#ONL 171: Getting off the blocks…

This is the post excerpt.


Dino (16), Daksh (13) and David (3). My three kids  have been my  life’s greatest teachers. Their personalities, likes and dislikes are the polar opposites one another.  Believe me when I say that managing  and balancing these ‘CEO’s of their own lives’, can be challenging. It often feels like I’m trying to balance on a high wire, lodged between  Chicago skyscrapers, taking calculated steps, whilst  contemplating  the pros and cons of my next move and its consequences , trying not to become one with the pavement, yet feeling joyful in the adrenelin rush of it all!

My very right-brained Dino constantly works towards overcoming her learning challenges, yet her  soul connecting compositions on the piano flows so  easily and beautifully when she plays .  My highly integrated Daksh is equally skilled at left and right brain tasks.  She excels academically yet finds solace in creating the most beautiful  paintings of horses.  Little David dominates the household with his very left brained characteristics.  Everything must be analysed.  There must be order. There has to be a rational explanation to each question (and sub question), failing which,  sleep is wishful thinking.  This little man has a low tolerance for ‘fluff’ and a high expectation of delivery and facts.  I remember sitting with him  in his playroom one day  with my prepped teaching plan and strategies to meet the outcomes of teaching him his prime colours when he was two. We had been going through these colours for 3 weeks, yet he would identify the object with confidence but roll his eyes when it got to identifying its colour.   I was on a mission.  I held up the first flash card to him, which was a red ball.

Me: David can you tell mamma what this is?

David: It’s a  ba (w)l !  (High five! Happy boy)

Me: Yay! Well done my boy!!!  (Happy mamma.  Chest puffed out with pride)… Now can you tell me  what colour it is?

The dreaded  eye rolling syndrome (that has also afflicted both his older sisters ) manifested as he  tilted his head to the left,  shoulders slouched as if he was carrying the weight of the world.

David: Mamma..again???

He stood up, took the flash cards from my hand , duck walked across the room with his brows knitted, spread them across the floor, turned to me  and gestured for me to come over. I obliged.

David: (D)is is (w)ed, (h)ellow, b(woo), g(w)een. (W)ed and and (h)ellow makes o(winj) and (w)ed and b(woo) makes p(oo)ple.

He not only knew his primary  colours , but also the combinations that made secondary colours!

David: Na(w)ty  Mamma!  Mamma must  (wern)…..What colour Mamma?.. (holding up the yellow sun).

Well, didn’t I feel like a monkeys uncle!!!???

There were lessons to be learned. My children have taught me that as a mom, I am not only their nurturer and teacher but also their pupil. They have taught me to be patient, to listen and  reflect, process and understand who they are, where they are at and what they need . It’s not about them meeting me where I am, to enable me to meet their needs but me meeting  them where they are in supporting their learning and emotional needs. If David needs structure and rational answers, that is what I give him.  If  Dino needs more time with me and patience from me in supporting her learning goals, that is exactly what I give her, in a manner that speaks to her, be it rapping a Geography essay or singing a song about Hamlet. If Daksh needs me to sit with her and explain  Science, that’s exactly what I will do, with a diagram, because I know that it is what appeals to her.

My kids have taught me how to shape shift between their learning styles and in effect have taught me how to become a  better teacher that speaks to the different learning styles of my students in the lecture hall. They have taught me that a learning challenge is not a disadvantage. but rather a quest for me to explore connecting teaching methods that appeal to these types of learners. They have taught me NOT to  underestimate my student’s ability  to engrain information into their intellectual capacities. They have taught me that being patient with my students and listening to them, helps me to understand their personal learning needs. They have also taught me that I am a life long learner. Without life long learning, I would have nothing new to teach my students.

ONL 171 is one of those journeys that I am excited to be on as a part my life long learning. A part of meeting my students (and my own kids), where they are is to understand that the technological characteristics of this digital generation requires me to engage  with them on platforms that are familiar to them. I can already see myself  creating a Google + community for one of my modules where I get students to engage with each other and analyse problem based type legal scenarios in groups contexts.  I can see myself getting students together to form virtual law firms and working collaboratively to prepare legal papers and legal arguments in digital print. I can see them keeping a  journal of their experiences on Blogs such as this one and reflecting upon the progress that they have made in their learning experience…..I can see the the face of legal education changing, and I’m excited about it

‘Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore’: Lessons Learned: Future Practice

The idea of engaging and collaborating with people from different cultures and countries was met with much trepidation as was the ‘unknown’ of what lay ahead on the course.  I really did not know whether or not I would last.  I was unsure whether or not I would be able to cope with the differing time zones and the expected pace of the course. However just as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz  met many friends who joined her on her journey on that yellow brick road and worked together, with their varying personalities, strengths and knowledge to get to the Emerald City, so too did I in my problem based learning group,  in getting to this point.  These have become people that I really want to remain connected to.

The synchronous social construct, leaning on, learning from and with each member was quite a learning curve for me in so far as experiencing collaborative learning. It was not just about collaborating and building relationships in the learning process but making a commitment to the combined learning of the group.

The course was well scaffolded and brought me to the realisation that I could indeed do the things that I thought I could not do.

It certainly pushed me beyond my comfort zone in exploring online tools that I would have never thought of engaging with such as Canva, Smilebox, Pow -Toon, Coggle.  Prezi is already a tool that I am familiar with.  WordPress!!!!  I cannot believe that I am now a blogger….and enjoying it!

The breakthrough moment of collaborative learning in this blended online course for me was most definitely on Topic 3.  We moved from the somewhat awkward talks on Adobe Connect and individual contributions on the FISH template to a working model of successful ‘integrated ‘collaboration’ on the PADLET that was presented on the ONL community,  and meaningful  in-depth discussion on the topic.  What I found  phenomenal was that although we agreed on some perspectives, we were also given the space to respectfully disagree and reflect upon alternate perspectives.  The willingness to learn, share and teach each other was phenomenal.   This trend continued on remaining topics.

The Google + community itself was a paradigm shift for me.  Just as I am sure that Dorothy was surprised, fascinated and intrigued by the Munchkins in Munchkin land, so too was I perplexed, fascinated and intrigued by the benefit of Google + in both the teaching and learning space.  This particular tool has provoked me to implement a similar model as ONL for the purposes of integrated curriculum evaluation on the modules that I lecture in second semester, specifically Specific Contracts, which students find onerous.  It would be an interesting experiment to assess the extent to which students are willing to collaborate and learn from each other on these platforms more specifically, the skills and knowledge that they would be able to take away from the course.  For me, the success of such an implementation would reflect in the module pass rate and through put rate.  I’m looking forward to taking a step back from being the sole source of students learning to being the facilitator of their own learning.

The benefits of this course have outweighed the disadvantages and stumbling blocks.  It has indeed taken me through the roller coaster experience that students would experience, however it has enabled me:

  • To reflect upon my own teaching practice as legal academic.
  • As a curriculum designer, it has enabled me to reflect upon the development and augmentation of the LLB degree in the blended online space.

I have absolutely loved this course.  I am presenting a paper at the School of Law at the University   of Nottingham’s, Centre for Legal Education Conference 2017 on Technology, legal education and legal practice in June.  I have been quite inspired to include a discussion of my experiences on ONL 171, more so with the amazing PBL 3 group that I have become very fond of.

Consideration should definitely be given to an advanced ONL course that builds upon this one.

Unlike Dorothy, I have no intention of clicking my sequined ruby red shoes thrice, uttering delirious mantras of ‘there’s no place like home’.  Open networked learning is now a comfortable space in which I would like to stay and learn more, whilst enjoying the benefits of my life in the real world…. blended learning at its best!!!

Plunging into ‘design for online and blended learning’ with trepidation

I had found this topic to be a simultaneously interesting and challenging one – very much equivalent to the few seconds before my first bungee jump, off Mossel Bay Bridge, enroute to Cape Town.  I was very interested and excited about it in the beginning but only realised what I was in for and just how out of depth I was, when I was at the precipice of my first plunge. The feelings that this topic evoked at the outset were one of uncertainty and anxiety, which I am sure is a completely natural response.  I later realised how unnecessary it was!!!!  I had a number of questions as to whether or not it was sustainable in the long run.  How would it work?  How do you assess online collaboration?  Once I did indeed take the plunge into researching and reading more, about it, I found myself gravitating to its potential as a tool for learning and preparing students with technological work place skills, with enthusiasm and confidence.  After all, I did have the harness of a very connected PBL group who were taking the plunge with me!

Midway through this particular topic, I could foresee the prospect of designing a blended LLB curriculum that incorporated the best of traditional and online teaching and learning.  I will reserve further elaboration on this for my last blog.

Although the design of online learning would encapsulate and the foundational characteristics if traditional learning the paradigm shift is the effective incorporation of technology.

One of the most beneficial characteristics of blended learning is that it combines the traditional face to face  instruction/support with the online environment which work hand in hand in ensuring that students not only receive  content, but also engage with the content on virtual platforms. Thus, teaching and learning is taken beyond the four walls of a lecture hall into a space that requires students to explore, investigate  and engage with material, collaborate with each other through peer to peer learning.  It enables students to access online resources and enriches their learning experience.

These types of courses should  ideally  be designed around its outcomes,[1] i.e.

  • What are the goals of the blended course?
  • What are the objectives?
  • What are the skills that you want students to develop in the course and take away from it?

In other words, know what you want to achieve first, before deciding on the technology that you want to use to achieve it. Activities should be designed to enable students to engage with the content, i.e. encourage the interactive/collaborative element, failing which, the learning community will ‘fall flat on its face.’

Online and blended online learning should essentially integrate instruction in a manner that is pedagogically valuable[2].  Outcomes of such a model are best achieved through mixed delivery modes, augmented by meaningful activities which bridge the lacunae between face to face and technologically mediated modes of delivery and the moderation of interactivity[3]

The thing about bungee jumping is that although it starts with fear, anxiety and trepidation, the resultant antithesis of an addictive adrenalin rush keeps you coming back for more.  The harness could snap.  It has risks, however for me, nothing beats the resultant feeling of accomplishment which is very much what I felt at the end of this topic.  I ended up knowing more than I did before I plunged into it.  I like that adrenalin rush!

[1] Lim, Doo Hun, and Michael Lane Morris. “Learner and instructional factors influencing learning outcomes within a blended learning environment.” Educational Technology & Society 12.4 (2009): 282-293.

[2] Hartfield, Perry. “Blended learning as an effective pedagogical paradigm for biomedical science.” Higher Learning Research Communications 3.4 (2013): 59.

[3] McGee, Patricia, and Abby Reis. “Blended course design: A synthesis of best practices.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 16.4 (2012): 7-22.

‘Back to the Future’ with learning in communities…..

Flying cars, hover boards, self-tying shoe laces, Tablets, video conferencing.  Back to The Future! It was one of my favourite movies as a teenager! Little did the writers of this move know just how much some of their predictions would materialise in this day and age!  The one scene that stood out the most for me was Marty McFly’s business video conference with the character Needles (Douglas Needles) in Back to the Future II.   I remember being so enamoured  by the possibility that these two characters could engage in a face to face conversation in real time with each, whilst they were in different places.  They could collaborate, discuss, resolve, roll out ideas without physically being in the same room.  The manifestation of this amazing platform through Skype, Lync, video chat options on What’s AP, Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate and so many other similar platforms, which  is intricately woven  throughout the Open Networked Learning 171 course is quite surreal.

(Dare I say this as an adult woman of 42) Living in an era where a few of that movie’s predictions have materialised, almost feels like I’m living out a teenage fantasy.  Face to Face collaboration in real time, without being in the same physical space?   Now that’s going Back to the Future!

I have found that the scaffolded pedagogical approach of each topic on this ONL 171 course has been an observation of our very own experiences on the course to date, as well as those who have completed other iterations.  Topic 3 in particular was one that enabled me to reflect upon this social construct of a collaborative learning community and the importance of not just being a part of ‘interconnectedness’ but maintaining it for the benefit of the group as a whole.

The same maintenance would be required in social relationships and communities in real life.  In the legal context, law firms are communities within themselves, where each person is required to make a meaningful contribution towards its success. Candidate attorneys and associates learn from each other and partners, and are accountable to each other for their successes and failures.   The same can be translated into legal education.  Drawing groups of students together from different backgrounds (race, culture and creed) into learning communities  enable them to [1]:

  • Construct knowledge together.
  • Be accountable to each other in the learning process.
  • Mutually depend on each other in ensuring the groups success.
  • Enrich each other’s understanding and knowledge.

These are also much needed skills required in the workforce. The team within such a social construct is only as strong as its weakest link. Hence all team members need to work as a cohesive, collaborate unit, drawing on the strengths of each individual in seeing the project through to fruition.

Ultimately, the sustainability of learning in communities, pivots on team members shared vision values, interest and willingness to explore learning togther. The responsibility towards the success of the community should be collectively shared, as should individual commitment.  These elements should contribute towards the success of the intended collaboration and learning community as a whole.

It is irrefutable that the internet has shown great potential in enabling and enhancing cross border collaboration and learning.  Collaborative learning in learning communities presents a novel approach to enhancing the quality of student learning , engagement[2]  and interaction across different cultures, races , professions, genders through an integration of academic and social support[3].  This is extremely beneficial in augmenting peer to peer learning, more so reflective peer to peer learning.

I don’t see my shoelaces auto lacing any time soon but I am quite enthused by the fact that I can connect with colleagues in Sweden and Finland, all the way from South Africa, and work towards a common goal.  I am certainly not oblivious to the fact that collaboration in  learning communities is not without its flaws, however just as traditional learning has evolved into blended learning and traditional stand and deliver face to face teaching and learning is quickly evolving into collaborative learning, so too would collaborative learning evolve into a larger construct yet to be developed.

Evolution is an inherent characteristic of human development which we need to embrace in order to keep up with the changing landscape of education.  If not, then, in the words of Dr Emmet Brown, ‘You are not thinking fourth dimensionally!’

[1] Tinto, V. Learning better together: The impact of learning communities on student success in higher education. Journal of Institutional Research 9, 1 (2000), 48–53.

[1] Smith, Calvin, and Debra Bath. “The role of the learning community in the development of discipline knowledge and generic graduate outcomes.” Higher Education 51.2 (2006): 259-286.

 [3] Price, D. (2005). Learning communities and student success in postsecondary education: A background paper. New York: MDRC. Retrieved April 11, 2017 from http://www.mdrc.org/publications/418/full.pdfGoogle Scholar

Sharing is Caring!

‘Sharing is caring’.  A catchphrase which, together with Barney the purple dinosaur, I have attempted to engrain into the intellectual capacities of my kids.  At times it has been a successful reminder. At other times it has not worked so well.

16-year-old: ‘Mom, it’s my necklace.  I’ve taken care of it for such a long time…. What if she loses it!? She just cannot take things from my room without first asking’.   Yet her sister would easily let her have anything that is hers.  #CreativeCommons  # SharingandOpeness

13-year-old: ‘Mom its unfair that the Cassio has been in her room for almost a month, it’s my turn to have it in my room.’  We should both enjoy the benefit of it’.   Yet there is a piano downstairs. #negotiateANDshare

3-year-old: ‘Mamma it’s my Pepper Pig’.    The anxiety of a 3-year-old who does not want to let go of what is his, because he is afraid that he would lose ownership of it. #IntellectualPropertyRights #credit

The idea of sharing and open learning is not a foreign concept to me, given my (or anyone else’s) experiences in bringing up kids. The common themes that arise from rearing my brood are very are analogous to adults faced with the prospect of sharing:

  1. We are anxious about others using our work without giving us credit.
  2. We instinctually want to hold on to what belongs to us, because we want to enjoy the greater benefit of it.
  3. Fear of work being abused or taken out of context
  4. Quality assurance of available material.

In as much as the anxiety is real to any of us who write, publish, invest hours of time and effort in developing our material, the greater benefit of sharing our work to benefit a greater audience of peers and students cannot be overstated.

Very much like Star Trek, sharing and openness takes teaching and learning where no student or educator has gone before:  Cyberspace. A space where we voluntarily offer our knowledge to enable our colleagues to augment the learning experience for their students.  Not all students can afford to buy a textbook. I is so much easier for them to access an OER so as to enable them to gain the same advantages as those who can afford it.  It places learning on an even level. It provides a greater reach of a developers work, beyond geographical borders.[1]

We develop each other as educators.  I learn so much from sharing with my peers at The IIE Varsity College. They adapt and reuse my material, as relevant to their specific modules, as I do with their material.  This community of sharing and openness has enabled us to support each other, towards a common goal: Developing each other in a teaching and learning space, whilst meeting the outcomes of each module, with a studentcentric approach in mind. Our students become lifelong learners, as do we as educators[2].  The more we adapt, reuse, remix each others material, the more its quality is enhanced and made relevant. OER supports our educational and professional development by enabling us to be each other’s editors and supporters. The user chooses which material to use.  Just as hard copies of material range from relevant to non relevant, great quality to that that which is not, it is up to individual users, to sift through it in deciding which of those to use.  The same applies to OER’s.

So, just as my 13year-old now asks her sister’s permission to borrow her stuff, so too do creative commons licences come in to enable us to borrow the work of others and use it in a manner that benefits future users.  Just as my 13-year-old and 16-year-old have learned to negotiate and share the use of the Cassio, so too do we as educators need to negotiate the limits and extent to which we desire to share our own and each other’s material.  This is the reason why creative commons licences are so important.  In providing us with options as to the extent or terms of our sharing, it is in effect enabling us to share on our own terms.

Just as my 3 year olds anxiety surrounding losing ownership of his Pepper Pig has somewhat dissipated in baby steps, the same is required of those who are sceptical about the benefit of OER’s.  It starts with sharing a single document and seeing how that works for you.

We all lend to completing each other’s puzzle in the sharing process.

[1] Yuan, Li, Stephen Powell, and JISC CETIS. “MOOCs and open education: Implications for higher education.” (2013).

[2] Weller, M., (2012). The openness-creativity cycle in education. Journal of Interactive Media in Education. 2012(1), p.Art. 2. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/2012-02

Down the rabbit hole with digital literacy!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.[1] It is  this wonderfully imaginative and chaotic book that comes to mind when I reflect upon my experience  on digital literacy , i.e. Topic 1 of ONL 171.  To state that I was overwhelmed and beyond my depth would be an understatement.  I followed the white rabbit (Alistair Creelman), out of intense curiosity, and literally fell down a rabbit hole of online platforms, PBL groups and adobe connect meetings.  Strange yet exciting and magical creatures!  I found myself in constant anxiety of missing group meetings because of the differences in time zones (I’m late! I’m late…. I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!),  and I felt like I had taken a seat at the Mad Hatters Tea Party with my PBL family featuring as the main characters….Do not ask who the Mad Hatter was!!!!

 Yet, just like Alice, I persisted.  I took a bite out of the caterpillar’s mushroom ( Mohamed and Lieza) which enabled me to grow…not to the extent that Alice physically did, but to the extent that I needed to grow for the purposes of appreciating the benefit of digital literacy in the  teaching and learning space.

 One ‘may learn a lot of things from the flowers’, in terms of understanding the social obligation of belonging to a team, i.e. PBL group.[2] You are only as strong as your weakest link, and as such you cannot afford to be the weakest link or else you pull the entire team down with you.  I have no intentions of being the Red Queen!!!  The interconnectedness between members of the group spanning across continents, on a Google community has in itself been the most beneficial source of digital literacy for me, on this particular course.

We discuss, investigate, problem solve and collaborate as a single unit, resulting in presentations  that could possibly be resourced and referenced.  It fascinates me that we are able to do this as cohesive unit, inspite of the physical separation of oceans, continents and professions between us.  This very idea of interconnectedness on digital platforms has enabled me to appreciate its potential for legal education. We have in effect contributed to digital literacy.

On a personal level, I found myself pushing boundaries on platforms that I would have otherwise felt insecure .  I found myself exploring APS and online programmes to put together an awesome group introduction.  I would have never known what the benefits of Smilebox[3] or Magisto[4] was, unless I had stepped out of the boat and walked on water!

I find myself gravitating from being a digital/online visitor to an online resident , and I am no longer intimidated by it[5]. Engaging in and adapting in this ‘Wonderland’ of sorts has been quite a cultural paradigm shift for me,[6] and a beneficial one at that!  With that having been said, I believe that these experiences would enable me to understand my law students better.  There is no better way to reach this online/digital generation, than on their own stage.

Needless to say, this experience has produced irrefutable evidence of the benefits of Digital Literacy to teaching and learning as a whole. With that said, I will paint the roses red, because the colour of Google + and Google communities are looking really appealing right now! Yes…I just typed that out smiling like a Cheshire cat!

[1] Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, New York:MacMillan. (1865).

[2] Swan, Karen, and Li Fang Shih. “On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions.” Journal of Asynchronous learning networks 9.3 (2005): 115-136.

[3] http://www.smilebox.com/?utm_expid=59694859-491.rTOvQJdCQoWerUFXgoqXOQ.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.co.za%2F

[4] https://www.magisto.com

[5] Marc Prensky, 2001a, “Digital natives, digital immigrants,” On the Horizon, volume 9, number 5, at http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf, accessed 13 March 2017

[6] Henry Jenkins with Ravi Purushotma, Katherine Clinton, Margaret Weigel and Alice J. Robison, 2006. “Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21 Century,” Chicago: MacArthur Foundation. http://www.projectnml.org/files/working/NMLWhitePaper.pdf, accessed 13 March 2017.