#fdol131 thoughts and observations on unit 2 @openfdol

by Chrissi Nerantzi


Unit 2 arrived and action was initially limited. Some conversations started happening in the FDOL community space but the groups hadn’t found each other yet.

A lot of effort was put into contacting participants and we noticed that many who had expressed interest to work within PBL groups seemed to be in-active. We were trying to understand why and emails were sent out to all. We noticed that sending messages to individual participants triggered a reply from them so we started to understand what was happening. Many were too busy and perhaps didn’t understand the level of engagement required to fully participate in the PBL groups. What was the motivation to join this course initially (we have the info in the registration data) and what changed now? We need to understand more about this and would welcome your thoughts on this.

As some group members were in-active, we decided to merge groups and we reduced them from 8 to 6. Also we went from 4 PBL facilitators to 3. First meetings were now arranged by the PBL facilitators who took a more pro-active role to help the groups get together for the first time. This was achieved in some groups and the first Google hangouts were arranged. Suddenly things started to change, at least in some groups. This is how it felt to me and I could see the level of commitment going up. At least for some. I am really interested in finding out how the hangouts changed behaviours and engagement.

I am currently working with 2 groups and we have a core of about 4 participants. This seems to be a good number to co-ordinate and collaborate effectively. We had a fruitful hangout with both groups. My approach was facilitative and I wanted to make sure from the beginning that the group itself would be leading their activities. I think this was achieved and I was really happy with how the groups embraced this. For many it was the first time working remotely with others and they also used some of the technologies for the first time too. One of my groups has some experience in PBL while the other has limited experience of PBL but were keen to learn. So both groups did use unit 2 to carry out a tester PBL task linked to learning that needed to be done around PBL in readiness for unit 3. This was a fantastic decision and both groups worked well together to make progress and develop a better understanding of PBL through a collaborative task based on PBL. Some of the resources provided such as COOL FISh were used but I am wondering if they were too detailed… something we need to revisit, I think.

By the end of unit 2 both of my groups had make good progress with the task they set themselves and I was confident about what would follow if the level of commitment and engagement would be maintained.

general observations about unit 2

  • The webinar seemed to be the highlight of the unit. The recording was accessed afterwards as well which was positive
  • Some conversations around Flexible, Distance and Online Learning did happen in the FDOL community space and participants shared experiences
  • Resources sharing was limited within Diigo. More links were shared in the FDOL community space
  • Organisers connected the the main FDOL community space with the PBL group spaces and the FDOL course site
  • Groups got together and started using their PBL spaces
  • First group hangouts were a positive step to bring groups together and start learning together
  • Merging groups was a necessary move and triggered actions within the groups
  • Facilitators became pro-active in helping the group members to connect
  • High-level of group-commitment was observed in groups 1 and 2 among core members
  • Organisers and facilitators continued using their private community space to co-ordinate course activities and also organised Skype meetings on a weekly basis. Throughout the unit, the organisers were in regular contact via the Facebook messaging system.

Feel free to share your observations and reflections here too!

#fdol131 unit 1 reflections @openfdol

Please note, this is a copy of the post in our FDOL community space where this was originally posted. Up to now, I wasn’t sure where to post my reflections but I have no decided to add them to my personal space and hope that you will stop by if you are participating in this course and also comment.

I am also including the comments made there, just to keep things together. But I have anonymised these. If anybody is unhappy for me to use them here, please let me know as soon as possible and I will remove immediately. Thank you.

by Chrissi Nerantzi


We wanted everything to go well and tried to close any loop holes along the way. It was really good to have a team of 4 working closely together as the time progressed and exchange ideas and agree a way forward. We use another Google + community to communicate with each other but also store documents in Google docs and Dropbox. On top of this, I communicate with Lars via Facebook using the private messaging feature there. Why I am sharing all that with you? I think it is might be useful for others to find out how we communicate in the background with each other and that co-ordination is really important. There are a number of tools we are using and this can be challenging at times and we are asking ourselves: Do we really need all these tools? The Google tools have given us flexibility and we can get in touch with each other on the go,which I think is a big bonus. The same way we are using this community here.

One thing I would like to reflect on is the orientation webinar. I thought we had worked it all out, I had tested the link BUT, and there is a big but, I didn’t test to upload the presentation in advance and assumed that it would be work as I have used Blackboard Collaborate many times before. Well, I logged in 1 hour in advance and soon discovered that we had a problem. I messaged Lars and he was there is seconds. Tried to upload the presentation from his end but it didn’t work. I was getting frustrated with myself and didn’t really know how to resolve this.Together with Lars we started exploring various options, such as sharing desktop, uploading the presentation to Google doc and open it from there but nothing was ideal as we would loose the whiteboard interactivity!!!  In the end we decided to go for the editing view and shared desktop so that I could also see participants and the chat. I couldn’t believe what was happening. All these months! All that hard work and now I was not able to upload the presentation… anyway, Lars helped me to calm down, he is really good at this!!! and we started on time. Looking back and after a short conversation with all PBL facilitators that evening when we reflected on the webinar and how it went, I felt that I survived and that we need now to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. We didn’t have any technical support during the webinar and I think this is something that can be very handy when things like that happen… but what do we do if it is not available?

I will stop here as this post is getting very long and will wait for others to comment.

Comments received via the FDOL Google community: 

“Hi all! Well like I mentioned in my presentation this is a challenge for me to work with social media. It took me a while to join Google+ and now I also have a twitter account. I know that several educations are using different platforms in their teaching and thought I might be more interactive with my students on the internet for example ping pong. The thing is it takes lots of time to just check what is going on and read all comments and also try and reflect and puts comments myself. I have difficulties seeing that I will have this time for my teaching since I am mostly in the clinic with my students and since I am responsible for a group of patients who really fill my day my teaching will also cover the evenings. This I can accept for a period of time like now but not all the time. We all need some free time and time with our families.
How do you all work it out? I love working close to people and have meetings with patients, colleagues and students in real life and I do not want to communicate through social media all the time.
Comments? Suggestions?”

“My initial reflection was – Wow How am I going to get my head around all of these tools etc. I am aware of some of the tools but never used them and this caused me some initial anxiety (and excitement!). I have recently acquired an Ipad and wanted to see if this would work for the webinar. I downloaded the app and was ready to go. Unfortunately I found a problem with speaking and adding to the whiteboard but found the webinar very useful. I have used collaborate once before and find this a useful resource for working together. I am looking forward to the PBL sessions and will be interested to see how this works as I have only completed PBL face-to-face. I did pick up the ‘PBL online’ book (I have added this resource to Diigo) and am reading this in readiness….”

“I’m finding the first week difficult due to other work/personal commitments and was away for a long weekend with no internet access. It did make me consider the relevance and importance of online and offline resources when studying at a distance: the possibility of  downloading content to view when away from my umbilical WiFi at work or home. I have also created a Google+ account as I previously did not have one. Traditionally I’ve fostered a division between my social networking presence and my professional life in the belief that I did not want to blur the boundaries. I’m aware I’m still doing this on the FDOL course as Google+ will only be a professional resource. My Twitter is a ‘locked’ account and covers issues of interest outside of my professional life so I’m considering creating a different Twitter account and having another presence online.. multiple personalities.. how to manage these? Raising interesting questions for me already :o)”

“On Monday evening the 20th I was trying hard to find my group members on the net. But without that muck of results. I stayed om the working place on Google + between 7 and 8 and saw 1, 2 and 3 anonymous persons watching the same site. I asked some questions on the chat but no answers. This experience makes me ask whether or not I was on the right place? And an other question: is this conversation the place to communicate?”

COOL FISh… #opened #mooc #phdchat

… is born and will be out in the sea very soon… swimming against the stream…


During the academic year 2010/11, I organised a trial bringing together PgCert sudents studying towards a teaching qualificiation in Higher Education from different institutions in the UK. They had the opportunity to learn collaboratively online using Problem-Based Learning supported by PBL facilitators. This was an open experiment and part of my MSc thesis in Blended and Online Education which I was studying at the time at the Edinburgh Napier University. I learnt so much from this, especially thanks to the difficulties we experienced. Who says we don’t learn anything when things go wrong or when we make mistakes?

And while there were many times when I was unsure that this would work, in the end I have to say that it was a success as learners didn’t give up and completed the experiment successfully and facilitators went away also having learnt from this experience. Soon after completing my studies and while I was presenting some of my findings of this trial for the first time during the Celebrating the Past and Embracing the Future: Evolution and Innovation in Problem-Based Learning, 30-31 March 2011, I was fortunate to meet a colleague from Sweden who showed real interest in my work. I started flirting with the idea of creating an open course based on lessons learnt from that trial. A module has been over a year ago and is become the playground of my PhD research which I started at Edinburgh Napier University. This all sounds scary at the moment and a huge task to undertake… especially as this area of open learning seems to develop rapidly and it is hard to keep up with what is happening around the globe.  How will I keep up??? You might have noticed that I am avoiding calling our course a MOOC. There are many conversations happening at the moment (and I started curating some of the open courses stories here) and everybody seems to want to be a MOOCer. How long are they going to last? How long will MOOCs be called MOOCs? How will these courses evolve? We are all experimenting with novel ideas and I find this fascinating and very healthy! So many learning educators around the world who see themselves as co-learners, co-researchers, co-experimenters!


Cloning ideas or evolving?

We don’t call our open course a MOOC. It is an open course, a course that is open for all might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Does the word ‘massive’ itself attract the masses? But what brings the masses and why do turn so many away so quickly? We, my colleague from Sweden and I, are now getting ready to offer our open course around Flexible, Distance and Online Learning as a pilot in a few weeks using a Collaborative Open Learning approach and our FISh PBL framework.  In September 13 we will be offering it as an accredited module. We think, that our course will be very different from the cMOOCs and the xMOOCs and other MOOC-type courses. There are so many of them now available. More recently, I am observing some course design variation. The global learners and their needs are considered perhaps more and educators are learning from what hasn’t worked so well so far. We are re-thinking engagement and learning strategies. Content driven MOOCs seem to be out there, many of them. Do they in some way resemble an anachronistic picture of education? Do they, to some extend, do what we ask teachers not to do in the traditional face-to-face classroom? Is this time travel into the past? And while MOOCs are open and free for all, how attractive is this offer for all types of learners?


One bowl for all?

Our COOL FISh design is going to be a cross-institutional experiment where learners have the opportunity to learn collaboratively in small PBL groups using their own authentic stories, supported by PBL facilitators.  The context of the learners will define and shape learning and knowledge co-construction. We are not suggesting that our way is the only way. One size definitely doesn’t fit all!!! We are experimenting with an alternative learning design to engage learners who are perhaps not networked learners yet. We would like to utilise their curiosity to learn through creating opportunities for contextualised collaborative enquiries. We are developing a framework to make learning in open courses more attractive for them and putting it to the test through active experimentation.

What are your thoughts on this?

We are now live and are open for registrations. #FDOL131 starts on the 11 of February 13. Will you join us? Find out more here.

Happy Month and Day 1 #phdchat

Reach for the Sky

Where will this project take us?

Apparently, the 1st of November 2012 is the first official day of my PhD studies at Edinburgh Napier. Yeh, I am a student again! It feels wonderful, I have to say but also scary. This is my second attempt and bad memories and experiences make my thoughts a bit foggy and wobbly. We will see. Feeling optimistic though overall and the project idea is fueling my imagination, can’t wait to get started! I am lucky to work with and be supported by Dr Keith Smyth and other colleagues from Edinburgh Napier and work closely with Lars Uhlin from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden on this journey. I am sure we will make exciting discoveries along the way about open learning but also about ourselves.

Timeline: Minutes

a PhD research studies backwards? Going from right to left… bad metaphor?

My first target is to create a project timeline (is this the right time? It feels right). Not thinking of burrying the timeline somewhere on my laptop and 4 years is a loooooooooooooooooooong time. The plan is to finish this project in 4 years but it might take longer… 4 years = 1460 days… if I did my calculations right… not good with numbers, you see and happy that I am doing qualitative research but I am sure there will be some numbers in there too. Anyway, keeping track of stuff that need to happen at specific moments in time will be super important.  I have used the Timeline Maker Preceden before but am wondering if it is fit for purpose for this project. Any (better) idea anybody?

#lthesep12 week 1 reflections @pgcap


In the spotlight, the programme, the module, you, us

This week was so so rich. We had our first face-to-face sessions for all modules. I am really pleased how all modules started. A lot of hard work had gone into preparing a powerful and creative start to the semester and I can say that we did achieve this across the programme. It was wonderful to see all our students, I managed to peak into all sessions, and see our students’  and tutors’ passion for learning and teaching. I feel that the programme is getting stronger and tutors work now closer together to make this programme a real success. We already had a number of successes but I know that we and our students are able of even greater things and I am positive about the future. The key is to work together in this with all tutors and students but also the support team to make our big dreams become reality.

What were the highlights?

It has to be the seeing my new LTHESep12 group but also all students I had last semester and some I had before then. I could how eager they all are to get started. I hope all our students wil find the journey exciting and learn loads that they can apply in their practice.

LTHESep12 week 1

breakfast is served

During the session we did perhaps a few controversal things such as knitting, playing with Lego and speed dating too. This was on purpose. I wanted to warn them from the very beginning to expect the unexpected, if that makes sense.  But also show them that we should all experiment with different approaches and that the programme is a safe place to do this. I am of course experimenting with my students and this turns learning into a partnership. I loved their laughters how they started already supporting each other, during the knitting activity but also througout the session.

The most wonderful thing that happened is probably that what we did, or better how, made already some students think about their own practice and by the end of the session I heard a few saying that they are going to try some of the stuff we did in their own sessions, others started writing about it in their portfolios. Yes, I am smiling 😉 What else could I have hoped for?

How did I feel?

I felt the buz, the adrelanine was in the air. I was ready for action. It had been too many months without teaching and I have to admit I missed it. I was of course nervous too and each time you start fresh with a new group, there is always the fear or concern that it won’t work, that people won’t like you or won’t get what you want to achieve. But it did work, I think and I am really looking forward to what is going to happen this semester. The grey clouds are gone…

I have to admit that I did feel a bit sad. Sad seeing my previous cohort in other classrooms, with other tutors… I do find it hard to let go especially since we have worked so well together. But I know they are all in good and capable hands and am happy with the progress they have made. I will see them around anyway and I am working on projects with some of them… just need to remember this 😉

What did I learn?

Spending a bit more time at the beginning with a new class to enable us to get to know each other,  can really make a huge difference. It was lovely to see how chatty students were and there were a lot of smiles and a genuine interest in helping others. I loved this.

LTHESep12 week 1

knitting our network

I have to admit that I have trialled the knitting activity with another cohort and it didn’t work. However, I saw value in this and thought that it was a good idea to try again. And I did and it work so well this time. This shows that we might create a learning opportunity, have an idea which we put into practice, that won’t work, but this should not discourage us from trying it again if we feel that there is value in this for our students. I think I learnt from the previous time I tried it, that it wasn’t probably the right group (?) and the wrong time {?)… I should have reflected a bit more in action to realise this and not even do it then.

What would I do differently?

I am concerned that not everybody has a portfolio yet. We have so far offered 2 portfolio sessions and we have stillover 50% of students with no portfolio. I don’t know how to resolve this. A third session is planned but I don’t know how many will be available to attend.

We do need to work on our application process. It all happens last minute and created loads of difficulties. Including the issue with the portfolio. If we would accept applications a semester ahead for the next semester, we would have plenty of time to plan and help our students to familiarise with the programme. At the moment we are looking at streamlining the processes with the whole team. So this is something that we definitely need to do differently next time around.

What else?

Well, this week was also a milestone for me. I was officially accepted to start a PhD at Edinburgh Napier University around Open Learning. I am really looking forward to this new adventure and am keen now to get started development and research. This research project is linked very closely with the PGCAP and our Flexible, Distane and Online Learning (FDOL) Module which will be developed in collaboration with colleagues in Sweden. This is all very exciting and I am pleased I survived the Skype Interview this week. It was actually much easier than I thought and I relaxed as the conversation progressed.

PhD interview prep and safety net? Didn’t use any of my notes…

In week 2 we are going to look at reflection and observations of teaching. My trolley is almost full and ready to roll to Faraday House on Tuesday. If you would like to observe, feel free to come along to Pankhurst Room, 9.30-12.30pm