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My first blog post

This is the post excerpt.

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Hi,

I started this post as part of an online learning course (https://opennetworkedlearning.wordpress.com/). I have never made a blog before, but I guess there is always a first time for everything and it is never too late to learn on making one.  In this blog, you will learn about me and my endeavors to acquire pedagogic skills through the ONL training. I hope you find it interesting!

A positive note: As you look into the horizon, there is always hope to go where you want to be regardless of the distance.  

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Reflections on Topic 5: Lessons learnt – future practice

When I enrolled and started the ONL162 course, I did not know how many hours it required nor how much time I was going to invest on it, but as the course moved forward, I became very much engaged since I became interested on every topic that was going to be covered. At first, I felt lost in the course, as well as overwhelmed given that I had given birth to my first child only few days after the course had started. I was off schedule and behind assignments. However, I found my way back into the course after contacting and meeting one of my moderators, Mohammed Seed Ahmed, who helped me to get back on track. Thence, I started catching up, listening to the webinars, reading the papers and blogs – of course, all at my own pace. The course was a good learning experience and taught me a new ways of thinking and methods when it came to teaching, its perspectives, and how digital information is disseminated today.

My peers in the PBL group #9, Miriam Mosing, Sonja Sharp, Åsa Kneck, Gizeh Perez Tenorio, and Raphael Masesawere were all very talented and quite experienced with digital media tools for online teaching. I learned about their skills and contributions as I went over the FISH documents and read their thoughts and feedback on the respective topic. Their blogs also showed that they were very knowledgeable not just in their pedagogic training, but also in their subjects of expertise as well as in the structure of the ONL course. Everyone in the PBL group #9 had great enthusiasm and brought her/his own contribution and perspective to the group. Thus, cultural and intellectual diversity was obvious. One aspect that I found quite impressive about our group was the positive feedback despite some frustrations the group faced while tackling assignments. The group had good dynamics and high-level teamwork, and of course, our moderators Franscisca Frenks and Mohammed Seed Ahmed, were a tremendous component of this contribution and to the development of the team. I think the moderators’ enthusiasm and dedication was very important throughout the course. Their work propelled everyone in the group to continue contributing and learning through the assigned activities. Networking was also very present among us. In the online meetings that I participated, my peers were very supportive and receptive towards my input and feedback. They appreciated my input and contributions in past FISH documents, where I wrote my thoughts on the proposed scenario even after the assignment’s deadline had past. Everyone appreciated my wanting to be part of group and the course, and therefore my contributions were valued. In se, the fact that everyone considered my inputs, even though they were late, it motivated me to continue in the course. I guess this is the strength of being in a strong team and enriching the concept of “teamwork”… no one is left behind and everyone’s opinion matters!

The assigned activities performed by the PBL group #9 using the FISH document were very comprehensive and remarkable. Reading and learning about each other’s thoughts and ideas for the scenario being tackled prompted new ways of thinking for me and stimulated me to go to the web to learn more about the topic itself. Moreover, the applications and suggestions for using the various digital tools such as padlet, sway, prezit, piktochart, canva, pixlr, etc. that are available for creating online courses persuaded me to learn how to use them and consider them in the near future. Certainly, I found that to be exposed to new tools and learning in a short time can be challenging, but at the same time, it can quite exciting since it triggers one’s curiosity to explore further many of these tools. The digital exposure that I experienced during the interactions with my peers reminded me the constant need to grow my skills toolbox for future perspectives and opportunities. During the course, I also recognized that the usage of social media, such as Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc., is so important nowadays. This type of social media has become the major channel for exchanging and delivering information, as well as for establishing collaborations, networking, and reaching out to colleagues, therefore making me realize that I need to be more active using these networks. I realized that it is crucial to establish a professional online identity in order to keep up to today’s research, and meet new colleagues in the field.

Overall, the ONL162 course has been fruitful and worthwhile. I have met amazing individuals through the PBL group with whom I shared many experiences and emotions by working together on the digital platform. I have gathered new knowledge, improved my pedagogic training, and enriched my skills toolbox. And most of all, I have learned many of the components of digital literacies, that is, (1) information literacy, (2) digital scholarship, (3) learning skills, (4) ICT literacy, (5) career and identify management, (6) communications and collaborations, and (7) media literacy. However, my journey in this field is just at the beginning and there is more to do!

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Reflections on Topic 4: Design for online and blended learning

Nowadays, digital tools such as twitter and webinars are essential for teaching online courses. In-vivo digital communication is as important as the content of the course material since it offers active interaction between the teacher and the students and keeps the course dynamics moving forward. How one presents the course material and keeps an active communication depends on the design tools that one uses to make the course interactive. From research literature and various surveys regarding online courses, it is known that students become more engaged in online learning and that both enrollment and retention is higher when students have the opportunity to interact and contribute their input while they are engaged in the course. Thus, this implies that the method and tools for designing online learning activities are crucial to achieve pedagogic goals.

When inquiring in the internet about tools for online learning, I came across this informative website Course Design Tools and Resources which provides nice information highlighting important topics that one needs to keep in mind when preparing for offering a course online. One particularly aim that struck me the most and certainly made sense was the setting of the learning objectives, that is, keeping them short and outcome-specific statements which can be further divided into course-level objectives,  module-level objectives, and assignment/assessment objectives. Other recommendations that I found important were course assessments, grading strategies, syllabus structure, design matrix, and the Bloom’s taxonomy system. The latter, in particular captured my mind with many concepts which I believe are vital for classifying goals, objectives, and assignments according to the cognitive effort required of the student. The main purpose of the Bloom’s taxonomy system is to help the teacher see the amount of effort is being asked to student thus to diversify their courses and help improve student learning. The Bloom’s taxonomy is a system that encompasses central topics, such as knowledge, comprehension, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation with the aim to develop students’ growth academically and personally. A pyramid representation of the Bloom’s taxonomy is available here.

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In this topic, we were asked to examine the field of learning design guided by a scenario and come up with a suitable design for the scenario using a model for design of online and blended learning , such as the ADDIE-model (ADDIE Model Instructional Strategies, 2011) or The Five Stage Model (Salmon, 2013). These models represent the generic components of a learning/instructional design process involving analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation. We chose the latter for our activity.

Adopting the five-stage model, we decided to make an introductory course for problem –based learning (PBL) for first-year University and presented the course as a massive open online course (MOOC) similar to courses given under EdX or Coursera platforms. We embarked on this activity together adopting a collaborative approach and expressing our ideas using the FISH document.

Reflecting on this activity, I must say that even  though we did not apply the Bloom’s taxonomy system directly in our assignment, many of the system’s central topics were covered through our online discussions and addressed in our FISH document. The course website that we came up with for introducing problem –based learning (PBL) was well designed and very didactic.

 

Reflections on Topic 3: Learning in communities – networked collaborative learning

Networking directly with persons can be a bit challenging, as there are always differences among members in a group. Diversity is a beautiful thing but has an infinity number of components that sometimes can make everything so complicated. For example, cultural differences is a type of diversity that can make networking among people shaky, sometimes sharply shifting from positive dynamics to negative  depending on the argument/topic that is being addressed. Another example of diversity is intellectual or personality differences which can at times make the dynamics of group members unbendable. Both of these examples can make networking, that is, a direct person-person interaction within a group a positive or negative experience. Online networking, also known as collaborative learning, on the other hand, is a newer and easier method to communicate and work together as person-person in a group. Perhaps its success is due to the fact that members of the group have less contact with one another and thus it is easier to express one’s opinion knowing that there is a physical distance and the web behind it.

According to a research article by Brindley et. al (2009) “Collaborative learning is an online classroom that can take the form of discussion among the whole class or within smaller groups” and offers a ”highly social learning environment, characterized by participation and interactivity”. Yet, in a contrary view, a research article by Kearsley (2000) showed that collaborative learning can be an intensive individual experience, although the quality and quantity of interactivity can vary dramatically from group to group. Interaction between group members, whether it is student-lecturer, colleague-colleague, etc., is important and vital for engagement and development in collaborative learning. An online learning setting warrants the acquisition of essential skills, such as analytical thinking and building-up of knowledge,  and thus offers the opportunity for interaction and connectedness. Notably, it supports students to acquire advanced understanding by collaborating and cultivating essential skills in critical thinking, self-reflection, and co-construction of knowledge – which are all important for educational development.

In this assignment, we were asked to work together in a collaborative manner. My participation on the active web meetings was limited but I followed the comments and ideas of the group members through the working document, as well as the literature. As I have mentioned above, diversity and group dynamics are major issues when it comes to collaborative learning. I also think that in every online learning setting where group of individuals are need to gather together to put ideas, there is always going to be some that work more than others do. This is not because the other person is lazy or has no interest, but because people tend to prioritize their learning by focusing on what matters most to them. From the working document, I could not help notice that some of my group members are more into learning about education and tools to learn than from the others, and therefore drove the group dynamics towards their goal and learning objectives. My reflection on this assignment, it is that everyone is different and has always something to contribute. Under any collaborative setting, whether it is direct contact person-to-person or indirect as in collaborative online learning, some people will contribute more because of their own interests and personal satisfaction. Forcing or putting pressure on someone to contribute does not help the group dynamics neither the work to be accomplished. Instead, it creates negative energy within the group and becomes difficult to collaborate and work together towards the common goal. Working together in a group is challenging but this is part of core of every successful assignment even at the personal level, for example, when it comes to family i.e., parents and children. The family does not move forward if everyone is no on the same boat. Under a family sailing event, parents and children have their own roles and interests and only working together under a common goal they will succeed and reach the finish line.

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Image source: http://lumesse.typepad.com/.a/6a015392b1efb3970b01bb083536b8970d-popup

Reflections on Topic 2: Open learning

The webinar by Alastair Creelman regarding openness in education tackled important issues on educators’ attitudes and enthusiasm about open learning thereby using resources already available. In the webinar Alastair raised important questions such as “How open are we to share our knowledge, our resources, our lectures, course materials, etc. for open learning? Are we willing to spend time on reinventing the wheel for every course or pedagogic activity that we want to develop? Are we willing to adopt people’s work into ours so that we can offer online education by being efficient and reuse resources already available? Certainly, open education resources provide clear vision and facilitate learning in all levels. Education resources, such as MIT OpenCourseWare, Coursera, Melort, etc., as pictured below in Alastair’s webinar, open new venues for developing online courses, as well as promote online learning.

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As pointed out, many of the course materials available in these sites can be reused by other educators with the purpose to promote online learning through courses that can be offered through various educational platforms, such as those mentioned below.

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Following Alastair’s webinar, we were asked to put our comments, questions, and thoughts regarding sharing resources, lecture materials, etc., using padlet, an online tool for posting comments on the web. To see our comments and questions for this topic, click here.

A major caveat on the effort towards online education is the sustainability of students and high enrollment. As teachers, lecturers, and educators are changing their pedagogic modalities to attract and keep students motivated and engaged into the classroom, they must also make their courses interesting enough to incentivize students to complete the course. In fact, for the past decade, researchers at various universities throughout the world have been trying to tackle these issues by pinpointing the possible causes for sudden halted enrollments, as well as proposing innovative approaches to boost motivation and expand online learning. For example, a recent study, titled “Social media interaction tools might make massive open online courses stickier” by researchers at Penn State University showed that social media, such as Facebook might make online courses, i.e., MOOCs, more attractive. And therefore help the growth of online education, if educators follow a similar social media arrangement in where students are constantly participating and are active online. Another study titled “Staying the course on a massive open online course”’ by researchers at the University of Warwick, Coventry, UK, explained similar issues and proposed similar approaches with social media platforms. Similarly, a study by researchers at Penn State University titled “Online courses: MOOC instructors may need more support for successful courses” described the several challenges that instructors faced throughout the course development and instruction process, which was described into three phases: preparation, implementation and feedback. Findings from these works tells us that, although online learning is attractive and it is crucial for bridging the gap, there are many limitations that need to be addressed in order to make it a successful product.

 

Reflections on Topic 1: Digital literacies

The spectrum of diverse topics in digital literacies encompasses massive information regarding dissemination of data and usage of electronic devices and materials for online learning activities with the aim on advancing and/or acquiring educational knowledge. The wide accessibility of the internet has enable practices in digital literacies to be predominantly common among educators, facilitators, suppliers of education, and learners of all kinds. The term “digital literacies”, although it seems contemporary, its usage, applications, and practices are quite widespread on different platforms of digital media sources and are accessible to all learners of different age groups. For example, entering the term “digital literacies” in google resulted in 488,000 results in 0.50 sec, highlighting popular web-sites such as  Digital Literacy – Wikipedia, US digital Literacy, Developing students’ digital literacy – Jisc, Digital Literacies Overview – Microsoft, just to name a few, which are enriched with abundant material and can be accessible by anyone of any age.

Components of digital literacies are certainly extensive and are interesting growing topics that offer different pedagogic opportunities for both learning and teaching. In the webinar by Sara Mörstell, leader of the Wikipedia Education program in Sweden and Education Manager at Wikimedia Sweden, she addresses digital literacies and their components in a conceptual manner. She points up that the influence of social platforms, such as google and Facebook, which are major source of information in where individuals engage to the maximum thereby analytical algorithms that customize their preferences, have made possible to set up online network architectures for digital learning and information. Certainly, higher interactivity and convincing information embedded within these platforms stresses that we live currently in a filter bubble, as the moderator Alastair Creelman from Mörstell webinar emphasizes it. Mörstell also explains how Wikipedia, a worldwide source of digital information, has become the most generally used tool for providing and acquiring knowledge and any kind of digital information within seconds. Besides these topics, Mörstell addresses the ethical responsibility that each contributor, in case of Wikipedia contributors who are mainly students, has as he/she enters information of interest. Contributors of Wikipedia supply massive contents of information sustained by sources and references that are reliable and valid – all which influences thousands of readers/learners. A similar search engine of this kind with specific targeted groups of individuals is google scholar. Herein, contributors have similar responsibilities to the online learning community as in Wikipedia. Google scholar is a mammoth search engine for digital information that is widely used by numerous scholarly audiences, particularly the scientific communities. In the recent years, google scholar has become the most conventional and useful source for gathering digital information by thousands of readers.

As aforementioned, digital literacies consists of many different tools and concepts for diffusion of digital information. In the guide titled “Developing digital literacies” by Jisc, it is highlighted that there are seven elements within the core of digital literacies: (1) information literacy, (2) digital scholarship, (3) learning skills, (4) ICT literacy, (5) career and identify management, (6) communications and collaborations, and (7) media literacy. Each of these elements has a myriad of material and resources to help educators to develop and implement digital literacy projects.

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Figure 1. Key elements of digital literacies

Reflections on online learning and credibility

Nowadays, the way how we acquire and learn information has changed dramatically, and it is to some extend challenging to keep up. It is also difficult to absorb everything that is out there, since there is such a vast of information. The advancements in digital technologies have made online learning a common tool that many people, particularly young generations are adopting as common practice. However, it is easy to get lost and feel disoriented, if some sort of guidance is not provided. It is obvious that despite today’s generation being more agile and savvy on using later technologies and being more active on multiple social media platforms, there is a huge gap and challenges on acquiring the proper skills for online learning. Notably, this gap did not happen recently. It has grown over the years and perhaps its widening is a result of moving too fast in technology, in which people have been left behind without an opportunity to familiarize with new technologies, and/or have not been giving the chance to catch up with the web. David White, then a lecturer at Oxford University and now head of digital learning at the University of the Arts London, has addressed partly this issue in his lecture visitors and residents in where he focused on differences between young and old generations and the usage and level of comfort for using the web including the notion of online learning. In his lecture, D. White pointed out that young people who grew up with technologies are natives to the web and thus online activities including digital learning comes easily and is conveniently manageable, whilst old people are just immigrants to the web, making the use of the web and online information as a second language and therefore a skill to work on to acquire with dedicated effort and constant learning. Within this note, it is important to emphasize that as one remains immigrant to the web, the options for online learning are somewhat limited. Reflecting on this, the question that I would like to ask myself and others is: Is it the early exposure of technologies at the young age that makes the young and old generations different? Or Is it the level of education among these generations that contributes the digital divide?

In addition to differences between the old and young generations and the usage of the web, D. White also addressed the issue of credibility, available on another of his lectures visitors and residents – credibility. Credibility is a significant matter everywhere and in every aspect in life, particularly when it comes to learning and acquiring knowledge. Most people before embarking themselves onto a new learning activity, they want to verify whether the information available is reliable, its content is important, interesting and worth to spend time and effort on it. Thus, before going through something available online, people pause and reflect before they do the next click, asking themselves: Is this information true? Is it reliable? Who wrote it? Is it reference? Do I need to know this? All these questions pass through someone’s mind before engaging on online learning activities. The fact that not everything that’s found on the web is always reliable makes people hesitant and wary to explore the web further than they have to, particularly with digital learning. Furthermore, people from older generations tend to be cautious when it comes to learning something from the web since the information may be wrong or may be drawn from an unreliable source. Therefore, further verification on the information provided is always guarantee as compared to young generations who just jump into online learning without sometimes verifying the sources of reliability and credibility. In fact, a recent study published in november 2016 and titled “Students have trouble judging the credibility of information online” by researchers at Stanford university from the Department of education addresses many of the issues regarding credibility

My reflection on this topic is: Why do we have a digital divide among these generations and within generations themselves? Is credibility the main obstacle to digital learning?

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Figure 1. Key concepts of online learning