Topic 5: Discovering digital connectedness

When reflecting back on this ONL course during the spring of 2020,  it is impossible not to think about the dramatic events in society caused by the Coronavirus and the world wide epidemic with its overall impacts in many areas and the sudden need for online teaching – “emergency remote teaching” rather than designed online course teaching, as someone put it. Strangely enough the sense of being connected to other teachers in different places and countries during this course and being able to follow how everybody coped with sudden change and challenges, served like a red thread and almost had a sense of normalcy to it, since this course was online anyway.

I will never forget that one of my PBL group friends, Osman Kucuk (see his course blog with the wonderful title Learning means happiness), wrote on our group page on the 9th of March, 2020, that he had signed up for this course because he believed online teaching was the “teaching of the future” and he needed to learn more about it. On the 17th of March Swedish universities closed down their campus teaching and went all online. I think many of the participants, including me, had similar motives for signing up and we expected to be able to explore new digital tools in order to design better online courses in the future. But when writing this, we are still teaching and working completely online – it is the technology of now – and we have no idea how long this is going to last.

Perhaps the ongoing crisis helped us to understand one of the key words of the course better, namely networked. This is actually one of my my main insights of the course, which has also been very nicely summarized by another course participant in my group, Lucia, who in her blog post reflected on the fact that the key words “open” and “networked” in this course turned out to be much more important than she had expected – read more on her inspiring blog Lucia’s thoughts while learning @ONL201.

As Lucia states, this course has opened up new teaching sources and showed us not only how to use different technologies, but also how to create interactive course designs with opportunities for sharing thoughts and reflections in new and creative ways. I also very much liked the way this course has given us the opportunities (indeed gently forced us) to collaborate and produce “products”, thereby constantly practising what we are being taught. After having finished the course, we have familiarised ourselves with new tools such as infographs, podcast, goggle sheets, Adobe spark film (a difficult challenge, but so much fun in the end! – see our final video “recipe” here), meme, padlets, and there would be so many more opportunities. The one thing that we did not have to actually learn during the course was how to use Zoom rooms. From the middle of March and onwards we had all probably experienced more “zooming” than all earlier course participants together, for obvious reasons. 🙂 When writing this, I am preparing a working day with at least 3, and probably 4-5 Zoom meetings ….

One thing I personally realised during the course is the fact that all thinkers and teachers have always tried to connect, using whatever technical tools were available. In a Swedish narrative biography on the Renaissance writer and thinker Erasmus of Rotterdam, Gutenberggalaxens nova (2016) by Nina Burton, she states that this prolific and constantly curious writer would have been the greatest blogger in Europe of this time, if he would have had access to today’s blogging opportunities. He wanted to stay constantly connected with friends and readers and so do we. In that sense, I see digital connectedness as a continuation of preceding centuries’ thinking and learning traditions and we will probably see even faster and more efficient tools for exchanging and exploring new thoughts and ideas in the future.

There are probably many reasons why this was a successful learning experience to many of us. One of them was intrinsic motivation caused by external factors as stated initially, I think. But the most important reasons why this is a very good course that I have recommended to several of my colleagues I think are as follow: a) the course is very well planned and has loads of interesting materials that I will continue to explore during quite some time and b)  we were connected in our PBL group in a clever and emotionally present way by by our great group facilitator, Alastair Creelman (see his blogs The corridor of uncertainty and Flexspan (the latter one in Swedish and perhaps the only blog on /digital/ education in Sweden?) We discovered the value of digital connectedness by being gradually connected in practice on a smaller scale, realising that this opened up to a whole world of more connections. I also like the idea of stressing the value of creating a personal learning network, which is something I will practice in my own teaching with language teacher students.

It is impossible to summarise all the things I learnt during the course and I really feel this is only the beginning. If I had the time I would re-take the course in order to delve more deeply into the literature and research and learning more from the other participants (see all final tips gathered on the group padlet here), but it is a great gift that the ONL course page is still open and available as a future inspiration learning place. So I would just like to express my thanks to all the course creators and teachers and to all participants! All the best for your future projects and courses and I hope I will meet some of you again.

References:

Burton, Nina: Gutenberggalaxens nova (2016).

Open Networked Learning course page

Lucia’s blog: Lucia’s thoughts while learning @ONL201

Osman Kucuk’s blog: Learning means happiness 

Alastair Creelmans blogs: Flexspan and The corridor of uncertainty

Topic 4: Learning places that spark emotional interest

“designers and educators need to create places that are not only safe to learn, but also spark some emotional interest” (Fielding 2006)

To me the fourth topic of the course with its focus on emotional presence (Cleveland-Innes, 2008) – and particularly emotional presence within the Community of Inquiry framework (Cleveland-Innes & Campbell 2012; Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. , 2013) – turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding sessions of the course. For whatever reason I think my initial associations with online networked learning had been expectations of the opposite of emotional presence – I vaguely expected that we would learn a great deal about how to handle different technical tools in order to facilitate more efficient learning, but hardly anything that was connected to feelings. I had participated in a number of good workshops on digital tools earlier, with enthusiastic and competent teachers where we practised “learning by doing”. And we are all familiar with the phenomenon of social media and their increasing role in people’s lives, where the focus obviously is on emotional aspects rather than technological issues. And still these seminars on the role of emotions in learning and the importance of connecting to others (students and fellow teachers) with all your dimensions turned out to be a real eye-opener to me. I have now listened to the initial webinar presentations by Marti Cleveland-Innes and Anne Whaits several times and will probably return to their publications a number of times in the future.

So why was this so important to me? To begin with I suppose that we can all recognize the feeling when a theoretical model puts into words or pictures something that you already knew intuitively, but that you haven’t analysed consciously yet. And since we are all university teachers and have been socialized into academic thinking born of specific traditions, the role of emotional presence in your teaching and the extent to which your students show or hide emotions in class, may not have appeared to be central to your planning and evaluation of academic knowledge and progress. And suddenly you realise that you have overseen something very important and that this is perhaps the starting point for everything else.

The three-fold model that Cleveland-Innes presented  in the padlet for this topic states that an educational setting consists of three main focus areas: teaching presence (NB not teacher’s presence, it could also be peer collaboration teaching), social presence and cognitive presence. All the areas are obviously interrelated and connected with central teaching tasks such as engagement with participants, engagement with content and engagement with goals and directions.

And so the main question posed is: Is emotional presence the 4th presence, residing next to the others? Should we always try to manifest our teaching selves in those four dimensions in order to facilitate learning among our students? Again the academic eye wants to structure things in all too neat boxes. In the interactive padlet it was obvious that some of the participants of the course found it rather difficult or even impossible to separate social presence from emotional presence, which I found interesting.  But the answer given by Cleveland-Innes was that emotional presence should not be regarded as a separate skill or aspect. Instead it should be seen as the underlying prerequisite of it all. Perhaps – if we imagine a house with several floors – we could regard emotional presence as the very foundation of the whole building. Without being emotionally present and without being able to promote and maintain your students’ emotional presence and engagement with what we are trying work with together  your cognitive, social and teaching presence may not fulfil their intended effects at all. The interesting challenge, then, is to be able to convey this in an online environment, especially if we tend to underestimate the role of emotional presence in an academic setting (see

I think that it would be rewarding to investigate the link between the notion of a student’s emotional presence and his or her intrinsic motivation (motivation being born out of the individual’s personal interests, longings and curiosity rather than external motivation triggered by good notes, for example, or other rewards; see Gardner 1965 and Ryan and Deci, 2000, among others). The importance of intrinsic motivation for deep learning effects is well-researched and widely discussed – and all teachers do recognize this in their practice when you see a “light” in the eyes of your students. Still, in real life,  the boundary between what should be termed “inner” and “outer” motivation respectively has turned out to be less clear-cut than academic models would want them to be. An outer reward could lead to a real interest in a subject, whereas intrinsic motivation can also rise and fade during the day – and there is also the common possibility of mixed motivations and factors, long-term and short-term.

To sum it up – perhaps the idea of emotional presence, combined with the insight of different motivational aspects on a scale consisting of different intrinsic and extrinsic factors, could help lead teachers and students to even better course designs and learning paths – regardless of these paths being trodden in class or online. The most important aspect of emotional presence in online courses, however, seems to be that you as a teacher have to consciously build in possibilities of showing emotional presence in a Zoom room, for example. As we all experience now during the Corona pandemic, we sit at home and try to connect through a screen. If we only focus on the academic content of a course, the students will – as somebody so nicely put it in the interactive padlet – use a lot of energy to hide and suppress emotions that could otherwise be put into learning.  Small details such as giving room for small-talk, having a connecting week with personal presentations and time for getting used to each other as well as the technology (as we had in this course),  and letting students show appreciation,  enthusiasm or doubt during the course, may be a lot more important for their actual learning than you think.

To further investigate the role of emotional presence and the possibilities of facilitating and enhancing emotional presence in a teaching and learning online context will be one of the most inspiring challenges that I take with me from this course.

References:

Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2019). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age:  Principles and Practices of Design. Routledge.

Cleveland-Innes, M. & Campbell. P. (2012): Emotional presence, learning, and the online learning environment. 

Lehman, Rosemary M. (2010): Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching: How to “Be There” for Distance Learners.  Cleveland.

 

Topic 3: Changing our thinking together

When reflecting on the third topic of this course and choosing one of the suggested questions for the blog posts, I was in doubt whether I could find a real learning experience that included:   a) collaborative learning and b) something that moved my own thinking forward. The last part was the real challenge – how can we tell when we have moved our thinking forward?

The easiest example would be to quote collaborative learning experiences from this ONL course itself, since we have commented on our collaborative learning numerous times in our PBL group during the course. But I found that, being Swedish and growing up with group work in pre-school, group work (Swedish “grupparbeten“) in school years 1-9, group work in upper secondary school and finally more group work at the university in my language teacher training programme, I should have many useful examples to choose from. My problem was only, to be honest, that in my experience group work was seldom a rewarding, innovative and empowering experience, the way it is described in i.e. the online webinar by Miriam Fischer, Gregor Theilmeier and Danielle Santos for this course.  As was stated in the initial dilemma of the course, collaborative learning can too often materialise as co-operative learning at its best and social loafing at its worst. In fact, when reading the article by Capdeferro and Romero (2012), “Are Online Learners Frustrated with Collaborative Learning Experiences?”, I found myself transferred to many similar student experiences of frustration by group work that did not take place online, but that just seems typical of less fruitful collaboration.

The gap between theory and practice is clearly visible in a lot of pedagogical debate and thinking, to the extent that we start in theory instead of being present in actual practice, but then I found one example of real collaborative learning which did move my thinking to a new place – when I and two of my colleagues started a language teacher podcast together (“The Language Teacher Podcast” or in Swedish: Språklärarpodden).

The main reasons why I wanted to reflect on this example are: a) it was a spontaneous idea that was born during a meeting on how to create more inspiring course materials for language teacher students, b) it was an idea that could only be implemented as a group project and therefore required committed collaboration c) the whole project was completely new and would move us out of our comfort zone, which brought a certain “flow” to our thinking, because we thought it was fun.

Obviously this was a teacher collaborative project and not a student project, but being forced to step out and try something new, we had the valuable experience of being beginners again and we were forced to use our previous knowledge in new ares. The role of our emotions in this project was clearly of great importance (c.f. the necessity of bringing emotions into group work and learning in general, see the above-quoted webinar), not least because it made us prioritise these tasks within our otherwise full work-load.

I will not go into the details of the actual project (the podcast episodes can be downloaded on the above homepage) but while working out the actual technical and thematic framework for the separate episodes, I guess we actually formed a real “community of practice” (Wenger 2010) without being explicitly aware of this. We planned and revised our thinking together, we carried out the actual project together and we encouraged each other to stick to the project and to move forward to new places. The most interesting thing was to learn how much joy researchers expressed when they were given the opportunity to talk freely about their passion for research, and also how appreciative the students were when they listened to the episodes. It was an empowering experience and the only negative thing was that we eventually had to finish the project earlier than planned due to lack of time.

To sum up – in my PBL group (group 6), we actually had some very rewarding discussions about the advantages and disadvantages – seen from a practical point of view and out of our own experience – of collaborative learning in different scientific fields. We also ended up by recording a podcast with a fictional debate on collaborative learning that you can listen to here. My main “exit note” from this experience is that true collaboration can indeed move the thinking of a group to a new place with rewarding insights, and the secret must be how we as teachers can work harder to create those opportunities for our students. Maybe it will always take some courage too.

References:

Capdeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44.

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