ONL is not “online”, open and networked are the main take-aways

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Every time I am speaking about the ONL course I tend to say “online” as ONL easily leads to thinking “online”. And that was also my expectation, to learn more about how to teach online. But the most important things that I have learnt are the O and N, that is “open” and “networked”, which has really lead to new insight for me. In regards to “open”, I had some knowledge about MOOCs and some sense of what creative commons are about, but no idea about how “open” can mean so much when working as teacher. I had not considered the idea of using open resources, of opening my course and material to others, and of making my teaching accessible. In regards to “networked”, I was familiar with the concept of community of practice, which I use in my research, but I had not worked on learning as a collaborative effort and not considered how to use digital technology for connecting and sharing. As I reflected in my post on topic 4, I am also really interested in how to work with different kinds of presence.

On a more practical level, I also have learnt to use a number of tools that have really helped us in focusing on a task and feeling that the work we put in was meaningful, I think. I think that producing some kind of output, with also an aesthetic dimension, has meant trying to find the right concepts, words, categories, etc, which in turn means looking for new knowledge and articulating and organizing it. It was really interesting to live such an experience “on the other side” compared to the usual practice of being a teacher. This also includes feeling frustration, stress, and tiredness, alongside more positive emotions as pride, surprise, commitment, which is also a good thing to go through in order to better understand our own students. Moreover, we have also learnt a lot on “where to look for” for different things as images. music, resources, etc. And also learnt to know our course colleagues and part of their work. This will make it easier for me to further connecting and networking to learn more.

When it comes to what I am going to use, I have already started to use some tools, as padlets, and some ideas for activities that can be done asynchronously now that everything is digital. In particular, I am responsible for a PhD course (an introduction course) that was already planned with guests etc. So I have used padlets for reflections and discussions as it was not possible to have all the seminars we had planned and the guests could not be re-booked. When I started the course I was responsible for an introduction course at bachelor level and as we worked in the course I was thinking of looking at how to use open resources and the ability of students to find sources of information and make them organise what they found with mindmaps or similar. Now my situation has changed and I will be responsible in the Fall for a master level course where invited researchers discuss their research with the students that then work individually. I am therefore considering on how to use technology to increase the interaction with the students and among students in order to build a community. Since the students will only meet me for one seminar (according to the current setup) and then meet one different researcher per seminar, I will add zoom meetings and padlets for facilitating their learning (put what they are doing in context), as well as re-design the individual task they work on. I am also plannning to include collaborative tasks to help them developing the individual task.

Making room for learning

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Presence is something I have been looking at in my own research on remote leadership. What many researchers have noticed is the challenge in building trust, energy and focus in online meetings. The usual argument is that there are “no bodies” in virtual meetings and that the sensorial cues are fewer. In our research we rather argue that there may be forms of sensorial fragmentations and that actors are made present in different ways on different scenes. What we usually take for granted in a meeting, presence, becomes an issue as it can no longer be just assumed.

It had not occurred to me that we could have looked at research on learning for digging deeper in the question of presence. Learning more about presence and online networked learning has therefore been interesting for my future work as teacher, but also for my research. To some extent, also when working with learning processes, presence can be taken for granted as long as the people involved in the process meet in the same room. But once you move online, presence needs to be constructed in order to make it possible to work as a community with shared learning processes.

The community of inquiry framework (Lipman, 2003) places attention to both individual reflection and collaborative learning. Building on it, different kinds of presences can be identified, all needed in order to make learning possible. Social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence (Vaughan et al, 2013). To this emotional presence can be added (see video here). This means that the teacher not only focuses on planning and carrying out activities that are aimed at making the students work on certain contents, but also on creating the proper atmosphere for these activities. This is about setting a climate supporting open communication and cohesion, as well as using the different spaces (online and f2f) for stimulating and supporting different ways of working (Vaughan et al, 2013). Facilitation becomes central in order to support shared learning and personally meangful individual focus in learning. It can be carried out by modelling and supporting those practices that lead to open communication and cohesion. Emotions play also a role. For instance, in the course we were all experiencing, although in different ways, the covid-19 pandemic and its consequences on our work. I think this has contributed to a certain atmosphere. As one of the members of our group said, in this chaotic period of time, the two meetings every Tuesday and Thursday became some kind of regular appointment that gave “pace” to these weeks.

Concluding, when working with teaching, and in particular online or blended learning, the teacher is not just entering a room in which to teach. Such a room needs to be constructed by the teacher and the students through course design, facilitation, technology, assessment.

Lipman, M. (2003). Thinking in education. Cambridge University Press.

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press.

Deep learning online? A question of making it tight

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Deep learning, this is what in many discussions with my colleagues we have wished for. That our students would focus more and learn in a deeper way. And we have complained about how superficial they are, especially the generation we now meet in the first year of our programs. In our ONL201 discussions we also touched on such issues: we need students sometimes to actually know what they are talking about, we need precision in how they describe a concept or phenomena, we need them to have understood the main aspects. As we worked with our task in topic 3 in ONL201, I started thinking that we tend to assume that deep is related to something you do individually. You sit with your book, dig into it and read until you got it, to put is simply.

But what is deep learning, really? In relation to the topic of connecting and learning in communities, I think there are three ways of understanding “deep learning”. One is about learning to learn, the second is about learning to be, the third is about learning to see. All these three aspects of learning probably have a long term impact on the learning process, and in this sense are part of a deep way of learning.

Learning to learn is about knowing where to look for knowledge. As fields of knowledge are continuously developing, it is impossible for one person to be up to date on all aspects of a field. Rather, the competence to know how to look for the knowledge one needs is what makes it possible to keep up to date. In this sense, working with personal learning networks (see here and here) provides the possibility to create connections in an organic way with people, journals, institutions, media, etc around the world by using social media and social software (Dron and Anderson, 2014). Such networks are open and allow to gradually reach more and more potentially interesting actors and become part of knowledge production networks.

Learning to be is about becoming a professional, learning the tacit knowledge in a field, the norms, what is considered good practice, as well as learning to judge and evaluate knowledge and performances. For learning to be you need to become part of a community of practice (Wenger, 2010; Gherardi and Nicolini, 2000), you need to work side-by-side and to have intense exchanges over a period of time. Online learning provides an opportunity for intensifying relational exchanges within a community, for sharing work and for working together, also at distance (Anderson, 2008). In this way, it provides a possibility for coming closer and for “sweating together” in which learning to be can be realised.

Finally, learning to see is about enhancing the way in which problems, situations, challenges are analysed and adressed. By gathering with a shared purpose, it is possible to start to look at an issue from different perspectives and to make sense of it together. Not only thinking together enriches the understanding of the issue at hand, but you also may be able to better reflect on your own way of adressing issues and where your weaknesses are (as you discuss with others you also see a reflection of your own way of thinking). In other words, learning could be understood as a communicative process that needs sensemaking that needs to be articulated in order to be shared (Ashcraft et al, 2009). Without communication, you only see an issue from a limited point of view. As sensemaking develops in communication, you start seeing the issue in a richer way. This kind of communication can be supported by the multimodality of digital tools.

All these three aspects are thus important for deep learning. They can be worked on by making students connect in a traditional course design, by I would argue that they can be supported and enhanced by online learning activities. The connectivity that the digital media offer, although often framed in terms of “quick and superficial” explorations and relations, may as above described actually support deep learning. For that to happen, though, connectivity needs to be designed, supported and maintained. The three learning-types described are realised if connections are tight and work. Connections do not happen by themselves, they need to be taken care of. In this sense, I think we may speak of making learning tight, rather than deep.

Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 343-395). Athabasca university press.

Ashcraft, K. L., Kuhn, T. R., & Cooren, F. (2009). 1 Constitutional Amendments: “Materializing” Organizational Communication. Academy of Management annals, 3(1), 1-64.

Dron, J. & Anderson, T. (2014). Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Athabasca University Press

Gherardi, S., & Nicolini, D. (2000). The organizational learning of safety in communities of practice. Journal of management Inquiry, 9(1), 7-18.

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London

Open: a multifaceted concept and a question of responsibility

Open. If we look at dictionary definitions we can find explanations of what open means in terms of “having no enclosing or confining barrier; accessible on all or nearly all sides; completely free from concealment; exposed to general view or knowledge. What does open mean in relation to learning? All these things, actually, but in a deeper sense than what I would have thought of a few weeks ago. My first guess would have been that it was about allowing other students than the ones enrolled at universitities to access the possibility to take a course, as in a MOOC. But as we watched the course material and discussed we found out that open is much more, and in a sense also much more difficult to work with. Open is not only about enabling students to take your course, it is also about designing the course and its material with students’ accessibility in mind. The student is at the center, not the teacher that wants to share his/her knowledge. Already this is a challenge, as it forces us to think of what is that can make it difficult for a variety of students to become part of a fruitful learning process, and address it. But open is also about sharing among peers. It is, in other words, not only about one teacher to many students, but also one teacher to many teachers. It is about making the work you have done available so that others have the possibility to build on it. While many would argue that this is how scientific knowledge is produced and advanced – as a community, not as single individuals – in open learning such an understanding expands to how teaching can be advanced and includes a more radical view: whoever can be worth working with your material, without the need for institutions to pay fees to publishers. Finally, if open is about developing knowledge and how we can share knowledge as a community, it means connectivity as well. It is not me “opening” but me “connecting and sharing”.

Open includes, in other words, different layers and facets (DeRosa and Robinson, 2017) and there are many arguments of why to open (see for instance here and here). While during our discussions we have talked about the challenges for the individual teacher and instutions to open and not retain exclusive rights on their material, it occurs to me now that maybe the biggest challenge is related to the fact that teachers are traditionally part of a profession (Abbott, 1988). A profession cannot be open per definition, it is part of the nature of a profession to have boundaries that keep out those who are not part of it, for instance by requiring certain kind of training and rites of passage. It is by being part of a profession that we are given legitimacy in our claims of being able to teach others, but also in deciding what is worth teaching and what not. What happens once those boundaries are removed and everyone can “do teaching” as well as “do learning”? As we have witnessed with social media and news production and distribution, there is something democratic about everyone having access to news and being able to produce news, but there is also something, to me, dangerous in not needing to comply to some kind of “code of conduct” and ethics in order to produce news, as the fake-news phenomena shows. What then with open learning? The question of responsibility and accountability are to me central, and not just about how to share material paying the proper credit, but also about what it means to teach and learn.

Abbott, A., 1988, The system of professions: An essay on the division of expert labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

DeRosa, R., & Robison, S, 2017. From OER to open pedagogy: Harnessing the power of open. Open: The philosophy and practices that are revolutionizing education and science, 115-124.

Online learning tools and practices – uncertainty, ambiguity and power

copyright yayha

A worried student was the protagonist of the first topic scenario in the online connected learning course I am taking. Were I myself worried? Unsure? Uncomfortable? And was it because of the technology? Or because of working with people I have never met? And not only working, but also having to collaborate and produce a result by only meeting a few times for one hour (and never really having enough time to discuss through everything).

As we learned during the past week, it may be too simplistic to blaime the technology. David White convincingly argues that it is naive to talk of digital natives. As he suggests, we could think of people being visiting certain digital platforms and media, using the them as a tool to do something, and people being residents in the digital, leaving traces and developing identitity as they use certain digital platforms. Online learning is thus not really a matter of tools, but a matter of practices. Such a view resonates with what in organisation theory and information systems we call sociomateriality, which is a perspective according to which tools do not enable/constrain actions, but rather as they enacted in ways that set certain constrains and enable certain possibilities (Orlikowski, 2000).

This makes sense in relation to how I have experienced the first two weeks of this course. We have being introduced to a number of different tools: blogs, google drive, padlet, infographics, screen-capturing video presentations, zoom, etc. Some of them were new, while others were familiar to me. But I would argue that, although it may take some time, the challenge with these tools is not as complicated as the challenge with learning the practices. I would argue that uncertainty is the challenge with the digital tools. Uncertainty can be resolved by more information that provides answer to what I do not know.

A different thing is to get comfortable with the practices. In this case I would argue that the challenge is ambiguity. It can’t be solved by more information. It needs to be handled in the practicing and it might never go completely away. Referring again to David White, one aspect of such ambiguity is which knowledge is legitimate. If we value everyone’s experiences and thoughts, both when consuming and relating to knowledge present in different forms online and when discussing in our groups, who has the “precedence”? Which voices become strong and are we comfortable with that? And where do we look for knowledge when we no longer use a sequential way of reading as in books? Opening and connecting does not necessarily mean more evenly distributed power, it means that power is exercised in another way. And also, how does the use of technology support the enactment of power? What happens in a zoom-seminar compared to IRL-seminar? Who owns documents? Are documents shared or used sequentially? I think that this is the real challenge in a learning situation in online connected learning. How is power exercised and how do we all contribute to that?

Orlikowski WJ (2000) Using technology and constituting structures: A practice lens for studying technology in organizations. Organization science, 11(4): 404-428.

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