We had our final meeting and thought to write out our appreciation to our group facilitators on Padlet. For a few of us in the group, Padlet was an entirely new tool which we learnt about during ONL201. We experimented with it and got used to using it over the course of the 12 weeks, and by the end, we were very familiar with a range of online tools. These included Padlet, Mind-meister, Mentimeter, Flipgrid, and of course ZOOM.

This was the beauty of ONL. While there were members of ONL who were clearly more digitally literate then others, there were many of us who were not. We were not as familiar with available tools for online communication and teaching. I certainly learnt through ONL that one can have familiarity with some tools, like FaceBook for example, yet also be unfamiliar with how we might navigate online. Indeed the very first few weeks of ONL was an eye-opener in making me realise that we needed to think through the concept of being digitally literate, and not assume everyone was necessarily on the same page.

I have gained tremendously from my participation in ONL. I was of two minds on whether I would have the time and energy to participate fully in ONL, and in fact when the call was sent out by my institution to consider joining this 2020 run of ONL, I wrote back to say that I was interested but had serious concerns about whether I could space the time. I have been heavily involved in university administration over the past two years and it was daunting to imagine having to put aside time for reading and engagement online. I didn’t think I could do it. Thankfully, the institution’s lead for ONL wrote back to encourage me to give it a try. I am so very glad that I did.

There are many things I learnt from ONL. These were concrete take-aways, such as learning about online tools, digital literacy, success and failures of group collaboration and of course my first real exposure to the community of inquiry (COI) concept and practice. I was blown away by the idea of emotional presence and am really now curious about how I can be fully cognizant of these concepts so as to improve my own teaching, whether physically face-to-face or online.

However, beyond just the concrete learning, one of the best things about ONL is the fact that it is a truly immersive experience in learning. The aim of ONL was to teach us about collaborative online learning – what it’s about, what are its potentials, what it takes to make this successful (or unsuccessful), and the beauty of learning design. The entire module was designed to help us – the learner – truly experience the concepts even as we debated or read up on it. It was in many ways about learning by doing. I literally saw and experienced online collaborative learning as I proceeded through the course. And to me this proved to be such an effective way to learn.

Each week we were exposed to the literature, with the appropriate broad “lecture” by the topic’s lead instructors, after which in our smaller groups we could debate and work on a project. These projects emerged out of scenario and we had the FISH template to guide us. We were never fully aware of the FISH template but it served as an important framework to move the smaller group discussions as we worked, or tried to, collaboratively. In the process we experienced collaboration and the fashioning of a community of inquiry as we progressed deeper into the concepts and ideas. I found this learning by doing highly effective.

At the end, I saw online learning through the eyes of a learner. I saw what it must feel like for a student if there were clear instructions, and if there was none. I could see the tremendous value of good facilitation skills, a guide for the group but not overbearing such that the views of the different members were ignored or subsumed. I learnt how important it was to set aside time to work on ground rules and come to an agreement/ understanding of how the group work/ collaboration would progress, the role of group leads, and how to build commitment from everyone into the collaboration.

For the learner, the importance of clear and organized learning design would make or break the learning experience. There are different components parts – including working through assessments – that would need careful thought. We cannot assume commitment and motivation for online collaborative learning. It had to engineered and it can be engineered in a way as to make learning online truly enjoyable. ONL convinced me that in a world where we have little choice but to teach and learn online, it can be done. We just need careful design.

I will admit that ONL has left a big impact on how I think about my own teaching. It has ignited in me a passion to know more about pedagogical approaches around the COI. It has enabled me to fully experience the importance of student-centered learning design. If anything is to improve, I would want to go deeper into an ONL Part 2. I feel that I have only scratched the surface and would like to learn more.

Final Thoughts…Seeing through the Eyes of the Learner