Topic 5 : Lessons Learnt – Future Practice

The learning experience I had from the course, and how it could help shape my future practice is elaborated below.

I took the lead in discussions for Topic 1: Digital literacy. I believe it had some impact on the group, and I would like to believe that my initiative, along with my partner in crime – Sana helped the group take off. It has certainly improved my confidence in taking on challenges.

Improved digital literacy of tools – tried a number of new tools such as Padlet, Blog (though I had some experience before, but never used it seriously), Twitter, Prezi, Simpleshow, Thinglink, etc.

I enjoyed the numerous discussions we had in our PBL, which were very enriching. John and Cecilia were wonderful facilitators, and my PBL-mates Tayo, Ossi, Krysz, Helena, Sana, and Svenja are all wonderful additions to my network from different parts of the world.

I certainly got more open about sharing, and have a better feel of the benefits and challenges. I will be sharing a lot more of my materials and thoughts so that the larger community can benefit from them. I am also a lot more aware of the need to have an appropriate license specified for all the materials I share.

I am an engineer at heart, and writing non-technical stuff doesn’t come naturally to me. However, this course has enhanced my confidence and motivation to write more on learning and pedagogy. I will continue blogging even after the ONL course is over.

This course helped me understand digital literacy, challenges of openness, cooperation vs collaboration, blended learning, personal learning network, etc a lot better.

Some scenarios for PBL discussions felt a bit ambiguous. We felt a bit lost at times, but the facilitators helped us get back on our feet and cruise along. They also mentioned that the ambiguity is intentional, and gave a wider scope for discussions. In retrospect, this was indeed the case.

I was not able to go through the works by other teams as much as I should have. I will do a ‘catch-up’ soon, now that I have a bit more free time in between semesters.

There were also topics where I could not be as active as I should have, especially on Topic 3.

Overall, my thought process regarding teaching and learning has improved significantly through the course. It is certainly a landmark in my journey to be a better educator.

Topic 4 : Blended Learning

Blended learning is a topic being hotly discussed right now, with the Singapore government firmly committed to it. The COVID situation we are in right now has more or less mandated it.

Personally, I have done some form of blended learning and use of various IT tools and resources to enable learning outside and beyond the classroom. Hence, I was better placed than many other educators when the Covid situation stuck. I was already using recording to teach certain topics – especially in my elective modules where there could be differences in the background of students (for example, I have students from both electrical engineering and computer engineering, some second year students, some masters students in the same course). Blended learning allowed me to avoid the need to cover certain topics in the lecture which a significant fraction of the class has the knowledge of, while ensuring that those who do not have the background are still given sufficient support. This was done through additional materials, videos etc. I was also familiar with tools such as Zoom, wikis etc. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the webinar as well as our PBL discussions on the topic, which motivated me to think deeper about some of the issues associated with blended learning.

The first and foremost issue is that of social justice in online/blended learning- the assumption that students have access to the required tools and infrastructure is not always true. This is especially in developing countries where a laptop or computer and internet connection are beyond the reach of many families. The reliability and cost of internet connection and electricity are factors which are of concern too – for example, in India, only 1 in 4 homes have internet connection that is good enough for online learning. Even in developed countries, there are difficulties, with 1 in 4 in the UK facing challenges.

We also tried designing courses following the Community of Inquiry in online courses, as illustrated in (Fiock, 2020). We tried it for different course sizes, as well as for a lab course. It was heartening to see that the wiki-based approach which I had adopted for many lab-based courses was well in line with the practices described in this work.

A major concern related to blended learning is sustaining student motivation. How do we ensure that students have done their homework so that synchronous sessions can be made optimal use of? This is a million dollar question, with no definite answer. This is a topic which I discuss frequently with my colleagues. I am also reviewing more literature on this topic to incorporate the best practices, while keeping in mind the limitations in adapting techniques across courses of varying natures.

Topic 3 : Learning in Communities

Connectivism (Siemens, 2004), and other theories underpin learning in the digital age. It emphasizes that learning occurs through connections between people, and the newer digital technologies have opened up avenues for people to enhance learning. The webinar by Kay Oddone was mainly focused on Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). Perhaps the ONL itself is an example of a personal learning network.

In our PBL group, we discussed the benefits of collaborative learning from the perspective of both the learner and the teacher. We also discussed cooperation vs collaboration, and I found this video by John Spencer very interesting in illustrating the differences. In this regard, being an electrical/computer engineer, I can’t help but draw an analogy to how USB works – a technique known as differential signaling. The two wires in USB carry the same information, but with opposite polarities. The information gets corrupted by noise, which affects both the wires equally. At the receiver, the voltages on the two lines are subtracted, canceling out noise and amplifying the information signal. This is how it works for collaboration in an ideal world – strengths add up, weaknesses cancel.

We discussed some liberating structures very extensively as a means to have a structure in collaborative settings. I found some of those very interesting and will be adopting them in my courses. In particular, I was fascinated by the 1-2-4-ALL structure. Each individual is given one minute for deliberation. Then the topic is discussed in pairs for 2 minutes. Further, two such groups are combined into a group of 4 and the discussion continues for 4 minutes. Following this, everyone will come back to the main room and present their ideas for 5 minutes. It allows for individual, smaller group, medium group, and whole-cohort discussions in a very structured and time-bound manner while evolving a natural, organic consensus. It is also very suited for an online collaboration environment, for example, through Zoom.

We evaluated several other tools for presenting our work, such as Miro, Prezi, etc. Eventually, we chose Thinglink which is a pretty good tool to represent a variety of different materials such as audio, video, hyperlinks etc. I got the chance to experience Simpleshow, which I feel is a very easy-to-use and powerful tool to create short illustrative videos. A simpleshow video I created for 1-2-4-ALL is here.

Topic 2 : Openness

Topic 2 deepened my knowledge and thought process in being ‘open’. The webinar by Maha Bali was very engaging and enriching. Some of the information that she shared, such as those related to social justice, as well as regional variations of open content (such as Wikipedia having different quality and even information in different languages for the same topic) were eye-opening. There were also discussions about social justice which openness brings about.

I have always striven to be open while remaining wary of the potential issues. I have made open some of my materials, such as this resource page on Arduino (which itself is an open-source project!) and this (a cutting edge topic on hardware-software co-design), with the hope that it will be useful for the larger community. The various benefits and pitfalls were discussed in depth in our PBL group. There are numerous benefits to being open apart from giving one the joy of sharing, such as mistakes getting noticed and corrected fast, possible help in building a reputation in the field, motivating others to share, etc. Pitfalls include inadvertently violating someone else’s copyright/intellectual property, putting up materials that could affect someone else’s sensitivities (especially given the fact that there could be temporal and cultural elements to such sensitivities), reputation risk through publishing incorrect information etc.

Personally, ensuring that we don’t violate someone’s intellectual property/copyright has been the biggest hurdle. It is very rare that we create learning materials entirely from scratch. We usually have to refer to textbooks, journals, and other online materials. We have to be very careful about the terms under which the original content creator has allowed reuse. In many cases, such information will not be included along with the material, and getting permissions can be a very time-consuming and sometimes impossible task (the author may not be contactable). While there are “fair dealing” clauses, there is still an uncertainty/ambiguity regarding how much is fair. This could prevent others from making good use of your work, and possibly enhancing it and paying it forward. Hence, as a content creator, it is important to be clear about the terms under which you are making your work open. There are various licenses, many of which are applicable to software too, a field I dabble in. Licensing schemes such as Creative Commons can be adopted, which allows for the original author to be credited while allowing for varying degrees of restrictions such as permitting or not permitting commercial use. There is also a Creative Commons variant CC0 which releases the material into the public domain while relinquishing as much rights as possible. I will make sure that I will clearly specify the license under which a work is released so that people will be able to use it as freely as I intend it to be. 

Topic 1 : Digital Literacy

It was in Topic 1 that I delved deep into the topic of digital literacy. The webinar by David White introduced the concept of digital residents vs visitors, which is a refinement of Prensky’s digital natives vs immigrants paradigm. As someone who likes to believe most things are a shade of gray, I certainly liked the resident-visitor paradigm better.

The webinar, tweet chat, and the discussions we had in the PBL group shed more light on this topic. It was only through these that I realized digital literacy is very tool-dependent. So what prevents someone from adopting a tool?

Let us start with the most obvious one – there was simply no need for someone to adopt a tool. This was the case with tools like Zoom for many people before the COVID situation necessitated its use. Zoom’s enterprise customer base increased more than 5 fold in Q1 2020. The actual usage increase will be much more.

Another one is the misconceptions about the use and power of certain platforms. I am someone who used to be proud of being very digitally literate without fully understanding the meaning of it. I was a Facebook user well before most people in my part of the world. Yet, I started using Twitter only during Topic 1 of ONL, and realized it can be more fun and useful than I thought it to be. I came across this article which I found pretty interesting in this regard.

There are, of course, people who are wary of using certain tools and platforms for worry of being scammed/ getting into other kinds of trouble. It seems the person who is the subject of the Topic 1 problem scenario falls into this category. This worry is not entirely unfounded, as there are cases of people losing their positions and reputation over what they expressed through certain tools.

Through Topic 1 and ONL journey at this point, my digital literacy improved with respect to three tools – blog (though I have used WordPress as a platform for my website in the past, never really for blogging), Twitter, and Padlet.

Hello, World!

Excited to be a part of this learning journey with people from around the world..

I am from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, NUS.

As an avid proponent and practitioner of technology-enhanced learning, especially in an online learning setting, my interest in this course is quite natural. I have used tools such as wikis very extensively, created custom online learning tools, had been using online assessments even before the COVID situation, created remote lab setups, etc.

I strive to improve my practice further by attending this course. I am especially interested in tools and techniques to improve student participation and sustain student motivation in an online setting. I am also interested in exploring the scalability of various tools and techniques to large classes. I believe that the content and discussions within the course, especially with members of the international community will allow me to understand these issues better. It will also allow me to experience being a learner (i.e., being on the ‘other’ side of the teaching learning process) in an online setting, thereby improving my empathy for students.