Our Open Networked Learning Course came to an end. Twelve months of getting to know one another and working together have gone by so quickly. It was great to be a student again and feel the fears, uncertainties and joys our students feel on a daily basis. We, teachers who have done our job for many years and are experts in the field we are teaching, often forget what it is like to find yourself in a group of strangers and be forced to work together. We have always been on the other side of the barrier and when put in the students’ shoes, we suddenly see there are so many interpersonal, intercultural, intellectual and, in case of an international course, linguistic hurdles we have to cope with that we start to realize the role of a student is not an easy one.

You have to leave your personal, cultural and linguistic zone of comfort. You have to look at yourself from a new perspective and suddenly all your limitations and deficiencies come to the forefront. You meet people with more expertise in this or that field. You also see that in some other areas you are not so bad – others need a bit more experience to catch up with you. However, when you learn together, particularly in an experiential way and it is expected of you to interact and learn from one another, it can be frustrating at times. You need time to get used to other styles of working and you need time and good will to build group identity.

What strikes you first is that it is SO HARD to find the time for your own learning! You do your job, you have your family and there are all sorts of other obligations that despite all your good intentions you clearly see that do not have time for it all – the days are always 50% too short! And, like your students, you start to take shortcuts – you skip this reading, do this task superficially, prioritize and select items that need to be done here and now.

I wish I had had more time to explore in depth the section reports made by other groups – there was so much food for thought in the final products offered by the other teams. I did my best to read them, open the links, dig deeper, but some other tasks called for your attention. And there was always the requirement of writing the blog, which for me was the hardest element of the course. It is very useful to reflect on you your own activities and I believe reflection is the gateway to real learning. But the awareness that your thoughts should be open to others is a bit painful.

I also wish I had had more time to read the blogs offered by the other participants, particularly those in my group. When you talk to the people for weeks and then read what they gained as a result of the discussions you get a full picture of the process and you see where you are. We had a very interesting mix of personalities in our ONL group and sometimes just talking was not enough to understand the point of view of others – reading their blog was a huge help.

Teaching and learning – the two sides of the same coin

What I gained after this training? I realized how important it is for teachers never to stop learning if they want to offer top learning to their students. Learning and teaching are the two sides of the same coin. It is a kind of obvious truth – a cliche that teachers forget all too often. Life changes, people change, circumstances change and we need to accommodate to the situation – learn constantly to be ready for the unexpected. The emergency online teaching caused by the pandemic showed it very clearly. But we should not wait for crises to present the truth to us.

Another thing I learned is how easy it is today to work internationally and build learning communities. I have been offering Virtual Experience to my students before, but did not experience it myself as a learner in my young years. I see this Open Networked Learning Course as a Virtual Exchange (VE) for the teachers and I am very happy that I have been doing it while implementing two of my own VE projects for my students. Thanks to this experience I presented myself to my students in a more authentic way as a person who practices what she preaches.

Open Networked Learning – lessons learnt