Working from home has made me revalue my home environment. When my eyes need to rest from the computer screen, they have no alternative than the walls and furniture in my apartment. As a result, I have developed a strong eager to upgrade and renovate the apartment. A continuous noice from drilling machines and hammers from my neighbors, tells me that I am not alone with these thoughts.

At my place, it is the ugly wall sockets that draws my attention. I am not an electrician, and to tell you the truth, I am not practically skilled either, and I have no idea on how to change a wall socket. Therefore, this aim of mine has led to battle going on in my mind: On the one hand, I have very a hard time visualizing me successfully replacing the sockets on my own, without destroying the walls, without having an electrical shock, without putting the whole place on fire or without doing something even worse. On the other hand, those wall sockets that I am stuck with are really ugly, and the ones I googled are so nice looking. How difficult could it be to replace them? And just imagine how proud I would be if I managed! I would just keep on turning those switches on and off, just for the sensation of lightening and closing the light… For sure, the providers of these sockets would help me and tell me how it’s done. The staff at the stores would want to sell their products, right? And they want happy customers, so they would do anything to encourage me buying them, wouldn’t they? 

At some point, my confidence took over, and full of enthusiasm, I went to the shop and grabbed some really nice-looking old fashioned wall sockets. Entering the front desk to pay, I casually asked if it is difficult to change and replace a wall socket, expecting a nice and pedagogic amplification, convincing me on how easily this is done. Now was I surprised? Instead of giving me the confirmation I was counting on, the cashier looks at me with this very serious face. Shifting the voice into a cavalier kind of sound, she then gives me the following reply:

That depends! If you know how to do it, well then it is easy. But if you on the other hand don’t know how to do it, it is indeed very difficult.

So very true a statement! And yet so very challenging. Do I have to tell you that my great self-confidence sank from top to toes, and that I ended up leaving the store with empty hands.

Isn’t it funny how trivial we look upon all those things we already know about and feel comfortable with? While issues unknown to us may be viewed as ”mission impossibles”. Why is it that we kind of ”downgrade” the knowledge once we have achieve it. Why is it that we so easily forget the frustration we sense when we run into something  that is unknown to us? We ignore that no knowledge and skills is to be taken for granted. Those things we don’t know how to deal with, or how to approach, tends to grow in our minds, and if we don’t look up, they may one day turn into a pile that is too large to hide. 

Luckily enough, it seems like our naturally built-in curiosity tend win over the fear in the end, so that the pile of unsolved issues can vanish. Perhaps we humans are programmed to forget about the our preliminary anxiousness and fear to new areas, securing that we constantly seek for new adventures? We ignore recalling all the effort and time we need to put down in order to learn and understand things that are initially unknown to us. The excitement during the learning process exceeds the frustration. Isn’t it fantastic how the expectations on how our knowledge could be used triggers our ambitions and motivations.

Now, wait a moment. What has all this gibberish to do with online network learning in higher education? Well hold on, for here comes my somewhat far-fetched link:

What do the students know about the content in a particular course, more than the name and perhaps some short text on what it’s about? What expectations do they have upon the content? Do they reflect on what they are expected to learn? Or is this course they are taking just a course among many other in a longer education program?

All courses are associated with a course syllabus, where the students can find the main aims and purposes, and where the learning outcomes are defined and specified, both subject-, and non-subject wise. Unfortunately, I strongly doubt that the students give the syllabus any deeper thoughts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t touch it at all. I think this is sad and I wish to use the syllabus to stress the importance of keeping track of any gained knowledge and skills. By referring to the course syllabus, I want to force the students to look back and recall those moments of frustration they may went through when they went through any new topic. I want to implement a student awareness regarding their own progress. I want them to recognize the knowledge and skills they accomplish. I want them to acknowledge how they gain and develop new skills. I want them to reflect on on any changes that they may perceive towards a specific topic while their knowledge grows and develops.

How could this be done in a practical sense? Well, in the courses where I teach, the course content is built up of modules, each module having its own topic. The topics are linked to the course syllabus, but only vaguely, not in an obvious and well defined manner. My idea is that when a new topic is introduced, the students will be requested to put down their thoughts and expectations regarding the content. As a concluding last step, when all the work is completed and material is handed in, the students will be requested to look back and reflect on how the gained knowledge agree with their initial expectations. During this process, the students will be asked to relate to the course syllabus, helping them to understand how each part of the course content fit in to the general aims. 

My suggestions of questions for the students to reflect on before they enter a new topic are presented in the table below. They will have a short introduction to the topic, and they may have a quick glance on the content, but they will not be able to start working with the material until they go through and reflect on the questions.

Once the topic is completed, when the students have successfully completed and passed all work (hand-ins) within the topic, they will fill-in the following set of questions, some of them relating to their preliminary thoughts, and some of them relating to the course syllabus:

I haven’t decided yet how to practically implement this event. I want it to be a requirement for the students to do it, but I also realize that they may not want to reveal their thoughts/answers to me as being a teacher that will be doing grading on their hand-ins, and in fact I will not be interested in how the students reply at the individual level. The main purpose with the questions is to high-light student awareness and provide them a tool on how to recognize how their knowledge and skills grow. On the other hand, it would be exciting and useful to know if, and if so, how the students perceive the course content. Do they recognize the link between the course content and the course syllabus, and is it possible that their views on specific topics may shift while they learn more about it. And if so, if this shift has a positive direction.

So how should this be done? My rather vague thoughts are to use some kind of digital survey where I can make sure that the students go through and answers the questions, but where I can’t track the answers from an individual student. Another option would be having the students to work in groups, going through the questions together. An extension to this idea would be to request the students to put together a kind of E-portfolio, where they provide material and examples of their learning outcome, closely linked to the learning outcomes stated in the course syllabus. 

  • Will it work?
  • Will it be considered as helpful and meaningful from the student point of view?

A suggestion on how I should look upon my wall sockets is also warmly welcome. I am still looking at my old and ugly wall sockets and I can’t help myself being annoyed by them. Should I resign and be happy or should I overcome my fear and just get on to it? I really like those old fashioned looking wall sockets…

I would be most thankful to know more about your spontaneous thoughts and reflections on my thoughts and proposals!

Lessons learned -future practice in blended learning