I have decided to sign up for the Open Networked Learning Course….. WHY WHY WHY
Well…… A friend-colleague of mind did the course and said she it stretched her as she needed to learn many new things. She is a spatial statistician….. so it made me a bit nervous….. I mean if she struggled in parts, what about me as a mere social scientist??
BUT, she said it’s a LOOC and freely accessible on-line.
So I said “why not?”

My mini-wish-list to get out of the course:

·       😎 Learn what on earth ONL actually IS?
·        😎 Become more digitally agile
·         😎 Open up expanded possible professional pathways for me


Of course I was scared of not being able to pull it off:

·        💣Won’t be savvy enough to “get it”
·        💣Not enough time in between a full schedule
·        💣Starting and not completing

By the time I went on-line to check out the course it was only a few days before the start. I threw caution to the wind as I did not really have much time to fret too much.

I have signed up. 

Here goes. 

I love swimming and the best part is the sensation of diving into the water. 

I am diving into ONL. 

My Reflections

So, yes, this is my first-ever blog! 

One of the reasons that I decided to sign up for the ONL course was to learn new digital capabilities, so why not blogging as well? I must say that I have been curious about it – more specifically vlogging – BUT let me start with blogging.

My Work World
Before I share my reflections from Topic 1 or what I refer to as Work Packet 1 here in this blog, I thought to first tell you a little about my work context and my motivation to sign up for the ONL Course. I work at a South African university and have done so for the past 10 years. I do not teach, and am in the senior management team. I interface with a wide range of students through my work, and particularly student leaders. Through this interaction, I have heard students say often about teaching staff: “we don’t see ourselves in you”. Whilst this has broadly been used to refer to the racial and class divides that still unfortunately characterise South African society, despite having achieved democratic government 25 years ago, I also began to see it having meaning into the tech-savvy that our students have – across all social strata. This made me start thinking about the urgent need to move the university into working in a more digitalised way, incorporating techno-savvy and e-based ways of teaching and teaching.

As a result of this, I realised that although I am conceptually comfortable working on-line and embrace the need for an e-enabled work model, I did not necessarily have a theoretical basis for this. In addition, I did not have the range of digital capabilities myself.
I heard about the ONL Course at exactly this time. How fortuitous – perfect alignment with my worldview that “timing is everything in life”.
Joining My Group
I got off to a bit of a late start with the working group I was assigned to, due to other work commitments. I missed the first two sessions, I think. As such I had a bit of catching up to do, but the group members were very welcoming and accommodating. I felt very off-beat though during the first session that I joined, because I was struggling to find my way around the digital learning environment that had been set up on Google Docs, to enable our group collaboration. This meant I didn’t initially focus sufficiently on the content of discussions about Work Packet 1.

A group WatsApp was set up, and that made communication much easier for me, as I participate in this way in a number of other aspects of my life, for example as a member of a group of volunteer mentors for final year female school learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Topic 1
We were tasked with discussing the following scenario:

I have just signed up to do an online course and I am excited to be there. But I have little experience of online courses and it feels really challenging to get started to connect and find my way with all these new sites and tools. I guess that other participants will be more experienced than me and I feel stupid asking about things. We are asked to create a Learning blog on the web; it feels a bit scary to do this. I do share things on Facebook with friends, but here, in the open? I want to keep my private life separate from my professional life. But on the other hand, my students seem to share and discuss all sorts of things in social media and use all kinds of tools and resources.

This scenario resonated for me, particularly the following:
·        Feeling stupid
·        Not knowing how to create a blog
·        Personal life privacy concerns
Feeling stupid was a barrier to learning. I made a mental note to remember that this may be how students or teaching staff feel as well when starting out a digital learning journey. I also learnt useful tips about how to use tools such as creating ways for students to express their challenges in writing rather than having to verbalise these in a group situation [Thomas, S., 2017. Journalogue: Voicing student challenges in writing through a classroom blog. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 20(1), pp.112-122.]
Not knowing how to create a blog was and remains the biggest personal challenge for me – to the extent that I delayed starting to learning the technicalities of blogging until the end of the second Work Packet section of the Course. This is almost the mid-point of the Course. The ”upside of the downside” is that a number of other ONL participants have posted their blogs already. These have provided a wealth of insights for me, for example:
Group Work
The on-line group discussions of Topic 1 were most insightful for me, and gave me good tips for how to become more agile in working in the digital learning space. Having the inputs of group members posted in a shared space in Google Docs created a very useful resource for me to use as a point of reference and referral in between the on-line interaction sessions.
The Course requirement to submit a collaborative reflection of the discussion of Topic 1 opened an important learning opportunity for me. I learnt about a number of creative tools that I had not known about before, such as Padlet; Coggle and thingLINK. I have subsequently introduced these to my immediate work support team. We have been exploring these as this group of four. The youngest team member who is in his early 20’s has emerged as an enthusiastic and strong leader and experimenter. In fact, he is now a recognised resource support for a community of practice of office professionals that I have set up at the university.
So…. Despite getting off to a slow start, I am inspired by the words of Goode
to persevere in my quest to become more adept, agile and able in the digital learning environment:
Knowing how to utilize the technological ecosystem of university life is certainly critical for academic success.

And as Nelson Mandelasaid:
It always seems impossible until it’s done
I concur with both…. onward and upward I go

Open Learning

I was intrigued by the introduction to the topic “Open Learning: Sharing & Openness”which stated that the topic wouldexplore the benefits and challenges of openness in education and learning”

What did “openness” mean, particularly on a personal level, as a learning facilitator, and for the type of interaction between learners and the learning facilitator? 

Was it about “shortening the distance”, removing [or at the very least, radically reducing] the hierarchical relation and regarding each other more as equals? 

Would that have implications for leading and guiding the learning process? 

Would it enable or constrain students in their learning?

Kiruthikaragu’s parallels drawn from the Coffee House Model provided me with a set of principles to underpin openness and open learning, that really resonated with me. 


Those that really stood out for me are:

·     🎂Equality and being inclusive
·      🎂Fostering community in the learning context
·               🎂Decoupling learning from exclusive spatial enclaves

I also came across the concept of “lurking” in the context of open and shared learning, framed as idleness (lurking), gabbling, irrationality, and for that matter gossips and chit-chats

I can see how this is contrary to the principle of equality, and probably also fostering community. But I can also see that techniques may be needed to deal with this if it manifests in a learning group.

Finding out about Open Educational Resources [OER] was also very helpful. These are key enablers of levelling the playing field between differently-resourced participants in a learning group. OER and initiatives such as Creative Commons are critical building blocks for making learning opportunities more accessible globally. I really support the idea of an open-boundaries “public commons” to facilitate, enable and promote sharing knowledge and information, and to unleash creativity and innovation.

The group discussion around how to introduce the idea of “opening up” some courses and going more on-line, was very insightful for me. Beginning or expanding teaching into a digital context requires thinking through and adaptation in a number of ways and on a number of levels, including:

Individual AND Instittuional 

I found Bates’s Teaching In A Digital Age [] to be a very useful resource for developing a framework to guide decision-making when moving to teach in a more digitalised way. New and/or different resources need to be considered, including skills and technological capabilities.
Now is the time to reflect on a topic that I enjoyed very much: learning in communities, networking and collaboration. The biggest take out for me from this topic was the differentiation between co-operative and collaborative learning. I share these descriptions:
Cooperative learning is the process of breaking a classroom of students into small groups on a structured activity so they can discover a new concept together and help each other learn. Students work with one another, but they all have a different task to accomplish or concept to explain.
Collaborative learning is a method of teaching and learning in which students team together to explore a significant question or create a meaningful project. A group of students discussing a lecture or students from different schools working together over the Internet on a shared assignment are both examples of collaborative learning.

Two aspects stood out for me during our group discussions about collaborative learning. The first is the mutual searching for understanding, with the learning facilitator being less of an “expert transmitter of knowledge” and rather more of  a “designer of intellectual experiences for the entire group” adopting the posture more a coach towards a more emergent learning process. 

The second aspect was assessment. How to allocate an individual mark for a learner, when the outcome has been generated by the whole group?

A key learning from colleagues in the group with more experience of collaborative learning, was the usefulness of:

defining specific collaborative goals

establishing individual and group accountability, wherein each learner takes responsibility for their respective individual piece of the group task/project, whilst the group is accountable for meeting the over-arching and collective goal of completing a comprehensive project of good quality.

Collaborative learning is appealing to me because it invites everyone to be active participants in their own learning, playing varying roles within the group, and being mutually accountable for achieving the group learning outputs and outcomes.
I will end this blog by reflecting briefly on NETWORKED collaborative learning. I understand this to speak into building and working in communities of practice, with colleagues who can be located anywhere in the world. 

This is extremely powerful because it opens the door to accessing wide-ranging expertise, possible new ways of working, sharing of experiences of what has been tried before in other learning environments, and receiving non-judgemental collegial support and encouragement. 

Networked collaborative learning has also been described as a form of social learning systems. This sits comfortably with me because in my home country, South Africa, we have a social norm called ubuntu.

ubuntu means “I am, because you are”, coming from the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, meaning that a person is a person through other people.

To me, this African philosophy speaks to the inter-connectedness of human behaviours. It means that all one’s individual actions have implications for others and for society as a whole. Therefore one must always be conscious that one is part of a bigger whole, and that one’s individual actions ripple out and impact extensively on others. 

Isn’t that the basis of being 


Design for Online and Blended Learning

The last topic in the ONL course focussed on how to support student learning and how to design for learning for a “quality educational experience”. It was excellent to draw on the experience of other members in the group. It was particularly helpful that almost all had at least some experience in online design and delivery. At the time of this topic, the world was grappling with the corona virus pandemic, and the need to re-think many social behaviours. 

The biggest impact for learning and teaching was immediate, in that schools and universities were closed. All learning had to shift to on-line learning. It seems that this shift may last into the foreseeable future in a number of countries, meaning that there is a very need for finding ways to (re)design teaching material for on-line delivery. This reality provided rich discussion points.
I was interested to learn about the Community of Inquiry proposition as a way of offering a theoretical framework within which to locate design and result in a meaningful learning experience. The interdependence of the three constitutive elements makes sense to me, these being social presence; cognitive presence; and teaching presence. Find as easy to read graphic here:
The three elements will work well for me as a “checklist” not only in the design of a lesson, but also during the delivery of the lesson. I think coming across as “authentic” and “a real person” are probably the most challenging to achieve consistently. Getting this right will hopefully prove to be the key to keeping learners motivated and engaged during online sessions. It takes effort, dedication, and probably new learning as well. It also needs courage and confidence to try out new ways, and possibly even “dare to be different”. 
“As we have progressed as a species, our ability to find information (and mis-information) on anything, anywhere, at any time, seems to have deadened original thought” (de Groot, Sunday times 17 May 2020)

Dare to be different – even if at first it feels like being a fish out of water 
This is the possible reality that faces teachers and learning facilitators in the classroom – either in face to face or online situations. What I learnt through experimenting with a number of  tools such as canvas; genially; padlet and thingLINK during the ONL course, was that if used skilfully, these can make the on-line teaching environment extremely vibrant and participative. 

What is needed is digital agility both in design and during delivery of the actual lesson. The opportunity in the group to work collectively and “live” during group sessions was a fantastic eye-opener for me.

I am not there yet, as I still need to get to grips with how to use these tools seamlessly and with confidence. But a glittering box of exciting possibilities has been shown to me. It’s up to me now to spend time exploring and experimenting with these to enable me to be an effective learning facilitator.
Work Packet 1