I honestly did not think I could make it to the end of
ONL191, but I did and for that I am grateful to my facilitators Elaine and
David and my group members, primarily Caroline, and Bengt, who unfortunately
had to drop out due to his heavy workload.

It has been a wild ride right from the start but happy that
I stayed the course and I have learnt a lot, not just from the materials
provided but from the experiences of all my group members. One thing that
resonates, is the fact that we may be thousands of miles apart, but we do share
some common experiences. And technology has allowed us to connect, and learn
from each other. That in itself has made it all worth the effort.

I started the course with a limited understanding of problem
based learning, but through the weeks and months of practical experience, I
have some appreciation for this approach to learning. For the approach to work
well, several key factors need to be present

  • commitment among participants
  • time for discussion and time for reflection
  • flexibility for both synchronous and
    asynchronous activities to happen
  • good old-fashioned effort

As I reflected on what I have learnt and experienced for Topic 4, I kept thinking of how there is a huge amount of orchestration that needs to happen in an online course. Where every engagement needs to be carefully curated and every activity carefully managed. That got me to thinking about how an orchestra produces wonderful music under the masterful guidance of a conductor. This analogy resonated with my other team member, and we ran with it. Which explains our presentation, which you can view here, if you’re so inclined.

I want to elaborate a little bit about this analogy. A
lesson plan is very much like the music score of any piece. While the music
score directs the music making, a lesson plan guides the learning. It is only
when everyone is completely comfortable with the set piece that they can start

To create the perfect
online course, the facilitator must, first of all, be competent in the technologies
used. This can cause some discomfort among some facilitators especially if they
are, what David White deems, visitors,
to the online environment.

However, beyond just gaining competence in the technologies
used, educators must also be cognizant of their role in the digital space, both
personal and professional. Social media has, whether we like it or not, blurred
boundaries between our multiple roles in our lifetime.

It is far easier to compartmentalise your various roles in
real life, but those invisible lines are inadvertently blurred in the digital
space. Friends, colleagues, peers, become one big messy ball of human
interaction when you’re on Facebook, Instagram or even Twitter. Maintaining
safe boundaries can sometimes become a challenge.

And that, is just the beginning for educators who want to be
part of the digital revolution, as it were, in education. Some choose to
disengage from social media, some treat it with a measure of disdain, while
some others embrace it and use it to their advantage. Whichever end of the spectrum
you decide to be on, really depends in your comfort level, I reckon.

For me personally, by day, I’m a learning designer/editor/content
creator all rolled into one, and by night a mother of two teens, with a passion
for cooking and baking. So which of those personas do I project? All of them,
or none of them? I’m still in negotiation. Let me get back to you on that.

Getting back to the analogy, I spoke about the level of
orchestration that needs to happen for an online learning environment to thrive
and flourish, but there is one other important element that needs to be present
– improvisation. This can only happen when the facilitator is confident and
comfortable with the planned outcome for that module or course.

So there has to be a level of flexibility built into the
lesson plan. If Plan A fails, we fall back to Plan B. Flexibility to allow
learners extra time when a particular activity is drawing out the best
collaborative learning among them. Flexibility also to draw out form your
well-stocked arsenal of activities when some other activity fall short of the
intended outcome. Flexibility also to recognise that what you had planned for
is taking a completely different turn, but with a positive outcome. And
responding to situations that arise at any given moment.

This brings me to Dr Martha Cleveland-Innes’ notion of
emotional presence as another dimension of the Community of Inquiry. I’m really
drawn to that notion, because I do believe that in order to engage with your
learners and to encourage engagement among learners, a certain level of emotional
presence needs to be, well, present. We are after all emotional beings and
social engagement triggers an emotional response, whether we like it or not.

Key to all this is time.
Time to properly design the course, be it new, or an existing one. Time to plan
the activities for learners, time to get to know your learners, time to create
a safe space for all your learners, time for socialisation… you get the drift. It
is vitally important that you allow yourself and your learners the time for all
of that to happen. It will be hard, it requires effort, but it will be so rewarding
to create an ecosystem for your learners to learn and grow together,

In the final analysis, what I take away from this course is
that developing online and blended learning isn’t a walk in the park, but with
the right frameworks and guidelines, and most importantly the right mind set,
magic can happen.

Beyond just a learning network, we can, and we will create a
learning ecosystem that will flourish in all the different corners of the
world. As I have said in my previous blogs, exciting times ahead!

NOTE: Below is a collection of all the references from ONL19
that I find useful. Feel free to copy them off me if you haven’t had the time
to assemble all your materials.



Time and Space for Online Learning: My Reflection