The #ONL191 course has come to an end, and we have been asked to reflect on what we have learned, and what we will do differently in the future, as a result of the course.

What have I learned?

I have seen that online-only courses can work, and I have tried to identify the areas that I consider most important in making them work. In particular, I can now give a better description of the advantages and disadvantages of various online (and offline) methods and tools. In some ways, one point that has come through clearly for me is that there is nothing new under the sun, as many of the key observations were noted and applied by the early distance learning institutions formed in the 1970s, long before the rise of the internet. One key aspect that is general and not related to specific course content is the importance of community building (covered in one of my earlier blog posts). I would also like to add that I think that is important for students to be able to appreciate the effects of their interactions with others and of their own actions. In some sense I am arguing here that it is crucial that the students grasp their own agency.

What would I change?

There were some areas in which I would suggest changes for the operation of the problem-based learning groups. Firstly, our group did not really utilize asynchronous communication channels effectively. In principle, we had a tool available (the ‘activity stream’) but we did not use it consistently. We also had our documents in Google Drive, and some of the tools we used for our group work also allowed asynchronous contributions. However, this is something that the reading on the course has indicated can be very useful in promoting thought and deep learning. This then leads into another aspect, that of the commerical or advertorial software. I was not particularly happy at having to use Google Drive, and would have preferred to use some other alternative, either open source or backed by a particular institution. I am sure that this is a losing battle!

Some generalised critiques of the subject

I have some more generalised critiques of some the issues that we covered. It became clear that #ONL191 followed Gilly Salmon’s five-stage model quite closely. I don’t immediately have any problems with that, but I thought that the assignment of two weeks to each segment was a bit unbalanced. My reason for saying that is that I felt that our group formation and way of working was only really fine-tuned by the third topic, we were in flow for the fourth, and then … we hit the end of the course. I am not sure that the course should be longer, but perhaps the topics could have been different lengths?  I am not convinced that that would work either!

Another issue I want to discuss here relates to the conversations we had on openness and sharing. It is very common and easy to present openness as a moral virtue and hence imperative. In my earlier blog post on this, I touched on what I consider to be important issues to consider – that openness is not always an unalloyed good, and that it can be particularly challenging for the student. Here, I want to extend this briefly to the question of open educational resources (OER).  There is obviously a huge amount of benefit in being able to tap into excellent illustrations and videos and material by the best teachers in the world for a given subject. However, what we have learned in the course is that the human touch (from teacher-student and student-student interactions) is still crucial for many students.   Given that, a potential institutional over-reliance on OER might be problematic. I would like to draw an analogy to pilots. The autopilot is very effective and reliable. But, the pilot who never flies the plane is not going to be ready for the cases when the autopilot fails. The teacher who doesn’t work through the material in preparation will not be ready to answer the difficult questions that their students pose.

Future projects

For my own teaching, I definitely intend to incorporate some more online components into my courses.  #ONL191 has provided me with a lot of new tools to use, and ways to use them.  As a part of our coursework, described here by Sebastian Schwede, we developed a course outline for a fictional online-only course on Online Collaborative Writing.  In our reflections on the course in the last couple of sessions, some participants thought that this might be a useful course to actually teach, so maybe we will pursue that further.

Lessons learned – ONL191