A great experience

Picture: Itz Inferno from Unsplash.

Signing up for the ONL191 course was a step into the unknown. To me the whole business of online in education – and in private – had grown into a kind of Pandora´s box: a storage of valuables that in reality turn out to be a curse. At first, it seems to be the solution to problems in education regarding distance, numbers of students, accessibility etc. but then it becomes clear that it does contain its share of issues. 
It can be frustrating using all these different platforms, especially if they don’t work properly due to bugs or lacking in design and utilization, and having to juggle between them all can sometimes be stressful, even overwhelming. There is just too much out there…

Nonetheless, taking the course has been a very eye-opening and rewarding adventure. The most important lesson I´ve learnt is that it is impossible to understand it all: be kind to yourself, and accept that trying your best is enough. As this was my first online course ever, it took a while to get hold of all the bits and pieces, but in retrospect they all make some kind of sense in connection to CoIand the Five stage model.

During the course, I became increasingly aware of how much responsibility I had for my own learning, and this is something I will bring back to my practice. When designing a course, I must create clear and functional tools for the students to be in control of their own educational experience.

Some of my courses are suitable for a blended learning set-up. I will try to turn these courses into more technology-friendly modules, without falling into the trap of just enhancing my usual practices without improving student engagement. One crucial factor is the technical quality of the communication tools. If webinars and other forms of online meetings are used, the utility, visibility and audibility must be of high standard, otherwise it becomes unbearable.

The ONL191 course has made me curious of what is going to happen next in the field of online education. Thus, I´ll try to keep in touch with the community and stay updated. Probably I will also get back to the articles and videos presented in the course. There is still a lot to learn and recapture; especially the rules for sharing resources and ethical principles of openness ought to be checked. Indeed, in order to understand the communication systems of my students, I find it necessary to be a resident on the web.

Regarding the application and implementation of my new online insights, there are a lot of challenges. First: pick a course that could benefit from going online, at least partly. Then: how do I find the right proportions between the different parts – on/off, synchronized/not time specific, group/individual, serious discussions/small talk…? Trial and error, of course. It would be nice to try a course in a “lab” situation.

At times I felt stressed, now and then I got lost on the web, often I thought that everyone else was much smarter than I – and very often I thought “this is great”! The latter is what will stay with me.

Presence and persona

Photo: Samuel Austin, Unsplash

The main reason why I was eager to participate in the ONL191-course was that I wanted to find reasons and tools for turning some of my classroom teaching into online parts. Therefore, I was looking forward to Topic 4 – a chance to dig into, ponder and mould a model for blended learning. 

First we had to consider and fit in emotions into the teaching reality. During the webinar it was nice to see and discuss the diagram/picture full of presences: social, cognitive and teaching presences – and intertwined with them all, emotional presence. In my different fields of work, a very important pillar has been – and still is – presence. Showing emotion (within limits) is important, as it makes you as a teacher more human and open to a more versatile communication. 

When you are dealing with smaller groups it is important not to act on an emotional communication level where you turn into a mother or father figure.  (I have noticed that some students tend to play the family game: if mummy says no, go ask daddy – or vice versa.) When working with larger groups it is important to still be personal and very present when you deliver your content, but this is when meeting the students “face2face”. 

Online communication is not anything that I’ve been brought up with. I continually learn new digital means, each one with its own netiquette. My experience thus far is that dialogue through messages on the learning platform is slow (e-mail is faster), and online meeting rooms limit parts of communication skills. (A reflection: acting on stage and on screen are two different things, even if the basic preparation is the same. Communicating only with your head/face online is like acting in a close-up – do not use big muscles or extensive movements. But are you being “yourself” then?)

How to communicate online and still transmit the “real” you is a challenge and definitely something I would like to look more into.

The task of Topic 4 was to design an online or blended course, encouraging engagement and collaborative learning. In our PBL group we decided to create a course purely online, using the structure of the five steps. It was very helpful to realize that the ONL 191 course follows these steps!  

My reality is that I will teach blended courses. Probably I will try to use the Padlet and webinars as a complement to the learning platform and the classroom meetings. I will try to create interesting, inspiring and challenging tasks that are to be done before the physical encounters.

But how to do it?

Sebastian in my group emphasized the importance of holding and keeping the interest and engagement of the students. That is the real challenge! There are lots of quizzes and tricks that I use in the classroom, and now I have to translate them into the online language. It is also very important to be available online, but probably I will stick to e-mail, phone calls and individual meetings at school.

After dealing with this topic, I find that offering courses to my students with miscellaneous working tools and means of communication is my cup of teaching. I do not (yet) want to leave out the face2face part, but I will try to somehow make the courses blend into the online world of my students – and investigate the online persona. Hopefully I will not turn into the character and namesake Elisabet in Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Persona” – since she ceased talking altogether.

Enhanced existence

Picture: Juha Mustanoja

In Sweden, we like working together, having meetings, creating groups for evaluation of group work and creating meetings for evaluation of meetings… This is exaggerating a bit – (and who am I to write this, as I have been living mostly in Finland for the last 30 years?!) – but I want to discuss an important word in this context: the word “samarbete”, which is synonymous to both cooperation AND collaboration. Thus, in Swedish we do both at the same time – cooperate and collaborate. But the two concepts are not identical. Both are important, vital, crucial to creative group work. Where do they differ, is one more elaborate than the other…? During this third topic, it has been interesting to find that there are no clear-cut definitions of what cooperation and collaboration actually mean – and how they are related.

In his sketchy video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr5mAboH1Kk), John Spencer very briskly shows that cooperation means mutual respect, transparency, shared goals, independency and sharing ideas while collaboration means mutual trust, vulnerability shared values, interdependency and generating ideas. He argues that collaboration without cooperation causes groupthink – on the other hand cooperation without collaboration causes disunity. Together they are the basis for deeper work, more innovation and better quality.

In the article Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. by Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/ view/675/1271) the views of George Siemens are accounted for. According to him, there is a four-stage continuum in e-learning, going from communication via collaboration and cooperation to community. Collaboration obviously comes before cooperation. He defines collaboration as “people sharing ideas and working together (occasionally sharing resources) in a loose environment” and cooperation as “people doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose”. Community being the “striving for a common purpose.”                                                                                            Hm. So how does this work… You work interdependently, sharing the same values and then you work independently with your own goal as a priority, and after that you all get together, forming your troop to aim at an agreed target, so to say. This is a bit confusing to me. This third topic – Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning – is intended to make us reflect upon our experiences of real collaborative learning, because this type of learning probably is more creative and beneficial to our development as learners and teachers.

I like using metaphors, and the image that entered my head was that of a meal, and I put this on the activity line of our group. “Cooperation is “knytkalas” (Dutch treat? Potluck?) where everyone brings something that is already made and together the parts become a meal, while collaboration is bringing ingredients of your choice/desire and together you create the meal, using your different cooking talents and imagination, and it is also possible to run to the store or pick things from the garden during the process.” 

I also associated to another pair of words and how they differ: assimilation and integration. Assimilation is conforming to the situation, culture, norms… you adjust, adapt, conform – and the situation is actually not altered. While integration means that your entering the situation or culture affects it – you somehow transform it. It becomes enhanced. Cooperative learning often means that the students work with and learn the same material, that a teacher is the initial source of information and that there is a set goal to reach. The process does not really change the setting. Collaborative learning is, according to Davidson and Major (http://www.lhthompson.com/uploads/4/2/1/1/42117203/comparing_three_ types_of_group_work.pdf), “a pedagogy that has at its center the assumption that people make meaning together and that the process enriches and enlarges them”. Hence my association.

My own experience of great collaborative learning and working is not from the field of education but from my improvisation-life. Improvising together is definitely collaboration – together the improvisors use their skills and efforts to create something unplanned, unexpected. The group agrees upon a starting-point, takes out some sort of direction – but from there on anything can happen and the result is indeed enhanced fiction or enriched reality or a combination of both…

In these wobbly times when we all seem to live in a slough, hopefully there will be more of collaboration – and of integration.

Give and you will get

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Having for years followed the motto “Give and you will get”, openness in education seems self-evident. Saving clause: I have never shared any of my educational material openly online – only on learning platforms and in closed groups. That is why this course is important – learning how not to do the wrong things or do the things wrong.

During our group and webinar discussions I have become more aware of the different starting points regarding the cost of education. In the USA, e g, tuition at (most?) universities comes at a cost whilst in Sweden (where I have studied) or Finland (where I teach) tuition is free (for EU-citizens). This means that where education is free, the universities might be more prone to making the educational material available, whereas education that is subject to fees is regarded as protected (why should you otherwise have to pay for it?). 

My PBL-group colleague Sebastian Schwede expressed the opinion (on the Webinar padlet) that professional education primarily means setting up goals and objectives, evaluate examinations, and collaborating with the field. I read this as meaning competition between the educational institutions is more a question of values (what is important) and organization (methods, structure) than of content. Therefore, Sebastian finds that free access to content – in most cases –  to be beneficial. I totally agree! There is a risk that a non-sharing culture hampers creative exchange, growth of common knowledge and important development.

I find it interesting to reflect upon why you want to create open online courses.

Is it because you think your material is worth spreading – you think you can make a difference? Is it because you want education to be easily accessible for students in far away or poor conditions? Or is it because you find it beneficial to your career, having created a few brilliant courses that you can add to your CV?

What about risks?

Of course, total openness might be risky in some circumstances, but as long the content is not on a secretive level the danger is minimal. 

Then there is the question of personal gain: if your research results in something you might patent and finally make your days a bit more golden – why should you give it away?

My own experience of openness on the internet is rather limited. I certainly have a need for privacy, and do not share my personal life with all my dinners and trips… I use Facebook as a job tool, I seldom take a peek at Instagram and I never use Twitter. I share ideas and projects with students and colleagues on Facebook, by mail and on the learning platform. I gladly share others´ resources (I do mention the original source!) – open libraries, papers, articles, the material of colleagues and web sites. 

My teaching is very much face-to-face, and for the moment I really do not know if there is a point in making any of my courses or self-created material available online. A tutorial? It would need much resources. And I can´t see how the lessons could be videotaped and spread on the internet – mainly because the interaction is very personal and my students definitely do not want to be exposed. 

It is going to be interesting to see if find new ways of regarding and conducting  my educational material, and then maybe there will emerge an opening for an online-course…

First things first

Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

My whole working life has centred around presence. Being present in the moment – and in the room. Therefore, the whole online concept is very challenging. I intend to learn as much as possible about the opportunities the different online tools might offer. 

Since the beginning of the century I have been working with computers, using several programs mainly for text handling and film editing. Social media (Facebook) was something that I started using only when we had to find a practical communication tool for the different study groups at my university. I still use it mainly as a professional tool – if I want to make comments to one person I send it as a message, never publish it as a post. Scrolling down the fb-flow is tedious and time-consuming, and I do not have the patience to do it for very long.

In my job as a lecturer I use our learning platform and Facebook. Sometimes What´s app for special communication needs. But that´s it. Should I use more? According to Melanie McBride (http://melaniemcbride.net/2008/04/26/creepy-treehouse-v-digital-literacies/)I use a corporately created creepy treehouse (Facebook) and a well-intentioned one for educational use (Itslearning). I do not want to use or create any creepy meeting spaces at all! OK, maybe I should focus on sharing my own experiences – by blogging. Tsisana Palmer reflects upon the necessity for teachers to blog (https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/9-reasons-why-teachers-should-blog)and her arguments seem worthwhile. Especially ”Become a Digital Citizen” and ”Be Ahead of Your Students” sound important and challenging. BUT – and here is my personal desperate feeling of having to many shortcomings – I do not have TIME! Being online is entering a myriad of links and posts and musts and keeping up and suddenly I have lost focus. Not to mention all the technical difficulties, slow uploading and lack of programming skills. (It seems to be a default set opinion that online technique is always compatible and never fails.)

In our PBL group we have encountered some technical problems – minor but still irritating. We explore new tools (like Padlet and Popplet) and hope that they will help us communicate our thoughts, structure the discussion in a clearer and more elaborate way.

We have all agreed upon using them. In my classes there always are students who do not want to use participate in the online activity (personal and integrity reasons). Melanie McBride states that the students should have the right not to take part, and that we should support them in making this decision (http://melaniemcbride.net/2008/04/26/creepy-treehouse-v-digital-literacies/). This adds on to the complexity: we have to give alternative options and use parallel tracks, which means more things to keep in mind and handle. 

For now, I will focus upon WHAT I NEED – regarding communication, reports, maybe competence evaluation – and then seek THE RIGHT TOOLS for this. 

Roots…

Photo by May Lawrence on Unsplash

Probably I was a rabbit in a former life. Because I love carrots. They must be raw. Carrots are rooted, hiding their beauty in colour and shape, at the same time waving their flourishing green haulm. I need to be rooted or rather keep my feet on the ground. In my professional work (as an actor) I ofttimes start from the shoes and what they do to my character. It is very much feet-on (haha). BUT now in the digital age my carrots are uprooted unexpectedly, they have to be eaten immediately, otherwise they will dry and die. It is like always being in a hurry, trying to catch up. I find myself in the middle of a website, surrounded by fast moving tools. This picture is blurry – which is comforting. (According to Doug Belshaw in his TEDx-talk on digital literacies, we ought to develop them progressively, not sequentially.)

I was a late digital starter, during twenty years I have developed more off-line than online-skills. E-mail and fb – yes, but no Instagram (other than now and then watching the uploads of others) or Twitter (I AM a fossil!) As a teacher I use pedagogical online platforms. As a producer I handle a website. So probably I am an accidental resident…