ONL192 has finished. What just happened?

My experience of the Open Networked Learning (ONL) course1 has been transformative. Before the start of the course, I imagined that I would get to use a few new digital tools and hopefully find some ways of making online learning more engaging for my students and myself. I have certainly done that, but I also feel that the process of collaborative, reflective experimentation with online learning has expanded my conception of digital literacies—and this has already changed my pedagogical choices in online, blended, and fully offline courses alike.

Perhaps the most important thing that has changed for me is that I now place emotionality—the degree to which emotions become relevant to the activity at hand, and the extent to which individuals feel comfortable discussing emotions, or have a common vocabulary to do so—explicitly at the centre of my pedagogical thinking. I have been asking my students for years to reflect on their learning experience as a way of encouraging them to take ownership of their learning, including by giving more detailed feedback to me about my courses. Lately, I have begun asking students to reflect on their emotional response to the course. But now I think that reflecting on the emotionality of learning is not just a nice-to-have bonus activity, or an ad hoc gesture towards avoiding burn-out, but rather that it is foundational for sustained critical learning. As teachers, we are used to navigating the polar extremes of reflective introspection and public risk-taking. But making the emotionality of those extremes and their (non-)reconciliation explicitly available to our students as an example can be transformative for them and us. Doing so acknowledges that individuals have a range of ways of being. It validates that variety. It encourages students to do the same. This makes the classroom more inclusive, and it gives everyone permission to feel anxious or proud or engaged or overwhelmed or excited by the tasks we set them and by the subject matter itself. Being aware of this emotional variety enables open discussion about how to approach work in ways that everyone can access, and it makes space—safe space—for criticality. This critical, inclusive, open disposition is a prerequisite for students to feel able to interrogate both the subject matter and the way they learn it; it is something that we can teach and learn from as educators and students; and it constitutes a set of transferrable skills which are important in any teamwork situation.

The value of explicitly commenting on group variety gradually became apparent during the sustained reflective collaboration of the PBL group Zoom meetings which formed a key part of the ONL course. In those discussions, the topic of emotionality emerged as a key aspect of the Community of Inquiry2 construct. Then, by interrogating this concept, the group members talked explicitly about their own emotional states and their level of readiness to share them.

So, in an intercultural, plurilingual, multidisciplinary group, with a range of multiliteracies (including digital literacies), we managed to find common ground, and to negotiate a shared climate within the sessions—a way of being together, which we were able to explicitly comment on and feel proud of and surprised by. This transformative experience is very far from the rather dry and limited expectations I had before the course started, and it’s ironic that a course about online learning, rooted in digital technology which can seem prima facie to have a dehumanizing character, is the place where I found that the vivid emotional potential of learning together in general suddenly became apparent.


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