All entries for Thursday 17 December 2009

December 17, 2009

PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': post–workshop reflection

Follow-up to PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': pre–workshop reflection from Alison's blog

I find reflecting on this workshop quite challenging. At one level it seemed to go reasonably well. 8 of the 10 people who had registered for it turned up, three of whom had attended the morning session on course design. There was a general mood of interest, engagement and cooperation and participants contributed well to the various activities I had organised. Discussion was focused and on task, and in general terms I think the learning outcomes for the session were achieved. Feedback too was good. All the participants indicated that the teaching and learning methods used had either been effective or very effective, with none ticking the 'neutral' box or below. There was a range of things which people indicated they had found effective, useful and would take away to use in their professional practice:

  • Discussion with others, sharing experience
  • Handouts that I can refer back to and which I will use to improve my essay and exam question composition
  • Good mixture of lecture and group work
  • Great mix of task types; kept me engaged and interested. Delivered mirrored principles.
  • Opportunity to reflect and focus on this aspect of my practice
  • Disseminate some of the information provided to colleagues
  • Small group work was very effective
  • ...

So what am I dubious about? One participant commented (correctly, I think) that 'the activities could have been a bit more challenging' and another said 'maybe we spent too long in our small groups discussing only one of the three issues'. That groupwork activity was probably the least successful dimension of the workshop and I need to revisit it. The intention was to provide content, but rather than transmit it from the front, to get the participants to engage with it on their own terms and then teach each other, but it needed more careful planning. I think I still consider the approach valid, but the way I constructed it didn't really gel.

I guess I feel therefore that I didn't really introduce the participants to some of the basic, and essential considerations when thinking about assessment. That's pretty crucial! Yet I also need to listen to that good feedback. I had deliberately designed the session in a way which acknowledged and took advantage of people's experience. Although some participants were relatively new to lecturing in HE, none of us gets through our national educational system without experiencing assessment from the other side of the fence, and all had something to contribute. My role therefore became one of guiding discussion, filtering in my expertise at appropriate points, and making sure that as far as possible people moved on in their 'informed' thinking about their practice.

I can probably leave it there. But my musings feed into my bigger questioning about how best to impart scholarly content in these workshops. I am beginning to explore the idea of a 15 to 20 min 'This is what scholars are saying' slot. PCAPP is a post-graduate certificate, and it is important that I do give participants content appropriate for that level. It becomes attractive to them too because it gives them a leg-up for their PCAPP assignments. I shall have to give that more thought.

Comments welcome!


ALeC to ES Dec 17th 09

Follow-up to ES to ALeC Dec 17th 09 from Alison's blog

Dear Eric,

I am delighted, once again, to hear from you. Please don’t worry about offending or upsetting me. You won’t, because I too can sense that you too are genuinely concerned to reflect and dialogue candidly and openly. Thank you.

I will need time to digest what you express, so won’t try to engage too much with the content of your email here and now. I am off on holiday tomorrow evening for the Christmas period and will appreciate the space to return to what you say and think it through. If I remember rightly, you were also articulating something of the same in the THES discussion. Instinctively I think you have an excellent point, although I equally instinctively want to respond by suggesting that reflection on teaching and one’s own role as an educator is equally as appropriate as reflecting on the learning that is taking place. Teaching and learning are partners in dialogue (that word again!) and I suppose I have exposed my reflection on my role in my blog and paid less attention to the learners’ learning primarily because I think I have a responsibility to self-examine, have experienced success in changing my practice resulting in better learning taking place, and in a public forum such as a blog I don’t want to second guess, perhaps erroneously, what is going on with my learners. That’s why I am so keen that they speak for themselves.

Your comments remind me of the position taken by Marton and Booth in their 1997 volume ‘Learning and Awareness’ where they argue very much for a study of the process of learning that begins with and focuses on the learners themselves, rather than on the internal/external interaction of teaching and learning. In a previous email you ask whether I am familiar with Rogers. Yes, of course, and Dewey, and many others to whom a student-centred approach to teaching and learning owes much. I agree that Rogers probably over eggs his pudding; Dewey too, undoubtedly, and many would consider that the thinking of these great educationalists had an adverse effect on British schools and schooling during the 60s and 70s. I come from a strong background in distance- and e-learning, together with 5 years of teaching English as a Foreign Language in Spain and France (with commensurate training and qualifications) and eventually did my PhD in Adult Education. I focused on how a particular subject discipline (theology) influences the way in which students learn.

I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting all our emails into my blog. Please do let me know if you are uncomfortable with that. I can easily edit every post.

I would be interested to hear more about you. Where are you based, and what is your background?

Best wishes

Alison


ES to ALeC Dec 17th 09

Follow-up to ALeC to ES Dec 15th 09 from Alison's blog

Dear Alison,

Many thanks for your recent e-mail. It was nice to hear from you.

First, and in reply to your question, I confirm that you are welcome to quote me in your blog. That comment also holds for this email if you so wish.

Second, your e-mail puts me into a dilemma. On the one hand, I warm to your candid and open manner. But, on the other hand, your manner tends to encourage a more than usually honest response, and I fear that you might find my response annoying, condescending, offensive, upsetting or absurd. On reflection - or perhaps it is something else - I think I will choose the latter option, because I sense that you may well find my response absurd.

I have read your email several times, and it strengthens my impression that you are deeply and honestly concerned with your teaching, and its effects on your students. But I believe that there is also a fundamental and very common error in the position that you take. Perhaps I might be permitted to try to convey what I have in mind with an analogy. I believe that the approach that you - and, in my experience, most educationalists - take, is like a person who wishes to understand the movement of tides and does so by measuring the salinity of the water.

I write like this because it appears from almost everything you have written that your focus is on teaching, and I believe that such a focus is at best on a secondary matter, and more often than not deeply misleading. I believe that the latter is the case because only a moment of reflection indicates that teaching has the aim of fostering learning; and, if that is the case, teaching is merely a tool towards encouraging a far larger aim, namely, learning. And if that is the case, it follows that a teacher’s focus should be on learning. It then further follows that a focus on teaching - understandable in egocentric terms - tends to blind a teacher to implications of the foregoing simple facts.

I have also found that when teachers begin to focus on learning, many of their concerns about their teaching diminish. It is as if, when one focuses on learning, teaching takes care of itself. Or I could say that I have found that, when teachers focus on learning, their concerns tend to change almost radically.

For example, as there is no serious difference between studying learning and studying physiology - or any other mental process, and indeed any other subject - concerns about not being condescending tend to be no stronger in the teaching of teaching that in the teaching of any other discipline. In the same way, the problem of imparting knowledge in a non-didactic manner becomes a problem in the teaching of all disciplines, especially factual ones. And perhaps most important of all, one's focus shifts from what one is doing, to what one's students are doing; and when that happens, one begins to see that much of the talk about being a reflective practitioner is generated by what happens to be fashionable, - as is so often the case in education.

At risk of sounding fanciful, I'll add that I believe that a preoccupation with being ‘a reflective practitioner’ is also, to a considerable extent, one more manifestation of the cult of the individual that is endemic in the West. From such a perspective, one might also see that a concern with being a reflective practitioner can slide very easily and very often into self-indulgence.

I've done my best to express my position as briefly and simply as I can, and past experience suggests that I am very unlikely to have been persuasive. And it is of course also the case that I may well be wrong.

Lastly, I very much hope that you sense that I do not write in order to criticise you. That is not remotely my intention. On the contrary. As I've noted, I much admire your candour, and I have largely written as I have in response to this.

   With very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,

       Eric


ALeC to ES Dec 15th 09

Follow-up to Dialogue with Sotto from Alison's blog

I replied:

Dear Eric,

I am delighted to hear from you and very honoured to receive feedback. Thank you. My first inclination was to copy and paste some, if not all of your comments, into my blog, and if you choose not to do that yourself, may I ask your permission to do so? Your points are entirely pertinent, although I would like clarification about point (2). I also hope you noticed that while I 'accused' you (respectfully, in intention, if not conveyed adequately in tone) of having been 'verbose', I also recognised and affirmed your correct, perceptive and valid comments on the THES blog. Your contribution was vital and significant.

You are entirely correct about the role of teaching and communicating content (point 1). It is something I reflect on vigorously and am hugely aware of my discomfort in this area. I am constantly wrestling to find what I consider an adequate balance as well as appropriate means of informing the people who attend my workshops and courses about the scholarship of teaching and learning; it is something which I was working on this very afternoon as I led a workshop on Assessment Practice and Strategies and I came away dissatisfied with the approach I had taken. I have committed myself to writing a pre-workshop blogpost and then a post-workshop blogpost, so will be writing on that within the next day or two.

Thank you too for the encouragement to keep on posting. My aim is to model reflective practice, despite the fact that I may not model it perfectly. It is the prime way that I have chosen to handle the lived-out behaviour that was articulated in writing in the THES paper. I hope that participants will read my pre- and post-session reflections and understand so much more not only about how I decide to impart content, but also about classroom management, and hence how my pedagogy is consciously designed to meet a whole variety of needs. It's early days, but so far so good; behaviour in my sessions has improved enormously and feedback is excellent. The next step is to get participants themselves to contribute to the blog. The first did so today! So I hope to construct a bigger community of reflective practitioners...

Here am I being verbose in my turn: your point exactly! Ah well...

With very best wishes

Alison


Dialogue with Sotto

This blog has attracted the attention of Eric Sotto, a respected and experienced educational developer and author. I feel privileged to engage in dialogue with him. He has given permission for me to copy our email correspondence into the blog.

He first wrote me with the following email:

Dear Alison,

I've just come across your blog, and thought you might like to have a few general responses.

1) Much of what you write is on how to avoid a conventional teacher/student situation, and the allied question of how to encourage a collaborative atmosphere in a classroom in which everyone feels inclined to participate. I warm to such wishes, but believe that you omit a consideration of something essential. This is that learning is not only a matter of debating, but also a matter of taking in factual information. Although I did not read all the earlier entries in your blog, I did not find any consideration of this essential matter. In short, how are factual matters, and especially the matter of scholarly evidence, to be brought to the attention of students in a non-didactic manner?

2) Your entries strongly convey that you not only believe in but also practice honest reflection. It also so happens that I am personally strongly attracted to such a quality. However, it seems to me that your focus on honest reflection eventually results in the neglect of an attempt also to view the matter under consideration in as objective a manner as is possible. Indeed, I note with respect and affection that your focus on honest reflection sometimes leads to what a critical person might consider self-indulgence.

3) You often mention student centred learning, but I have the impression - it can be no more - that you are not closely acquainted with the originator, Carl Rogers, of this notion. Among other things, the position that Rogers advocates is at odds with the requirement for knowledge to be assessed by objective criteria; and his focus is so completely on the individual, that he tends to ignore the needs of a community.

4) I thought your comments on what I sought to do in that debate posted in the THE plain unkind. My first responses were, I believe, succinct, but I had so much flak and rubbish thrown at me by the great majority of participants that I thought I must respond as best as I can. I also believe that in your blog you are often guilty of that of which you accuse me. But this item is of course not very important.

5) Lastly, I do hope you will continue to express your concerns on this matter of teaching and learning! The topic is of course very important.

Kind regards, Eric Sotto


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