A Digital Edge: Week 2 Reflections – Learners Better Prepared to Thrive Learning Online

We wrapped up Week 2 of A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner at the end of last week. By the end of the week almost 5,000 learners from across the globe had registered to enhance their online skills set against a wider context of life skills and the LifeComp Framework as colleges and universities explore the potential of online, hybrid and blended models of teaching and learning.

A Digital Edge: Life Skills Framework

After a strong start in the first week, in which learners reflected on their experience and noted a shift in their feelings towards online learning from “anxious” to “confident”, the second week continued the steady growth in the level of interest and engagement. As a socially-focused course, it was rewarding to see comment sections brimming with observations, experiences and advice from people as they progressed through the week’s “Ways of Thinking” and “Ways of Working” sections.

While the first week focused on starting with the right mindset and laying down foundational principles for learning online, Week 2 shifted the focus to some more practical aspects with “Tools for Working” and “Tools for Thriving”. Kicking off with a quiz on “What are you concerned about?” to help our team of facilitators to better understand the needs and concerns of learners, Week 2 then moved ahead to address some of those challenges in “Tools for Working”. This included handling issues around getting connected, avoiding the “shiny new toy” syndrome to get organised, creating plans and to-do lists, accessing appropriate tools for different activities, and getting into the habit of backing up data.

“Tools for Thriving”, the last section of the course, had a mix of articles, videos, polls and student advice that all stressed the importance of digital well-being and social interaction. The step “Think, Reflect, Think!” introduced the idea of becoming a ‘thriving’ citizen by honing one’s critical thinking skills and civic engagement with an open mind. Spotting fake news and avoiding its spread was highlighted in the ‘Beware!’ section, which sparked a lively discussion in the comments section.

As the course comes to an end, a poll under the step ‘A Worry Shared’ was conducted to determine which aspects of online learning people were most concerned about. Here are the results of this poll so far…

Which of the following aspects of online learning are you most concerned about?

Almost half of the learners (43%) said they were most concerned about staying focused and self-motivated. The next highest group, a little over one in four learners (27%) said they were concerned about the lack of social interaction. Organising group work/study sessions and limited access to lecturers/tutors were the next highest concerns, followed by lecturers’ experience in online teaching.

Notably, 6% of course participants said they were concerned about internet speed/availability and 2% about access to computers/technology, reflecting the need for institutions and governments across the world to upgrade their internet infrastructure for the benefit of higher education in the ‘new normal’.

It was good to see that learners embraced the message of the need to collaborate with others and support fellow learners. Here’s a good example of learners participating in the course already starting to help out each other in their online learning journey…

After an Orientation Week webinar with students at Dublin City University (DCU) taking the course, it is pleasing to see that over 700 have already completed the course and uploaded their FutureLearn Certificate onto their MyDCU portal. The level of uptake at DCU demonstrates the value of this type of course when it is fully embedded like this as part of the student welcome and orientation experience. We were also pleased that DCU’s President, Professor Daire Keogh has a final video at the end of the course to wish everyone all the best for their online study over the remainder of the year, and beyond.

Overall, the general feedback on the course in the final section was overwhelmingly positive. Most learners appreciated the social nature of the course, the reflections at the end of each step, and the ability to learn from other learners’ advice. This was a key aspect of the course design. Most of all, they found comfort in finding a community of learners who felt like they were in this together: journeying from ‘anxious’ to ‘confident’, ‘concerned’ to ‘excited’.

As Christiaan said…

This course really brought it home to me that we’re all in the same boat! That really helps with any anxieties I may have as I approach the start of term. There was an article earlier in the course about the humanity of the student, I really liked that. Be vulnerable, there’s great capacity for development when you move to that space which lies outside your comfort zone.

In a similar vein, Grainne P wrote…

I’ve definitely learned a lot from this course and I really enjoyed it too. I’ve learned about different tools that I will use to thrive in my new online learning environment. I’ve discovered areas that I need to work on and I’ve gotten a clearer insight into how I learn. I’ve learned about the importance of being organized, having a good balance in life and of taking time off. I learned about how active citizenship interlinks with becoming a student. The digital tools and skills that I have learned about have prepared me for online learning and the year ahead now seems less daunting. Thank you.

And Deidre C shared her course reflections including several valuable takeaways…

This course really helped me. It was interesting, interactive, and informative. It helped me to reflect and learn. I really liked the discussion forums at the end of each article as they made me realise that I share many of my feelings with others who are in the same position as me so I am not alone. The forums also allowed me to learn from others. My top 3 takeaways are:

1. Don’t be shy and engage with others on Zoom and other online learning platforms

2. Develop a good routine and stick to it – manage my time effectively, don’t leave things until the last minute

3. Keep up with my study but take regular breaks and know when to switch off as this is so important for my well being

What’s next?

The course is still open for learners to complete. However, this week any late comers and those people still finishing the course won’t receive as many personal replies and comments from our team of facilitators. At this stage, we would like to thank our team of DCU Student Ambassadors, in particular, for their comments and valuable contributions to the course over the past few weeks. And keep in mind that the comments already posted under each step from both learners and our facilitators remain a valuable resource and serve to illustrate how online learning can be a socially interactive and critically reflective experience when you choose to engage. We also encourage participants to provide feedback on the course in the end survey, and elsewhere, as this feedback will be used by the team in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at DCU to help enhance the next course offering. We anticipate a revised version of the course will be available again in January 2021. 

From “Anxious” to “Confident”: Week 1 of Digital Edge ends with Optimism

A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner went live on Monday 21st September and so far more than 3300 people have registered for the course. Importantly, given the current Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges facing college and university students around the world, this free 2-week course on the FutureLearn platform aims to support people to learn how to be an effective online learner.

Week 1 kicked off with a welcome poll asking participants how they’re feeling at the beginning of the course. Here are the poll results from earlier in the week:

While some learners felt “anxious” and “overwhelmed”, others felt “excited”, “comfortable” and “happy”. The mix of emotions was expected and is a quite normal response for many first-time online learners. However, a related course aim is to help participants feel less anxious and more enthusiastic about their online learning experience by equipping them with the necessary tools, resources and positive mindset to become successful lifelong learners in a digital world.

Jessica Q, one of the participants, said:

“It’s somewhat reassuring to see other people are feeling anxious – glad I’m not the only one!  It’s daunting as I’ve been out of education for over a decade, but seeing how much support and guidance there is available really helps! Excited to start on the road to finally getting my degree in my 30s.”

The first week is structured in four parts: (i) a welcome section including the above poll, (ii) Ways of Thinking, (iii) Ways of Working, and (iv) a roundup to reflect on the week. Ways of thinking included a 3-step guide to cultivating a growth mindset and lessons from FutureLearn’s Crowdsourced Guide to Learning. Some of the questions asked were:

  • How do you manage your own thinking?
  • How can you grow your mindset for learning?
  • What are you hoping to achieve from your studies?

These questions led to an interesting discussion where participants shared their tips and set out their objectives for others to follow. The most common tips to managing thinking coming from the course participants included writing thoughts down and creating ‘mind maps’.

On Thursday, DCU students taking the course were invited to participate in a webinar designed to support A Digital Edge. Notably, 300 students joined this live session, which was entirely organised, hosted and facilitated by Vish Gain, a NIDL intern, and the DCU Student Ambassadors who are contributing to the course as co-facilitators.

Ways of Working started with a quick poll based on a scenario on how different learners approach managing their time. The results were promising as most learners reported they like to be prepared with reading up long before an online lecture, while some like to do readings on the morning of the lecture. Either way, the poll helped learners to keep in mind they have decisions about how they go about their work and this knowledge informed the subsequent discussions.

Michael M, one of the participants, said…

“I do most of my best work in the morning as I am more fresh and generally feel more satisfied with having accomplished even a small task early in the day… I would always be concerned that in the evening time comes fatigue and I would be less disciplined or retain less. It is nice to be reminded from the poll, the variety of how people operate.”

When responding to a poll on support systems, most participants reported that they were most likely to rely on friends, classmates and family members for support, followed by partners and lecturers, as depicted in the results shown below.

Week 1 concluded with a summary of all the points learnt under Ways of Thinking and Ways of Working, followed by a round up and discussion by participants reflecting on what they’ve learnt so far. This is what some of them had to say:

Ranganai G…

“I have gained a bit of confidence just by attending the first part of the Digital Edge course, I feel I can start on my degree now.”

Adam C…

“Really good to be able to read the comments and see what other students feel and think about certain topics, especially if you’re an incoming student transitioning from secondary school like me.”

The feedback on the course so far has been very encouraging and is marked by a significant shift in vocabulary from being “anxious” and “overwhelmed” to “excited” and “confident” as reflected by the following two comments posted in the end of week round up:

 “This course has been so helpful as I’ve been really stressed about doing all my learning and studying online this year.” 

The course has really helped ease my worries about online learning. It has helped me think about the ways in which I learn and how I can adapt them to become a successful online learner.

The course now moves towards Week 2’s themes which focus on Tools for Working and Tools for Thriving. Having said that, it’s not too late to start the course if you haven’t yet registered as the discussion posts and resources from Week 1 will be available for a few more weeks. Notably, some participants have already completed the entire course in the first week and on last count around 100 DCU students have their Certificates of Achievement as evidence of their completion.

For those yet to complete, next week we will continue to support people throughout Ireland, and beyond, to Explore, Develop, Gather, and Embrace their online learning experience as they navigate their way through the remainder of the course alongside fellow learners, our student ambassadors and NIDL team of experienced online educators.