Lessons learned -future practice in blended learning

Working from home has made me revalue my home environment. When my eyes need to rest from the computer screen, they have no alternative than the walls and furniture in my apartment. As a result, I have developed a strong eager to upgrade and renovate the apartment. A continuous noice from drilling machines and hammers from my neighbors, tells me that I am not alone with these thoughts.

At my place, it is the ugly wall sockets that draws my attention. I am not an electrician, and to tell you the truth, I am not practically skilled either, and I have no idea on how to change a wall socket. Therefore, this aim of mine has led to battle going on in my mind: On the one hand, I have very a hard time visualizing me successfully replacing the sockets on my own, without destroying the walls, without having an electrical shock, without putting the whole place on fire or without doing something even worse. On the other hand, those wall sockets that I am stuck with are really ugly, and the ones I googled are so nice looking. How difficult could it be to replace them? And just imagine how proud I would be if I managed! I would just keep on turning those switches on and off, just for the sensation of lightening and closing the light… For sure, the providers of these sockets would help me and tell me how it’s done. The staff at the stores would want to sell their products, right? And they want happy customers, so they would do anything to encourage me buying them, wouldn’t they? 

At some point, my confidence took over, and full of enthusiasm, I went to the shop and grabbed some really nice-looking old fashioned wall sockets. Entering the front desk to pay, I casually asked if it is difficult to change and replace a wall socket, expecting a nice and pedagogic amplification, convincing me on how easily this is done. Now was I surprised? Instead of giving me the confirmation I was counting on, the cashier looks at me with this very serious face. Shifting the voice into a cavalier kind of sound, she then gives me the following reply:

That depends! If you know how to do it, well then it is easy. But if you on the other hand don’t know how to do it, it is indeed very difficult.

So very true a statement! And yet so very challenging. Do I have to tell you that my great self-confidence sank from top to toes, and that I ended up leaving the store with empty hands.

Isn’t it funny how trivial we look upon all those things we already know about and feel comfortable with? While issues unknown to us may be viewed as ”mission impossibles”. Why is it that we kind of ”downgrade” the knowledge once we have achieve it. Why is it that we so easily forget the frustration we sense when we run into something  that is unknown to us? We ignore that no knowledge and skills is to be taken for granted. Those things we don’t know how to deal with, or how to approach, tends to grow in our minds, and if we don’t look up, they may one day turn into a pile that is too large to hide. 

Luckily enough, it seems like our naturally built-in curiosity tend win over the fear in the end, so that the pile of unsolved issues can vanish. Perhaps we humans are programmed to forget about the our preliminary anxiousness and fear to new areas, securing that we constantly seek for new adventures? We ignore recalling all the effort and time we need to put down in order to learn and understand things that are initially unknown to us. The excitement during the learning process exceeds the frustration. Isn’t it fantastic how the expectations on how our knowledge could be used triggers our ambitions and motivations.

Now, wait a moment. What has all this gibberish to do with online network learning in higher education? Well hold on, for here comes my somewhat far-fetched link:

What do the students know about the content in a particular course, more than the name and perhaps some short text on what it’s about? What expectations do they have upon the content? Do they reflect on what they are expected to learn? Or is this course they are taking just a course among many other in a longer education program?

All courses are associated with a course syllabus, where the students can find the main aims and purposes, and where the learning outcomes are defined and specified, both subject-, and non-subject wise. Unfortunately, I strongly doubt that the students give the syllabus any deeper thoughts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t touch it at all. I think this is sad and I wish to use the syllabus to stress the importance of keeping track of any gained knowledge and skills. By referring to the course syllabus, I want to force the students to look back and recall those moments of frustration they may went through when they went through any new topic. I want to implement a student awareness regarding their own progress. I want them to recognize the knowledge and skills they accomplish. I want them to acknowledge how they gain and develop new skills. I want them to reflect on on any changes that they may perceive towards a specific topic while their knowledge grows and develops.

How could this be done in a practical sense? Well, in the courses where I teach, the course content is built up of modules, each module having its own topic. The topics are linked to the course syllabus, but only vaguely, not in an obvious and well defined manner. My idea is that when a new topic is introduced, the students will be requested to put down their thoughts and expectations regarding the content. As a concluding last step, when all the work is completed and material is handed in, the students will be requested to look back and reflect on how the gained knowledge agree with their initial expectations. During this process, the students will be asked to relate to the course syllabus, helping them to understand how each part of the course content fit in to the general aims. 

My suggestions of questions for the students to reflect on before they enter a new topic are presented in the table below. They will have a short introduction to the topic, and they may have a quick glance on the content, but they will not be able to start working with the material until they go through and reflect on the questions.

Once the topic is completed, when the students have successfully completed and passed all work (hand-ins) within the topic, they will fill-in the following set of questions, some of them relating to their preliminary thoughts, and some of them relating to the course syllabus:

I haven’t decided yet how to practically implement this event. I want it to be a requirement for the students to do it, but I also realize that they may not want to reveal their thoughts/answers to me as being a teacher that will be doing grading on their hand-ins, and in fact I will not be interested in how the students reply at the individual level. The main purpose with the questions is to high-light student awareness and provide them a tool on how to recognize how their knowledge and skills grow. On the other hand, it would be exciting and useful to know if, and if so, how the students perceive the course content. Do they recognize the link between the course content and the course syllabus, and is it possible that their views on specific topics may shift while they learn more about it. And if so, if this shift has a positive direction.

So how should this be done? My rather vague thoughts are to use some kind of digital survey where I can make sure that the students go through and answers the questions, but where I can’t track the answers from an individual student. Another option would be having the students to work in groups, going through the questions together. An extension to this idea would be to request the students to put together a kind of E-portfolio, where they provide material and examples of their learning outcome, closely linked to the learning outcomes stated in the course syllabus. 

  • Will it work?
  • Will it be considered as helpful and meaningful from the student point of view?

A suggestion on how I should look upon my wall sockets is also warmly welcome. I am still looking at my old and ugly wall sockets and I can’t help myself being annoyed by them. Should I resign and be happy or should I overcome my fear and just get on to it? I really like those old fashioned looking wall sockets…

I would be most thankful to know more about your spontaneous thoughts and reflections on my thoughts and proposals!

Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

Collaboration: so awarding and yet so difficult..

Collaborative work is encouraged and promoted in many environments. From all kinds of job advertisements, you undersand that people who are skilled and experienced in collaborative work and have a collaborative network are highly prioritized. Finding networks of collaboration within or across disciplines may be a way to develop for companies, organisations and also in the academic World. Teaching at University levels should strive to meet up with these requirement, and promote collaborative work in the learning environment.

Why should we collaborate? Whats wrong with working alone? Well, just read the best seller ”Human kind: a hopeful history” by Rutger Bregman and you will understand. Here he claims that what makes humans so different from other life on earth is our innate ability to cooperate and learn from each other. Further, he claims that are kindness and collaborative skills to one another have been the greatest factors in our long-term success on the planet. If you ever feel depressed over all evil and misery that the news throughs at you, then read the book! Hope and joy will come back to you, I promise! 

The course in online networked learning involves collaborative work as a general strategy throughout the course, and one topic was even dedicated to deal with collaborative work in the online environment. Therefore, this course gave me the great opportunity to view collaborative work in the learning environment. In a group of 5 – 6 ”students”, we explored collaborative teaching and learning while we tried to collaborate around this topic, as well as other topics within our group. In this mission, we also aimed to explore and use online presenting techniques, our goal being to present the learning outcomes using new, flashing tools -so that we could provide the viewer/reader with a friendly and attractive presentations. What This experience of being the learner has been unexpectedly wholesome for me! In fact it has rugged up my thoughts about teaching seriously, even making me questioning my own teaching skills. Hopefully, my pedagogical skills will develop and improve from this experience, making me a better skilled teacher in my future work. 

What do I mean with that? Well, in my role as a teacher, it happens quit often that I organize the students into groups of 2-4 students, having them to work together to solve an issue, and then make them prepare oral and/or written presentations together within the groups. The issue is well defined, but there is no given solution, and there is free space for developments and digging deeper in different directions upon the interests and ambitions within the groups, the intention being to promote the joy of learning. In the online environment, I encourage the collaborative work by scheduling for it, and by creating rooms for them (so called break-out rooms) making it easier for them to find each-other. 

Until now, I have been content with this arrangement, even at those occasions when I sensed frustration and bad moods from students. In my perspective working together should ease the workload each individual, prevent a competitive atmosphere and instead awaken creativity, create more freedom, and encourage having fun while learning. I organized everything well for them, so what could possibly go wrong? Why do some students perceive frustration? How come they don’t value this freedom? 

They don’t understand how lucky they are having me as their teacher! These were my thoughts just until recently. My ”learning outcomes” regarding cooperation within this course are mixed. Many times I perceived frustration for different reasons. One big issue was not being sure of what we were supposed to learn! A lot of time and effort, perhaps the most, was allocated to deciding on what to do. Then how to do it, then who to do what, and finally how to present it. In the beginning we had no strategy, but gradually we found our roles and managed to establish something that worked. The freedom we were given on how to interpret the task was not encouraging and inspiring. On the opposite, it made us feeling lost and abandoned. What were we supposed to do? What was we supposed to learn and present to our fellow students and teachers?

I will now draw you a parallell. A little far-fetched perhaps, but still…

Imagine a symphony orchestra with the task to set-up and perform a Concerto. A symphony orchestra is put together by several instruments that, when you come to think of it, actually sounds very different from each-other when you compare them individually. There are the strings – the violins, violas, cellos, double basses. Behind those we find the brass instruments -the trumpets, French horns, tubas and trombones. Further we have the wood-winds – the flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassons. At the lower back, we spot the percussions. Sometimes there are also other instruments involved, such as the piano or harpsichord. 

What a mix of noises all these instruments make!

Yet the music they perform is incredible and gives the keen listener an experience that goes beyond the words to express it. The feeling of completeness is magic, it is unmatched. How can the jumble of noice that these instruments create, perform music that touches us to such an extent that we get goosebumps? 

Well, its not achieved by having all instruments playing the same score -just imagine how exciting that would be! It is not achieved by having all instruments playing all the time. And it is not achieved having the musicians work at their own preferred level or speed. 

The secret must be collaboration towards a unifying goal. Each musician has its own score, its own part and its own task to accomplish. Together, through hard and dedicated collaborative work, the members of the orchestra work together so that their individual voices support each other to create a harmonic sound. Each musician has its own agenda, but they all point to the general aim, the message from the composer, and interpreted by the conductor.

The need for collaboration within the orchestra as described above is obvious. Also the routines on how this collaboration works is pretty obvious. They have to have:

  • a defined piece of music to play
  • a conductor -who interprets the music and negotiate the general message to the audience, and also help the musicians to learn how their parts fit-in. 

The collaborative work involves both individual and collaborative practice. Each musician needs to learn its own score, together they learn how to synchronize the tone, how to phrase the music, how to adjust volumes and speeds, but they don’t necessarily need to do everything together. The extent and properties of the input from each individual varies. 

Collaborative teaching with too loose reins, without well defined aims and scopes of aims would almost be comparative to forcing an orchestra play without having the sheet music. Without having plenty of guidance along the way, the joy and excitement turns to confusion and conflicts This guidance, the role of the conductor, should be closely monitored by the teacher, possibly in cooperation with a group leader, but it is the teachers responsibility to make sure that the progress is going in the ”right” direction, this direction being very well defined already from the beginning. Like the conductor sets and communicate the tempo, how the instruments harmonize together, how to phrase, how to make a unifying and complete performance, so needs the teacher make sure to correspond the work and progress towards a final presentation for each group work.

Open Learning – Sharing and Openness

The question of purpose and title

In our community group we are getting experienced with the presentation tool named Padlet. I find this it to be really easy to get started with. You just click at a plus-sign in the lower right, make another click anywhere on the screen, and then you compose your message. You can include links to other material and you can add images as well. But to create something that is meaningful and pleasant for reader is another story. And challenging! It takes time and effort to create something that both negotiate its purpose (whatever this is), and still manages to be attractive and reader-friendly for the expected viewer (whoever he/she is). You need to be skilled to be able to produce something worth viewing and reading.

Then there are other tools, such as digital games, quizzes, cards, map stories and similar, just waiting to be tried out. Thing is that you need practice to get skilled. Practice takes time. Practice takes effort… What if there was a blog going through all these kinds of tools one by one in an online teaching and learning environment? What if this blog involved both instructions on how it is and how it works, and how well it worked for a certain purpose in class?

This blog is about my reflections on how I progress in online networked learning. I am beginning to learn how to share my thoughts through this blog. I am getting more skilled on how to do this. That is a great progress! But why am I learning about how to make a blog? For what purpose should I use it in my role as a teacher? Let’s say that I start a weekly blog. To whom should it be adressed and what kind of information should I put there? What kind of information, thoughts, reflection do I wish to share? And who would be interested?

I may just have found the answer to that. What if I make a blog where I release my experience of a new digital tool on each new post? Is this a good idea? And if so, what should I call this blog?

  • Online digital tools in higher education?
  • Teaching online using cool digital tools
  • Online teaching tools -how good are they?
  • Digital tools for teaching and learning
  • Digital tools -pros and cons
  • All you need to know about digital teaching tools
  • Digital tools for teaching – which ones to use and which ones to avoid!
  • Teachers guide to online digital tools

Puh, composing a title is not an easy task. Please help me to find the best title for my new blog! Any comment, any suggestion would be a great help!

Online perticipation & digital literacies

… or that very tricky point of view

I am still just in the beginning of this journey about online networked learning. It is exciting, but also frustrating. In fact, I notice a strong resistance going on in my mind. Resistance towards what? I am not sure, but many times when I decide to get active online, when I decide to learn about and try out a new digital tool, I end up sitting in front of the computer doing something else. This “something else” could be something that needs to be communicated online. I communicate using the same tools as I always did, mostly email. Is it the best solution? Is it the most time effective solution? Probably not. But I know how it works, so in the short run, it is the best solution. Silly, isn’t it?

I realized that I had to take a deep breath and think this over, but first, I needed to do some digging and pinpoint the problem. For this purpose, I actually used a digital tool: Points of you. This tool was really helpful in a simple kind of way. Just by asking me 3 simple questions and cards with images associated with some short text blocks, my mind got inspired and I found myself being quit amused. For me, this concept really worked! I actually can’t wait to try this game on my students.

So, how did it work? In the beginning, I asked this rather vague question to myself:

How can I be a better online communicator?

Qu. 1: What works? I could conclude I do communicate online. It goes on routine, just like knitting a sock.

Qu. 2: What does not work? The thing is that I am knitting the same pattern over and over again. I don’t follow the new styles and trends. I am too afraid to get out of my overused socks! I need to knit new ones, but where do I find a new pattern that suites my needs and that I feel comfortable in? I don’t know how to start. Should I start with my own needs or by checking out all these new patterns in the catalogue? It really gets me a headache justing thinking about all the time and effort I would need to spend on this…

Qu. 3. What is my next step?

To get out of my comfy zoon! To get out of my habits! But where should I start? I must go from both ends in parallell, meaning both from my needs and from the tools points of views.

In our community group we are getting experienced wist the presentation tool: “Padlet”. I find this rather challenging. I has a great potential, but it takes time and effort to create something that is attractive, reader-friendly and informative for a potential viewer. You need to be skilled to be able to produce something worth viewing and reading. And you need practice to get skilled. Practice takes time. Practice takes effort.

I have come to realize that it doesn’t have to be perfect from the beginning, neither my communication intentions nor my usage of the tools. It will be better with more practice, so I just need to get on with it. I need to be more patient towards my own online performance skills!

Helena’s blog on open networked learning

The first week of the course in Open Networked Learning has just passed and I am excited to be a part of this journey.

So far, most things have been focusing on practical matters, such as setting up the agenda, sort ourselves into groups, find when, where and how to meet with each other and getting to know each-other within the major groups. We also tried to define and compare our expectations on the course, and to establish some routines on how to organize the work.

To be honest, I must admit that I am rather frustrated and confused right now, since I am not at all used to working with the communication tools that we are encouraged to use within this course. Such as the composing of this blog. It took me ages just to understand how to do this, and then how to share and publish it. I hope I did ok, but I am not sure this is the way it should look like. I try to view this frustration of mine as being part of the learning process, and hopefully I will be able to share and give proof of my new learning outcomes about online networked learning in my future blogs.

So please be patient and hold-on for my next blog!