Lessons learnt – future practice

Thinklink summarizing the contribution of Group 12 during the course.

After 12 weeks of international online collaboration, a very inspiring and informative course comes to an end. During the last topic of the course “Lessons learnt – future practice“, the participants got the chance to reflect about the different topics, activities, the group collaboration and the personal lessons learnt. Our group (Group 12) decided to summarise our contributions on a Thinklink page as a world map to visualise our common travel through the different topics. Seeing the full picture of our contribution in that way confirms for me how constructive, valuable and joyful our collaboration during the last weeks has been and I want to thank here all of the group members for their contribution to our discussions and activities as well as our facilitators for their outstanding support.

Reflecting on the collaboration in our group, I came to the conclusion that the diversity of our group regarding our subject background and role at our higher education institutes were not a barrier but an enabler for the constructive and creative work we did. In our daily work as researchers we are used to collaboration within our disciplines, whereas we also like to talk about interdisciplinary research and how it is necessary to encounter the complex challenges that lie in front of us. However, in most cases disciplinary academic boundaries and lack of funding opportunities restrict interdisciplinary collaboration. This course and especially the group collaboration was an excellent practical example, where those boundaries did not exist and creativity was facilitated by the diversity. It would be interesting to see, if a similar, problem-based approach could facilitate interdisciplinary research with comparable outcome.

Regarding challenges (in this case within the educational background) it was interesting to learn that the main challenges that we as educators face today were similar both from international and interdisciplinary consideration. This on the one hand justifies and emphasises the importance of a personal learning network (PNL, as discussed in topic 3) and on the other hand the significance of sharing and openness (as discussed in topic 2). The former also to keep pace with exponentially growing digital tools and the latter to adapt own educational competence and further develop pedagogical concepts and methodologies. For me personally, I was especially able to expand my view on those aspects and I believe that the main reason for that is that the course structure provided an appropriate mixture of theoretical pedagogical background in an applied digital environment. In fact, various of the discussed theoretical framework could be applied directly in this course (topic 4), in current course planning and teaching activities.

At the end of this inspiring journey, I also want to thank all course organisers for developing this excellent course concept and for hosting us participants in such a welcoming way.

Design for online and blended learning

Topic 4 dealt with design for online and blended learning and as our PBL group (12) understood this week’s scenario it was about designing a fictional course based on promoting student engagement, community, collaborative learning and use of the principles of good facilitation. We designed a course on “Online collaborative writing” (here you can see our result of a fictional course syllabus), which we felt was a skill relevant for a broad range of academic disciplines and therefore a promising topic even for interdisciplinary collaboration. For the presentation of our result (the fictional course syllabus), we decided to use thinklink, which appears to be a very promising tool for the presentation of collaborative work. For our purpose, it was very useful since it is possible to hide underlying content in small icons on a background document. Hence, we used the icons to give an understanding about the underlying pedagogical idea or framework to the different parts of our course syllabus (background document). In this way, we could present the pedagogical context that normally is not part of a course syllabus in this document to share these ideas with other interested teachers.

As theoretical framework, we worked with the “Five stage model” by Gilly Salomon, which can be seen as a more practical interpretation of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model that I reflected on during the last blog. As highlights of our discussion and production, it is worth to mention two key components of successful collaborative online learning: building a learning community (social presence) and the TRIAD approach for assessment (in Teaching in Blended Learning Environments: Creating and Sustaining Communities of Inquiry by Vaughn et al. 2013). We identified social presence and the learning community as a major challenge in online learning and suggested that clear instructions (syllabus, requirements, technical support) and teachers’ presence (kick-off, virtual office hours, guided webinars (synchronous communication), discussion boards (asynchronous communication), to name a few) can encourage students to participate and take responsibility for their own studies, but also their group members in collaborative working environments. For me personally, this still remains a challenge for future courses. Though I have learned about more tools and ways for engagement and encouragement, the integration with cognitive and teaching presence in a meaningful and suitable way will take most likely several years of practice in order to obtain a logical balance between the presences as described in the CoI model.

Besides the PBL group work, the whole community learned by Marti Cleveland-Innes about emotional presence, which is currently under evaluation as a fourth presence. If emotion is the 4th presence or not, might be less relevant than the fact that emotion cannot be separated from learning environments and therefore have to be acknowledged. I have myself not too actively considered emotions during teaching activities, but as one course participant mentioned during the webinar can “negative” emotions have a strong impact on learning and maybe this can be actively used in teaching? I don’t have any concrete idea of using “negative” emotions, but I can feel that some clouds of ideas start to form, especially if I think about the context of emotions in the climate change discussion…

Is emotion the 4th presence? (by Marti Cleveland-Innes)


Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

Topic 3 was “Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning” and the topic’s scenario dealt with the questions of how to become part of a learning community and collaborate with your peers identifying and making use of the individual competences available in the respective group. For me personally, as we are currently developing several online courses, is the question of collaboration the biggest challenge to work with. On the one hand, choose many students online courses in order to study individually in their own pace, on the other hand see we as teachers collaboration as an integral part from an educational perspective (Hrastinski, 2013).  In fact, following the model of community inquiry by Garrison et al. (2000) is educational experience based on teaching, cognitive and social presence.

Elements of an Educational Experience (Garrison et al. 2000)

The expectations of online education and teaching activities are under these conditions consequently a paradox and learners might be informed about how courses are conducted too late when they are already enrolled. Hence, clear information on institutional level to match expectations and preferences of the students is the first step to prevent frustration with collaborative learning experiences (Capdeferro and Romero, 2012).

The challenge for the teacher is further to create a social framework that enables and facilitates the establishment of a learning group or community and encourages collaboration. Also, since group work has been shown to be beneficial in the development of students in various key areas such as knowledge, thinking skills, social skills and course satisfaction (Davidson and Major, 2014). The article by Davidson and Major also provides an extensive overview about features of different active learning approaches, namely cooperative, collaborative and problem-based learning, and from where they originated.  

From my own experience is it important to offer both heterogeneous communication and examination in order to reflect the heterogeneity of student groups. These can include implicit and explicit, synchronous and asynchronous and informal and formal communication as well as formative and summative assessment. Also here are clear instructions important to reduce student frustration caused by technological difficulties that can hamper communication and collaboration (Capdeferro and Romero, 2012).

To summarize, learning in communities has many advantages and benefits for the students’ development, but at the same time it brings along different challenges that can lead to frustration and even drop out. Heterogeneous communication and assessment along with clear instructions are from my point of view important factors to prevent frustration and ensure beneficial collaborative work. What factors do you think are most important?   

Open Learning – Sharing and Openness

An overview about available creative common licenses. Picture by progressor, no attribution required

In topic 2, the ONL community was confronted with open learning and a scenario in which a teacher is interested in opening up courses and share resources in a responsible way. Within our group, we identified two main areas that we investigated using the FISh model during the two weeks of the topic: firstly, we discussed practical implications and secondly the institutional impact of open learning. We had intense and inspiring discussions and while summarizing our findings in a common “coggle” the complexity of open learning for all players involved (i.e. teachers, students and higher education institutions) became quite obvious. The summary of our discussion can be found here.

For my personal reflection, however, I have chosen another topic that we did not have the chance to discuss in detail in our group. During the introduction of the topic, the question of “how open are you” was raised. I see myself as a quite open person and I share my knowledge, experience and ideas with colleagues and co-workers to a very large extent. The process of sharing, discussing and cooperating is for me an integral part of evolving and developing ideas to a higher intellectual level. In fact, cooperation is an important part that formed our human social development and structures, in contrast to the believe that evolution is mainly based on competition as summarized in a very comprehensive way by Rushkoff.

However, regarding sharing of “physical” resources that I produce for teaching, I came to the conclusion that I want to have a better control of how others make use of my resources. Moreover, I have seen over the years as teacher and researcher that many colleagues and students use (online) resources without referring to the source, in a proper way or at all. And the same is true for a lot of content that is found online generally and in social networks specifically. With this in mind I started to get familiar with creative commons (CC) licencing. CC is a non-profit organisation that makes licenses for creative work freely available for everyone. The creator can give the right to use content already during publishing of the work and by different licenses available define under which conditions the work can be-reused or shared. In contrast to copyright, permission for every specific case has not to be granted before creative work is used or shared by someone else. On the one hand, CC licenses are therefore a simple way to make creative work accessible for sharing while creators get attribution for their work. On the other hand, they are a promising opportunity to enlarge general awareness that creative work has been produced by someone and that the creator has to be acknowledged for the work on terms determined by the creator.

In respect to the new EU copyright directive, I believe that CC licenses can be an integral part of a new era, where internet users don’t just see creative content and resources as freely available common property, but learn how to acknowledge the creator in an appropriate and just way. It might take a few years for users to adjust to the new regulations and get familiar with its utilisation, for the attribution of intellectual property it might however be a step forward. The application of CC licenses (e.g. an integration in Microsoft Office software, on internet pages such as blogs) or the attribution of licenses when using content is very simple. Considering my own resources, it gives me a better control and security in sharing my resources even in a more uncontrollable environment as the internet. In order that the attribution system will work in future, especially teachers have to be consistent regarding referencing in their recourses and strict in demanding the same in resources produced by students.

Professional online participation and identities

Topic 1 that we worked on for the last two weeks was “online participation and digital literacies”. At this point it is worth to mention that the work flow with the different topics in this Online Network Learning (ONL) course follows the so-called FISh model using an actual scenario as background (Nerantzi & Uhlin 2012). To summarise, the FISh model is a simplified version of the problem-solving model used in Problem-Based Learning (PBL) consisting of the focus, investigation and sharing phases. The scenario used for this topic was in brief the situation the ONL course participants were in at this point of the course: a participant of an online course with little experience in online tools and the task to create a learning blog and the challenge to keep private life and professional life separated in this context.

I started my own reflection from the point that I am attending the course as a representative of my higher education institution (HEI), Mälardalen University and therefore I was trying to evaluate digital literacies and online participation in a solely professional and not private context. The first question that therefore came to my mind was, what kind of digital literacies and forms of online participation are mutual beneficial for my own professional development and the development of my HEI? This question is initially of high importance, if I what to keep my private and professional life separated, since professional online participation has then to be part of my working day and schedule. I started to reflect in which way I participate online in the professional context today and concluded that I besides online meetings (ZOOM, Skype) and teaching related activities (educational platforms as CANVAS, pollseverywhere, paddlet) participate rather passively online. I have in addition to LinkedIn and ResearchGate a Twitter account for several years and I follow numerous colleagues, institutions and organisations. From that I gain a lot of information and inspiration mainly for implementation and usage in courses, but partly in research as well. From that perspective, I would clearly conclude that these activities are both beneficial for my own professional development and the development of my HEI. However, I have never send a tweet myself and when reflecting on the motives for that I reason that being active in social professional media requires time and is rather distracting from other activities, if the usage is not carefully planned and limited. The latter is rather difficult since the reactions and the timing of reactions of the global professional network to own contributions cannot be predicted. Moreover, I see that some people of my network are extremely active in postings and discussion, which means that these kinds of activities consequently result in mixing of private and professional life, if other professional activities still need to be managed during the working hours.

On the other hand, a more active participation can result in a higher visibility of both myself as a teacher and researcher and of the HEI that I represent. Similar observations were described by Lancos and White (2015) in the article “The resident web and its impact on the academy”. Individuals that are visible online can be influential, however the quantification of this for the institutions is difficult and therefore are these activities often pushed outside the contracted hours.  

Further, the article points out that unlike in academic writing and publishing, on the Web content and identity are not distinct and flow into each other. This aspect brought me to the second question during my reflection: How do I create a digital identity for professional online participation and how do I keep this identity separated from my private (digital) identity?  

As pointed out by Chamorro-Premuzic (2015), online activities can no longer be separated from our real life and have become an integral part of it. In fact, social media activity such as Facebook “likes”, media preferences or online purchases can be used to predict our personality. And further, even if we might have different personalities for different situations, they can be traced back to the same persona, both in the real world and online. Still, I believe that there is a difference between the image people in the real world have of your person and the image that is created by all the possible information on the Web that hardly forgets anything. As a result, a higher degree of awareness regarding digital literacies and online participation are required to avoid the creation of false, unwanted online identities. During the investigation phase of Topic 1 I read an article by Guiseppi (2017) giving advice on how to build your own online identity. Some of the advices such as write reviews of books for top booksellers with your personal profile felt for me like trying too hard to be recognised online. Also, the advice on how to blog in order to be seen (comment relevant blogs for instance and refer to relevant blogs in your own blogs), went into the same direction. However, I concluded for myself that blogging could be used as a tool for own reflection (even if it wouldn’t have an enormous outreach) and that if I would like to be recognised online, then by the quality of the content that I publish and not by a high number of contributions that doesn’t represent or are related to my professional personality.

In order to make the post not too long, I do not have the chance to write about some other very interesting aspects that were part of Topic 1. But, I would like to mention my view on the “visitors and residents” typology for online engagement as a replacement for the older “digital natives and digital immigrants” typology by Prensky (White and Le Cornu, 2011). In the visitors and residents continuum the use of technology is depended on motivation and context instead of age and background and I totally agree on that. Digital tools and technologies have become numerous, diverse and fast-moving which makes the user automatically a visitor for most applications, however with the potential to become a resident by using the respective tools in a certain context. I also understand this typology as a great way to facilitate the understanding that sharing of knowledge and experience and collaboration are the key to successfully use and implement the digital tools accessible. In order to visualise that complexity, I attach here the “Pedagogy Wheel” as one example.

Feel welcome to leave a comment.  

About this blog…

This blog is part of my participation in the course “ONLINE NETWORK LEARNING” (ONL191). Here you can find more information about the course.

I will post here reflections on every of the five exiting topics included in the course:

Topic 1: Online participation & digital literacies

Topic 2: Open Learning – sharing and openness

Topic 3: Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

Topic 4: Design for online and blended learning

Topic 5: Lessons learnt – future practice

I am looking forward to recieving any feedback and start discussions on the topics.