Earlier this year I had the privilege of completing the online open course, Open Networked Learning 2016, iteration 1 (ONL161). As I reflected on my learning way back in April, I thought that my connections with this particular learning experience had ended. However…I was contacted by the lovely Lotta Åbjörnsson, who works as an Educational developer at Lund University, and who is one of the course team of ONL, and she asked me if I wished to continue my journey with Open Networked Learning in the second iteration of 2016, this time as a co-facilitator of a PBL (problem based learning) group. As a committed learner and one who is always open to new educational experiences, I leapt at this opportunity!
Now, at the end of the year, ONL162 has had its final meeting, and I have been honoured to be a part of PBL5, an amazing group of tertiary educators, each dedicated in their own fields, but drawn together by a common desire to learn more about open, online, networked pedagogy and learning. Our group has demonstrated the power of global connection, and the capacity of technology to now truly connect learners from all over the world. With participants from Sweden, South Africa, Poland, Pakistan and myself in Australia, we met about twice a week, via Zoom video conferencing during the ten week course, to learn and collaborate together. What an amazing experience!
What did we learn in ONL162?
The overview of ONL162 was as follows:
|1. Connecting – online participation and digital literacies
|2. Open Learning – sharing and openness
|3. Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning
|4. Design for online and blended learning
|5. Lessons learnt – future practice
As you can see, we were dealing with not only a rich array of content, but more than this, the course provided contextualised opportunities for participants to develop their skills and understandings in how this content might be creatively implemented. My role, as co-facilitator, was to act as a sounding board; as a past participant, I was there to support, suggest, commend and create with the group. For me, this role might have been challenging, however the members of the group worked so well together, and formed such a strong commitment to democratically constructing responses to each of the topic scenarios, that little guidance was needed!
The power of the collaborative group
Why did this group work so well together, when so many groups struggle? What was the ‘special sauce’ that these individuals had? As an observer, and co-facilitator, I have given this quite a bit of thought, and have come to the following conclusions:
1. The group was dedicated to a shared purpose – each of the members was committed to successful participation in the course, and was willing (and able) to spend the time needed to not only meet regularly, but also to work on the tasks that were decided upon in order to collaboratively construct learning artefacts in response to the scenarios.
2. The group was highly respectful of each other, and recognised the unique and valuable contributions each individual made: our group consisted of tertiary educators, who shared a common interest (educating University students) but who also came from very different disciplines (we had teachers of computer science, Swedish literature, law, teacher education and social sciences (geography)). This meant that while there was a shared educational language, there were also distinct differences in strengths. The group members recognised this, and worked to enable each participant to take advantage of these different backgrounds, while working together to enrich their knowledge in the focus area.
3. The group was flexible and their eyes were on the bigger picture: during each meeting, decisions were made about what digital tools might be used, what pedagogical strategies might be focused upon, and what topic areas were most meaningful for the majority. In almost all cases decisions were made democratically through voting, however there were some instances where one member of the group felt strongly about going in a particular direction. When this happened, sometimes the whole group listened to the arguments being made and altered their choices, while other times the individual who was initiating the idea sacrificed their argument to align with the greater group. It is difficult to put into words how this happened, but basically, no one was precious about their own ideas. Suggestions were made, considered, and usually the majority ruled. The bigger picture, being the learning that would occur regardless of which direction was chosen, was put first, and this enabled the group to overcome potential obstacles and impasses. Of course there is always a time when it is important to fight for what is right – but when a decision is being made between two opposing pedagogical frameworks for the sake of exploration, the greater purpose, being learning, was always what guided the final choice.
This is what PBL5 created at the conclusion of the course: an infographic, sharing not only what they had created and achieved, but also a reflection on their learning experience:
There are many ways in which this course, which is carefully designed to support effective networked learning, aligns strongly with connected learning. In the following days I plan to share a second post, drawing these connections. In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who is looking for a challenge in 2017 to consider joining in ONL171. The course is 10 weeks long, provides a certificate of participation if certain requirements are met, and is a powerful and enjoyable way to learn about open and networked learning. I hope to continue my connection with the course and with the wonderful people I have met along the way. Here’s just a taste of what you will experience: