För att kunna lära måste du känna / Annars blir din kunskap grå och platt

Lisa Ekdahl, På jakt efter solen, 1994

(To learn, you must feel / Otherwise your knowledge will be grey and flat.)

“Music” by monicaledandesjarlais. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Topic 4 is about designing courses for online and blended learning, a large and complex topic, worthy of finalising a course like this. And a challenge for myself. Although I have spent some time during my life thinking about how to lecture and how to explain things, I haven’t given the overall design of a course much consideration.

The recommended literature contained two frameworks for thinking about this: The Community of Inquiry (CoI) by Marti Cleveland-Innes et al, and a five-stage model by Gilly Salmon. Although different in style, I found both useful, complementing each other. The CoI is a theoretical framework for learning, not restricted to online situations, and centers at three “presences” (social, cognitive, and teaching), with emotional presence as a possible fourth item. In contrast, Salmon’s work gives concrete advice on how to design an online course, with much emphasis on establishing social contact and relations, both teacher-students and students-students.

A common denominator that emerges from this is the importance of social relations and emotions in learning situations. Of the four CoI “presences”, the emotional one indeed intrigued me the most. And judging from the webinar padlet, I was not alone in this. Of course, teaching is a social activity, since we are all human beings. And I think most people understand this intuitively, even if not stated in so many words. (I might have met one or two exceptions in the math department. Teachers talking to the black board with the back at the students, as if borrowed from this joke about how to tell a social mathematician from an asocial one: The asocial mathematician looks at his own feet while talking to you, while the social one looks at your feet.)

If the social relations in a group of teachers and students don’t work out, the learning will most certainly be impaired. You probably don’t learn a lot if you are constantly afraid of the teacher. But even without going to extremes, positive feelings and friendly relations presumably result in happy students who can devote their energy to learning. And learn better if in a good mood.

So the million dollar question is how to fix this. Can we plan a course to increase the likelihood of positive emotions and good relations? Here, I find Salmon’s ideas helpful, stressing the importance of starting early. The first two of her five stages are devoted to preparatory work before even beginning the actual learning process. So give your students a warm and hearty welcome, make sure they know the practicalities, and that their digital tools work. Make them engage with each other in a friendly atmosphere and build good teams. Easy to say, of course, but also well worth saying. I think these tips are useful for traditional courses too, but much more critical in online situations.

Finally, I would like to reflect a little on humor. This is of course a part of emotional presence, but I haven’t seen it explicitly discussed in the course. I deliberately try to use humor in my lectures, believing that it boosts learning – you remember a good joke. But on the other hand, a lecture is not, and should not be, stand up comedy, so it has to be used with care. Given, then, that a teacher has a “budget” of perhaps a few jokes per lecture, you supposedly get the most out of it by “spending” them at the central parts of the course material. Unfortunately, that is not always easy. A professional comedian might perhaps be able to crack a joke in any given situation, but I find myself rather doing if when I can think of something fun to say. But at least, we have fun in our PBL group, so the meta aspect of ONL works again!

Referred websites:

The Community of Inquiry:

The Five Stage Model of Gilly Salmon:

Emotional reflections