The journey continues…

This blog’s title – ”My journey through ONL” – is very appropriate. For it has indeed been a journey. And the journey will continue after the end of the course, when I start implementing what I have learned in my teaching.

However, since I am embarking on a real journey (to Australia!) tomorrow the last stage of my journey of learning is characterized by stress…

The most important thing I have learned is without doubt that I am more digitally literate than I thought. This has boosted my confidence. And it has made me realize that it is an important pedagogical task to help my students get a similar boost. Taking an online course can be a scary thing, and if the students are not confident that they will learn to master the tools, then things can get messy. I have not yet decided on a strategy for dealing with this, but I am sure that I will come up with on. (And, if I fail, I can always contact the members of my PBL-group and ask them for help.)

Another thing that have learned is that there are lots of digital tools out there that can be used for online collaboration. In my PBL-group we have made padlets, held Zoom-metings, worked on shared Google documents etc. I will definatley have my students use these tools, and encourage them to find and test other ones. Thereby I will not only make it possible for them to collaborate – I will also help them develop their digital literacy (which is a great bonus for students taking for example literature classes).

A Sunday morning a few weeks ago I discovered that someone had tampered with a trafic sign near where I live. The work of art symolizes what I have learned. I do not identify with the person breaking free from the sign, but with the artist who has used tools to set him free. This is what I want to do on my courses: use digital tools to help my students go to new places.

Taking this course has, by the way, developed my understanding of how powerful collaborative learning can be. Therefore I will definitely try to strengthen the collaborative dimension in my courses. In my PBL-group our collaboration got stronger over time. Instead of people dropping out, we all increased our level of engagement. I think that the facilitators helped us achieve this, by getting us started, and this is indeed something I will try to learn from when designing new courses.

I think that I have also become much more positive toward the idea of openness and sharing. However, I think that there are issues that could have been addressed more explicitly during the course. Can openness be a threat to personal integrity? Is there a danger in relying to much on learning materials produced at the big and prestigious universities in the US?

Of course, openness and sharing is conditioned by intellectual property rights. Getting to learn more about this, and getting to explore Creative Commons has certainly been a great thing, and I have already begun Creative Commons licensing on my teaching material.

The fourth topic – designing learning activities – was indeed the most challenging one. But thanks to the well-functioning PBL-group we were successful. One of the problems was probabaly that not all of us were committed to a specific pedagogical idea. Perhaps this course works best if the participants already know about, for example, constructive alignment. The construction of learning activities is dependent on pedagogical “ideology,” and that is not something one constructs quickly.

OK, now I am off to Australia. But the journey continues…

More challenging, and more rewarding…

Topic 4 – “Design for online and blended teaching!” – has, without any doubt, been the most challenging one so far. In PBL-group 5, of which I am a proud member, we have been struggling quite a bit. Luckily, however, the group has become stronger during the course of the course (which indeed indicates that ONL is a good course).

After lengthy discussions we decided to try to design a learning activity aiming at promoting ”active learning,” and to use “The ADDIE model” as a template during the design process (see video below).

That we chose the ADDIE model was actually a result of the fact the we are really committed to active learning… Many of us were already familiar with other models (such as “constructive alignment”) and argued that we would learn more if we challenged ourselves by chosing to explore a less well-known model.

And, a challenge it was. The ADDIE model is very detailed, but doesn’t give much support in terms of pedagogical principles. (It is also very instrumental, I would argue.)

In addition, we soon realized that the concept of active learning is very vague, or – as one could also put it – that it “goes by many names and can assume many forms.”

Personally, I think that increased activity may involve such things as complementing the reading of course literature and the listening to lectures with participation in seminars, group work etc. In other words: there are lots of old-fashioned learning activities that are designed for active learning. (And there are many newer activities, that do not promote activity).

In our group we decided to define active learning as an outcome of students being engaged and motivated. Engagement, defined as “the tendency to be behaviourally, emotionally, and cognitively involved in academic activities” is considered to be “a key construct in motivation research.”

Motivated and engaged students, we argued, take part in learning activites in an pro-active, as opposed to re-active, way. Instead of just responding to instructions, they are actively looking for activities to engage in in order to learn more.

Thus, when designing learning activitites amining at promoting active learning, the goal/outcome should be that students:

– show awareness of their level of activity in learning

– demonstrate the ability to participate actively in a collective learning activity

However, motivation and engagement are, to a significant degree, dependent on “teacher- and classroom-level variables.”

In other words, active students are not (only) a prerequisite for good teaching, they are (also) a result of the appropriate design of learning activities. Therefore it is not enough to assess the students’ performance. The, design of the learning activity must also be examined. The goal for the activity shoud be that it facilitates the development of active learning among the students.

Working with theme 4 has made me think a lot about my own on-line teaching. Gouíng through “The 10 Fundamentals of Teaching Onine for Faculty and Instructurs,” for example helped me gain a perspective on my own work. And it actually made me realize that some of the things that I do actually harmonize with what I have read.

One example of this is that my online lectures are made up of shorter film clips, between which there are texts, images etc. (Se image below.) Intuitively I have suspected that long filmed lectures are not very interesting. Now I can talk about this in a more informed way.

A film clip of two minutes, followed by a short text. Excerpt from a two hour lecture, that also contains images, hyperlinks etc.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning… What is it good for?

This is a relevant question indeed. (And, no, the answer is not “Absolutely nothing”…)

As Capdeferro and Romero point out “frustration is a common feeling among students involved in online collaborative learning experiences“. Overcoming this frustration is essential for collaborative learning to become meaningful, and the  literature I have read in the last weeks offers a lot of good adivice regarding how to do this.

Paloff and Pratt, for example, argue that it is important to helping the student to break the ice and getting to know each other (162). It is probably also a good idea to have facilitators in the groups, helping the students getting started with the collaborative work (like we do in this course).

However, the most important thing is probably not to scaffold the collaborative process, but to help the students to understand the (potential) benefits of collaborative work. If that succeeds, students will probably become more motivated.

Unfortunatley, the literature I have read is not as helpful on this point. It does provide many arguments, but not all of them are very strong. For example, Brindley et. al. argue that collaborative learning accomodates fiferent “learning styles”, but the theory about learning styles is, as stated on Wikipedia, “contested”. Other arguments are somewhat one-sided, as when Brindley et. al. argue that the goal of collective learning is “a shared understanding of the subject at hand or a solution to a problem.” This may be true. But is a “shared” understanding always the best outcome of a learning process? Can’t different understadings also be valuable?

After reading a lot and taking part in the dicussions in our PBL group I have come to the conclusion that  collaborative learning works best when it allows the students to formulate their own learning goals. (This is recommended by Pallof and Pratt (158)). If students are invited to collaborating with the teachers in this way – then it should become ovious what collaborative learning is good for.

Openness and Sharing – Great but not Unproblematic

During the last two weeks I have come to realize that openness and sharing are great pedagogical assets. As Alastair Creelman argued in his introductory lecture, creating content for lectures is like repeatedly inventing the wheel, and sharing resources between universities means that we could stop doing that and instead devote more time to more important pedagogic tasks. Discussions with other course participants have also made me realize that openness is a great means for enhancing quality. After all, if peer review is good for research, then openness should be good for teaching.

However, I find it somewhat annoying that the course material doesn’t problematize openness and sharing. David Wiley, for example argues that being opposed to openness is the same thing as being a “baby.” But few things are 100% good or bad, and if we don’t acknowledge the problems then we can’t work with openness and sharing in a responsible way.

In Sweden, teachers own the copyright to the teaching material they produce. This makes sharing and openness easier, since it is the teacher, and not the university, who decides if and what to share. However, owning the copyright also means that sharing is the same thing as giving up something. One example of this is that sharing may mean giving up control over how your material is used. It is not sure that it won’t be used when it has become outdated, for example.

Another problem with sharing could be that if we rely on others’ material we may end up in a situation were relatively few people produce such material, and where diversity hence decreases. (On the other hand, sharing may be the only way for courses given in minor languages to survive.)

Openness can also be problematic. One example is that privacy may be valuable to students, or to guest teachers from authoritarian countries like Turkey or Iran. Since failing is often a part of the learning process it is also important to make sure that openness doesn’t mean exposing students.

However, after studying this topic for two weeks I am sure that in the furture I will share more of my learning material, make my courses more open, and use more soper learning resources.






My first steps…

Not knowing what to expect from this course, and unsure about my own competences regarding on-line tools, I must admit that I have been rather nervous during the start-up phase.

However, I already feel more confident. One reason for this is that I have realized that my digital literacy is actually better than I thought.

David White’s films about “visitors” and “residents” made me realize that I am actually much more active on line than I realized. The facts that I have a blog where I write about my professional activities and that I have produced quite a bit of on-line teaching material actually places me in the camp of “residents”.

Getting more acquainted with the concept of digital literatry – for example by reading the “JISC Guide to Developing Digital Literacies” also made me realize that I am much more competent than I imagined.

Another thing that helped me overcome some of my initial fears was the interaction with the other members of my PBL-group. Live interaction through webcams really does add a valuable aspect to on-line learning by making it a bit more personal.

I will try to learn from these experiences when developing my own on-line courses. First of all, I will try to develop strategies for helping student overcome nervousness regarding their digital competency. I will also try to give the courses more of a “personal touch”. (Last year I substituted the weekly newsletter for short film clips of myself. Unfortunately changes in the learning platform have made this difficult, but I am sure that I can figure out some sort of solution.)

Parallel to my growing confidence I have also become somewhat sceptical of some of the ideas that I have encountered in the course material. As one of the members in my PBL group pointed out, White’s mapping of resident and visitor behavior is not crystal clear. In addition to this I think that it highlights only one dimension of the immense differences between individual and groups when it comes to using the Internet. I also think that the distinction between our professional and private behaviour needs to be further analyzed and theorized. My experience is that many students have difficulties developing a professional attitude when taking on-line courses. That is: their behavior on the learning platform is more like their behavior on Facebok than on campus.

Another thing that I noticed is that the literature on PBL seems to be somewhat problematic. It is, among other things, laden with jargon and – hence – not very precise. A good example of this can be found in Megan Y. C. A. Kek and Henk Huijser, “21st Century Skills: Problem Based Learning and the University of the Future” ( 2015). Their “human ecology for learning model”, for example, is very messy and full of relatively empty concepts (such as “History” and “Society”). I think that the jargon surrounding innovative pedagogical forms (and modern technology!) constitutes a major obstacle to the development of Online Networked Learning. It scares away students and teachers!

Last, but not least, I have also receved a couple of good pedagogical ideas. One of these is to have student write Wikipedia articles. That is a good way to get them to communicate with (potentially) large audiences. In addition they will improve their digital literacy, by having to reflect critically on what is already on Wikipedia, having to figure out how to publish on Wikipedia etc.