Final reflection

“Learning is at the heart of personal change and transformation, and the learner needs to take risks and deal with changing situations in his or her environment.” (Kop et al, 2011)

This sentence pretty well sums up what FDOL has been about for me: widening my comfort zone.

Reviewing my old posts:

The digital me Well, yes, here I am, out of my cave for several weeks now, actually thriving! I’m thinking of the final piece of advice for the south-east quadrant in Coomey & Stephensons paper (2001): “Beware that learners could become so involved in browsing that they might not be thinking about the learning related to specific subject matter (Ewing et al, 1999)” – that’s me!

The digital me #2 The first confusing weeks condensated into this post; I was trying really hard to get my head around all this. Looking back, it’s not until now, some four weeks later, that I really feel I know what I’m supposed to do (and where).

Halfway digitally literate? Just a few days later, in a new, more active group, motivation goes up and I’m having fun. Also getting to be a real sucker for comments on my posts! Peer feedback is a truly forceful instrument.

Flexibilities galore My earlier experiences of distance learning from The digital me #2 comes to mind – the flexible learning back then differs in many aspects from this ‘new’ flexible – but some of it remains firmly the same.

Collaboration anywhere in sight? Collaboration in the FDOL frame has been a real pleasure. Being able to relax into a group of people, each doing their thing while simultaneously contributing towards a common whole, was something I didn’t expect. There has been an easy mixture of effort and effortlessness in the group’s work combined with a willingness to take on responibility for this or that. Great!! When I started working on this topic I felt recalcitrant to it and wanted to remain sitting on the fence. I discussed the idea of creativity in groups with a friend who is a copywriter. His view on that is pretty much summed up by this newspaper article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html (and don’t miss the first of the comments!).

Supporting learners Two hours after publishing this post there already was a comment posted on it: “You really describe spot on the changes over time! You can really think about why there is now such a great need for support when everything is so well organized and more goal-oriented – what happened along the way?” – a good example of support for the learner and a new thought there too, just the way you’d like it! The way I see it, this course has been exemplary in its construction in so far as it has promoted and had us participants experience the points it has set out to make: the importance of well thought-out tasks, well-managed group-work, teacher and peer support etc.

OK – so for remaining enigmas? Exactly how private is a private community on Google+? Still some of the tools work in a slightly haphazard way, like sometimes I see the green telephone receiver symbol for google hangout, sometimes I don’t. Or am I the haphazard bit?

 

 

 

 

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Supporting learners

When I think of support during my undergraduate studies, my Mum comes to mind, always there to provide mental support and administer cups of tea the night before exams. She often told me of her own university years, starting in the spring term 1940, when there were about 2000 students at Lund University (today 47000) and quite few women among them, that it was on one hand more personal with smaller student groups and on the other hand much less formalized. I know she dreaded written exams – of which there were many – but the oral exams, even though they were more personal and sometimes quite relaxed, stand out from her stories as whims of eccentric professors more than anything.

Apart from private late night tea parties at my Mum’s, as I remember it, the firm (to the point of being constrictive) structure of the programme and the goings-over after exams was what there was to be had from educators as far as support goes. Peer support was almost never formalized but something we just did as a natural part of studies.

Students and course participants these days seem to expect more in the way of support then I can remember us doing. It is truly an axiom that students always feel they are not getting enough feedback on what they are doing. In campus courses students socialize with each other and have relatively easy access to teaching staff even though there may not always be built-in regular features for this, whereas in an online course this has to be regularized. Coomey & Stephenson (2001) state that “The need for support is the most frequently mentioned feature of online learning.” and include “periodic face-to-face contact, online tutorial supervision, peer support, advice from experts, feedback on performance, support services and software tools” as desirable parts.

There are several other areas where support may be of vital importance, apart from specifically in a course. Simpson (2008) cover some of those within learning motivation. At Lund University there is an Academic Support Centre (ASC) where students can get help and support with writing, study skills, speaking and presentation skills etc. The ASC, which just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has seen a growing demand for its services over the past years. Study guidance is also available. Though these supporting functions may be helpful, Simpson suggests there may be a need for other kinds of input to this area and suggests theories of learning motivation of interest to open and distance learning educators. He refers to Anderson (2003) suggesting that motivation is the best predictor of student retention. More about this on: http://stephenp.net/2007/08/24/student-retention-ormond-simpson-the-open-university/.

The learning experience from this FDOL course has pointed out some areas for development in the courses we are currently running. As mentioned in an earlier post (https://lottaabjorn.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/6-openness-craze-and-open-educational-practices/) changes have been made to the support given from teachers and further changes are being discussed…

 

Collaboration anywhere in sight?

Having started compulsory school in Sweden in 1969 (curriculum LGr69 = Läroplan för Grundskolan 1969), I have a deeply ingrained distrust in anything remotely like groupwork. Really good idea on the whole, mostly really badly managed in reality. I wonder whether the term “collaborative learning” existed in 1969? Most students, I believe also those not subjected to LGr69 at an early stage, dislike groupwork, and for a number of good reasons; a perceived asymmetry in level of commitment, effort and quality of individual contributions, lack of shared goals and an imbalance between individual and collective grades. These reasons are mentioned in Capdeferro & Romero’s paper about online learners (2012), but I believe the very same irritants are applicable to any campus course.

Along the way I started working as a teacher in a PBL-setting and got interested in life in tutorial groups. The role of the tutor in such groups varies to a large extent from the traditional teacher role, and as I found this challenging I went about learning more about group dynamics to improve my skills in managing the groups. The difference between what I remember from the groupwork of my school days and PBL lies in the surrounding framework and the managerial skills of the tutors; a firm structure of a course, specified intended learning outcomes, rules about how to conduct the activities in the group and at the onset of the course an active tutor to guide students.

The collaboration that goes on in a PBL-group is supposed to emulate the natural problem-solving process in real life workplaces (e.g. clinical work in a hospital), but is a meticulously fabricated construction no matter how you look at it. A bit like practising swimming strokes out of the water, but probably as good as it gets.

In a PBL-group there are four levels or aspects of the work that can be observed: content of subject matter, working method, group dynamics (process) and metacognition. When you set about working as a tutor, the first thing you worry about is whether the students will cover the intended material and learn according to plan. To guide the work there are intended learning outcomes and for the tutor (usually) a tutor guide. When you’re satisfied that will come out about right, your next worry is if the group is working according to the set rules, i.e. the problem solving process. For that you have the “Seven Jump” describing the process. The group process or dynamics is the next issue to be addressed. For this, each newly-formed group is requested to draw up a contract for their prospective work. The contract is then used for evaluation after (some) group sessions. Lastly, there is the question of metacognition. This is addressed by asking questions like “How are we doing with this group work?” or “Could we do this more efficiently?”.

The work in the PBL group in the FDOL course has been less structured, but the four levels described above have been on my mind at times. The intended learning outcomes and tasks are described under each topic and the COOL FISh design points out the “how”. Each group participant assumes responsibility for his or her own work and outcome, and also for contributing to the joint effort. The metacognitive reflective part has been done partly individually, partly in the group.

In this FDOL course the real collaboration started after I’d gotten over the initial obstacles and was starting to find my way around the different tools and spaces. To be able to collaborate you need to truly feel you can contribute towards the shared work and not feel you are held back by technicalities, which is something to consider when choosing tools for educational purposes.