Open Networked Learning Course (ONL212), Reflection Week: Listening and Play

We did not have any group meetings or events this last week for ONL because it was ‘reflection week’. Much needed for sure as there has been much to think about after each ONL group meeting or webinar. I have also been in a particularly reflective mood, wrestling with conflicting thoughts about the direction of my teaching, writing, and research.

I am learning quite a bit about working collaboratively in a group with members of different institutional and disciplinary backgrounds. Listening in a different environment (online) has made me aware of the difficulties and importance of listening as a practice. It is much harder to read body language and facial expressions on a screen, and to sense when someone agrees, disagrees, or wants to speak. Sometimes we talk over each other and sometimes some of us think we are all ready to come to a group conclusion when someone suddenly voices her or his strong disagreement. In her excellent book, Kate Murphy highlights the importance of silence and presence when listening. Yet, most of us are highly uncomfortable with, and unable to embrace, silence.

“When people are uncomfortable with silence, they are thinking about what they want to say immediately when the other person stops speaking, so they have missed a good chunk of the conversation”

Listening brings with it the possibility of hearing something disagreeable, of having someone criticize your work or beliefs. As Murphy explains, such conflict can ignite a threat response in our brains. When people’s deeply held beliefs are challenged, their brain waves change, giving rise to“the same brain pattern that they would have as if they were being chased by a bear, like it was an existential threat”. No wonder active listening takes such energy and effort.

While it has been an effortful journey, the ONL course design is such that I have found it fun to problem solve with my group members, discover different IT tools, and reflect on broader pedagogical questions. This has made me think about the role of fun in learning. The importance of fun and play in childhood education is well-established today. At home, we try to make learning fun for TTT, our four-year-old terror. It is great seeing TTT get all excited when competing against one of us to read or recognize words, especially when the ‘winner’ gets to hit the ‘loser’ with a big balloon in the shape of a caveman (or cavewoman) club. Ouch.

Whoever loses the word challenge at home gets clubbed!

What role should fun play in adult learning? I definitely find it easier to attend ONL’s late night group meetings and go through our assigned learning materials because I find these fun. However, the ONL experience also constantly reminds me that learning new things is hard, and that it is important to press on even when things get less fun. Setting this blog up was challenging. It also took me over an hour to produce a 15-second video on Biteable for ONL. What is the relationship between fun, effort, and learning? Is fun a mere luxury in higher education? Or is it detrimental to learning? Should we be encouraging students to expect fun lessons and educators to become entertainers?

What does ‘fun’ mean in the context of learning anyway?

Whitton and Langan‘s empirical study shows that the university students who participated in their research “often associated ‘fun’ with factors that promoted learning rather than with games, humor, or entertainment”. Students linked  ‘fun’ to “stimulating pedagogy”, “lecturer engagement”, “a safe learning space”, “shared experience”, and “a low-stress environment”. Participants also emphasized that “their relationships with their lecturers were very important” in “creating an environment where learning was fun and engaging”. Specifically, participants valued “the ability of a teacher to create an equitable relationship between themselves and their students”, reflecting the idea of lecturers as “the deliverer of knowledge” to “facilitator or co-learner”.

How interesting.

For my next class, am definitely bringing along my cavewoman club.

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