The Online Teacher

Staying the Course: Connections, Reciprocity, and the Web


Trying to sum up my experience in #ETMOOC is an impossible task. Impossible, because how does one begin to put into words that which is felt by the heart? Furthermore, how can a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) bring about such a feeling? As Alec Couros (course visionary and facilitator, professor of educational technology and media, researcher and keynote speaker) stated, “We all decided to walk through the same door on the internet so we could think together.” Catherine Cronin echoed this and reflected on the power of open and connected learning in her blog, MOOCs: Community as Curriculum. Yes, #ETMOOC was definitely more than a course; it was also, and I hope will continue to be, a community.

From Education to Advocacy: Thank you #ETMOOC! 

(Credit goes to Jeff Merrill for the Haiku Deck title remix.)

Photo credit: CC BY 2.0 Thomas Leuthard via CC BY NC SA 3.0 Catherine Cronin

(click photo or here to view Haiku Deck )

Many #ETMOOCers  have posted excellent blogs, vlogs, posters, etc., demonstrating their growth and reflecting on the multitude of things learned during their #ETMOOC journey. However, borrowing a favourite expression from  Jeff Merrell (#ETMOOC facilitator and lecturer of learning and organizational change), I would like to say “ditto” to the realizations of my fellow #ETMOOCers. I highly recommend the following vlogs and blogs that explain so well what a transformative experience #ETMOOC has been.

(Of course, there are so many other excellent blogs and reflections, and many yet to read! I apologize for not listing more.)

Yes, I have learned a number of the same skills, experimented with many of the same web tools and apps, embraced many of the same teaching and learning philosophies, and experienced many of the same feelings of self-awareness and self-doubt. However, I would like to focus on the connections and reasons I believe my learning experience has been so profound.

#ETMOOC Connections

My main goal when I enrolled in #ETMOOC was to learn more about educational technology and media. I admit that I didn’t for one moment consider the connections or friendships that might occur. I attended as many sessions as I could, given my limited knowledge of how to participate and engage. I was quite happy lurking and learning, although I had extreme difficulty synthesizing so much information while trying to filter and focus (there was an abundance of information flowing through the feeds, forums and sessions). After writing a blog to this effect (Could it be that sometimes a change of approach and a new perspective is what we really need?), I was quite surprised to find I was not alone in feeling so overwhelmed. Connections initiated from this, and slowly and surely, #ETMOOCers always managed to respond when I was feeling alone or uncertain.

Do connections just happen, or are they ‘beckoned’? (Credit goes to Gardner Campbell for the term ‘beckoned’.)

In retrospect, thanks to a wonderful session by Bonnie Stewart on Digital Identities, I now recognize that each time an #ETMOOC connection happened, it was because I was able to let my guard down and allow a bit of my personal self to seep into my networked self, thus broadening the affordances (action possibilities) of my networked self. This was certainly not easy, as I had spent many years trying to keep these two identities separate. Why? I’m not sure … perhaps fear of the unknown? I realize now that the times when I felt most alone in my online learning were times when I was unable to participate as fully as I would have liked (either because of lack of time or courage). During these periods, I sometimes felt it was easier to remove myself completely and put the barriers back up, rather than feel the guilt of partial commitment. However, I am so glad I hung in there and didn’t give up, because I learned the following about connections. We need to:

  • remove barriers and be vulnerable, at least partially (slowly, at first, is OK and probably wise)
  • learn to accept ourselves for who we are and not for what we know/don’t know
  • ask for help and be inviting (this is not always easy)
  • be open to listening about and trying new ideas
  • recognize that everybody has something valuable to offer
  • embrace risk-taking and accept ‘glorious failures’
  • exercise reciprocity

I am thankful for the dialogue and tweets (is the correct term a ‘Twitterlogue’?) with Alison Seaman (#ETMOOC facilitator extraordinaire) and Jeff Merrell that led me to understand the last point, which I feel is so significant. I feel the role of reciprocity in terms of social media connections and PLNs is not always realized and demonstrated.


Photo Credit: ryancr via Compfight cc

Connections and Reciprocity

One of the most poignant ‘Twitterlogues’ on this topic started like this:

We tweeted reflectively a few times presupposing what might be the case, and as Jeff insightfully blogged in Education to advocacy. Reflections on #etmooc, ” I do wonder if it is a philosophy forged in the practice of teaching.”

Then, a few days later the conversation continued, and this time Alison Seaman offered a wonderful new perspective (of course she did, she’s brilliant!).

Alison Seaman went on to discuss an article she had read that outlined how we are “wired to help” (I’m sure we’ve all felt compelled at some time to repay a favour or good deed), and she mentioned the importance of reciprocity when connecting with others (not a new concept, and something most of us were taught from young, but something that perhaps is easy to forget when people are not face-to-face). What a great dialogue spontaneously occurred through Twitter! I have continued to think about this dialogue, and the more I think about reciprocity, the more I am reminded that it needs to occur for the right reasons while learning and connecting online. For educators, it may accompany an innate desire to learn and understand, and perhaps a common philosophy, but ultimately, we need to connect for more than just the connections and self-interest in growing a PLN. We need to go one step further; we need to give  back more than we receive. We need to listen, ask questions, share, and yes, care.

Evidence of reciprocity

Once I started allowing my personal self to slowly creep into my networked self, I experienced the richness of a connectivist MOOC. I wish that those who found the massiveness of a MOOC overwhelming or lonely could have endured and learned as I did, as the benefits and personal growth have been immense, and the connections have become not just PLN connections, but true friends. I would like to thank my #ETMOOC friends for their support and encouragement along the way (you know who you are), and I would like to thank all facilitators for their time, energy, guidance, insight, and most of all, for caring and sharing (I can’t say enough to truly capture all they encompass). Special thanks to Alec Couros who never ceases to amaze me! Early in #ETMOOC, I sent Alec a message of thanks for a mention, and I noted an ironic situation that had happened at work. I did not expect a response. Exactly 4 seconds later, Alec responded with interest and asked to hear more. I was astounded that someone like Alec would take the time to communicate in such a human, caring way with a total stranger. This pattern continued to be evident with all facilitators and #ETMOOCers that I had the pleasure to connect with. There was a genuine feeling that the facilitators were also participants, and we were all learning and MOOCing together.

In closing, I’d like to thank Alison Seaman for her encouragement with blogging. This is an area I have found difficult, and Alison has patiently helped me progress from a ‘private’ to a ‘public’ blogger. This may be the first blog I actually announce. As Jeff Merrill states, my blogs have been of the “pop-up” variety (they just silently get published). Thanks #ETMOOC for the journey into the unknown (yes, my #ETMOOC introduction was late too). My heart is truly sad that this stage of #ETMOOC is over, but I am so thankful I stuck it out. It has been an amazing ride. Thank you!

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” 

 Carl Sagan


15 thoughts on “Staying the Course: Connections, Reciprocity, and the Web

  1. I absolutely love this Fenella. This is an amazing blog so well thought out and caring. I am so happy we have connected and will continue to be etmoocers. Made me laugh as I wrote this. Your journey echoes many of my feelings as well.

  2. Reblogged this on School Counsellor Talk … Connecting, Collaborating, Curating and Continuing Education and commented:
    A caring educator shares the value of a connected Mooc.

  3. Thanks, Susan. I also felt the exact same way when I saw your vlog. It told the story of my journey, and that’s why I borrowed Jeff’s “ditto” comment. 🙂 Thanks for all the caring and encouraging words along the way. It’s been wonderful getting to know you – I must say I enjoyed watching you rock it out in the ETMOOC Lipdub. I watched the video again a few days ago, and it was even more fun to watch this time because I knew who more of the participants were.

    I look forward to more GHOs in the future. 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Erin Luong's #Etmooc Experience and commented:
    A very well written and comprehensive article. I highly recommend reading

  5. Your blog reminds me a lot of my son. He is an introverted observer who notices many thins and then makes profound statements. Thanks so much for sharing and continuing to be part of my PLN

    • Thanks, Erin, for your kind comments, although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make profound statements. You can probably see from all the times I’ve referenced others that my thoughts are usually remixes of other people’s insightful observations. I truly appreciate the great dialogue that’s occurred through ETMOOC, and I look forward to continuing to connect with you. It was great seeing your vlog a few weeks ago! 🙂

      • Fenella, my visual art training tells me that the notion of originality is a fallacy. But, setting that aside, you’re describing the process of sensemaking and, by extension, the contribution of new knowledge to the commons. We *need* to remix/connect (sometimes seemingly disparate) thoughts and ideas to move forward. (Also: You’re helping to filter out noise!)

        I want to echo what Jeff says below, too. You’ve helped others just by explaining your learning experience/lessons learned in additiona to how damned hard it is to write openly as a scholar. That’s a really, really important contribution because I don’t know if we all acknowledge that fact enough.

        And, thanks so very much for your kind words. They mean a great deal to me and I’m happy to have been able to be a part of your learning experience in #etmooc. And I’m pleased to be able to write this comment as part of a brilliant, thoughtful–and public–post. Keep at it. It *is* worth it, yeah? 🙂

        • Wow, thank you, Alison. As always, you continue to contribute to the sensemaking with your comments and insight. You are so right about needing to “remix/connect (sometimes seemingly disparate) thoughts and ideas to move forward.” I appreciate having had the opportunity to use some of your thoughts and ideas in the remix. Yeah, you’re right, it IS worth it. 🙂

  6. Thanks, Fenella for the kind words. I am truly flattered and frankly somewhat amazed by how all of this works and results in such wonderful connections. I am so glad we I had the opportunity to share with you because of #etmooc.

    Thank you also for sharing your insights and personal reflections on Bonnie’s session. This really resonated with my experiences as well:

    “I now recognize that each time an #ETMOOC connection happened, it was because I was able to let my guard down and allow a bit of my personal self to seep into my networked self, thus broadening the affordances (action possibilities) of my networked self. This was certainly not easy, as I had spent many years trying to keep these two identities separate. Why? I’m not sure … perhaps fear of the unknown? I realize now that the times when I felt most alone in my online learning were times when I was unable to participate as fully as I would have liked (either because of lack of time or courage). During these periods, I sometimes felt it was easier to remove myself completely and put the barriers back up, rather than feel the guilt of partial commitment.”

    The lessons you share about how to change that dynamic are spot on. And to me, leads to my continual amazement about learning in a digital, networked fashion. (Yeah…I kinda do walk around with an amazed look on my face all the time…).

    Looking forward to more. Pop up anytime. This is good stuff.

    • Thanks, Jeff. I’m certainly glad I was able to participate in Bonnie’s session, and I agree, the process and the results of this learning experience have been somewhat amazing (definitely more than I ever expected).

      There was something else I was going to thank you for in the post, but never got around to adding. I wanted to thank you for always asking the “but why” questions. I think it’s great the way you manage to explore topics. You always seem to go the extra step by digging deep in an effort to make the connections (lots of higher order thinking, for sure). I really appreciate the challenge you present to my thinking, although sometimes my brain needs a bit of a kickstart.

      Thanks for the encouragement, Jeff, and don’t ever lose that sense of humour. Your “amazed look” is probably a hit with your students. 🙂

  7. Hi Fenella. This comment is coming a tad on the late side. 😦 But as I read your post again, I found myself saying, “Yep, that’s Fenella!” Staying the course, determined to connect, share, and be a friend. Thanks for that. You have such a humble way and are quick to encourage others. But also, you have such a great written voice and I enjoy hearing it. I enjoyed taking the #ETMOOC tour with you through the well-crafted Haiku Deck. It brought back memories of the weeks in #ETMOOC – we did walk through that door together! I love that picture/caption that the slides. I just ran across that yesterday and thought, “I’ve got to use that sometime!” As Alison said, you put your journey of connecting with others, what you learned in a way that not only we can learn from, but share with others. I have colleagues that live in the fear of “what if’s” of extending themselves to others. We really lose by staying stuck in that fear. You showed how to get beyond that – stay the course – reach out to a supportive community. You weaved the themes of connection and reciprocity into a fine tapestry, both inextricably linked together. Can we really have one without the other? And i think among educators, there is such an opportunity for support for our learning. It is an a amazing community waiting for comers, don’t you think? I’m not saying lurking is not a place to start to dip our toes into the ocean of Twitter streams and blogs and webinars, but it certainly isn’t a place we want to stay. We do need time to find our way as we interact online. But then the richness really comes as we enrich each other as we share our learning together (reciprocate). The journey of learning is a slate that we are drawing on together. Thanks, Fenella 🙂

    • Hi Glenn. As always, thanks for your kind and encouraging comments. I am always genuinely impressed by your insightful responses on everybody’s blogs, and you appear to have a real knack for connecting with others. So, on behalf of all #etmoocers, thanks for taking the time to comment and connect. You’ve certainly helped to refine and extend my thinking! How lucky we are that #Etmooc has provided us an opportunity to connect with so many great educators, and more importantly, great individuals who understand reciprocity and how to support others in their PLN. I consider myself very blessed to have been able to grow alongside you and other #etmoocers. I never expected the experience to be so rich. I especially like your analogy of the “fine tapestry” being woven through the connections and reciprocity, and like you, I don’t understand how true connections can exist without reciprocity. However, I am beginning to more fully understand the varying degrees of online connections that can exist (and the varying levels of interaction that can accompany these connections). For example, after #etmooc, I took a Twitter for Educators online course (one week in length). One of the forums that we participated in asked for people’s reflections on who they follow on Twitter and why, or what determining factors affected who people followed (or something to that effect). I was quite surprised that a few comments seemed to reflect the “I only follow those that require no feedback” philosophy. I wasn’t used to this mindset, because the #etmooc mantra seemed to be “I want to hear your views so I can participate in a discussion with you.” This got me wondering, can we always expect meaningful connections, dialogue and reciprocity? Anyway, apparently #etmooc was a unique experience for which I will be eternally grateful (primarily a result of the learning that occurred due to my valuable connections). Thank you, my friend, for your encouraging comments and wise words throughout the course (especially when I was “dipping my toes into the ocean”). Your actions live and breath reciprocity. 🙂

  8. Hi Fenella:

    Glenn reminded me of your post, on the postetmooc blog reading group G+ site–I meant to read and comment at the time, but it just got away from me. This is a stellar post, really–very well thought out, authentic, and well written. You should definitely announce your blog posts rather than just publish them silently. I know what the latter is like…that’s what I used to do, exactly. And I got no comments, of course. I started tentatively announcing them on Twitter just this past year, feeling weird about it the whole time. It was etmooc that changed all that, and I think it’s doing that for you, too!

    And I completely agree with your point that when connections happen, it’s because we show some part of ourselves, our real selves, rather than just offering information (which is good too, of course!). I never used to do that on Twitter, and am so thankful to everyone in etmooc who helped me come out of my shell. And I’m so glad you are too! I’m really enjoying talking with you on Twitter, and have subscribed to your RSS feed for your blog so I can keep up here too.

  9. Hi Christina:

    Thank you so much for the extremely kind comments! It has been so helpful to have you share your personal experiences and growth with regard to blogging and social media interactions. Your #etmooc thank you Vlog really spoke to me; I realized that many of my experiences were similar to ones you had experienced. (I also felt this way watching Susan’s Vlog). I really appreciate the example you have set in allowing us to get to know you as a real person – a person with real feelings, real interests, likes and dislikes, etc. I feel I know you so much better, and as a result, I am more interested in what you have to say, educationally speaking and otherwise -just my humble opinion! 🙂 It has been an honour to learn with you and from you. Thank you for leading by example, especially with regard to honesty, integrity, and being a truly reflective practitioner. I look forward to continued interactions. Keep on being you and I will work on being me. 🙂

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