ONL is a course that is really difficult at first – even though the course team really tries to be clear and give a firm structure, the set-up is very different from what most of us have experienced, hence initial confusion closely followed by frustration. The course sort of has to be allowed to grow on you, a process that is only possible if frustration is kept at a tolerable level, and if proper support is provided.
I have seen many PBL groups come and go, on campus and online. Each group is its very own mix of humans and therefore unique. Certain common traits can be observed in the group process for most groups, but the outcome differs – some groups never really get going properly, some groups fall apart – and some groups really demonstrate the true power of collaboration. In a previous life I liked to have two PBL groups in each course to be able to detach myself (at least partly) from the course of events in the groups – assuming that I was approximately the same person at 10am as at 1pm. Sometimes both groups worked fine and sometimes one group didn’t – and then I had the experience from the other group to fall back on. This told me that my own importance in groups is fairly limited, once they’ve got started. I have come to believe that in the end it all boils down to the combination of persons, personal qualities and personalities – provided the course work is intelligently crafted.
This iteration of the ONL course was my fifth as a facilitator, and my first with a co-facilitator who was very much present in meetings and everyday activities of the group. The group (PBL5, the best) was a truly international bunch – one Aussie, one Pakistani, one Pole, two South Africans and four Swedes. The work in the group came to function miraculously well (despite e g 9 hrs time zone difference) and even though we had some tech issues, the group managed to meet face-to-face regularly and everyone was attentive enough all the way through so that nothing was left hanging. In her recent blog post, co-facilitator Kay Oddone takes a closer look at the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of successful group collaboration, mentioning dedication to a shared purpose, respect for each other and each other’s contributions and flexibility in the decision-making process as ingredients in the ‘special sauce’ of this fabulous group.
I learnt a lot again, about people’s willingness to learn and take on responsibility, about friendliness and respect, and also obviously about course content and new tools. Apart from this, what I will take with me to the next round of ONL is the idea of a communication strategy – to try and make it clear to everyone exactly what goes where. One of the main hurdles in this course is simply finding one’s way about the different sites and pages – and this is a steady source of frustration during the first important weeks. The lowest common denominator when it comes to communication these days is email – so this is the place to start.