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