In the span of just over two and a half months – the duration of the ONL course – I have experienced a number of profound pedagogical epiphanies.  It has been a while since I felt a quantum leap in my knowledge and understanding of pedagogical practices.  In reflecting on the reason for this, I have settled on 3 causes that came together to create these moments of re-invigoration of energy for teaching and reflecting on my teaching.  First, the content of the course.  Second, the process – more, specifically the combination of PBL and webinar-based learning.  Finally, the ONL community itself.  In this post, I set out my reflections on each of these three factors.

The Content
Having taught for 14 years, I returned to being a student in 2020.  So my experience with online teaching has been as a student rather than an educator.  I have not, therefore, had the opportunity to think through some of the pedagogical questions about the online learning experience.  And prior to then, the scholarship on teaching and learning that I tended to lean on were drawn from those writing about their experiences with my subject-matter / domain knowledge – law.  The materials, content and conversations I have been exposed to via the ONL course have expanded my view considerably.  For example, I have been exposed to a wide range of digital tools that colleagues from other disciplines have been using in their teaching and that I have now been exploring and experimenting with (as mentioned in my post on Topic 1 – I am early on my journey when it comes to digital literacy).  The more recent materials on blended learning have also opened my mind to questions of design – there are a multitude of ways in which learning can be blended and I need to move past the simple flipped classroom model to think about the other models / possible design options.  The question of design was a big part of the discussion in my PBL when we were looking at the issue of blended learning in Topic 4.  

This exposure to new scholarship on teaching and learning, beyond my usual knowledge base, has triggered new research trails for me.  I am no longer looking at just scholarship on teaching and learning law – but looking further afield.

The Process

The anchor of the course is the PBL process.  This was a challenging, but also rewarding, experience.  While I do collaborative work in my capacity as a researcher, I have had far less exposure with it as a student.  Further, as an educator – I have been an ‘outsider’ when it comes to collaboration: I assign collaborative work to my students but then retreat to the position of an outsider / observer.  The ONL course forced me to be a participant in the collaborative process.  The challenges of time zones, diversity of participants, language differences, discipline differences, institutional differences, challenges with having sufficient time together online and balancing that against our offline / asynchronous collaboration all manifested when we met and collaborated in our PBL.  However, it was also the most rewarding experience: in addition to the content and subject-matter of the course – I was meta-learning about collaborative learning experiences that took place during the PBL sessions (outside of Topic 3).  Having this ‘insider’ participant vantage point has created a stronger sense of empathy for my students and how I need to think more intentionally about how I craft and design collaborative work.  I also am more aware of how and when to trouble-shoot the students’ collaborative experience without interfering with their own learning journey.  This balance point – between observing and intervening – is a difficult one to strike as an educator but the two ONL facilitators for my PBL group were exemplars of this.  I learned much by observing them and how they steered but stood back when necessary.  This takes me to the final factor that led me to think about my future personal growth as an educator: the community.

The Community

Aside from the community of our PBL group; there was the broader ONL community I met during webinars and regular check-ins with other ONL facilitators.  The webinars were a real site of learning – there was a lot of thought put into curating the topics and speakers for each of the webinars.  The facilitators of the webinars put a lot of thought into participation during the webinar.  This is not an easy task – the ONL community is an entirely virtual community that is not connected by institution.  My students – even if they only interact online – are connected by institution; objective – they belong to the same institution and have a broadly shared purpose (get a law degree) and so are all embedded in a shared incentive structure.  The ONL community on the other hand have a variety of objectives and incentives for participating in the course.  The way webinars are conducted are, therefore, fairly critical in creating some shared reference points so we can all access the topic – while giving us the space to share our diverse viewpoints.  The way that this was managed throughout the ONL course allowed me to experience all of the benefits of learning-in-community – we bring our diverse viewpoints to each other; are able to open our thinking further by being exposed to that – but have some sense of shared interest / access to the topic.  This was also an exemplar of how learning-in-community can work.

My conclusion…I would highly recommend the ONL experience.  It is not easy and will, in fact, be very challenging at times.  But even the experience of challenges will engage and prompt learning.  

Reflecting on my ONL Journey – Thoughts on the Content, Process and Community