All entries for Wednesday 02 December 2009

December 02, 2009

PCAPP workshop: Exploring Course Design (pre session reflection)

Follow-up to PCAPP workshops from Alison's blog

I have just finished planning the first of the two workshops on Dec 15th, Exploring Course Design. My workshop outline and plan can be accessed here. I think it would be helpful if I provided some sort of rationale about why I've planned it like this.

I had originally wanted to do something much more innovative, bringing in people from the Capital Centre and maybe others from different departments in the University. I may still do that the next time I run it, but this time there were particular circumstances that meant I needed to play a bit safer.

My major criteria continue to focus on my desire: a) to treat participants as adults, many of whom may well bring experience of course design to the session; b) to encourage, foster and model reflective practice; and c) to make the session as applied as possible, so that participants leave not only with an awareness of the issues embedded within the subject but also having had the opportunity to think about how they relate to their own practice and discipline.

In response to the first criterion, the first aspect I know I must do is not put a 'teacher-student' relationship and dynamic in place. I think some of the metaphors for teaching and learning are very powerful, and in this case I do not want to cultivate a culture of 'sage on the stage' transmitting wisdom to those who know little; the mug and jug metaphor, where the jug 'pours' knowledge into 'mugs' (in more than one sense of the word!). Instead, I want to be a facilitator, a guide to fellow journeyers who has as much to learn from those I am guiding than they have from me; the 'guide on the side' metaphor. The obvious way in which this can be put into place is by preparing activities in which there is a significant amount of peer-to-peer interaction and learning, and I draw alongside to contribute expertise at times when needed or it would be beneficial. The opening task of my workshop will work to that principle. I hope that by asking participants to develop a mind-map using the early prompts I provide a  number of things will be achieved. Those who have experience in course design will be able to use it as well as teach their less-experienced peers. Those who might be reluctant to ask questions in public will hopefully be more willing to ask, or at least learn by osmosis, through the group discussion. The mind-maps which the groups  produce will undoubtedly differ from the one I prepared earlier (Blue Peter- or Delia Smith-like!) which should then give rise to a good number of questions that we can pick up and discuss in the plenary following. It's at that point that I can monitor and check what content needs to be formally introduced, but rather than present it in a 'you need to know this so please sit quietly and listen' fashion, I hope that having created the need to know, participants will be more ready to actively listen and engage. I will have a range of photocopies ready to give out so that they can go away with something as well as see its relevance for their own purposes.

This is one way in which I also hope to address the criticism that my previous workshop on assessment was 'content-lite'.It's quite a delicate balance to get this right: delivery of too much content makes PCAPP participants feel diminished and inferior; too little, on the other hand, makes them wonder why they needed to attend at all, and they leave frustrated because most of the time they actually did want to go away confident that they had a reasonable overview of the terrain. I think this is a balance that many of my academic colleagues also face in their own lectures, so I hope that maybe this workshop will offer at least one way of handling the dilemma.

Which brings me to my second criterion: the desire to foster and encourage reflective practice. I am trying something new in deliberately pausing the workshop and asking participants to reflect, privately, on the way I am running it, its structure, its plan, the rationale behind it, and its outworking. I can't afford to allow this to open up into a public discussion (and even I might find that a bit too close to the bone if they are highly critical!) but I would like them to realise that there are two dimensions to any class: content and pedagogy, and that the purpose of PCAPP is to focus their attention on the latter. I also want them to realise that there are few rights and wrongs in this arena, and that even the so-called experts can try things out which fall flat on their face, or be highly successful for one class and a flop in the next. Teaching, learning and assessment is like that: territory which, although well explored and mapped, is nonetheless often unpredictable. So I'm going to ask them to make notes, just bullet points, but something that focuses their attention on the pedagogical side of the workshop as well as on its content, in the hope that they will develop a sensitivity to thinking about their own practice. If they chose to, though, they could put some of their comments onto this blog...

Lastly, I want the session to be applied, relevant, and useful to participants. My original idea was to get everyone to design a new PCAPP module or programme. It is the only thing we all have in common, and I might still offer that as a possibility. Participants often comment on (complain about?) the fact that the PCAPP approach seems to be 'one size fits all' when in fact each subject discipline functions very differently from all the others. It would be a bold move to ask them to redesign PCAPP, but it would have a number of advantages, not least providing the PCAPP team with valuable feedback about what participants would value, and how they would go about providing it. We could then incorporate it into our own revisions of the programme. I shall play that by ear on the day though, and also go with a neutral module that most of them could hopefully relate to, as well as give them the option of designing their own. Jenny Hughes from the Academic (something) office(!) will be coming in half way through to talk about many of the university's policies and regulations regarding course design and validation. I am toying with the idea of asking her to stay, or maybe return, so that when the groups have prepared their modules or courses, she and I and the remainder of the class can act as a validation panel. This should be a reasonably effective way both of revising content and of bringing home to the participants the experience of a mock validation and the need to take a wide range of issues into consideration when designing a course.

So that's what I'm planning. The next thing is to conduct the workshop. I've got my photocopies prepared for the class, and will need to confer with the Teaching Grid staff to see how best to set up the space. But for the moment, I'm done. :-)



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