Week 1 Reflection

5 July 2021

                         Week 1 Reflection

Week 1 of the Online Learning Design Course came as a surprise! I was not even aware that the course was starting so soon and I only got to know about it two days before the scheduled start date. To add to the mayhem, I logged on to VULA and boom, I was not even registered for the module.

Thanks to the efforts of the Course Convener and a couple of Admins at UCT, I was registered for the module within a day. 

The first session was interesting and an eye-opener in many respects, though it was rather too long (3hrs). I enjoyed the introduction to learning design, despite the fact that it was a bit challenging to do the group tasks as the instructions were not very clear and the activities were kind of rushed. The Thursday session was excellent as all my nagging questions about the module were answered.

With regards to the issue of our rapid and “forced” transition from face-to-face to remote learning and teaching, I believe that, COVID-19 has become the single most effective catalyst for digital transformation in the higher education sector. Much as the pandemic caused and continues to cause the loss of lives and livelihoods, HE institutions were forced to almost instantly pivot to remote learning and teaching as a response to the restrictions imposed on the movement and congregation of people as a result of the pandemic.

It is a fact that for students and teachers alike, this transition was rapid, unplanned and unexpected and hence it was never going to be a smooth metamorphosis. Based on the knowledge that I gained during the rapid learning design workshop and through week one readings, I realised that learning design plays a critical supportive and facilitative role in learning and teaching. Learning designers therefore have to ensure that learning outcomes are achieved through an outcomes-based, socially-just, caring, trauma-focussed, humanistic and constructivist/flexible learning design. This concurs with Morris and Warman’s (2015) view that learning designers should focus on their users and their needs.

I believe that all teaching and learning must be underpinned by the desire to achieve a set of clearly defined and agreed learning outcomes. As part of empowering my students and also ensuring that their voice is heard in the teaching and learning process, I involve my students in the discussion and determination of the learning outcomes, the teaching and learning activities and the assessments and feedback. This then becomes part of the knowledge co-creation process in which my students are active participants and not just passive recipients of content.

As a learning designer, it is imperative that I consider the context, background and circumstances of my students. This is in line with some of Schweitzer et al’s., (2016) eleven design thinking mindsets which include being empathetic towards people’s needs and context, being collaboratively  geared and embracing diversity and so on. This is what I refer to as a socially-just learning design, that which is student-focused and co-created together with the students. Furthermore, I would like a learning design that provides as many opportunities for student learning as practically possible, both synchronously and asynchronously to ensure that there is equity for all students and that no student is left behind. This also corroborates the humanist approach that I also adhere to in my learning design practice in order to achieve a “design for dignity.” I do not look at my students as numbers or as clients but more as fellow human beings, who need to be considered, to be heard, to be afforded significant and relevant learning opportunities, to be respected, to be supported, to be respected and to be cared for. I see the learning design space as playing a very critical role and Loris Malaguzzi sums it up when he asserts that space is an aquarium that mirrors the ideas and values of the people who live in it.” The learning design space, is not my own space, but is a space for me and my students and as such it must reflect the values that reflect who we are and what we are seeking to achieve…… which is primarily an enriching student learning experience, significant learning and student success.

In terms of being trauma-focussed, I am appreciative of the fact that my students come from different backgrounds and situations and as such, I must create a design and an environment that is conducive, supportive, human, friendly and allows them to reflect and open up about their own experiences inside and outside the classroom. Students who have gone through traumatic experiences may find learning difficult and this may ultimately affect their ability to succeed. In this regard, I work very well with support services at my university such as the Student Support Centre and the Student Counselling Department to ensure that they are always available should I have a student in need of their services. The banner below (at the end of this reflection) sits on the top right corner of my course on the Blackboard  LMS platform:

The banner clearly shows that we care for our students and we are there to help them should they be facing a traumatic experience. I have also been thinking of having this banner at the top right corner of each and every page on my course platform on the LMS but my mind is still weighing the pros and cons of that kind of a decision. As a learning designer, I am driven by the desire to make a difference,  which is  one of Schweitzer et al’s., (2019) eleven design thinking mindsets.

Lastly, I view learning design as a fluid process and as such I do not regard my learning design as cast in concrete. I am therefore open to new ideas, willing to learn and also willing too adjust or change my learning design so that it remains rooted in the context and is adoptive to the changing environment. It is thus a construction project which is always in progress and I also allow my students to always suggest ways to improve the design so that they can have an invaluable, significant, memorable and enriching learning experience that will lead to their success in the learning journey.

In the current context, learning design has to provide the platform and media that facilitates and supports remote learning and teaching both in a synchronous and asynchronous environment. One of the challenges that learning designers will continue to face in the current environment is in terms of how to ensure that no student is left behind especially those that do not have access to digital devices and internet data. In this regard, the transition to remote learning and teaching, facilitated by good learning design, has largely been more beneficial to those students with access to digital resources than those that do not have. In this regard, learning designers have to find innovative ways to bridge this gap in order to ensure epistemological and pedagogical justice. Furthermore, Dobozy and Cameron (2018) underscore that teachers in higher education need to have subject content, pedagogical, design and technology enhanced learning knowledge. As a teacher I am confident that I have the first two and therefore I still need to gain more knowledge in design and technology enhanced learning.

Overall, the first week was good and I look forward to Week 2! 

References