Exam day from the ONL…

This autumn, 2020, meant new challenges in teaching at my (and others’) universities. Restrictions in connection with the ongoing pandemic meant that all, possible, teaching was transferred to be given entirely at a distance and digitally. For me, this meant that the master’s program that I have most of my teaching in, went from being at a distance with campus meetings every 10 weeks to becoming 100% distance. An experience that slowly emerged was that much about the socialization between students that previously took place formally through various arrangements at the campus meetings and informally during these days’ coffee breaks, was now not replaced digitally by a sufficiently well-thought-out arrangement. I should have attended ONL in the spring… When we run seminars and group exercises via Zoom for students in the first year courses, it is clear that we have skipped some important steps (cf. Salmon’s 5 step model) that are needed for students to develop their ability to collaborate and take responsibility for one’s own and contribute to the knowledge development of others in a digital environment. Those who study in the second year and have already made social connections to each other at campus meetings, work much better in similar exercises.

Dare to give a course openly has been another thing that we discussed a lot in our PBL group. There are challenges, not least in terms of the habit as teachers of having a certain level of control over students’ knowledge exchanges with each other, but also a lot of new opportunities. I note that it is a way forward to succeed in doing something of the national learning goal according to the Higher Education Act which reads “show good ability to in both national and international contexts orally and in writing clearly present and discuss their conclusions and the knowledge and arguments that lie as a basis for these in dialogue with different groups… ”. Different groups and international contexts are difficult to achieve within the framework of an educational program, at all or even to a small extent. It is a goal that in comparison with other goals in the law is trained very little. Leaving one of the courses open and designing it according to PBL, with elements of Blog posts, scheduled meetings where digital solutions for post-it notes can be used as an aid in discussions, etc., is an exciting opportunity.

Finally, ONL has above all given me an opportunity to reflect on the balance between my different roles as a teacher, instructor and facilitator – that it looks very different for teaching on campus and distance.

Scaffolding, student’s journey & is this for everyone?

Gilly Salmon’s Five stage model offers an opportunity for teachers to reflect on how they (as teachers) need to support students in their development to be able to assimilate digital teaching and develop their ability to collaborate in the best possible way. The model is presented as a staircase with the steps:

Access and motivation
Online socialization
Information exchange
Knowledge construction

My role in this as a teacher is mainly as an instructor and facilitator. I realize the importance of, as a teacher, daring to let go of control a little in the beginning and adapt the course structure to PBL and peer to peer knowledge development. It is also important not to complicate the tasks too much in the beginning. Students’ development takes time and should get it by letting each step take its time. If you skip a step, the students do not develop well enough to be able to solve more complex issues later in a constructive way through collaboration, says Salmon. Their learning is hampered.

When I look at my own practice as a teacher, I realize that I have included some of the pieces from the model, but that I have hardly built up the students’ ability to develop collaborative learning so carefully or patiently. There are some challenges in applying the model. If you envisage an educational program where the students will study together for maybe 2-3 years, it is well suited to build the five steps during the first semester’s courses. It requires agreement on how in a teaching team, ie perhaps 3-4 teachers must be active and aware of their role in a progression of student-centered learning. Similar arrangements exist for progression in different areas, but then for students’ abilities to be able to perform something certain independently. In the national learning objectives there are e.g. “Demonstrate the ability to independently identify, formulate and solve problems and to carry out tasks within given time frames” (Higher Education Act), but no goal points out the ability to cooperate as important for a future working life. However, I understand that there is an awareness in most educations that this is actually an important piece of the puzzle for the students to develop so that they can actually solve things in a good way together with others at the goal of their journey through the education system. It also increases their employability.

In independent courses, of 7.5 or 15 ECTS in length, it can be more difficult to apply the five steps and let each step take the time needed. It requires a great deal of stance on how to build up the course pedagogically in relation to other alternatives. A form of initial analysis of the target group is also needed. If it is about beginners at university level, it is of greater importance, perhaps, than if it is about professionals who want to take a continuing education course. At the same time, I have very positive experiences of the latter in connection with a continuing education course in ”boarding school” where we build the pedagogy on group work and a network formation that lives on long after the end of the course. There, it would feel very strange not to take advantage of and consciously work with group dynamics. Independent distance courses at a higher level, on the other hand, are often chosen by students who prefer to study on their own, and flexibly, because it is difficult to keep up with their studies other than in the evening. The right pedagogy for the right target group I guess…

A WOW! – experience on collaborative learning and reflections on teaching design

For a few years now, I have been responsible for further education in accident investigation methodology. It is an education that attracts participants from many different sectors, private and public, where, based on different regulations, there is reason to investigate accidents within their areas of activity. I took the course myself before I later also became one of the teachers and it is the experiences from that time that this text is about.

In short, the course is about being able to try out 7-8 different analysis methods within the accident investigation area and relate them to each other. To clarify similarities, differences and gains / limitations with the methods, they are applied to one and the same accident. The course had about 25 participants and we were divided into groups of 6 people, working together during short intensive periods of 3 days (total 12). All came from different authorities or companies, and the educational backgrounds varied. There were more men than women, c. 80-20 in distribution. I later understood that it was very much a well-thought-out strategy from the teachers that we were mixed as much as possible based on these aspects and that the different backgrounds were used pedagogically. Before the course started, I suspected that I would be one of those who had least previous experience of accident investigation, but it turned out that in relation to what we were going to do, we were all beginners. It created a kind of feeling of security for me, and also for others, I think, which contributed to a good discussion climate. Gradually through the training, our different backgrounds would also prove to be an excellent prerequisite for the breadth of the reflections that the group could sum up in different discussions.

Group exercises, with the method tests, were interspersed with lectures on theory and case-studies of real investigations. Every time you sat down in a small group room and were about to embark on a new method of analysis, we walked together from confusion, via tentative first attempts to understand and start working, to together creating insight and knowledge about how to do. It was so obvious that it was much faster and effective to learn this together than would have been the case if we had sat alone and tried for ourselves. In addition, it was fun and engaging.

Based on the course structure, you can point to a few things that played an extra role in making this so good:

– Recurring new methods (new for all of us)
– Shared feeling of being a beginner, which creates a kind of equality in the group
– Different backgrounds
– The description of the accident that we applied to the different methods meant exciting and fascinating reading. A case that engaged.
– In an initial processing, the group work was not linked to accounting or grading, which created a relaxed, creative, atmosphere. At a later stage in the course, there were such elements and then in new issues.

When it came time to focus on accounting, the group began to function a little differently. It became clear that some took more responsibility then others (cf. Burdett & Hastie, 2009; Mills, 2003), which is not necessarily linked to others withdrawing (Goold, Craig, & Coldwell, 2008) but it was more about that we have different personalities.
This course was based on physical encounters, but I think that the experiences are absolutely possible to transfer to a building of collaborative learning in a digital environment.


Burdett, J., & Hastie, B. (2009). Predicting satisfaction with group work assignments. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 6(1), 61–71.

Goold, A., Craig, A., & Coldwell, J. (2008). The student experience of working in teams online. Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne08/procs/goold.pdf

Mills, P. (2003). Group project work with undergraduate veterinary science students. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 28, 527–538.

Topic 2. Openness for “my” students?

To start thinking about open learning raises many different questions. It can really be discussed from many divergent perspectives. An angle that has engaged me in recent days is linked to part of the topic 2 scenario; “… how do I introduce the idea to my students?”. If you imagine that “my” students are those who study regular university courses and perhaps attend a bachelor’s program – what would it mean for them to take part in a course being given as open learning during their program? What benefits can you list that this brings for ”my” students who are already on my program? What´s in there for them? (I thus intentionally leave to discuss perspectives that are relevant to such students who join an open course from elsewhere.)

There are a number of educational goals that are common in Sweden and are described in the Higher Education Ordinance (Högskoleförordningen (1993: 100)). One of them states that the students after completing the education should be able to “show the ability to orally and in writing account for and discuss information, problems and solutions in dialogue with different groups”. What you really mean by different groups is not defined and how you actually and practically solve it varies between educations. Usually, there are quite a few events that offer something other than discussing with your classmates, in different constellations.

Creating a course that is completely open and hopefully can interest participants from other universities in other parts of Sweden and the world at large, could really offer an opportunity for my students to develop their ability to discuss their subject knowledge, old and newly acquired, with different groups. It is an exciting opportunity at the same time as there are some uncertainties that you need to accept – both as a teacher and a student. For example, we do not know in advance who will participate in addition to “my” students, nor what their competence background is. Therefore, as a teacher you should be prepared for a certain flexibility and to formulate tasks accordingly. Working with PBL, scenarios and some common literature, as in ONL202, is a good way, I guess. But even “my” students need to be prepared for this and approach the course with an open mind.

In this context, I have also considered David Wiley’s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb0syrgsH6M) consideration that knowledge sharing is in many ways about an event, and that it is the event that is put at the center. This, together with the goal for “my” students to have the opportunity for oral dialogue with other groups, means that the course needs to have elements that at given times bring together participants in knowledge sharing events. It nibbles a little on the flexibility that many highlight as an important part of open courses (eg ONL202 Blogpost with Kiruthika Ragupathi and others at https://blog.nus.edu.sg/openeducation/audio-podcast/). Other parts of the course, reading, etc., can of course have flexible solutions to the approach.

The idea arouses interest…

Topic 1

As a first part of approaching the concept of digital literacies and what it means for my teaching, I tried to apply David White’s model Visitors and Residents on myself. The idea with the model is that I can get an overview and opportunity for reflection on my attitudes and actual uses of various digital tools. Graphically, I landed in the following image:

A first spontaneous reaction when I try to use the model is that certain things, such as eg. e-mail, has many different contexts which makes them difficult to place. That in itself is, of course, an insight. I can hardly be a teacher without also approaching the personal – nor do I want to polarize and draw that line too distinctly, even though there are many occasions where the personal and the professional are clearly separated. Different contexts also create fairly wide fields for the same tool horizontally between visitor and resident mode.
We have from our research center a newsletter that once a quarter goes out to stakeholders who have registered an interest in this, about 500 people. It ends up close to visitor mode, but the purpose of the newsletter is also to keep our network alive and not infrequently the content leads to more recipients than normal making contact shortly after the mailing has taken place. Thus, the newsletter moves a bit in the resident direction as well.
Things like Facebook, Researchgate and LinkedIn I suspect end up in slightly different but still similar places for all participants on ONL202. The possibilities of using these exceed how I actually use them. For example, I only use Facebook privately and only in connection with the children’s involvement in a handball club. By and large, I have privately skipped the whole trend of social media. I use LinkedIn as the host of a master’s program to gather our alumni in a network.
When I try to sort out the university’s platform for distance education, I quickly realize that you really need to break it down into many different parts. There are for example, chat, e-mail, pages, assignments and message boards. In many functions, you can choose to let students have the opportunity to comment and thus create discussion flows. A typical teaching material that I produce consists of a recorded lecture with myself, a clip from Youtube, links to literature and an instruction for a task. I often collect everything on one page and the different parts of that page end up a bit scattered in White’s four-fielders – in my figure therefore drawn as the largest of all squares. Linked to the assignment, there is also usually that you provide written feedback to the student, but usually also that you process the assignment further at an oral seminar on campus or in Zoom.
The picture that emerges is quite affirmative, you have to say. I am a middle-aged person who was born in the analog era and I have never (like my children) learned to write with both thumbs on my mobile phone (and fast) when I want to send text messages. I have a very limited private interest in social media, but I am still interested in technology and like to try new things in digital teaching.
From the first week of teaching at ONL202, I have realized that there are great benefits to using different digital tricks to get students to network with each other. Normally, we solve socialization by having a few campus meetings on our distance education. Then the socialization takes place partly spontaneously through coffee breaks, group work or during arranged study visits. During the pandemic, we have not had the opportunity to do so and I would have liked to have applied what we got to experience during connecting week. It’s something I take with me and next autumn I look forward to also being able to add Slack to my character… as well as the fact that I have now also started blogging!

Magnus Johansson

I research and teach about disasters – with a focus on lessons learning to support mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Most of my courses are distance, with a PBL approach to some extent, and with a few meetings for seminars on campus. I look forward to learn more about PBL and e-learning and together with other participants reflect a bit.