November 12, 2009

PCAPP workshops

I am thinking ahead to the two PCAPP workshops I am due to deliver in December. I delivered them both last year, for the first time, soon after I arrived at Warwick. I quickly realised that all was not plain sailing and that I needed to take quick and effective action (see previous blogpost) and one of the measures I took was to move the next session into the Teaching Grid. It made a huge improvement, partly because of the added value of having the technology to play with, partly because it was much more effective at respecting the 'adultness' of participants, and partly because it allowed me to experiment with a different approach to the session.

One of the regulations that the Teaching Grid requires in order for people to use it, is that facilitators/teachers should be trying something out that is innovative. It doesn't need to be innovative within the whole teaching profession, but it does need to be new for the individual concerned, who should be trying out something that he/she hasn't done before. That was clearly the case for me at that workshop. The success of the workshop meant that I wanted to continue having it in the Teaching Grid, which in turn provided me with the opportunity to continue reflecting on my practice and exploring new ways of conducting these workshops.

The TG has requested now that for each booking we articulate, albeit in draft and semi-formed form, the innovative nature of each session we conduct there, so I need to think about the sessions I am running on Dec 15th. I have already changed a few things. I am running 'Exploring Course Design' and 'Assessment Practice and Strategies', which last year were put on as two separate workshops on different days. However, there is a clear overlap between them, and so this year I have arranged for them to take place on the same day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, with a lunch break between. This follows the format of the Teaching Large Groups and Teaching Small Groups workshops, so there is already a precedent. I anticipate (and hope) that the participants will be largely the same for both sessions, although I can obviously not make this a requirement and it may be that some come for the afternoon that did not attend in the morning, and the reverse. I have reworked the workshop outline for each of them (these can be found here and here) and have put an emphasis on reflection and reflective practice, hopefully balancing that alongside input of content.

So what am I going to do that is innovative?

I have a number of innovative ideas that I want to put into place, but this time round I am going to hold back. It may be that I can't conduct the workshops in December; for private and personal reasons I may be absent, and so I need to think about someone standing in for me would feel comfortable doing.  However, I think that the major underlying premise of developing reflective practitioners may serve the purpose. I am planning sessions in which participants collaborate and contribute expertise and knowledge to construct something together, reflecting as they progress and as new knowledge and information becomes available. This is quite different from the traditional lead and transmit content from the front approach, and will be quite different for me in this situation, although in some senses it is an approach I am familiar with through my background in distance learning. Face-to-face and DL operate quite differently, though, so I think it is legitimate to claim this is innovative for me, especially in the context of PCAPP which has a unique group of participants.

Secondly, although I can't make too much of this, I think the idea of holding two separate workshops and integrating them into a bigger whole is also innovative. It will potentially mean that 'experts' from the morning have the opportunity (if I build this in) to 'teach' newcomers any essential information in the afternoon, which is a different approach in its own right. It means I can allow a greater degree of flexibility and follow leads and questions as they come up to a greater extent, although I must also make sure that important and necessary content is introduced and engaged with.

So what can I write for the Teaching Grid? Let's have a go...

I am requesting to book the Experimental Teaching Space in the Teaching Grid all day on Tuesday December 15th in order to hold two PCAPP workshops there: Exploring Course Design, and Assessment Practice and Strategies. It is the first time that these two workshops have been held on the same day (and therefore also in the same venue) and one of the opportunities that this offers and which I would like to explore is a different use of time, with corresponding different 'use of' or participation from those attending. I plan to use a constructivist approach in which the experience of those attending is built on and used right from the start, probably using case studies and/or the only shared programme that everyone has in common, the PCAPP programme itself, in order to encourage participants to identify and engage with the challenges, first of designing a course or module, and secondly of setting assessment for it. Because it is impossible to anticipate in what order questions, issues, ways of responding to challenges etc will arise, this necessitates a very flexible approach which is quite different from anything I have done before. It will require me to adapt my role and take on an identity with participants that they may not be expecting or be familiar with: that of an expert whom they can consult and a person who asks pertinent questions they need to wrestle with, rather than someone who delivers information they need to absorb and take away. Another innovative feature I might include (this needs further thought and/or organisation) is to invite three or four outside experts who will form a panel to scrutinise the design of the module or course that participants have drawn up, and who will therefore provide authoritative content.

In the afternoon session, the expertise of those who attended in the morning will be used in order to do a quick brief of newcomers. This again is not something I have regularly built into my workshops, but I feel it will contribute enormously to the dynamic of the session. In the past, a (small) proportion of participants have clearly had considerable experience in the area that the workshop tackles, but since it is core to the programme they have not been able to gain exemption. Rather than ask them to sit and be 'informed' about things they feel they already know, I intend to exploit (and value) this wealth of experience and knowledge by asking them to lead, mentor and contribute. All of the participants will come with some experience of assessing students, and I plan to use this for discussion leading to a critical evaluation once again of the PCAPP programme.

Lastly, one of my goals is to develop participants as reflective practitioners. Before the session I will direct them to this blog and from time to time during the session I will ask them to pause and reflect on how it's going, what is making it a success and what needs to be rethought for next time, as well as what they might be able to incorporate into their own practice. This will include the use of space, something which will direct their attention to the attributes of the Teaching Grid. I have never incorporated a deliberate reflection on the dynamics of my class as it is progressing into my teaching. I will feel somewhat vulnerable, but think it is important to model externally what I hope they will take away and put into practice internally.

For all these reasons, I feel that my sessions are enabling me to try out some innovative teaching practices that are new to me, and which I hope will develop my own practice.





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