ONL 201 reflection

(This post is a part of completing the Open Networked Online (ONL) course (topic 5))

I have participated the Open Networked Learning course (ONL 201). Now it’s time to reflect on what it has been and what I have learned.

When I first started to write this post, I started with: “This course has taken some work and time, but the feeling is a bit sad now when it ends.” However, there’s a mistake in that sentence.

The mistake is not about being a bit sad. I definitely am – it was 12 weeks with interesting topics and very nice people. I’ve studied some social ethics and social psychology before, so networkedness of the course was interesting in itself, and the topics of the course were maybe even more relevant to me than I expected. My group (PBL Group 6) worked great and in webinars I connected with people from other groups.

The sentence’s mistake is neither about the time and work. There was a new topic every two weeks and I tried (not always so successfully) to familiarize myself with the recommended material already before the topic started, and some optional readings during it. We had Zoom meetings with our group twice a week and otherwise we worked with a scenario (problem based learning, PBL). Then there has been a blog post after each topic and commenting others’ blogs. I’ve been working with online courses and blended learning before, which probably flattened the learning curve for me in the beginning – I imagine it could’ve been more demanding if all the digital tools were new.

The course has required some effort, but it hasn’t been a problem. It would’ve been easier for me to know all the dates more in advance before the course, but the course’s logic felt clear and it was easy to work with my group (our facilitator Alastair also very much deserves credit here). The content was very good and I liked the fact that the PBL cases were vague enough to permit different approaches in solving them. Writing a blog has also been surprisingly fun – although I’ve interpreted the “suggested themes” quite broadly.

I guess one of the most important things was the course itself as one example about how to arrange all that online. There was a surprising number of different things (content, activities, deadlines…) and as a teacher I know there has been a lot of work behind the scenes. As a student, I greatly appreciate the result.

So the mistake with the sentence? It’s the word “but”. I believe I feel sadness because I’ve participated and I’ve been involved in this course – supported by the atmosphere of the well organized course, with my group and the facilitator. Katrina Meyer (2014, 70) has summed up that “participation matters, involvement matters, and participation and involvement affect engagement, which in turn affects student learning.” I’ve learned, because I’ve been participated, involved and engaged, which has required some work and time.

So if corrected, the sentence would be: “This course has taken some work and time, and that’s why the feeling is a bit sad now when it ends.”

Thank you for the organizers!

Photo by Fallon Michael 
on unsplash.com

References

Meyer, K.A. (2014), Student Engagement in Online Learning: What Works and Why. ASHE High. Edu. Rept., 40: 1-114. doi:10.1002/aehe.20018

Open Networked Learning web-page

Learning, together, about myself

(This post is a part of completing the Open Networked Online (ONL) course (topic 4))

Who are you really, and what do you think? These are the main questions here, although I’m writing about the Community of Inquiry, social presence and Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy.

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) is a concept of a group of individuals inquiring some phenomenon. In blended or online learning, the CoI model includes three different presences – social, cognitive and teaching presence – that form together an educational experience. When Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes and Garrison write about the premise of CoI, they mention that “higher education is both a collaborative and individually constructivist learning experience” (2013, 10). I’ve always found interesting the tension or relation between an individual and a community, so maybe that’s why this text brought Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy into my mind .

As far as I have understood, Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) thought that it’s not possible for one to have an idea of individual “me” before meeting the “other”. If I had always been truly alone in the world, I wouldn’t know what makes me unique as a human being and what kind of features are common in other humans too. Only by meeting the other – and getting so close that we reveal our true beings – we can learn the meaning of “otherness”, and simultaneously we find what is different or same in me. I learn how I’m unique, what really is “me”.

When it comes to CoI, maybe this is one part of the social presence: with others, we learn substantially more about ourselves. The better idea we have about how others think about the topic, the better we know where we differ and what is my personal perspective. Learning the content might be possible alone, but only if I have a true connection with others I may learn what is my own approach to it. With others, I learn not just about the content and what others think and are, but also about who I really am and what I think.

It’s hard to guess what Levinas would say about online learning. He emphasized the importance of face; when I meet the other face-to-face, I meet something that in a very profound way is not me, but is open and oriented towards me – and this creates a connection and responsibility between us. A blunt conclusion could be that people should always turn their video on in Zoom meetings… But if we follow his philosophy in a broader sense, it’s probably safe to say that cultivating social connections is essentially important. Levinas would maybe say that the social presence is not just one part of the Community of Inquiry, but the first part of it; a prerequisite for the essential knowledge and experience about being yourself.

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider,
unsplash.com

References

Levinas, E. (1985). Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo. Duquesne Univ Press.

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press.

Collaborative learning for the society?

(This post is a part of completing the Open Networked Online (ONL) course (topic 3))

The three main functions of universities are often described to be education, research and serving society. These functions are intertwined, but here I’m focusing especially on the third one – serving the society – in relation to collaborative learning in education.

Teaching students to be academics and professionals in their fields can of course be seen as serving society. Curricula are designed to produce learning outcomes that are valuable for the academia and the working life. Methods of collaboration have probably a growing part in this, because social and emotional skills are predicted to be even more valued in the future (e.g. Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 by Pearson).

In the same time teaching in universities is not just about answering the demand of the working life and the society. It’s also about effecting them, transforming the society. Following Etienne Wenger (2010) this can be seen as something inevitable, because people in a university community affect its practices and practices of this community affect its members. Eventually the university-educated professionals work and develop the working life partly with those skills and perspectives they have adopted when studying. This doesn’t mean just the content of lectures and courses, but also ways of working with the content. In teaching, means become the ends: people learn what they do, so in addition to the content, the learning methods also become part of the learning outcomes. Methods of collaborative learning teach about collaboration.

In a course, collaborative learning doesn’t come without challenges. How to share the goals and responsibilities in a group? How to utilize different strengths of the group members, how to plan the work and how to balance different levels of commitment? How to assess the results fairly, when each member has participated the process in one’s own way? However, if the challenges of collaboration are first confronted during the studies, maybe worthy ways of collaboration are easier to form also after graduation – in the working life. With teaching and learning, the effect often extends beyond the immediate educational situation.

Extending beyond the boundaries of a course or a school is also apparent, if learning is approached from the viewpoint of Personal Learning Networks (Wikipedia). George Siemens (2004) describes how learning is not just about know-how and know-what, but also about know-where; where to find the right knowledge when it’s needed? Learning is about connecting information sources and being able to recognize trustworthy information. In a course, the learning process can be planned to support students in development of their networks, reaching beyond the boundaries of the school. This hopefully serves also the society, when students and their information from the course also become parts of others’ networks.

Even if we observe learning of individuals, I think well implemented collaborative and networked learning can bring good outcomes. For example, they are steps towards an experience of participation and involvement, they enhance learning and retention, they support higher order thinking and build professional identity. In addition, maybe collaborative learning can also be seen as something useful for the third function of universities, serving society?

Photo by Anubhav Saxena
on unsplash.com

References

Pearson. Future of Skills: Employment in 2030. (viewed 30.4.2020)

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London.

Wikipedia: Personal learning network. (viewed 30.4.2020)

Leap of trust into the Openness

(This post is a part of completing the Open Networked Online (ONL) course (topic 2))

Openness in education means open resources, open tools and open participation courses. It’s about sharing materials, collaboration and allowing learning.

Openness requires trust. For example, I can share my materials with a Creative Commons license that requires giving appropriate credit to the licensor, but I have to trust that others know and respect the license. I can use open tools to teach and collaborate with others, but I have to trust that the tools don’t have any privacy issues and that my collaborators try to add value too. These are reasons why I ended up reflecting on trust in this blog post.

“Trust is important, but it is also dangerous”, Carolyn McLeod (2015) writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It’s a positive attitude we can have towards others, but it’s well-grounded only if others are trustworthy, and we can’t always know if they are. In this sense trust is like a leap to uncharted territory, where landing might be something else than we expect – trust makes us vulnerable.

If we would like to promote and support educational openness, we should support those things that make educational openness trustworthy and easier to trust on. But how to do this? The following three factors can be found from McLeod’s text.

Social norms is the first one. I think this is also what Ragupathi (2020) is writing about, taking examples from early seventeenth century coffee house model: Equality, behavior by discursive rules, evidence-informed rational discussion, relevant topics and no idleness/gabbling. It’s maybe a bit surprising or even contradictory, but “openness” may be fostered by shared rules or principles; they give us a shared way to be open.

Past experiences is the second factor. They can be an evidence of trustworthiness or not. This means that giving examples of open education accomplishments, asking others to join and try, and giving chances for positive experiences builds trust.

Thirdly, trusting itself builds trust. McLeod writes that sometimes parents may trust in their children in order to give them a chance to become trustworthy, even if they actually have doubts. In relation to educational openness, trust isn’t just its requirement but also its product.

This is a simplified view, of course, but all these factors support a climate where it’s easier both to trust and to be trustworthy.

It’s notable how this perspective shows the world of educational openness as a social one. Sharing and collaboration are social skills, and they may lead into socialization. This may feel especially uncomfortable or difficult for those using the Web mainly as a tool compared to those who know the Web as a social place of identity building and communities (visitors vs. residents, with White’s (2011) terms). Trust becomes important, because engaging the Web as a social place has its risks; your actions, standards or character may be judged by others, and losses of reputation weigh heavily in social world (Eisenegger 2009: 13). It requires courage and trust, like a leap.

Weller & Anderson (2013) argue that “the changes made possible by the combination of digital content and global networking have profound implications for all aspects of higher education.” It’s a challenge and it’s not without risks and problems, but I consider educational openness a promising idea. Even more so, if it’s intertwined with trust. McLeod (2015) writes: “trust that is warranted contributes to the foundation of a good society. It helps people to thrive through healthy cooperation with others and to be morally mature human beings.” For me this sounds something worth cultivating in the field of education. With a leap or with small steps.

Photo by processingly,
unsplash.com

References:

Eisenegger, M. (2009). Trust and reputation in the age of globalisation. In: Klewes, J. & Wreschniok, R. (eds.) Reputation Capital: Building and Maintaining Trust in the 21st Century.

McLeod, C. (2015). “Trust”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Ragupathi, K. (2020). Being open: drawing parallels with the Coffee House model.

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013). Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53.

White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

Web as a place & a digital culture shock

(This post is a part of completing the Open Networked Online (ONL) course (topic 1))

Have you ever experienced a culture shock? Being in a new environment and having a feeling disorientation, having hard time in finding your own comfortable role in the new society or situation?

The notion of ‘culture shock’ came in into my mind after familiarizing myself with David S. White’s idea of people as ‘Visitors’ and ‘Residents’ in the Web (White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).) Visitors don’t want to stay in the Web but use it as a tool, so they just visit there when necessary and try to find what they need at the moment. Residents, in turn, stay in the Web, express themselves there, build their identity (or identities) there and become part of meaningful societies in the Web. This Visitors-Residents is a continuum, not an either-or stamp, but there are different ways of using the Web and belonging to the Web in different parts of it.

A culture shock can result, if someone is visiting a place that doesn’t meet one’s expectations, or when moving into a new environment. Is it possible to experience these in relation to digital environment, the Web as a place, by the Visitors and Residents? E.g. the concept of different digital literacies makes it clear how much it demands to be an active and capable member of a digital society (Developing digital literacies (2014) JISC guide). In the context of teaching and learning, maybe softening students’ digital culture shock could be seen as one goal when planning an online course.

I don’t think ‘traditonal’ (offline) courses are different in this regard, but many of the softening elements are already institutionalized or part of the pedagogical tradition. E.g. with lecture courses: Students often have a clear idea what to expect, how to use the required tools (books & note-taking equipment), how learning materials are shared and where to find information (e.g. library), whom to ask help if needed (other students & faculty staff), how to act and how to participate (raise hand) and so on. For teachers, anticipating students’ questions about the learning process and giving support in the right time might be easier in lecture courses at least in the beginning, because lecture courses are well-established. All this softens the ‘culture shock’ and all this is equally necessary in an online course, but the ways of doing this are new and unestablished – and thus maybe also varied and sometimes inconsistent.

As a side-note, because of a quick shift to online teaching following the covid-19 outbreak, maybe some kind of ‘digital culture shock’ is also experienced by many of the teachers? With White’s concepts it could be said that some teachers are required to use tools that they don’t feel comfortable with (Visitors) or to become part of an online teaching community (Residents). If this would result as a culture shock, it would raise feelings of confusion, loss of familiar cues and rules, and feeling of incapability in a new environment (Winkelman, M. (1994). Cultural shock and adaptation. Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, 73(2), 121-126.). If we are now still in the shock phase, then next would be the adjustment and the adaptation phases. And eventually after the pandemic (depending on how long it lasts) maybe the reverse culture shock as well, when returning back to the ‘good old’ offline environment. We’ll see.

I don’t know how well the concept of ‘digital culture shock’ works with White’s idea of ‘Visitors’ and ‘Residents’, and in relation to teaching and learning. However, if the Web is seen as a place, it’s interesting to reflect on different perspectives into it.

Photo by Tobi Oluremi,
unsplash.com

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