How NGL can inform my role as teacher.

I was recently asked to talk to fellow staff at USC on the topic of “Teachers as learners”. My approach was to consider this topic from the point of view of my participation in EDU 8117 (student, learner, teacher) and my current professional role. As I have discussed in Week 1 and Week 6, my professional role is to support and advance learning and teaching. Included above is a screenshot and link to my prezi.

My presentation focused on a number of themes:

Benefits and opportunities of thinking in terms of student, learner, teacher.

I discussed a number of the benefits and opportunities of wearing all three hats, but will be focusing on a couple of these here:

Walking a mile in students’ shoes:

In Week 3, I recognise the benefits of using some of the difficult experiences of NGL to allow me to “walk a mile”.

“It took me a while to get Diigo to work for me and do what I wanted to do. This is good. As someone that supports university staff, the more I understand and experience this, the better I will be “as teacher”. So experiencing this activity “as student” has great learning opportunities that will improve my practice, philosophy and approach “as teacher”.”

Going further, I believe that incorporating an NGL approach into practice can have similar transformative effects for academic staff. By experiencing learning from a student perspective, teachers (such as myself) can develop greater awareness of the challenges that current students face and transform their practices to overcome some of these challenges.

Making connections and blurring the boundaries or lines between students, learners and teachers

By taking a “student, learner, teacher” approach, there is a greater opportunity to blur the lines that can exist in formal academia around these roles. There is extensive discussion in the literature that supports a blurring of these lines and highlights the benefits of self directed learning, and students as co-creators of knowledge (McLouglin, 2008; Beetham and Sharpe, 2008).

Inherent in all of this is the recognition of the value of lifelong learning for educators and that there are many ways to learn and the various roles of student, learner and teacher all have valid contributions to make to our learning.

These themes sum up my approach to how I see NGL informing my approach as teacher into the future. By adopting this approach myself, I will be modelling practices which I believe will advance learning and teaching in my context. This ties in with my earlier posts around moving from knowing and doing NGL to being NGL. Being NGL will allow me to successfully model another facet of good practice in learning and teaching. Examples of practices I will be modelling include:

  • Embedding NGL tools and practices into events and activities that academic staff participate in, with the hope that they will be exposed to new ideas or practices.
  • Referring and using to NGL literature to inform practice when working with academic staff.
  • Modelling use of web 2 tools. For example showing how I harness NGL and web 2 tools for managing the proliferation of information – as student, learner or teacher. (See Week 2)

Will this actually make a difference?

I think this is a perpetual question for all academic development units and the staff working in them. I am no different. I ask this question all the time. Being and modelling good practice is at the heart of my approach. The benefit of this is that it means I remain in touch and up to date with current developments and trends in the field. Acting as a change agent by unobtrusively practising good practice myself. A couple of strategies I employ in the hope that my work can make a difference:

  • Don’t think too big. Small changes are more effective and achievable. They don’t overwhelm. Scaffolding is crucial.
  • Making a direct connection between a change in practice and a desirable outcome: Happy students, time saving, keeping up to date and managing lifelong learning effectively, digital literacies that help them manage and navigate the digital world. Different staff are motivated by different “desirable outcomes” and the challenge is to get this right for each individual.

Progress is slow. Slow progress means a cost to the organisation. I will end with a quote from  Week 8 that discusses some of the challenges I face as a “teacher” in my role and supports  McIntyre’s (2014)  argument that academic staff can contribute to disruptive innovation in their organisation  by looking outward:

“As a teacher I need to learn how to harness NGL without alienating learners and this means catering to different requirements and preferences. It also means ensuring that academic staff don’t feel as though they must invest significant time before they get satisfaction. I think what Dede talks about in David’s favourite quote could be very useful here. Learners have different preferences and NGL isn’t for everyone –  it is one way (amongst a number of ways) that learners are able to choose to learn. The upside of NGL in my context is the ability for academics to engage in their own time and at their own pace. Building on this positive, Simon McIntyre  recently published an article that acknowledges that universities are the opposite of agile and that change takes time, even when the need for it is accepted. He suggests academics should be looking outward rather than inward for professional development and that systemic change can come from the bottom up through “disruptive innovaton”.”



Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (Eds.). (2008). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing and delivering e-learning. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

Dede, C. (2008). Theoretical perspectives influencing the use of information technology in teaching and learning. In J. Voogt & G. Knezek (Eds.), International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education (pp. 43–62). New York: Springer.

McIntyre, S. (2014). Reducing the digital literacy divide through disruptive innovation. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1.

McLoughlin, C., & Lee, M. J. (2008). Mapping the digital terrain: New media and social software as catalysts for pedagogical change. Paper presented at the Ascilite Melbourne, Melbourne.

As a learner, participation in NGL was useful for me.

me as learner


If the purpose of undertaking this NGL course as “learner” was to learn – then I have failed to learn in line with my expectations. I did manage to get set up to learn, I now follow a network of cheesemakers around the world primarily via Twitter. However, I wasn’t able to dedicate the time required to learn about cheesemaking in warm climates. Despite not actually learning as much as I would have liked about my particular topic, I have learned a lot about the challenges and characteristics of using NGL to learn informally. In short, as a learner, participation in NGL has been useful for me. I summarise what I see as successes and failures below and then draw conclusions about my experiences.


  • I have had the opportunity to further clarify how NGL can work for me as learner. So from this perspective, participation in NGL was useful.
  • I have established the beginnings of a network for learning, primarily via setting up a Twitter account and following people in the field from across the world. The SAMR model which we looked at in Week 6 talks about Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. I do wonder whether being able to set up and readily access an international network at my fingertips is redefinition? (see Week 3)


  • From other perspectives, I would say the exercise has not been a success in that I haven’t achieved very much in the way of actually learning something. Rather than learning about cheesemaking, I only managed to develop an awareness of cheesemaking networks via Twitter, read posts and explore current themes and trends in cheesemaking.


  • Information overload is an issue (see Week 3 and Week 8) and developing literacies for NGL may be the answer to managing this. Part of this literacy is an acceptance that you will not keep up.
  • Formal vs Informal. I struggled with the clash I perceived between formal and informal (See Week 6):

“Up until this course, all of the NGL I have practiced has been informal. There were no rules, requirements, assessments – other than my own. I was able to engage as required, lurk when I felt like it and have spurts of massive productivity from time to time. No timelines or deadlines…. The informality of the NGL I have experienced and practiced up until now is clashing with the formality that the current course brings to NGL.”

  • This world is too big! I didn’t know where to start to begin with. The deadlines added further to feeling overwhelmed. (See Week 6 and Week 8).


  • NGL can work for informal learning but requires a time commitment. I can see it working as a long term approach to informal learning I undertake. It takes time to build the appropriate networks that facilitate the learning.
  • I had many of the tools set up already but for different purposes. I have realised that setting up networks takes time and needs to be a part of daily practice and  requires long term commitment to reap the rewards. I reflect on this in Week 2:

“So overall I have a fairly embedded Personal Knowledge Management routine in my daily life. Despite this I will be adapting this routine to a new context and environment and I think this has significant implications. This will mean it takes some time for me to get my head around how this will work in this course.

  • The “distributed world of information” that Kligyte (2009) refers to is now more coherent and sensible, in the sense that I have worked out how NGL can work for me as a learner.
  • Throughout the course I have considered the issue of online identity (Week 1 ). As I was considering “me as learner” and NGL, I realised that my concerns around online identity tend not to apply to my personal learning – I appear to be more concerned around my professional identity. However there is an integrative characteristic (Kligyte, 2009) that could occur between personal and professional that I am not completely comfortable with (Week 3)
  • “My foray into NGL began in an organic and ad hoc fashion, but now I am thinking about it more deliberately.”(Week 8)
  • In Week 6, I reach the conclusion that:

“learners must want to engage with learning or development in relation to NGL, they must be receptive to the opportunities and possibilities it presents.”

McIntyre (2014) identifies a number of barriers to digital literacies development which are relevant here:

“the fast rate of technological change; the inability for large institutions to respond quickly enough in adapting their organisational infrastructures; the failure to properly acknowledge the importance of technological entanglement in core business practice; technology led online initiatives that fail to enable a meaningful translation of existing individual knowledge and teaching practices; lack of support for academics in the development of online learning initiatives; and the lack of recognition of the work required by academics to develop the digital literacies and online teaching competencies.”

I suggest that “NGL offers the possibility of circumventing some of these barriers.” I argue that after the initial setting up, learners could “dip in and out as they could afford to and as they needed to.” I add further that this convenience factor may render it more appealing than other types of professional learning – “just in time, as required and most importantly independent of the institution and institutional constraints.”

  •  NGL provides all learners with an opportunity to engage in learning (Week 8):

“in their own time and at their own pace”


Brennan, K. (2013). In Connectivism, No One Can Hear You Scream: a Guide to Understanding the MOOC Novice.  Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2013). Connectivism and the primal scream.  Retrieved from

Kligyte, G. (2009). Threshold concept: A lens for examining networked learning. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Ascilite 2009 Conference.

McIntyre, S. (2014). Reducing the digital literacy divide through disruptive innovation. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1.

As a student, participation in NGL was useful for me

There is no doubt that participating in NGL has been useful for me as a student. In fact, it has been painful, thought provoking, frustrating, overwhelming, satisfying, transformative, eye-opening and invaluable. The literature around transformative learning theory confirms that these experiences are part of the process of transformative learning (Mezirow, 1991, Mezirow, 2000, Taylor, 2007). Despite having knowledge of this and experiencing these characteristics of learning many times before, each time it happens I find myself initially surprised by it. Then acceptance kicks in and I begin to feel more comfortable with the discomfort.

What was painful, frustrating, overwhelming?

  • Getting Set Up

Getting set up required greater time and effort than more traditional online courses. Setting up the  required tools took longer than I (and I daresay my fellow students) would have liked. The number of tools involved was also a factor: wordpress, diigo, mendeley, feedly, etc. Another issue was becoming oriented or developing a clear understanding of how things work (the tools, the expectations, the assessment of our work) in this course. Stepping out into “NGL” was both liberating and scary. I would argue that the process of getting set up in the first 2-3 weeks for EDU8117 did cause some ecoshock. (San Jose and Kelleher, 2009).

In another of my blog posts, I argued that “getting set up” was achieved at the expense of more time to dedicate to networking with fellow students :

“Greater scaffolding to allow people to get familiar with the setup process and tools being used – simpler and fewer tasks in the first couple of weeks. I think this would have helped and allowed time for participants to allocate greater time to connecting with each other.”

  • Keeping up

Another issue was around keeping up with the sheer volume of information and I refer to it in my Week 3 and Week 8 posts. Again, despite the fact that I understand that there is more information available than I can consume, I still had personal expectations of “keeping up” with everything that was shared, responding effectively to the posts and thoughts of fellow students and completing the tasks required. The reality is that I didn’t. The benefit is that, through personal experience as a student, I now have a greater appreciation of connectivist theory and Siemens argument that “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today” (Siemens, 2005, p. 5).

What was thought provoking, satisfying, transformative, eye-opening and invaluable?

  • Public Click Pedagogy = Satisfying and invaluable

I certainly made a mess and I certainly made it public. It wasn’t consistent, but for periods of time, I felt connected to fellow students and found myself “mashing” together, interpreting  and building on the thoughts and knowledge of my peers, all of which are characteristics of “public click pedagogy” (Bigum and Rowan,2013; Downes, 2011). This included reflecting on the views and findings of peers, and sharing personal thoughts and discoveries.

  • Online identity = Thought provoking and eye opening

My experiences in EDU8117 raised a number of questions around online identity. According to Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes (2009)  there is a need for research that focuses on “the possible risks and benefits of emergent online identity development”. My personal realisations around online identity and NGL included:

  1. The real possibility that individuals  have an online identity before they are aware of the implications.
  2. The clash of personal and professional identity online
  3. The potential for online identity be used or targeted in ways you didn’t intend or don’t approve of.

According to Selwyn (2015) there is a need to take a critical approach to technology and education. He encourages educators to consider factors such as unintended consequences, implicit agendas and ask “who benefits?”. All of these factors are valid when considering the issue of online identity and its management. Blog posts in week 1, week 3 and week 7, discuss my reflections around online identity and NGL.

  • Being a Networked Student = Invaluable, satisfying and transformative.

In an earlier post I say:

I hope that this course will help me to move from knowing and doing NGL to being NGL and understanding more about how to support others to explore and embrace NGL.

I am not sure that the shift I am looking for is fully complete. I am, however, sure that I have “evolved” along the continuum. It has certainly been a part of my practice for several years now, however I wasn’t so conscious or deliberate as I am now. My ability to recognise more opportunities to strategically utilise NGL for networking, collaboration and learning has also increased. A crucial factor in successfully “being NGL” into the future will be the development of literacies that assist me to navigate NGL as effectively as possible. (See Week 3 and Week 8)

  • Formal vs informal, traditional vs connectivist? = Thought provoking

Can NGL be formal? Can a hybrid of traditional and connectivist approaches be used simultaneously in a course? I argue in one of my posts that until I enrolled in EDU8117, all of my experience with NGL had been informal and that the formality of this course, coupled with the informality of NGL and connectivism was proving a challenge. My views were confirmed after reading a blog post by Stephen Downes (2013) responding to an article by Brennan (2013) where he differentiates between traditional and connectivist learning:

“Indeed, so long as you think of knowledge and learning as something to be acquired and measured and tested – instead of practiced and lived and experienced – you will be dissatisfied with connectivist learning.” (Downes, 2013)

Is EDU8117 attempting to reconcile both approaches and philosophies? Should formal courses be based on a combination of connectivist principles and practices and traditional educational approaches?

As a student, participation in NGL was useful for me. My NGL experiences as a student will contribute to refining and developing my NGL practices into the future. However, I remain unconvinced that NGL can be effectively reconciled with formal educational practices such as semesters, deadlines or formal assessment. I plan to reflect on this question into the future.


Bigum, C., & Rowan, L. (2013). Ladders, Learning and Lessons from Charlie: exploring the potential of public click pedagogy. EdExEd Working Paper Series: Working Paper No. 2.

Brennan, K. (2013). In Connectivism, No One Can Hear You Scream: a Guide to Understanding the MOOC Novice.  Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2011). “Connectivism” and connective knowledge.  Retrieved from

Downes, S. (2013). Connectivism and the primal scream.  Retrieved from

Greenhow, C., Robelia, B., & Hughes, J. E. (2009). Learning, teaching, and scholarship in a digital age Web 2.0 and classroom research: What path should we take now? Educational Researcher, 38(4), 246-259.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning: ERIC.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series: ERIC.

San Jose, D., & Kelleher, T. (2009). Measuring ecoshock and affective learning: A comparison of student responses to online and face-to-face learning ecologies. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5, 469-476.

Selwyn, N. (2015). Technology and education – why it’s crucial to be critical. In S. Bulfin, Johnson, N. & Bigum, C (Ed.), Critical  perspectives on technology and education New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International journal of instructional technology and distance learning, 2(1), 3-10.

Taylor, E. W. (2007). An update of transformative learning theory: A critical review of the empirical research (1999–2005). International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26(2), 173-191.

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