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Illustration of a Jelly baby tree with a different number placed on each jelly baby

The Jelly Baby Tree

🔗 This article was originally posted on 16 October 2020 on the Connected learning QUB SONM site by Alison Smart, Lecturer (Education), School of Nursing and Midwifery.

Promoting a connected learning through developing an online community: The Jelly Baby Tree

In this blog post Alison Smart shares her experiences of adopting the Jelly Baby Tree for online work.

As we have all started to adapt to the (dare I say it) “New Normal” which we all know will be ever evolving. From a profession where people feature very strongly – personal interactions are something I have massively missed during lockdown. The social interactions we all had on a day to day to basis within the MBC is something I took for granted but a key aspect that makes work enjoyable.

September 2020 are now in their fourth week of our new curriculum and going to university is a time for social interaction; meeting new people, making new friends and spreading your wings. I remember my first day when Susan Carlisle said look to your left and your right and there will be someone in this room who will become a great friend and she was right. I have very fond memories and made some very good friends, as I know we all did at university. This can also be a daunting time, reaching out to people you don’t know, I would think it’s quite daunting to do this in a predominately virtual world. However, our current students have transitioned to a connected learning environment, when the normal pre-class chatter and a bustling MBC is no longer. Virtual Coffee’s, Zoom Quizzes, Break-out rooms, chat functions are the current virtual social life choices that have quickly became staples in our lives.

This post will discuss the use of the Jelly Baby Tree (JBT) in creating an online community. The JBT is currently being used in Year 1 Professionalism Module. I will reflect on the implementation of the tool to the module and identify how you could use this. This tool has been previously used as an icebreaker and I have used an adapted version that I had previously used in MSc module with leadership whilst undertaking an MSC course.

Before I get started, I would like you to look at the image below and think about how you are feeling this week in relation to our current journey at SONM and our journey with connected learning. Which Jelly Baby do you identify with?

Are you a 12 and branching out? Or wick at 6? Relaxing like an 11. I have been nearly all the Jelly babies on the tree but this week I am a 9 and feeling fine. I have had some positive feedback from the year ones and enjoyed face-to-face teaching this week.


Why JBT? 

The Jelly Bean TreeI had previously used the JBT in an online module at MSC level which looked at leadership and each week we were asked to identify which Jelly Baby we were in relation to our leadership journey. This was an international module and the use of the JBT facilitated a social presence. The selection of this JBT was used to encourage communication within an online context and its use would help to support and develop the year ones. Previous analysis suggested students found that JBT was a valued aspect of the course. Evidence reported “Jelly Baby Tree as the best bit of the course” giving it “human touch” whilst others “come away inspired every time I read someone else’s Jelly baby posting” It was 2014 when I used it so I figured if I still remember it now, then it must have a lasting impact.


How did I use it?

I set up a weekly JBT discussion forum with a single thread. The students were introduced to the Jelly Baby tree during the start of the module and received the directions below.

Each week, they are asked to reflect and complete a post to where they are feeling on the course and on their journey as a professional. The instructor should do the same in order to “model the way” and connect with students thereby fostering a sense of social presence for themselves as well. In addition to this, myself and other members of the module team have replied to students with their comments with words of encouragement, thus creating a social presence aimed at creating an atmosphere of trust and belonging.


How has it been received? 

I have been positively surprised, as I was unsure despite my positive personal experience in a postgraduate format. I wasn’t too sure how it would fare with Year 1’s who have not met each other but to date we have had over 650 posts in the 4 weeks. Students appear to be engaged with the Jelly Baby Tree and it does appear to foster a community of encouragement.

As the potential social isolation starts to creep up on us again, with a 4-6-week restrictions imposed. I think it is important to try and encourage social interactions for our new cohort but to help facilitate those existing friendships. I think the JellyBaby tree is a good place to start. I had initially been dubious myself but having had such a positive experience myself, I thought with the move to more of a connected learning approach this was the right fit. I hope you consider the use of the tree for both undergraduate and postgraduate.

Thank-you for taking the time to read this, let’s take time to ensure we help the student’s in this journey and also ourselves to socially connect.