Reflecting on topic 5 – this part of the journey ends…

So we’ve come to the final week of ONL and it’s time to reflect on the journey.

Exactly what I’m going to take out of this from a professional perspective and how I’ m going to apply what I’ve learned to my job, I have yet to contemplate and determine. I’ve definitely learnt, that’s for sure, and it’s been stimulating and eye-opening. But I need some time to reflect and assimilate everything and see where it’ll take me. 

For me, much of the learning has been about gentle, subtle changes in the way I look at things, or adding a different perspective to things I kind of knew about already, or deepening my knowledge on a particular aspect.

So if I look back on the weeks and topics, here are a few key points and learnings:

Weeks 1 and 2 were all about meeting our PBL team, meeting the course coordinators, setting up our blogs etc. It was exciting to learn that we are a geographically diverse PBL group.

I’d never heard of Trading Cards before and that was a great tool to use for our first assignment in which we had to introduce ourselves.

Another thing I learnt in that first week or two was more about Zoom. Although I had used it extensively for one-on-one meetings in my previous job, I didn’t know about the breakaway room functionality – that’s pretty cool for a discussion/webinar setting.

In week 3 we started with the more “serious” work and topic 1 was all about online participation and digital literacy. The concept of visitors versus residents was new to me and I enjoyed reflecting on my own personal digital literacy journey as I hadn’t really consciously tracked it before.

Topic 2 focussed on open learning – sharing and openness. MOOC is a term that gets bandied about quite a lot in the digital education field, so it was great to learn a bit more about the world of MOOCs and critically evaluate their place in education. I found it valuable to learn about Creative Commons as using images and material found on the web is something I’ve struggled with in the past, so it’s great to know that there is a “safe” way of reusing material.

Topic 3 was all about networked collaborative learning. Here I came across quite a number of new buzzwords and terms, such as personal learning network (PLN), social loafing, community of inquiry (COI), etc.  These are things I’ve experienced or come across informally before but didn’t necessarily know they were formal concepts and it’s useful to now have definitions and names for them!

Topic 4 was probably the topic most closely related to my current role as an instructional designer – design for online and blended learning.  It was valuable to look at the design principles in terms of my current environment and reflect on which we do well, which ones we can do better, and which ones we don’t do at all.

Through all the topics, it’s been refreshing to use new online tools (Coggle and Prezi) and I would love to explore them more – I feel we’re only just touched the tip of the iceberg.

My group members really contributed to my enjoyment of ONL. Each person brought their own flavour to the team. Initially we struggled a little with getting everyone onboard and finding suitable meeting times. Communication was a little fragmented between email, the ONL website and Whatsapp. But we quickly settled in, agreeing on meeting times that suited everyone and Whatsapp seemed to become our preferred, convenient method of communicating with each other. I did not experience social loafing in our group. If members couldn’t attend meetings or meet a deadline, they communicated this and made a plan to catch up.

We have decided to keep our Whatsapp group going after the course has ended, and will share learning ideas and experiences in future. I really hope to meet my team members in person one day 🙂

Reflecting on topic 4 – supporting and guiding students in online courses

One of the things that I find most critical about online learning design is preparing the students for and guiding them through the course. The course should be designed so that students feel comfortable with the technology, know what to expect, and trust the process. Of course, this applies to traditional, face-to-face teaching but it is even more critical for online learning as much of the time students will be left to their own devices and if the scaffolding or support is not in place, student can easily disengage or start to feel that they’re floundering and not being supported.

It is a good idea to spend a significant amount of time upfront (one whole module!) just orientating the student.

Here are some suggestions to get students ready and comfortable:

  • Explain which parts of the course are face-to-face and which are online, and why the course is structured as such. Ensure it is clear to the students roughly how much time they are expected to spend on the course each week.
  • Inform students about dates and times for all synchronous activities so that they can diarise these and plan their lives accordingly.
  • Establish netiquette guidelines at the start.
  • Explain how the learning management system (LMS) works and ensure students are comfortable with the technology being used in the course. Don’t assume that students have used the system before or that they will instinctively know how it works. An instructional video or lesson taking them through the use of the LMS is very useful.
  • Provide an orientation activity that allows students to get comfortable with the LMS, e.g. set up your online profile on the LMS.
  • Get students to introduce themselves (e.g. on the discussion forum, through a first blog post). It’s useful to provide a few guiding questions here to build rapport and encourage a sharing culture, e.g. What do you hope to achieve from this course?  What are your hobbies and interests? Tell the group one interesting fact about yourself.
  • Provide information on what sort of online support is available to the students. How often/when is the lecturer/tutor available online?  What other forms of online support are there for the students?  Reassure students that they will have support throughout.

An insightful article on “Creating Trust in Online Education”, lists the following four strategies as key in building trust:

  • “Establish early communication
  • Develop a positive social atmosphere
  • Reinforce predictable patterns of communication and action
  • Involve team members in tasks”

(Kelly, 2008)

References:

Kelly, Rob. (2008). Creating Trust in Online Education [Online]. Available at:https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/creating-trust-in-online-education/ [Accessed 25 April 2019]

Reflecting on topic 3 – curating in the sea of knowledge

One of the things that I found interesting about topic 3 was personal learning networks – what they are, how we use them and how they can work in conjunction with a more formal learning community.

Now, in the digital era, if you connect with people via social media, you essentially have a personal learning network. I’d never really thought about it as learning, but I guess every time I engage with something that is shared with me (e.g. an article) via a Whatsapp group or facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, I’m learning in some way or another; expanding my knowledge.  And often I’ll pass on that learning to others in my network, digitally or perhaps-face-to-face…”Someone posted this interesting article on facebook about XYZ…” And a discussion on XYZ ensues.

It’s really quite incredible if one thinks about the amount of information available and being passed around in networks using digital media. I guess the challenge is, are we actually always learning from it, or are we becoming saturated and sometimes feeling overwhelmed? I know I don’t get around to actually reading most of the stuff that I receive on the various platforms. I’ll read the tweets and status updates and short snippets. But ALL those articles? I sometimes wish there was someone saying, “Here, read this one and this one because they’re really good”.  The “editor’s choice”, I guess. The ability to sift through reams of information and pick out the best  is becoming a vital skill.

An article entitled, “Students Need Professional Learning Networks, Too”, argues that “Learning to create, manage and promote a professional learning network (PLN) will soon become, if it’s not already, one of the most necessary and sought after skills for a global citizen, and as such, must become a prominent feature of any school curriculum.” (Moss, 2016).

He discuss the three main skills that are learned by being part of a PLN: socialising -including enterprise skills and knowledge to create personal brand; managing  – time in viewing, who to follow, how to deal with comments and so on (Moss, 2016).

And then the skill that speaks to my comment above sifting through information: curating. As Moss says, “To curate or not to curate – that is actually not the question. The question is how good are you at it. In a world where information is amassing exponentially on the internet, becoming skillful at filtering and selecting appropriate information will become imperative, and much sooner than we think.”

References:

Moss, Paul. (2016). Students Need Professional Learning Networks, Too [Online]. Available at: https://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/learning-through-networks-is-the-future/ [Accessed 17 April 2019]

Reflecting on topic 2 – closing the gap with open education

South Africa’s education system is full of challenges. Our complex and tragic political history means that there are still huge inequalities when it comes to access to education. At primary and secondary school level, problems can be as dire as learners in rural or township areas not having a functional school building and or even a teacher present. At a tertiary level, many youngsters see a university education as the gateway to a successful future. But universities are not free, excluding a huge portion of our population on financial grounds. Those who qualify for financial assistance or bursaries often don’t continue beyond their first year as the need to work and support their extended families overrides their desire to continue their education.

So, in the two weeks while we covered the topic of openness and sharing, I wondered how open education could help South Africa overcome some of its education sector challenges.  In searching the internet, I came across some interesting and inspiring initiatives.

Here are two:

awarenet

The Village Scribe Association is a non-government organisation (NGO) that has developed an online learning network called awarenet. awarenet is suitable for schools with no or low quality Internet access. 

“awarenet is an eLearning platform and social media tool that offers our learners a personal networking space, tools for blogging, online discussions and project work. They learn how to present themselves online, how to connect and communicate, how to upload pictures, create slide shows and videos… awarenet projects combine online and offline work: Offline activities such as participating in sport events, organising public concerts, social engagements and the writing of newspaper articles are documented in wiki-style including multi-media and are discussed in blogs and forums on the awarenet platform” (www.awarenet.org/awarenet).

The content produced can be re-used by all users. awarenet also provides access to additional content such as Khan Academy videos and South African textbooks. Students have the opportunity to comment on and discuss the content.

“For most of its users, awarenet is the first opportunity to get in contact with the Internet, but awarenet is much more. It is a platform that offers the possibility of true open education” (Wertlen, 2014).

Saide

Saide is a non-profit organisation and educational trust that “is committed to the process of transformation of education and training so to increase equitable and meaningful access to knowledge, skills and learning through the adoption of open learning principles, distance education methods and educational technology” (www.saide.org.za/#about).

Saide works with educators, institutions and government to enable open education. Their services include programme and course design (based on key principles of open learning), materials design and development, and open education resources.

One their most uplifting projects, in my opinion, is the Africa Storybook initiative, which addresses one of our greatest challenges in South Africa: literacy. “The aim of the African Storybook (ASb) initiative is to support and promote literacy in the languages of Africa using digital storybooks made available through openly licensed digital storybooks distributed by means of web-based Internet and mobile app services”  (www.saide.org.za/#services).

References:

About Us [online].Saide. Available at: https://www.saide.org.za/#about [Accessed 4 April 2019]

Awarenet [online]. Available at http://www.awarenet.org/ [Accessed 4 April 2019]

Our Services [online]. Saide.Available at:https://www.saide.org.za/#services [Accessed 4 April 2019]

Wertlen, A. (2014). Open Education South Africa [online].Open Education Working Group. Available at: http://education.okfn.org/open-education-south-africa/ [Accessed 4 April 2019]

Reflecting on topic 1 – my digital journey

In the webinar for topic 1 we were asked to consider when we first owned a computer, when we first owned a cell phone and when we first went online.

This got me thinking about my own digital journey and I reflected even further back than “owning a computer”. When did I first even see a computer “in real life” (i.e. not just on TV or in films) and use one? 

Well, my first encounter with a computer was back in 1985 when I was in my first year of junior school (age seven). All I recall is that every now and then we’d get taken to a computer lab and we would “play” around on these machines.  I can’t actually remember what we learnt in that first year, but I do remember that it felt quite science fiction-ish.

Between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s, I would say technology and digitalisation were a part of my life to an increasing extent, although not an integral part. Technology was kind of separate, and one would go somewhere, e.g. to another room, to use the technology.

Through my school years, we had weekly or bi-weekly computer lessons in a computer room. At university I don’t remember any fellow students owning computers. You went to the computer lab to send and receive emails, type out assignments, or perhaps search the web a bit (really just a bit – if you wanted to do “proper” research , you went to the library and looked at reference books).

I’m quite a late adopter when it comes to technology, so it was not until my fourth year at university, in 2000, that I used a computer to type out assignments. Before that it was pen and paper, handwritten all the way; a rough draft of an essay and then the final version neatly rewritten before you popped it under your lecturer’s office door!

I also got my first cell phone in 2000. Of course it was a heavy, brick-like Nokia. I recall receiving my first SMS from a friend and being perplexed as I didn’t know how to then respond to her via SMS! I somehow think technology was less intuitive back then – or were we just so unaccustomed to it that it look us longer to figure things out?

When I worked and travelled overseas in 2001 and 2002, internet cafes were my means of accessing emails (and doing the odd search here and there – but I still didn’t put all my trust in the internet). Internet cafes were quite the place to hang out back then and they were a hub for travellers to meet and connect.

On returning to South Africa in 2003, I bought a big, chunky desktop computer. I got my first laptop in my job in 2006. I was teaching then and was still using an overhead projector in my classroom. I left the teaching profession in 2007, just as interactive whiteboards were becoming a “thing” in South African schools.

From the mid-2000s onwards, things get blurry and I can’t pinpoint specific memories or milestones in my technology or digital literacy journey. I think that’s indicative of the speed and intensity at which technological developments ramped up and started to become an integral part of our lives. I think I also became somewhat “literate” and savvy enough that anything new became increasingly easier to adopt and kind of less revolutionary.

Fast forward to 2019 and my smart phone and laptop are fundamental to my personal and professional life, as are email, Whatsapp, facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Skype, Zoom and so on.

From a professional perspective, as an instructional designer, I do think we have a duty to ensure that the technology is integrated into online courses in an intuitive and user-friendly manner. The role of an instructional/learning designer is also evolving as we increasingly enable learning through online communities and social media technologies (Aggarwal, 2016). But more on that in topic 4, I think!

References:

Aggarwal, B. (2016). What Is The Role Of The Instructional Designer? [online] eLearning Industry. Available at: https://elearningindustry.com/what-role-of-the-instructional-designer [Accessed 19 March 2019].

Ready, steady, go!

So, I’ll be honest. I started the ONL191 course feeling pretty ambivalent. I knew nothing about it and didn’t even know what ONL stood for. But 10 days in and I’m looking forward to learning from this experience.

The first week was all about meeting our larger ONL community via Zoom and learning a bit about what Zoom can do.

We also had our first sessions in our small PBL (Problem-Based Learning) group and I had a bit of fun on Saturday afternoon putting together a slide about myself for our group presentation. My group is diverse with members from South Africa, Iceland, Sweden, Germany, Sri Lanka and Hungary (I hope I haven’t left anyone out?!).

Ultimately, this course is what you make of it (like many things in life, I guess). And, as someone said to me just the other day: life doesn’t bring opportunities your way; it’s up to you to find opportunity in things. So who knows what doors this ONL journey will open? I’m leaving it wide open…