Reflections on ONL172

The Open Networked Learning course is ending. This is the final blog post for this course. Rather than reflecting on previous readings, like in other blog posts from the ONL course, this blog post is simply reflecting on our time spent in this 2-week long course. The course instructors laid out several reflective questions, and so I thought I would take this opportunity to share my opinions.

  1. What are the most important things that you have learnt through your engagement in the ONL course? Why?

Some of the most important things I have learned are:

  • Various online presentation tools
    • Padlet
    • PowToons
    • Popplet
    • Prezi
      • Basically, lots of tools starting with a “P”
  • That speaking in group webcam chats is not the same as speaking in person
    • You have to be quiet longer
    • Allow everyone a chance to speak
    • Be clear who’s turn it is to speak
      • Having a conversation without much structure often leads to some people dominating conversations, while others rarely say anything
      • But less time for spontaneous and creative thoughts because of needing to wait your turn to speak
  • Technology crashes-
    • I knew this before, but it’s another matter when it happens during class time rather than personal leisure time

2. How will your learning influence your practice?

My learning will influence my practice by utilizing new tools in different circumstances. For example, I now know that it’s possible for students to talk with each other in various types of online group formats, including twitter. I can also change up course material by using different presentation tools that formerly I wasn’t aware of.

3. What are your thoughts about using technology to enhance learning/teaching in         your own context?

Well, I’m quite positive regarding using technology to enhance learning/teaching. Having said that, while I’m not familiar with more tools, we didn’t have a chance to practice all of these tools. In fact, most tools that I’m now aware exist, I’ll have to go off on my own and learn to use them. For example, we often used Zoom to host online webcam meetings. But I never hosted, only the admin staff hosted the meeting rooms. So I don’t know how to create a Zoom room or use different functions within Zoom (e.g. how to create a quick survey). So these are things I’ll need to learn outside of the course.

4. What are you going to do as a result of your involvement in ONL? Why?

As a result of my involvement in ONL, I’m going to put that I’ve gained 2 weeks worth of pedagogy on my CV. I’ll do this because I need a total of 10 weeks of pedagogy in moving up the career ladder.

I won’t be able to use any direct knowledge from the ONL course, as one needs to have online courses to teach in order to utilize this knowledge. But at least I know that things exist, and I can maybe look them up later, if I ever need them.

5. What suggestions do you have (activities and/or in general) for development of eLearning in your own teaching or context? 

One main suggestion would be to have different group members lead various topics, including inviting the group into the webcam chat, so people know how that tool functions. I would also make the eLearning course more about different tools and how to use them and when to use them, so that the student feels more comfortable using the tools, rather than needing to learn on their own.

Potential for Blended Learning Designs

In our Open Networked Learning course, we are diving into Topic 4, where we focus on blending online learning activities with face-to-face interactions. One topic to write about was: “Reflect on your current practice and reason about possibilities for development of online and blended learning designs”

Quick Reflection of Possibilities

Step 1: Find a course that I’m allowed to teach

Step 2: Beat out all other candidates so that I get to teach that course

Step 3: Consider if I should take up a battle with the department head about having a more blended class

Step 4: Arrange a suitable meeting time with Dept. Head (plan ahead as they are often busy)

Step 5: Have the meeting and present your case in a logical and reasonable manner

It might not be hard to see why many people don’t use blended courses. In fact, it might be a lot easier to have a blended course if the course is already pre-created to function in that way. After all, after begging to teach a course, you kind of feel powerless to continue asking for further adjustments to the course.

However, if you get a chance to blend your course, I agree with Vaughan et al (2013) that simply having online components does not = a blended course. I’ve taken several courses where they say it’s blended, but what they really mean is that instead of mass emailing assignments, you should just log on to one particular website to find out the assignment.

Vaughan et al. defines a blended course as: “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches.” They go on to talk about using innovative approaches such as “rethinking and redesigning approaches to teaching and learning that fully engage learners.”

There are a lot of possibilities when changing teaching formats. When we go from lecture-based classrooms to student-learning activities, the whole class structure can change. When we go from face-to-face to online environments, again, the whole structure can change. In other words, I don’t think it’s too lofty to use words like “organic”, “thoughtful”, or “innovative” within this context.

But given that whenever I have a chance to teach, it’s to come to a classroom for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, I see little in the way of being able to take on new initiatives, like blended learning. This concept seems to really derive from having your own class and seeing the students over prolonged periods of time.

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In looking at Moss, who really is describing work by Biggs, she notes that Biggs states that constructive alignment goes from figuring out who the smart and stupid students are to sorting through what you as a teacher are doing in the classroom to what focusing on what the student is doing in the classroom.

Within constructive alignment we go from 1) learning objectives, like “describe X” or “provide an illustration of Y” to 2) teaching & learning activities where students can focus on practicing and experiencing the learning objectives, and 3) assessment tasks revolves around the concept of how students will be evaluated (graded).

In blended courses, this can become quite burdensome, as students who are quite interactive face-to-face may take more backseat roles online. Similarly, those who are more shy face-to-face may also take more backseat roles onlines. In the former, it might be because they are camera shy or feel like they can’t express themselves in the same way as they can in person, while in the latter category, if it’s hard to speak up and have your opinions heard, that could be even harder online where everyone needs to consciously pause to let you speak. In other words, it’s hard to talk over someone online.

Then there are all of the other online distractions we have. So for example, if you’re having a webcam meeting with a small group, one or more of the members may be surfing the net rather than focusing solely on the group activity. In person, it’s easy to find this person–it’s the person on their phone. Online it’s harder, since you can’t see what they’re looking at (or if they’re just trying to be respectful by letting others talk).

Ergo, evaluations in blended courses will need specific, detailed explanations so students know how they’re judged.

Collaborations

When we focus on Week 3 for the Open Networked Learning course, we get into collaborations. It can often be hard to form meaningful collaborations within groups. In fact, many times, participants mainly cooperate, rather than collaborate together.

Brief Digression
medium-publicationsSadly, there was never discussion on if cooperation is inherently bad. I’d argue that in most cases you’re more productive and therefore lead to more advances if you cooperate rather than collaborate–after all, in academia, we’re judged on the number of publications we have, not on how well the research is conducted…..sadly.

In other words, collaboration may be a means to the end (high quality article), but cooperation can get to that end (potentially) faster (more articles).

Where does real collaborative learning take place?
We were asked to describe “an occasion when real collaborative learning took place, that moved your own thinking forward”. From my experience, this seems to happen when people take more laid back, and therefore more personalized, rolls.

For example, our research team travels once a year to some place where we have organized group activities to help us build as a team. There’s a clear consensus that while it’s nice to get out of the office, these team building activities never build the team. It’s a waste of money.

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What has been helpful in making real collaborations is having real, honest discussions with each other, either about work or your personal life. Getting closer through authentic interactions at the very least has lead to closer friendships and greater respect for colleagues, and at best, has led to working together on various projects.

But let’s change topic to relate things to the literature; per assignments:
Cooperation, rather than collaboration seems to occur for several reasons, but one axiom for students seems to be “least amount of work for highest grade”.  This is rational, and certainly makes sense for social loafers. In fact, rational choice theory from economics would support social loafers given that the point of collaboration is to get a grade. All a social loafer has to do is wait out their peers. They can do this either by taking a backseat and/or not being physically present or they can be more subtle, such as asking pestering questions, claiming they never understand the assignments, or otherwise “playing dumb.” This forces the rest of the students to either “play dumb”, in which case no one will get a good grade, or the other students can choose to pick up the slack of the social loafers to get their higher grade. People will always try to do the least work for the highest grade, and therefore, if there is nothing in place to stop social loafers (e.g. the teacher asks for all students to report on how other students are performing in the group [although this method also is problematic]) then we can still expect social loafing to occur.

This axiom is further pronounced when several teachers design collaborations to be assessed in this way. For example, Brindley, Walti, and Blaschke (2009) state this in their article Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment.  These authors go on to outline how to better create collaborative groups from the built-in design by focusing instead on “alternative methods to encourage learners to experience the value of collaborative learning by creating study group experiences that are motivating and rewarding.”

While Brindley et al. focused on changes in the structure from the teachers’ side, Capdeferro and Romero (2012) focus on what the students want out of a collaborative group. They noted that online students felt there was a lack in group organization, that other students had different goals for the course, and that student had different levels of degrees to which they wanted to take the course and/or learn something from the course. One solution to these types of groups might be to screen students prior to placing them in groups–a teacher may even test if it’s beneficial to have the high motivated people in one group and the low motivated in another group or if it’s best to mix them up….and what outcomes you’d get based on these manipulations. For example, the low motivated group may get even less out of the course if they were only mixed with other low motivated students, but the high motivated group may get even more out of their course experience.

Openness of Technologies: What’s Best for Individual Lecturers and Institutions

In the Open Networked Learning course, the theme for topic 2 revolves around the concept of openness. We explored this concept by watching a tutorial video posted on padlet, as well had a Q&A on padlet.

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David Wiley talks about being open in relation to education, as materials that are “freely shared, and that come with permissions to engage in what I call the four R activities. Those activities being reuse, redistributing, revising, and remixing.”

While the course provides several ideas to potentially discuss, I will focus on why we don’t share (individually), but why we should (institutionally).

Opening Monologue
When I had my first job after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I was so excited to start working! But on the first day, reality hit. We were told we were in “training” but what that really meant was “we need to go over some legal rules with you to ensure we continue making money.”

Form after form was given to use to read and sign. One of the forms dealt with intellectual property rights. Turns out, any brilliant idea, insight, or solution that I come up with at work doesn’t belong to me. I’m not allowed to take it outside of the company, and especially not use it in collaboration with a competing business. To work there meant signing this form, so that if you did in fact take any work with you when you left, you could be sued.

Why does this matter in academia?

My Individual Best Interest: I Don’t Want to Share
Well, whenever you make presentations, that’s intellectual property. And as an individual, you should feel like you have ownership of that property. After all, you’ve put a lot of time and energy into creating a powerful and important talk. It makes complete sense that you would not want others to use it.
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I, as a lecturer, never feel comfortable asking a colleague for their slides, even though it may help me deliver a higher-quality lecture. I don’t feel like it’s right; it’s their work. I feel much more comfortable searching the open web for people who have posted their slides on the same topic and then finding inspiration in their material.

Similarly, I don’t want people to take my slides. I’m more than happy to give them to my students, so they can learn from them, but not other professors, ironically, who may also learn from them. Students are paying for their right to have my slides, and in return I receive a salary. Other lecturers should also pay for my slides. They’re my competition after all; if they don’t have to spend time creating slides, they have time for other activities, which means I am outcompeted in the long run.

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Institutions Best Interest: We Don’t Consider the Costs

Institutions hire lecturers every year for dozens of courses for tens of thousands of students for centuries. Karolinska Institute was founded in 1810; my alma mater, Uppsala University was founded in 1477. That’s a long time to discuss important topics!

Do topics change over time? Of course. Are they dramatically changed from one semester to the other? Not typically.

Is it in the Universities best interest to pay lecturers to make presentations from scratch when they’ve already had other professors give that same lecture? Nope. Is that cost-beneficial? Double Nope.

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Wasteful spending of time and resources

In fact, in many Universities today, course lectures are posted on an online database (e.g. blackboard, PingPong), for easy student access. And yet, other professors do not have access to those material….even when they’re teaching the same course.

The other day I asked an administrator to see some slides from a course, as I’ll now give the lecture on the topic. “No, I can’t give you access” she said. “You will have to talk with the course leader and have them inform me that you can see the slides.”

So, perhaps ironically, the university creates more work and has a greater financial cost because of a lack of openness of material.
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If universities believed in openness for lectures, as they do for research publications, then it would serve their best interest. If they used a business model of intellectual property rights as a basis for collecting and redistributing presentations, it would serve their best interest.

But they don’t. Silliness.

It makes sense for individuals to choose whom they share or don’t share their presentations with, but it makes no sense for institutions to not be more open with previous lectures.

Digital Literacy and Identity in My Personal and Professional Life

As part of Week 1’s assignment for the Open Networked Learning Course, I am to talk about who I am as a person in the digital age, my digital journey, and my digital literacy, both in my personal and professional life.

Who I Am in the Digital World
I adhere to the belief that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Or to put another way, the larger island of knowledge that you live on, the more ocean you can see.

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Little island, little knowledge. I only realize a small amount of what I don’t know.
anthonyrule_medium_Figdig-Island
Bigger island, bigger knowledge. I realize there’s a lot more sides to this issue.

When I started learning about digital literacy, I thought of things like Microsoft products and using a PC vs. Apple operating systems. As my knowledge grew, I learned about whole other fields, like social networking sites, how virus software operated, multiple other presentation platforms beyond PowerPoint, and how to create blogs and vlogs and promote and market those products.

Now I realize a myriad of things I don’t know how to do, that I wish I did know, like coding and hacking, as well as how uses of digital technology can transform markets that previously had little or no investment in technology (e.g. self-check in and self-check out machines at grocery stores or fast food restaurants). Of course, catching up to others may be frivolous, as the new thought is that artificial intelligence will soon replace coding altogether.

In any event, the point is it’s hard to state my digital identity any more than it is to answer the question “who are you?” It’s ever learning, ever changing, ever adapting, ever transforming—similar to what Doug Belshaw says in his Tedx Talk.

Why I Became More Digitally Literate…..and then Stopped
I started to become more digitally literate for the sake of my professional skills. For example, I created a blog and several YouTube videos to highlight and disseminate my research findings (as well as to show any future employers my accomplishments in fun and dynamic ways).

This then led into creating more fun blog posts about traveling.

d18e33a9e4f4dbfce4113806dc095db9However, since I wasn’t seeking notoriety or fame, and hence didn’t post about kittens or jumping off of buildings, I relatively quickly gave up on documenting my trips, even though I love going back through and seeing old pictures.

Similarly, when it comes for promotions, advancements, longer contracts, digital literacy is hardly viewed as important. In the academy: grants, having PhD students, and research publications, preferably in top-tier journals with high citation rates are what’s valued. Publish or perish.

Creating valuable, usable content takes time and effort. Learning the programs does as well. But if they aren’t valued, they won’t be used to the same extent, as we all have limited time in our days, and hence many posts may just be rambling (like this one) or may not even appear, as I don’t have time to create them.

The only digital literacies that have become helpful professionally, are when they are used directly in my research. For example, I’m creating and running an online-intervention for young high school dropouts who are unemployed. The point is to use digital tools to help reach them, as many live in rural settings, and then provide them with the tools necessary to gain employment.

Experiences within ONL so far
Let’s quickly review what we’ve done so far:

  • We met in person, where I helped no less than 6 people figure out what to do and how to do it
  • We introduced ourselves four times
    • In person
    • On the ONL Google+ page
    • On the PBL Google+ page
    • In a video within our PBL group
  • Create a blog
  • Use Google+
  • Use Google Drive
  • We’ve met twice a week at 13 on Tuesday’s and Thursday for one hour meetings
    • Half of the time people couldn’t get in or were booted out
    • People kept trying to catch up to what was said, making repeating of information inevitable
    • Trying out both Adobe Connect and Zoom to make for a better online connection
    • Several group members either haven’t attended these meetings or only attended rarely
      • More pressure on a small group of people to complete assignments.
        • Currently only one person is signed up to complete Activity Week 2, making it harder than necessary on her
  • The moderators made the first video, while two group members are making a second presentation

One big difference between this course and my online program is that my online program is much more explanatory. That is, rather than just saying “create a blog”, I give people tools, website, videos, and directions on how to create a blog.

Let’s take another quick example: Adobe Connect. Adobe Connect is a web-based tool where multiple users can join via video chat to see and speak with each other. But it’s so much more than that! Presentations can be shown while people watch, comments can be made, polls are built. It’s fun and interactive. And so far, only led by course leaders.

Rather than developing the students’ knowledge about a technical program like Adobe Connect, so far, the ONL course has only let moderators and course leaders use this technology. So while it’s great to see the capabilities of the product via watching others use it (something I could have done on a YouTube informational video), I would prefer that the Online Network Learning course teach me how to use it.

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I would love to learn how to use Adobe Connect, seeing as how it might be a very useful tool if I ever taught in an Open Networked Course. It might be further useful to know how to troubleshoot. For example, a presenters camera was frozen and the only known solution was to let her continue talking without revamping the video stream.
So far this course has left several students struggling and may even be a reason why some don’t continue on with the course–because of a lack of explanation around tools, as well as because of a lack of use of tools. For example, I haven’t learned any new tools yet–Google+, Google Drive, WordPress are all common tools that many non-professionals use. In addition, these tools are vastly confusing for many people. They have trouble navigating between multiple platforms. As another blogger in the course announced, “only eventually find out that … I can actually get along with Skype“. Meaning, simplicity is sometimes the key.

In fact, things were so confusing that once Adobe Connect didn’t work, we all tried to use Zoom. But since no code was provided for Zoom, many students who otherwise would have attended the meeting, were left out or came late.

This is partially because Zoom was chosen at the last minute, rather than days ahead of time, and because the link to the correct Zoom room was not posted in the same thread as the original Zoom invitation, leaving multiple people to ask for an ID to enter the room.

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On digital technology, so far, only two groups, the two moderators and two students taking the course, have worked with technology in any given week, while the rest of us have just written in a Google Word document or have created a recorded video.

I have learned about the names of several new presentation programs by seeing what other groups have done, but since I haven’t worked with them, I still don’t know how to use them. Therefore, the best thing so far about this course could have just been written on a Word document.

David White
David White talks about visitors and residents in the digital world (Part 1 and Part 2). While I enjoyed the videos and thought they were entertaining, they weren’t so informative. I think most people already know if they are a creator of material or a reader/user of material, for example, although I’ll agree that it’s a catchy metaphor: visitors and residents.

He also argues that it’s not “age-related”, but rather your amount of experience, or more specifically, motivation to engage, with a product that makes you digitally literate. Well no kidding!

But I bet there’s a high correlation between age and motivation. Obviously it’s not causal. Obviously anyone can learn a technology and use of that technology should typically make them better. That’s not novel.

He’s entertaining, but clearly informative to an older generation, rather than mass appealing to the Millennials, the current generation who are already using these technology. In fact, I’d argue that it’s not a matter of motivation. Many teens and 20-somethings use all sorts of technology at the seeming drop of a hat, while an older person may continue-on struggling, despite being dreadfully motivated to learn.

A quick example–no matter how motivated I am to learn calculus, I just can’t do it, while my astro-physicist friend does it seemingly without thinking. Motivation is hardly the only ingredient for being able to learn something.

Doug Belshaw

In a Tedx talk called The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies  Doug Belshaw does a lot better job of explaining how people develop digital logic in their head. He takes us through recent history, talking about things telephones, VCRs, the internet, and newer technologies and how different generations learn these new topics more easily, while older generations learn with more difficulty.

He also talks about “digital literacies” vs. “digital literacy” and how the latter doesn’t really exist, it’s a fallacy. Again, this video is quite basic and probably appeals more to older or “less motivated”, according to Doug, generations. It’s informational, but basic and doesn’t help anyone who has a relatively workable understanding of digital technologies.

Side Note: Making Money

By the by–maybe it’d be better if we, as a group, or we as a class, or we as teachers of the class create a YouTube video that promotes important concepts, rather than promoting other people’s work. I feel like we’re paying David and Doug, or at least TedX Talks by having all students (n = 120ish) each year promote their work publicly on blogs. Surely that must bring them more hits, and more than just all of us clicking on their links. It might as well be us collecting that advertising money by promoting our own work.

Student Issues on Day 1

In a class of around 20, I sat next to two ladies who had trouble navigating WordPress and other technologies, such as Google+. In fact, one even needed to create a Google account before starting any other steps, as almost all course activities will flow through Google products, like Google+, Google Drive, and perhaps Blogger (for those not appreciating WordPress).

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As the course continued, several other students approached me regarding issues relating to creating a WordPress blog. In fact, after approaching some of the teachers, students even came to me for questions….as did one of the teachers.

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This may be evidence of the fact that more clear instructions are needed regarding how to set up WordPress and navigate other online tools. In fact, the only instructions given say “Create a blog in e.g. WordPress or Blogger”. 

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Future course development may benefit from a clearer editorial. 

Open Network Learning (ONL 172)

I have begun a new course in Sept 2017 called Open Network Learning, where we are using public (open source) materials in order to learn how to teach online. This particular course is a collaborative course with multiple universities, mostly in Sweden, such as Karolinska Institute, Linneaus University, Luleå University, Lund University, but also in Finland and South Africa.

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Universities typically use online teaching tools such as Blackboard or PingPong but these have major limitations, since only people at that university can access that information.

The main point to this course is to learn how to use public tools to make information more public, as well as have online contact.