Sunday, May 19, 2019

T5: Reflecting on Lessons Learnt – Future Practice

ONL 191 Topic 5 - Group 12

It is time to review what I learned and what Group 12 created for each of the four previous topics. In our group discussion, we collectively agreed that the three biggest challenges we encountered were:

  • Getting comfortable with the technology and creating a social presence through introducing ourselves in the Group Forums and by setting up our Blogs.
  • Another challenge is how best to project the image that we want others to perceive - both professionally and personally.
  • We also agreed that the biggest challenge was in managing our time - due to scheduling reasons, we met on Wednesdays and Fridays, which did not provide much time to accomplish tasks between these two days.
Overall, I feel that our group worked well together and benefited by having participants that had experiencing with online learning and online learning tools, Having facilitators with both online teaching and online teaching tool experience plus previous experience as student participants in previous ONL courses was also a benefit.

The Challenge of Establishing a Social Presence

There was a considerable learning curve for some of - for instance, i do not use many online social media platforms, the ones that do tend to use are either oriented towards professionals or at communicating with people that I already know.

Challenges of Projecting an Image

I tend to be more conservative when interacting in online communities where I normally use an avatar and creative persona in most public online communities; however, I use my real name and photo in most of the professional communities that I belong to. One benefit to this theme is understanding how emotions and privacy can impact how participants feel. It is important to take into account that different people may have different attitudes in opening themselves up in an online venue - not to mention legal aspects on privacy that need to be taken into account.

The Challenge of Managing Time

There were a lot of different activities and demands in the ONL 191 course that required organization and time management - many of the activities required an investment in time. This was made more challenging by having only one day between the two weekly group meetings.

Lessons Learned and what's Next

Overall, I fell that the time spent in the ONL 191 course was quite valuable - especially regarding many of the concepts involving online learning. I also found the concept of establishing Communities of Inquiry to be valuable and can see opportunities in both the professional training and future academic instruction in my field.

Online Tools We Used

The ONL 191 course was based around a community learning management system (LMS) and different tools such as Zoom and Padlet were used to present information. Additional tools were used by Group 12, my group, to create our project deliveries at the end of each of each topic (e.g. Topics 1-4).

Popplet @

Group 12 Project using Popplet

Popplet is a useful brainstorming tool that allows participants to add ideas and connections to a model. An important feature is the ability to illustrate relationships and break an idea down into  its constituent elements.

Padlet @

Group 12 Project using Padlet

Padlet functions much like a bulletin board where notes and media can be placed. Group memebrs can edit and comment and visitors can add remarks.

Prankmenot @

Group 12 Project using Prankmenot

Prankmenot can be used to build a simulated Facebook page - this has a positive side in that it can be used to explore different scenarios of inquiry, but it also has the potential to be abused if someone created a fake Facebook page and posted it for malevolent reasons. One big advantage is it is easy to create discussions in a format that many people are used to.

 ThingLink @

Group 12 Project using ThinkLink

ThingLink provides a platform for creating interactive images with links that a user can click to get more information - both textually and visually. Different icons can be provided for different categories / topics.

Coggle @

Group 12 Project using Coggle

Coggle is another brainstorming tool that is good for showing relationships. It has a more organic visual appeal.

Doodle @

Availability Planning Tool

Doodle is a useful tool for coordinating meetings by showing what days and times everyone is available. To use Doodle, each participant enters days and times that they are free to participate in a meeting or activity.

Mentimeter @

Participant Interaction Tool used In ONL 191 Seminars

Mentimeter is useful to get real-time feedback from group members or audiences that are participating in a presentation or discussion. It also provides the capability to create summary graphs to visualize outcomes.

Zoom @

Platform for ONL 191 Webinars

Zoom provides an easy to use platform for group meetings - it also provides the capability to have breakout sessions where smaller groups in a meeting can have time to interact and then return to the main group.

Combining Zoom with Mentimeter, Coggle, Padlet, and Popplet can enhance an online meeting by promoting many of the online learning and community of inquiry concepts that have been covered in my last four blog posts.

A Shout Out
Props to Group 12 Participants and Facilitators!

Special thanks to the Group 12 team and facilitators and especially Sara Ihlman whose vast experience with online tools provided a great hands-on opportunity for exploration!

Image Credits

T4: Reflecting on Design for Online and Blended Learning

ONL 191 Topic 4

The discussion these past two weeks focuses on three concepts - online learning, blended learning, and the educational Community of Inquiry, commonly abbreviated CoI. The first, online learning, is easy - it is the use of technology to provide education at a distance, in other words, students do not have to be in a classroom. One of the important characteristics of online learning is its potential to democratize the education experience. The second, blended learning, is a bit more difficult conceptually because although it uses technology and online learning, it is not the technology itself that defines blended learning, it is the activities that are purposefully designed to support the learning process. 

From Theory to Practice

In reflecting on the past two weeks and on my own field of Information Systems, I feel that there are several important areas where these concepts can be applied to enhance learning. Teaching students analysis, design, how to apply patterns, and advanced programming concepts all involve training the mind to think in new ways. One of the important challenges in software and systems engineering is that there are many ways to approach a problem, but not all approaches are effective nor are many of the available options often efficient. It is important for students to learn to think critically so they can better assess available approaches. It is important to note that, on a high level, software development is linear in nature as it proceeds through four phases starting with analyzing a problem, identifying design patterns, designing a solution, and finally coding a solution. Each phase creates deliverables that build upon one another. Getting something wrong often means going back and either laboriously making changes or throwing out previous work and starting over - most people do no like to throw things out so they spend considerable time trying to "fix" things. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the process is on the right track before advancing to the next phase of development, which involves bringing together different stakeholder perspectives, different design principles, and the characteristics of different types of technology and how these elements impact the proposed solution. This process is difficult to teach in a classroom setting alone and therefore needs to be expanded outside the classroom - a blended learning approach offers a solution.

Blended Learning

Vaughn [4] defines blended learning as "the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches” and goes on to further qualify this definition by emphasizing "simply adding an online component does not necessarily meet the threshold of blended learning". Blended learning promotes collaboration, critical thinking and, notably, an environment where students work together, engage in peer-to-peer teaching-learning, and engage with the learning process through purposely designed activities. To help educators develop effective blended learning courses, Cleveland-Innes propose seven principles to follow:
Cleveland-Innes Seven Principles of Blended & Online Learning [2]
  1. Design for open communication & trust
  2. Design for critical reflection & discourse
  3. Create and sustain sense of community
  4. Support purposeful inquiry
  5. Ensure students sustain collaboration
  6. Ensure that inquiry moves to resolution
  7. Ensure assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes

Vaughn, et. al. [4] support using these principles as a "map and guide to creating and sustaining purposeful communities of inquiry" to which I will shift my discussion.

Community of Inquiry

The community of inquiry is perhaps the most promising methodology for the encouragement of that fusion of critical and creative cognitive processing known as higher-order thinking. - Lipman [5]
Defining an Educational Community of Inquiry

An educational community of inquiry is defined as "a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding" - Garrison [6]
Participating in blended learning and communities of inquiry is evolutionary - in the beginning, students do not know their peers and need to orient themselves. As time progresses, the participants will gain confidence and will start engaging with each other more. As the engagement process evolves over time, it benefits by supporting technology. Salmon [3] proposes a five-stage model for online learning described in the diagram below:

Five-Stage Model for Online Learning [3]
Salmon's model supports the student learning experience "through structured development process" [3] in which each stage is composed by two aspects: a technological support aspect and an online moderating aspect, summarized below:
  1. Students introduce themselves and get to know each other
  2. An environment is provided for the students to socialize and form a community
  3. Students learn through interacting and sharing with each other, learn how to coordinate their activities with each other, and learn how to manage their time
  4. Each of the participating students begins to take on more responsibility for their learning
  5. Students are comfortable engaging with others, expressing ideas, and taking charge of their learning experience

These five stages lead into important building blocks for establishing a Community of Inquiry. Vaugn, et. al. [4] propose a framework for Communities of Inquiry based around three presences: Social, Cognitive, and Teaching. A model of the framework is illustrated below:

Community of Inquiry Framework [4]

Cleveland-Innes provides a definition for each presence [2]:
  • Social Presence - The ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities
  • Cognitive Presence - The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry.
  • Teaching Presence - The design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.
The first two stages of Salmons model are important for supporting the CoI Social Presence while the later three stages are important for supporting the CoI Cognitive Presence. The second, third and fourth stages of Salmon's model are important for the CoI Teaching Presence, where the teacher acts as a moderator in the online activities. But there is one more presence that plays an important role in learning - Emotional Presence. Two quotes from Cleveland-Innes illustrate the importance of emotion in learning:
Brain research has confirmed that emotions are linked to learning. Cleaveland-Innes [1]
Designers and educators need to create places that are not only safe to learn, but also spark some emotional interest. Cleaveland-Innes [1]
Emotional Experience is not confined to the students - it is also an important aspect of how a teacher interacts with the students. In the diagram below, Emotional Presence is important in supporting discourse and is an important part of the Teaching Presence.

Emotional Presence and the Community of Inquiry Framework - The Fourth Presence [2]
Cleveland-Innes sums up the importance of Emotional Presence in the following quotation [1]:
Emotional presence is the outward expression of emotion, affect and feeling, by individuals and among individuals in a community of inquiry, as they relate to and interact with the learning technology, course content, students and the instructor. [1]
  • Affect: influence or action in relationship to feelings and emotions.
  • Emotions: unconscious states that arise spontaneously.
  • Feelings: the conscious expression of emotion
Educational Experience is influenced by four presences: Social, Cognitive, Teaching, and Emotional - all four need to be taken into account when interacting with students.

Further Information on CoI:

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) URL:

  1. Cleveland-Innes, M. (2019). Emotion and learning –  emotional presence in the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI). URL:
  2. Cleveland-Innes, M. (2018) Community of Inquiry and Teaching Presence: Facilitation in online and blended learning. Presentation slides from ONL181 webinar. URL:
  3. Salmon, G (2013) The Five Stage Model. [Homepage]
  4. Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press. Chapter 1 “The Community of Inquiry Conceptual framework”. URL:
  5. Lipman, M. (2003). Contents. In Thinking in Education (pp. V-X). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Garrison, D.R., Akyol, Z. The Community of Inquiry Theoretical Framework: In the Context of Online and Blended Learning. ResearchGate. URL:
Image Credits:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

T3 Reflecting on Learning in Communities – Networked Collaborative Learning

ONL 191 Topic 3

In my two roles of being a Professional and a PhD Student, an important part of my learning derives from my personal learning network through cooperation, coordination and collaboration with other people. Interacting with an expert by joining a working committee, hanging out or participating in online forums, collaborating on a project, or having a chat over a cup of coffee or tea provides insights and valuable opportunities to benefit from a transference of knowledge that takes place through both formal and informal interactions. A philosophy that I took to heart early in my life was to seek out people who were smarter than me in terms of their knowledge and expertise and to create situations where I could learn from them through interaction, dialogue, and engagement. When I choose University courses I investigate the standing that the instructors have in their field  from looking into what they have been publishing and from how well other students learn from their courses. I see education as an investment - if I am going to spend valuable time in a course, I want it to pay off in terms of learning something that has value.

My experience in the ONL 191 community and participation as a member of Group 12 evolved over time from an initial passive mode of engagement into one of active engagement. In two ways I began as a novice - not having formal teaching experience as an educator and lacking experience in tools oriented towards online education. I quickly became comfortable in Group 12 but found the larger ONL 191 community more daunting to work with - a finding in line with what Brindley and Blaschke discuss in their paper [1] regarding how engagement is "important to the quality of learning." [1]

Learning Community

Before delving deeper into this topic, some definitions are perhaps in order:

PLN - Personal Learning Network
A Personal Learning Network is a way of describing the group of people that you connect with to learn their ideas, their questions, their reflections, and their references. Your PLN is not limited to online interactions, but it is that online, global interactive part that really makes it special. It is personal because you choose who’s part of that group; you choose if you want to lurk–just check out what people are saying–or if you share; because you choose when to do so, and how to do so.” - Marc-André Laland
Collaboration - Coordination - Cooperation
"Collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision. The key points are that it is not through individual effort, something new is created, and that the glue is the shared vision. 
Coordination is sharing information and resources so that each party can accomplish their part in support of a mutual objective. It is about teamwork in implementation. Not creating something new. 
Cooperation is important in networks where individuals exchange relevant information and resources in support of each other’s goals, rather than a shared goal. Something new may be achieved as a result, but it arises from the individual, not from a collective team effort."
Jesse Lyn Stoner
I chose these four definitions since I feel they effectively capture the essence of this topic.

Returning to Brindley and Blaschke, characteristics of active learning that contribute towards higher quality are [1]:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Co-creation of Knowledge and Meaning
  • Reflection,
  • Transformative Learning

Brindley and Blaschke go on describe a continuum of important learner-learner interactions for online learning [1]:
  • Communication - People ‘talking,’ discussing
  • Collaboration - People sharing ideas and working together (occasionally sharing resources) in a loose environment
  • Cooperation - People doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose
  • Community - People striving for a common purpose
Our group set the stage for quality learner-learner interactions by posting introductions in our group forum, discussing our backgrounds and experience in online education, discussing ideas about what we wanted to achieve for our topic projects, having our more experienced members show technologies to us that they felt might be useful from their own past experience, and, as individuals, be willing to try new ideas out while keeping an open mind.

From Me to We - Working Together
In the course webinar breakout sessions several of the people I met mentioned people that were Our group was fortunate in that everyone actively participated in both the group and course activities, which made for a positive experience. I feel that our group did not have any "witness learners" who were only active in our group [1] and not the wider course activities. This active participation of our group members in both the course and group activities makes it much easier to have collaborative discussions within our group.

Topic 3 introduces Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) and the frustrations that group participants often encounter. Capdeferro and  Romero [2] describe nine common sources of frustration as:
  • Imbalance in level of commitment, responsibility, and effort
  • Unshared goals within the group
  • Lack of communication preventing clarification of goals, roles, and other group functions
  • Lack of negotiation skills regarding relationship building, amiability, and respect for others
  • Inbalance in quality of individual contributions and frustration by the presence of an expert who dominated and impeded collaboration
  • Uneven sharing of workload
  • Failure to distinguish between contributors and slackers when grading
  • Problems in reaching a consensus
  • Failure of the instructor to take action when notified of a problem
Garrison proposes a framework consisting of six principles to mitigate group member frustration in online learning [3]:
  • Establish a climate that will create a community of inquiry.
  • Establish critical reflection and discourse that will support systematic inquiry.
  • Sustain community through expression of group cohesion.
  • Encourage and support the progression of inquiry through to resolution.
  • Evolve   collaborative   relationships   where   students   are   supported   in   assuming   increasing responsibility for their learning. 
  • Ensure that there is resolution and metacognitive development
Garrison goes on to add that it is important to think about how individuals are graded in group assignments since this can "undermine true collaboration". [3]

In the case of our Group 12, we addressed most of these issues within the first three weeks of the course and the consensus is that our group is functioning well. I feel that our process of jelling was aided by the fact that we all come from an education background with experience as participants and instructors with course group activities. By avoiding frustrations and building a community within our group members, I feel very positive about the ONL 191 course and the deliverables that we are working on.

As a final thought, many of the collaboration skills and issues discussed in this blog relate to life in general - check out this YouTube video on Escape Rooms to see the similarities 😊

  1. Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). URL:
  2. Capdeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44. URL:
  3. Garrison, D. (2006). Online collaboration principles. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. DOI: 10. 10.24059/olj.v10i1.1768. URL:

Image Credits

Friday, May 17, 2019

T2 Reflecting on Open Learning - Sharing and Openness

ONL 191 Topic 2

The metaphor of the house - do we keep our doors and windows open or do we lock them? Who do we invite in? Who do we keep out? What are we willing to share? How do we share? These are all questions that each of us faces as we engage in online communities. Are you a lurker or a participant? Does it depend on the online community? Who are you in an online community? The challenge for educators and employers is how to engage people so that they can effectively collaborate together online - while respecting the individual.


Establishing a balance between ones private life and ones professional life - what do we want to project and how do we separate the two? What do we want to share... about ourselves? about what we create? In this blog, I am going to explore three concepts:
  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and the concept of resilience
  • Creative Commons and the sharing economy
  • Privacy

The MOOC - Massive Open Online Course

Education is a system of functions that are designed to teach - adding technology should not take away from this. An important aspect to consider when using technology is how resilient a system is regarding the use of that technology. For example, a variant of online education is the MOOC, which can reach and educate thousands of people, often for free. The Internet provides a venue where MOOCs can reach people all over the world, yet the MOOC is still a type of online education and will only be effective if it designed with the proper functions to teach and engage the participants - it must still perform its function to educate. Weller and Anderson define this educational context as resilience "In terms of higher education practice then, resilience is about utilising technology to change practices where this is desirable, but to retain the underlying function and identity that the existing practices represent, if they are still deemed to be necessary. The practices themselves are not core to scholarship rather that they are the methods through which core functions are realised and these methods can and should change." [1] MOOCs are an example of technology that opens up higher education opportunities to people that otherwise would not be able to access it - it democratizes education; yet the technology that enables a MOOC does not detract from the function of education, rather it changes the scale in terms of the number of students that can be educated in an online course.

The first MOOC was designed to share a course with anyone interested in participating at no monetary cost and has led to many other examples of MOOCs and other types of free online education. Some examples include:

The Sharing Economy

On an individual level, a sharing economy has emerged based around the Creative Commons - a set of licenses that allow creators to share their works with others. Building a website? Have a Blog? Need to find some images that you can use for a presentation? Are you a photographer that wants to share your images with others? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, the Creative Commons is for you!

The first thing we need to understand about copyright and ownership is that as soon as something is created, copyright applies and the copyright is owned by the creator. This means that before we use anything that we find on the Internet, or from any other source, we need to make sure that we are allowed to use the it. This means getting permission beforehand. An alternative to this arrangement is the Creative Commons, which is an initiative that allows creators to let others use their creations without having to first obtain permission. How a creation can be used and if it can be altered, modified, or used commercially is determined by which Creative Commons License the creator has granted use under. [2] Common to all Creative Commons licenses is that, at the very minimum, the original creator must be given attribution.

Creative Commons licenses from least restrictive to most restrictive [3]:

The Creative Commons defines six levels of licensing terms and provides images that can be attached to a creation to communicate to others how the creation can be used. Each of the Creative Commons license terms and the respective symbol to use are briefly described below.

Free to use and modify even for commercial use as long as the attribution is provided to the original creator.

Attribution, Share Alike
Free to use and modify even for commercial use as long as the attribution is provided to the original creator and all derivatives carry the same CC license terms.

Attribution, No Derivatives
Free to use even for commercial use as long as attribution is provided to the original creator and with the condition that no changes can be made.

Attribution, Non-Commercial
Free to use and modify as long as the attribution is provided to the original creator but cannot use commercially.

Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike
Free to use and modify as long as the attribution is provided to the original creator and all derivatives carry the same CC license terms but cannot be used commercially.

Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives
Free to use as attribution is provided to the original creator and with the condition that no changes can be made but cannot be used commercially.

Alternatives to the Creative Commons

In addition to the Creative Commons, there are other ways to grant users permission to use creations. The following three Internet Websites provide content that is free to use and modify even for commercial use with attribution being optional, but appreciated (Each of the websites has its own license terms):
  • Unsplash @
  • Pixabay @
  • Pexels @
Privacy in the Age of the Internet

One thing that we all need to keep in mind is that any time we leave a trace of ourselves on the Internet, we lose control. Always assume that anything that you do on the Internet will remain and can be found. Posting pictures and information about ourselves and others on the Internet can have consequences - if not in the present, then maybe in the future. Think before you post anything - ask yourself "Is this something that I will regret posting to the Internet one day?"

Our Image - How Others See Us

What we share defines our image. The Creative Commons provides an avenue for creativity in a public space governed by copyright by providing six types of licenses that people can use to share their creative works. We can choose to create our own works to share and use - or we can use works created by other people. What creative works we choose to use and what we say online impacts how other people see us - we are projecting an image, our persona.
  • Do you post pictures online of your family?
  • Do you post pictures online where you are drinking alcohol?
  • Do you author a blog?
  • Do you post or make comments on Internet forums?
  • Do you use your real name or an alias online? Does it "depend" on the type of website?
Depending on the site, we tend to take on roles: Student, Teacher, Hobbyist, Professional, Job Hunter, Gamer... In each of these contexts, it is usually beneficial to project a favorable view from the perspective of other participants in the community.


Openness promotes collaboration - but at what cost to privacy? We need to keep in mind that their are both ethical and legal considerations when we share pictures and information online (especially where other individuals are involved) - or even within the setting of a Learning Management System (LMS) restricted to members of the current course. We need to think about how others will feel about either being asked to post personal information or to post their thoughts and comments on a website. We also need to think about the legal aspects of using creative work that belongs to someone else.


Privacy is not just an individual or organizations concern anymore - it has legal weight and consequences. We need to keep in mind the legal aspects of what we say and what we share. Over the past few years, laws have been enacted to protect the privacy of individual persons - this means that you must obtain explicit permission before placing information that can be used to either directly or indirectly identify an individual.

  1. Weller, M., Anderson, T. Digital Resilience in Higher Education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning. URL: (Last accessed 2019 May 05)
  2. Watch Now Video Magazine. Creative Commons and Copyright Info. (Last accessed 2019 May 05)
  3. Creative Commons. License Terms. URL (Last accessed 2019 May 05)
Image Credits

Thursday, May 16, 2019

T1 Reflecting on Online Participation and Digital Literacies

ONL 191 Topic 1

Reflections on Digital Literacy and Online Participation.

My journey into the world of online communities started with a dial up modem and bulletin board system (BBS) communities and chat forums on CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL. As the Internet took off, I abandoned the modem and embraced broadband with its media rich environment of social media, massive multiplayer online gaming, streaming media, and being able to meet people and stay in touch with interactive video. Today we have Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Skype, WhatsApp, Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook - to name just a few - where we can be entertained, socialize, learn, and develop our careers. But in an ever evolving world, which of these will still be popular five years from now? Will they even be around ten years from now - or will they be a distant memory from yesterday? Change in the world of the Internet comes fast and today's netizens need to keep up.

Digitally Literate

In this ever changing and evolving world of the Internet, there is much discourse on digital literacy, the digital divide, and how people present different aspects of themselves to others in different online communities. In this world, how do we see ourselves? How do we want others to see us? Are younger people more literate than older people? How comfortable are we with technology? How much do we worry about privacy? My thoughts tend towards seeing digital literacy as a contextual issue driven by personal motivation. I find myself changing my behavior and "role" depending on the website I am on at any given moment as I switch between different aspects of my life: Work, University, Career, Entertainment, Socializing, Hobbies... and more. But at the same time, I have concerns on privacy and what aspects of my life that I leave behind not to mention how comfortable I am (or not, as the case may be) in different venues.

The past two weeks our ONL 191 community explored these concepts and I came away with two things that I really like:

  • First, our journey on the Internet is a continuum between being a visitor on one end and a resident on the other end with situational context determining where we find ourselves along this continuum and what role we project to others.
  • Second, our comfort level in opening ourselves up online and the context in which we decide how to engage and participate online with others.
In many respects, I think digital literacy and how we relate to technology follows the traditional Innovation Adoption Curve that we learn in economics. In the early stages, techies get interested, but in order to gain more people, the service needs to appeal to a wider audience. The difference with Internet services is the challenge to get more people engaged: the user interface needs to be friendly, the user experience needs to be engaging, there needs to content that interests the user, and it helps if their is already a critical mass of other users to attract and retain users - after all, a community needs members. For a service to remain viable, it also needs to continuously reinvent itself or find itself left behind (and it helps to avoid controversy).

Creepy Treehouse

I want to delve into the second topic first since it helps set the stage for the first...

We were introduced to the concept of the "Creepy Treehouse" which was coined by Martin Weller as a digital space where authority figures are viewed as invading younger people's privacy. This concept can extend to other contexts as well such as a teacher requiring course participants to post an introduction and picture on the course forum - how do the participants feel about this? Are they comfortable with these requirements? It's not just privacy that is important, it is how we can feel about being pressured to do things that we are not comfortable with or having people engage with us that we are not comfortable with. This context is similar to how people choose to engage with the Internet in different roles which brings us to the next concept - when are we a visitor and when are we a resident? When we create communities on the Internet - especially for captive audiences such as students and employees - we need to keep in mind participant comfort level, ensure ethical application of the technology, respect privacy, and respect the concerns that people have regarding their participation.

Am I a Visitor or a Resident?

Who defines what a visitor is? What a resident is? Is it me? Is it you? Is it somebody else? David White [1] introduces the topic by going back to the original concept that people who grew up with online technology as being natives and those that came into it later as being immigrants (native language versus second language argument). This quickly came to represent older (immigrant) versus younger (native) users - but this approach is problematic since it fails to provide a foundation, which is based on learning principles and theory and not knowledge and comfort with technology.

Age is not a significant factor in using technology effectively in education.

White proposes "a different model on describing our relationship with the web that is neither based on age nor technical skill but rather on our motivation to engage. A simple continuum of motive engagement that can be used to map our use of services and platforms online and how and why we use these services and platforms to reveal underling approaches and attitudes, which helps us support and engage with the people we work with." [1] This is a continuum since people will tend to shift between being a visitor or a resident based on the context of what they are doing. White concludes Our participation in this continuum between being a visitor or a resident is linked to our identity, our persona and is influenced by context.

The Visitor 
White defines visitor mode as: At this end of the continuum, we see the web as a collection of tools that are useful for getting a particular job doneAn online search or paying bills online is an example of visitor behavior. In visitor mode, we leave behind no social trace of ourselves online. [1]

 The Resident

White defines the resident mode as: A series of spaces or places where we choose to be present with other people and living a portion of our lives online. This mode of engagement does leave a social trace - one that remains after we go offline. Examples include having a profile posted on a social media website and expressing opinions in peoples' blog posts, commenting on videos, and may even have their own blog or post their own pictures or videos that they created themselves online. [1]

Resident or Visitor?

The idea of a continuum with residence on one end and visitor on the other end where context defines how we engage with technology appeals to me. I find myself at various stages in the continuum throughout the day based on contexts such as participating in a course, collaborating with colleagues, visiting different forums to keep up with what is going on, checking out the latest news, shopping online, and staying in touch with family and friends - many of whom are in other countries on other continents. In some instances I lean strongly towards being either a visitor or a resident while in others I fall somewhere in between. Welcome to the continuum!

  1. White, David:
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Continuing the ONL 191 Group 12 Exploration into Community and Communication

Online learning communities need to communicate and today I am going to invite the reader on a short tour of some of the important findings that our Group and our ONL 191 community have uncovered in our journey so far. Research into what contributes to successful online courses typically include a discussion on two important characteristics: Establishing a community and effective communication that engages the students. Strang [1] introduces a collection of common methods that support communication within online course communities - the top two being:

  • Discussion-board questions with required responses
  • All members of the community (teachers and students) post introductions on the discussion board
Other examples are illustrated in the survey below [1]:

Interviews with the survey respondents also revealed a recommendation for instructors to form a support group that meets at least once a week where ideas and experiences can be shared and questions answered. Building on this introduction, I found an interesting discussion on what makes for a successful online course in a paper investigating successful online courses in California community colleges.

In their paper on Successful Online Courses in California's Community Colleges, Johnson et. al. ask "What is it that makes a a few online courses successful when most are not?" [2] To answer this question, the authors first provide a definition for success: "We define an online course as highly successful if at least 70 percent of its students earn a passing grade, and if student performance is at least as good as in traditional versions of the same course. Another key element in our definition of course success is whether students in an online course continue to do well in subsequent courses (either online or traditional) in the same subject. By all these standards, only about 11 percent of online courses in the 2013–14 academic year were highly successful." [2] Important findings include:

  • The need to provide training and support to teachers on developing online courses - to get full benefit from the tools, teachers must be trained and supported
  • Mentoring students not just on the course material but on using the online tools - additional benefit can be derived by using online learning management systems that provide feedback on student performance (both to the student and to the instructor), which allows intervention to help students that are having a harder time
  • Facilitating communication in an online setting by using forums, chat rooms, and face-to-face meeting technology is important
  • Providing rapid feedback to student work - the authors provide examples in which the success rate of online courses exceeded the success rate of traditional courses because of the immediate feedback that students received from the online course
  • Students can often provide better answers to other student's questions in community discussions and activities
In the Topic 3 discussions and examples, mentoring and coaching were not addressed; however, the authors in this paper note that mentoring is a critical success factor in teaching online courses. The authors then go into describing the two models used in developing online courses: The Individual Model and the System Model as summarized below:
  • The individual model is rooted in the academic tradition of giving faculty members substantial autonomy in course development. It offers greater flexibility and speed, but requires an instructor to take on the roles of subject matter expert, course designer, media developer, and—sometimes—programmer. The instructor is also the course advocate in the process of gaining distance-education course approval. Under the individual model, online course development typically does not start from scratch. Instead, faculty members design and develop courses based on what has worked for them in traditional classrooms. Learning materials from these classrooms are repurposed for online use. For a course to succeed, the instructor must know how to use the online platform effectively, and traditional course content must be adaptable to the new medium (Hawkes and Coldeway 2002). [2]
  • The systems model can better maximize the potential of the online medium. In this model, teams develop courses. An instructional designer takes the lead managerial role. The faculty member, acting as a subject expert, collaborates with a media developer, programmer,  and instructional designer. The model’s main advantage is the access to a variety of skills that no single person is likely to have (Oblinger and Hawkins 2006). The combination of project management practices and instructional design theory leads to greater course consistency and quality (Chapman and Nocolet 2003). [2]

Between these two models, the authors advocate the System Model based on their research findings that the System Model offers the most reliable and consistent approach to developing online courses - they counter the argument that the increase in investment and required costs are offset by greater quality and better student results. They also point out that it is easier to support a teacher with specialists than it is to train a teacher to be a master of all the skills required to develop a successful online course.

One of the key elements for success in education relies on effective communication and technology that engages the student. Taking PowerPoint as an example, James Thomas [3] illustrates the importance of communication on his April 15th (2019) blog where he discusses the often misused PowerPoint application. He points out that reading PowerPoint slides to students is not teaching and having students read PowerPoint slides is not learning. He also points out that the common phrase "death by PowerPoint" can be literal as illustrated in the two short excerpts and PowerPoint slide that contributed to the deaths of seven people.

Mr. Thomas wrote "As an educator I push against ‘death by PowerPoint’ and I'm fascinated with how we can improve the way we present and teach.  The fact is we know that PowerPoint kills.  Most often the only victims are our audience’s inspiration and interest.  This, however, is the story of a PowerPoint slide that actually helped kill seven people."

After discussing the case in detail, Mr. Thomas concludes "The salient point was whilst there was data showing that the tiles on the shuttle wing could tolerate being hit by the foam this was based on test conditions using foam more than 600 times smaller than that that had struck Columbia.  This is the slide the engineers chose to illustrate this point:" [3]

Mr. Thomas then summarizes the following six problems with the slide presented by Boeing engineers to NASA:

  • Confusing heading (is there a problem or not?)
  • Numerous facts presented with no explanation of relevance or importance
  • Most important points were buried at the least significant levels (four levels of indentation)
  • Use of general terminology that left the reader to come up with an interpretation (qualitative instead of quantitative descriptors)
  • Too much text for the reader to wade through
  • The most important message - that the "flight condition is significantly outside the test database" - is not explicitly stated (That the test used a sample insulation size of 3 cu Ln versus the 1920 cu Ln actual size of insulation that hit the shuttle wing - a 640 times difference in scale (1920  ÷ 3 = 640)

This image of the STS-107 shuttle Columbia crew in orbit was recovered from wreckage inside an undeveloped film canister. From left (bottom row): Kalpana Chawla, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon. From left (top row): David Brown, William McCool and Michael Anderson.(Image: © NASA/JSC)

Because of poor communication in the slide, NASA chose to allow the space shuttle to go ahead with its scheduled landing - instead of taking other options available that would have prevented a disaster. This points out that technology on its own is not sufficient - people need to invest in communicating effectively - in other words, keep the discussion pithy - short and to the point. And when there is something critical or important to convey - state it in a simple and obvious manner.

I highly recommend the following three articles from which I took my inspiration for this blog - each delves into their respective subject areas in more detail and offer valuable insights on establishing online communities that communicate effectively.

[1] Strang, T. Tools and Methods for Building Community in Online Courses (Blog). CENGAG. URL:

[2] Johnson, H., Cuellar, M., and Cook, K. Successful Online Courses in California's Community Colleges. Public Policy Institute of California. 2015 June, URL:

[3] Thomas, J. Death by PowerPoint: The Slide That Killed Seven People (Blog). McDreemie-Musings. 2019 April 15. URL:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Practical implications of open learning

Open learning presents a myriad of implications for both institutions and educators, which were investigated and mapped by ONL191 Group 12 in the Coggle diagram below.

Coggle Diagram
From the scenario:

I’m interested in opening up some of my courses and sharing the resources in a responsible way, but I don’t really know where to start. What options are there for offering courses that are open? How do I get support from my colleagues and how do I introduce the idea to my students? What are the opportunities and dangers of “going open”?

Our group explored the theme Practical Implications of Open Learning, which lead, in turn to three sub-themes:

  • Techniques for Structure and Discipline to Assist
  • Institutional Impact of Open Learning
  • Institutional Support

The transition to adopt Open Learning poses both institutions and educators new issues and consequences that need consideration...

A good learning program does not exist within a vacuum - it requires institutional and educator investment to ensure quality. Open Learning platforms need to be developed and maintained, instructors need to be trained and supported, students need to be engaged, and investment in Open Learning needs to derive value. Increasingly, privacy and ethics are also becoming significant factors impacting Internet services - including Open Learning.

In our group's Journey in answering these questions, discussing our collective experiences, and trying out new tools, we note the many advancements and tools that are available today with more coming... for new entrants, there is a lot to learn, but the goals of Open Learning still lie close to the core of education - to engage the student and to impart knowledge.

Important concerns raised by our group include:

  • Open Learning exposes both the institution and the educator to public scrutiny - this is an important consideration from both a reputation and transparency perspective and when the quality and student experience is good, the impact to both is positive.
  • High course quality can generate interest in other courses.
  • Using technology that promotes student interaction and engagement adds value to the educational experience and improves student retention.
  • Open Learning can help close social gaps by making quality education available to more people in more places.
Traditional options for online learning focus on learning management systems - but there are new tools emerging that offer more opportunities for engaging students. Most offer free trial opportunities that allow educators to try out and experiment with. Institutions can offer training and seminars to help educators learn about and how to use technology in online learning. Instructors can both attend and put on workshops to share knowledge and experience, and to investigate new tools and techniques. Finally, students can be encouraged to use the tools and to get more engaged in the learning process.