-face and online learning (blended)?
  • which content and/or skills can be taught really well by using fully online learning?

Am I digitally competent?

«Digital literacies are those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society» (JISC), or «important literacies to survive and thrive in the digital age» as they put it at the Open Networked Learning site.

As a reflective learner in this course it seems fitting to dwell on my own situation, am I sufficiently digitally competent to live, learn, work, survive and thrive in this digital era?

JISC explains that digital literacies consist of these seven elements:

7-elements
Seven element of digital literacies
©Jisc
CC BY-NC-ND

Looking at this model I believe that the answer to the question in bold above is «no» (at this point), and I will try to explain by using one example from the ONL course:

At the very beginning of the first meeting in our PBL-group the facilitator asked us to present ourselves and I was asked to go first. Then I got so stressed out because I did not know where to look! If I looked at the frames with my fellow group members, the picture of me looked funny because it seemed like I was looking away. However, if I looked directly at the web-camera, then I could not see the reactions of the other group members and it felt like talking out in the open with no one listening. This webcam-issue took up all my focus and as a result I made a terrible presentation.

Not exactly thriving online.

I believe the above example clearly demonstrates lack of ICT literacy. I did not have the preliterate knowledge about how to interact with people in an online context. Doug Belshaw explain that such preliterate knowledge is required for reading a book as well, (e. g. knowledge about which way to hold the book, and that you are not supposed to open it from the spine-end).

However, I am convinced that the problem is not that I am not able to function online, but I lack the experience in doing so. I view digital literacies as skills which you acquire through experience-based learning.

On an everyday basis I work with an experience-based course called Experts in Teamwork, where students actively reflect on their own experiences. We use David Kolb’s pedagogical model of experiential learning to describe the learning process in EiT in four stages: Concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation (Sortland, 2017).

I believe that the ONL course is a great opportunity for me to develop digital literacies by moving through the these four stages.

Example:

  1. Concrete experience: Did not know where to look when presenting myself online caused a disastrous self-presentation.
  2. Reflective observation: I would like to perform well at the course but in this situation the use of a digital tool became a barrier.
  3. Abstract conceptualization: Being stressed out if I am not comfortable with the technology seems to be a pattern to me.
  4. Active experimentation: To become more confident about using digital tools, I will try to use more such tools in my daily work.

References:

Sortland, B. (red.). (2017). Experts in Teamwork 2018 Handbook for village supervisors and learning assistants. Trondheim: Skipnes Kommunikasjon.

My starting point for this «online learning»-journey

In this first blog post, I would like to investigate my own starting point at this very beginning of the course. What are my expectations at the start of this «online learning»-journey?

Two things come to mind:

First, for my part I expect the most valuable aspect of the course will be to have the student’s perspective of online learning. What’s it like to take part in an online course? Is it possible to work well together when we are not going to meet (physically)? How do we work together using digital tools? What obstacles might students face when it comes to online learning? And what are the advantages of online learning compared to traditional face-to-face meetings?

Second, I expect to go outside of my comfort zone!

To me there are several barriers associated with this online learning process:

  • Technology

    • I am one of those persons who get annoyed and helpless when the printer does not work, and I am not confident that I have the basic skills needed to attend an online meeting with both a working microphone and webcam. Where to get technical support when you are «sitting alone»?
  • Digital tools

    • I have never used Adobe Connect nor blogged, I rarely even update my Facebook account. Starting to use such tools constitutes a big change, leaving one in a way more exposed than usual. The blog has the entire world as an audience, meetings in Adobe Connect might be recorded and the webcam shows a close-up of your face – which might leave you with the feeling of «putting yourself out there».
  • Communication

    • My everyday working life is based on face-to-face meetings in Norwegian, so the transition to online meetings in English is perceived as quite huge. I am both curious and jittery when it comes to the communication part. Will we be able to communicate well digitally? What will it be like to follow the conversation with the technical barrier and when so much of the non-verbal communication is not conveyed? How is communication even carried out in a digital environment?

Lessons learned at this point, there might be several obstacles to overcome for students to get started with online learning; ranging from minor challenges (e. g. get the microphone working) to overcoming the threshold of being exposed and worries regarding communication. Teachers planning to introduce online learning might benefit from being aware of these (and other) obstacles.