Blog 1: Topic 1

I post about what I have learned in the course Open Networked Learning ONL192.

Online participation

& digital literacies

The way we should develop digital literacies is more progressive than sequential.

— Doug Belshaw.

In the past ten years, I have worked at five different universities in Finland and Sweden. During my past four years in Sweden, I have worked at three universities and lived in four apartments. It is my Swedish experience above all that has taught me flexibility and that has taught me that even middle-aged people can become more flexible than they used to be. It has also taught me about prioritizing and creative problem solution.

These experiences agree well with what Doug Belshaw talks about in his TED talk on the essential elements of digital literacies. He recommends that we should not consider digital learning in terms of linear learning where we first learn one thing and then a second thing that is based on the first one, and so on. Instead, we should think that we can first learn to use a tool a little and then, in the course of time, deepen our understanding of it, meaning that we might use a tool even before we feel that we fully understand it. We should trust the use of the tool to teach us how the tool works, in due course. Lastly, we do not need to learn all tools but can focus on ones that interest us or serve our interests.

I think that linear learning allows us a sense of security because we can control that we have learned one thing before we proceed to the next one. We feel that we know what we have achieved and where we are going. I used to love this kind of learning, but the past few years have taught me that I do not need to have full control. For example, if I need to teach several new courses in a term, I can focus on the main things that I need to teach during each course. If I then teach the course another time, I can and will deepen my understanding of it.

Of course as a university lecturer of English I can rely on my previous experience if I start to teach a new course. However, I think that most of us also have previous experience of digital tools because almost every colleague uses at least one tool, be it Facebook, LinkedIn, Academia.edu or WhatsApp. Almost everyone can also google, let alone understands how to click on windows on a computer screen. That is a good start. Come to think of it, some of us must be better than others even in searching for data by googling, but we do not tend to compare and get discouraged.

To conclude, when I have tried new things with computers I have also learned that people who provide IT support seldom master all aspects of the programs themselves. One can provide me with some information, and another can perhaps add to that. Yet they earn their salary by giving such advice. Why then, could not we trust ourselves to venture to use new programs even if we first take toddler steps?

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Blog 5: Topic 5

Open Networked Learning: Lessons Learnt

I found this Star Wars meme when I searched for memes that would relate to my experience of the course Open Networked Learning. We did not use it in our group project when our task was to create a meme that described our joint experience. It was a good decision, but I thought that I could comment on the ”Stay on target” meme in my last blog.

My general experience of this course was very positive, but there were moments when I felt irritation or stress because I could not completely fit the contents and schedule of the course together. This meme best relates to our online group discussions which were not always clearly headed towards a goal before they were supposed to end. Or, perhaps they were, but I did not understand it.

Throughout the course, I pondered on this tension between staying on target within the schedule and the branching off of our discussions into various directions. I realized that it would have been better to simply relax since our group worked well as a group. In other words, we collaborated well. There was a natural dynamic to it, so that we did not need a nervous person to repeat ”Stay on target”. Sooner or later we always landed on the target.

To put it differently, humans do not work exactly like space ships. It is ironic that I need to remind myself of this although I work in the humanities. I even apply this in my own teaching and let students get carried away if they become enthusiastic, so I should allow it to happen also when I myself learn something new. To control good group chemistry too much could probably even lead into destroying it.

My friend once told me that good relationships need not constantly be analyzed. You can simply be thankful and enjoy them. A key word here is trust. Sometimes the most important thing is to trust. Thank you group 8!

Blog 4: Topic 4

Design for online and blended learning: Comments on emotions

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

In this blog, I will simply focus on the few words that I exchanged with Marti Cleveland-Innes during the webinar on 26 November. I told her that I would like to see if my students or colleagues are happy when I teach a course or chair a meeting but that I had realized that I cannot necessarily see it. In other words, I may misinterpret how the situation went. She commented that the students do not always need to feel happy but that it suffices if they feel safe.

Since I have specialized on the various senses of English words for emotions, I will stop a little here to comment on the meaning of the adjective happy. Marti’s reaction suggests to me that she did not think of such bleached senses that can occur when people say, for example, that they are happy to do something, or ask a customer if they are happy. Instead, she probably thought of an emotion such as expressed by the German adjective froh, or French joyeux. Of course, to be really sure, I should ask her. The point here nevertheless is that speakers of languages other than English often feel that they would not use their own word for ‘happy’ on all occasions when speakers of English use happy. They feel that their word is too strong and that no such emotion is actually being discussed.

Be it as it may, the point about the students feeling safe really hit me. While discussing the matter in a smaller group, I realized that rather than feeling especially happy, my students might often feel safe. This is because I try to give them many opportunities to express their ideas and emotions and to tell me what they think and how they feel about the courses I teach or about my teaching. I am also open about my own thinking and emotions and can say, for example, that I am particularly tired on a certain day and might say something silly or make a mistake.

I would nevertheless like to add that experience tells me most students are unlikely to be open about these kinds of things after the first or even the second seminar. For example, today I talked to a student face to face and when they left, they said that they were feeling completely exhausted. My gut feeling is that this student would not have told this in the beginning of the term because they seemed reserved and somewhat intimidated by me. Therefore, if you wish to introduce openness about emotions in a course, I recommend that you be consistent and persistent in creating room for it. You cannot force expression of emotion but you can let students understand that it is allowed.

Blog 3: Topic 3

Learning in communities

– networked collaborative learning

Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

Here I want to comment on two things that I definitely see as advantages of networked collaborative learning if used wisely. Both have to do with research.

I have seen many scholars form relatively static groups with potentially many people inside the group but little interaction between those and other people. This kind of configuration has its advantages of course. People inside the group learn to know each other well and trust each other; they learn how each person works and can develop good ways to collaborate; and they can become very productive.

There are, however, also disadvantages to very tightly-knit collaborative networks. A major one is that it can be difficult to introduce any new ideas to such groups. Even if people continuously develop their joint research, development can be slowed down by the fact that each new idea has to be introduced if not to all then at least many members of the group and be accepted by them. It can take a long time before an idea gets accepted by enough members of the group to be actually developed.

The first advantage of networked collaborative learning that I therefore want to mention here is that it potentially breaks us free from too tight groupings by allowing us to learn from people outside the group and even publish outside the group. Moreover, it is likely that if we are involved in various loosely constructed groups we hear sooner about new developments. We thus become more versatile and up-to-date.

The second advantage is that we may not be equally jealous of a person whom we only encounter a few times in a loose network than of a close colleague who seems to succeed better than we. A tightly-knit group feels more like home than an extensive network, but it also involves the problems that come with close relationships. If you meet someone regularly and that person begins to irritate you in one way or another, you may be able to disguise it and continue to collaborate, but it can still significantly affect how much you want to share with them. If you regularly share small pieces of information with many people, it is a completely different configuration and creates less friction between two particular individuals.

Blog 2: Topic 2

Sharing and Openness

Photo by Sophie Elvis on Unsplash

In this blog post, I will consider two things that, in my experience, prevent university teachers from sharing their teaching (materials) online and perhaps even prevent them from considering any such possibility. One is that there are many courses which are taught in the same way from one term to another, on the basis of materials created by predecessors. The other is that the staff of a particular department is often expected to behave in sync, meaning that everyone is expected to teach and share materials in approximately the same way regardless of topic and course contents.

If I am simply told to teach a course on the basis of pre-existing materials, I do not necessarily even know who has created those materials. That means that I do not know whose work I would be sharing if I made any of them available to a wider public. This kind of practice also effectively prevents me from being very creative to begin with. I know that I am expected to deliver my group(s) exactly the same information in exactly the same form as my colleagues do. Of course if I teach any such course several times, I begin to improvise to some extent and add information that was not originally among the materials I received. It also tends to be possible to discuss the teaching of these kinds of courses with colleagues, which in theory means that we could discuss whether we could make any of the materials open to the public or even turn the course to a MOOC.

Here I nevertheless come to my second point. Even if the course was entirely of my very own design, I would not dare turn it to a MOOC without discussing my decision with colleagues. It is likely that if I wanted to teach my course in a new way, the idea would be met with some resistance. It would thus be unlikely that I could simply proceed. Rather, I would need to prepare to defend my idea in detailed discussions with several people and still, the idea could be rejected. I know this because I have discussed the teaching of several courses with various colleagues and it is very important to some colleagues that we all have approximately the same approach to teaching. In my understanding, they think that if one of us does things in a different way, it creates pressure on others to change their approach likewise.

Consequently, even if I would like to share and be open, there is a limit to how open any single member of staff can be as long as the system does not favour openness. I am aware of other limits such as copyright of pictures, articles and books, and of further challenges to openness, but decided to limit my discussion to a couple of issues here. These issues could even be regarded as one and the same: the systems which I have experienced in two different countries seem to favour a rather traditional approach to teaching. This is something that can only be changed by people in power.

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