As the ONL202 ends, this post is a great exercise to reflect on what I (or we, the PLB14) learned during this course. I think to bring such a story to fruition, I probably need to go back to the start.
I did not have high expectations for this course. Not because I was skeptical, but rather because I did not have a lot of information. 4-6 hours a week, networked learning, and a little more. I try to take a course or seminars on pedagogy at least once every semester. So I signed up quite a while ago. I didn’t know I would be teaching online when I signed up.
However, after the first week, I did become quite skeptical about the course. In the first meeting, talking with Jorg, I mentioned that I liked pedagogical courses because I could give up the leading role and learn from others. Jorg mentioned that this course was not like that, and our group would have to come up with the learning in the course. What a steaming pile of…misinformation, I thought. I think if I had known in the beginning that the course was organized how it was organized, I would not have signed up.
But already on Topic 1, White and Le Cornu’s (2014) map of engagement became an incredibly useful tool, not only for me as a reflexive tool but for my teaching. At that moment, we had just been told we would have to teach online the entire semester, and I was planning our course Technical foundations of Digital Media and Digital Design (MKGB90). I decided to change the entire individual assignment completely and make our students create their own individual maps of engagement and consider how data was being transmitted through their different modes of engagement. It became a very useful tool at the perfect moment. One that I could put into practice immediately. Already in week 1, the course had “paid” for itself.
During Topic 1 I was also one of our first two team leaders. This was quite stressful because it was very unclear what was the outcome, how to use the FISH document, and what we were working toward. Moreover, we didn’t know each other in the group, and we had no working dynamic. After a rocky start, we learned from each other, and slowly we figured out how to move forward. At this point I also learned a piece of good advice. When thinking about the outcome does not work (because you don’t know the outcome), I should focus on thinking about the process and know that the outcome will appear through the process. This is a difficult step for “goal-oriented” individuals, such as myself. Also, I started seeing how working together, only with strategic guidance from the team facilitators, we could learn.
I also learned that the idea that this course requires only 4-6 hours per week to complete was another steaming pile of misinformation. Only with the meetings, lectures, and webinars, we had used up almost four hours. This was madness. But a madness that worked out in the end.
After 5 topics and almost 3 months, I truly believe I learned more than I could imagine. I was fortunate to land in a fantastic group that looked at each other with trust and positivity, no matter how tired, sick, or connectivity-deprived we were. It was a fantastic collaboration with all of them, including Lars and Annika (our facilitators). Maybe due to my background as a web developer, I did not learn a lot about specific tools to use while learning, but I learned from the experiences of my team members, I learned from the process of working, and I learned from the entire process. Yes, I did learn from the topics’ webinars and literature. From White and Le Cornu’s map to Cleveland-Innes’ educational experience framework, I learned (or at least experienced) new ways in which I can look at the students’ role and my own role while conducting a class. I take with me the idea that Social, Cognitive, Teaching, and Emotional presence as the cornerstones of the educational experience and how to foster them in my classes. Being mindful and present.
Of course, in a reflection text, I also think about some of the issues that maybe didn’t work as well. I have eluded before to the timing issue. I think that selling this course as 4-6 hours a week is disingenuous and practically a lie. I am not sure if it was only with our team, but we put much more time into every week. This made that some of us felt irritated with the format of the course. Including the extra work that the pandemic suddenly put on our plates, the demands of this course put a pressure that I think was maybe not necessary if we had known in advance. Two of our group members left due to time issues. And two others (including me) almost left the course for the same reason. Another thing that I believe I will not take with me is the FISH framework. I see exactly how it can be useful, but for us it became a document to “dump” our thoughts and never seemed to work quite how it was supposed to work. Much less as the weeks passed and we all knew how to handle the “process.” It may have its merits, but it never made it into my list of takeaways of the course. And finally, while I loved the interactions within my PBL, the interactions with the rest of the ONL202 community was almost non-existent and practically became a chore. We divided the task of giving feedback to other teams, and thus it was part of the to-do list. This, I believe, was a result of the already under-estimated amount of time the course takes. The least I had time to do was checking 15 other groups’ work in detail. For one of the topics, I had to watch a 1-hour debate presentation from one of the groups!!!! So it was a bit sad, but the other PBLs became nothing but a blur in the course (and I am quite certain my fellow PBL team members felt the same way).
In the end, this became a much better experience than I had anticipated. Yes, it made my already over-worked week much more difficult to handle, but it introduced a new way to think about open networked learning, and more importantly, created a small community of academics that enjoy tackling rather vague problems on a biweekly basis.