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Navigating away from my comfort zone

It may surprise anyone who knows me (f2f or online), but I am a terrible networker. I am that person at the conference hugging the wall, studying my phone and looking for someone I actually know to talk to quickly before someone I don’t know strikes up a conversation.

And so, my current (and last) H818 module- The Networked Practioner- is really pushing me out of my comfort zone. I have learnt a lot since I started my Masters in Online and Distance Education, back in 2016 (!), not least, how to survive having twins and how to juggle 3 kids, full time work and part time education in a lockdown.

This module though is really rounding off and cementing in all of my masters learning. As I write, I think I really must do a post about where I was in 2016 and where I am now, because the difference is palpable.

For now, I am going to focus on H818, a module I have barely blogged about, a module I am over half-way through.

As you might expect, there is a focus on networking. That is, networking with peers. Including those you don’t actually know. For my project I have needed to ask the ed tech community for feedback and help on my project development and output. What I have learnt so far:

  • Word Press automatically changes hyphens to bullet points when it thinks you are writing a list
  • Unless you are an influencer with a massive following OR writing something incredibly controversial (and get piled on) the scatter-gun approach to Twitter posting doesn’t work.
  • Tagging people does work, but this presumes that you know who to tag in the first place.
  • Twitter DMs are great. I got in touch with some well respected professors and was blown away by the generosity shown to me, a part time masters student.
  • The ALT mailing list is much better for ed tech networking than Twitter. I was hesitant to use it for fear of spamming people, but I had 3 responses from people interested in my (theoretical) flipped learning website. I am confident I will have more responses when it’s not Christmas (what a time to try and network with people) and when I have an actual tangible website to show them.
  • Getting replies from people about your project is exciting and invigorating and makes you feel like you can change the world.

I also have learnt about giving and receving peer feedback on projects in development.

  • Getting feedback from peers can be painful at first, but you quickly become desensitised and see it for what it is, valuable constructive criticism.
  • Giving good feedback is time consuming and a learning process in itself. Also, it can be addictive. I loved seeing other peoples projects take shape, and I feel like I have really got to know my classmates in a much deeper way than on other modules. I want them all to succeed.
  • I recently checked to see how much feedback I had given and was shocked (and a little embarrassed) to see that I had replied to a whopping 137 comments.

What are my main takeways so far? I think what I have learnt will really help my career, I have taken myself out of comfort zone and emailed, Tweeted and DMed total strangers asking for help, asking to collaborate. Some of them replied and it was great! I have started to learn the true value of networking.

How blogs put me off openly reflecting and why they won’t any longer.

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If asynchronous forums lead to overly formalised peer discussion, is blogging just more of the same?

My opinion on the standard VLE forums is that they are not fit for purpose. Their sluggish nature discourages spontaneity and genuine conversation. Course designers can completely ignore how students will use them and ask them to post long responses to questions. Long posts don’t get meaningful replies for a variety of reasons and so this approach is essentially asking students to perform a monologue that will go unheard. Probably.

In a face-to-face classroom, genuine discussions can be had, students will chat informally but on task. The teacher won’t be listening to them all and won’t be trying to get them to reply in a constrained way (“talk to your peers using 200 words or less”).

I started this WordPress blog in April, at the beginning of lockdown. My intention was to blog highly thought-provoking and articulate posts that the word of ed tech would find incredibly useful and wise. A tall order I am sure you will agree, and the pressure of this is probably what led to me only posting 3 times up until today.

So many students and academics blogs are well written, full of useful citations and insights. You can tell a lot of thought, time and effort goes into them. This adds to the pressure.

What I really want is a place to reflect on what I am reading and learning in an informal way. As I write this post I realise this blog can be whatever I want it to be. If I want to post uncited musings then I can.

And that’s what I’ve done.

MOOCs again? That old chestnut

I have been tasked to respond to Carole Cadwalladr’s article, Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university? (2012)

I have also been asked to pretend it’s 2012 as I read it. Here is my response…

I remember the hype around the MOOCs, and frankly then I didn’t believe it. Then I thought claims were overblown. To be honest, in 2012, I didn’t even approve of ebooks, preferring to read the real thing. Cynical young me thought that the ebook was a way to cut corners and save money, whilst providing a worse service to students. And I hated the MOOC acronym.

Anyone who knows me may be surprised to read this. I am now a passionate advocate for digital education. I am happy to read from a screen and all of my notes are written up in OneNote. I hardly ever use a real pen and highlighters. My colleagues tease me because OneNote seems to be my answer to everything…. but seriously OneNote is amazing… a recipe book, journal, planner and wiki all in one.

A screengrab of my OneNote from my last OU module… a thing of digital beauty

Back to the point about MOOCs…

So in 2012 I didn’t believe that a free online course could replace a university degree. I always assume that loud articles trumpeting revolutions are in fact hyperbole. This goes for self-driving cars, android assistants and Second Life (which I am sneaking in a mention of, as all of my OU study material seems to mention it).

Back then, I knew little about digital education and learning technology.

Should I even admit that I didn’t learn about the job title learning technologist until 2015?

Yes, I am a learning designer now and an advocate for ed tech.

Point is, if I was cynical, I imagine many others were too. Yes, newspapers like to make headline and announce The Next Big Thing, this doesn’t mean that they are reflecting the word on the street. I don’t think they even believe it themselves. They have to write about something.

The question posed by the OU on my course, is “back in 2012 would you have agreed that the MOOC would lead to the end of the universities”? NO. My short answer.

Back then I would have been very dubious that something provided for free would have been good quality. Don’t we all think that? If it’s free, what’s wrong with it? I assumed that the course would have been clunky, bad to navigate, and that the contents would be flat and boring.

Ask me the same question now, in 2020.

Could the MOOC lead to the end of the universties?

My answer is still no. I am coming it at from a different angle, and have different reasons now. Since the article was written I have participated in two MOOCs- one excellent and one mediocre. The mediocre MOOC funnily enough was indeed badly designed, flat and boring. The excellent MOOC was well put together, engaging, though provoking, active, practical and interesting.

Even so, I don’t think it’s a realistic model to compete with a university education. I may expand on my reasons in another post, but I am finding it hard to concentrate on this backward-looking question when I keep on returning to a question that everyone in edtech is asking at the moment…

As face to face universities are having to pivot online, will the way in which education is delivered post Covid-19 change forever? Will those in their ivory towers deam edtech worthy? Perhaps, more importantly, will we ever convince students? Will the powers that be ever realise that an online course is not necessarily a whole bunch of video lectures? Or that the online pivot need not mean a switch to hours of live Zoom lectures.

These are different blog posts. And ones I will have to write, even if they turn out to be amusing time capsule s to look back on in years to come.

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Hello world!

Would this even be a website if my first post wasn’t called “Hello world!”? Here’s a photo of a cat 😉

fred

I aim to make this blog as jargon-free as possible, as overly-wordy text is one of my pet hates.

About me

I am about to start the final year of my masters course- MA in Online and Distance Education (MA ODE) at the Open University. Sadly this course is being discontinued- I may blog about that in the future.

I have come far!

grand canyon path

A year ago, I wouldn’t have even understood the “hello world” joke I just made.

I recently found some notes I wrote back in 2016 (my first year on the course), and I wrote “TEL= technology enhanced learning”. I probably would have considered “TEL” to be jargon, I also remember bristling at terms like “asynchronous” and “pedagogy” and I now use them all the time.

Food for thought though.

A year from now, will these posts be full of acronyms, backronyms, intialisms and words that only those involved with ed tech use?

My pledge for this blog

As I progress through the course, I will force myself to write posts here of at least 500-1000 words in length based on the week’s material. I have been inspired to do this by a colleague, who is studying on a similar course at a different university. She has to write 3 blog posts a week. I think this is a good idea, and am trying out myself -“dog-fooding” as one of my very charming colleagues would would it (hello Stephen ;P).

I pledge to keep this blog public, to ensure that my posts are ordered and make sense. Well that’s the idea anyway.

I suspect I will maintain my private journal too, for when I want to rant about something, as my rants are usually sweary and incoherent 😉

I also pledge to make this blog as accessible as possible, and free of copyright theft.

Until next time!