July 18, 2010

Reflection on Practice with newly–appointed academics

I have to prepare and present a 10 minute session on the topic of 'Reflection on Practice'. Gosh. 10 minutes. The 'audience' will be small, but a group representing a variety of subject disciplines. So here I am, planning and reflecting on the session that I am gradually preparing.

I plan to use Case Studies, one for each participant, and each from a different subject discipline. Since these are newly-appointed academics, they may not have an enormous amount of experience to draw on, and I am reminded of Biggs' assertion that all reflection requires experience. I can see what he means but dislike the implication that the ability of new lecturers to reflect on their practice is therefore hampered! However, since this is the first time that I will have met this group, and as I have been assured that they really are 'newbies', providing case studies that I hope they can relate to may be a way of giving them something to reflect on.

I have chosen three typical scenarios, ones which I have encountered quite regularly.

a) someone faced with lecturing to very large classes in a fairly straight-laced discipline, who finds the traditional lecture very restricting and one which presents challenges to his/her desire for student interaction, but whose attempts at opening up subjects for discussion fall flat on their face due to the class size and location.

b) someone who is excited about the potential Second Life has for their Art and Design class, but who has discovered that the time taken to induct students into its mysteries eats into class time. There is also a small section of the student body which has reacted quite unfavourably to using Second Life in class at all.

c) a newly-appointed Polish medic who, despite having studied and worked in the UK, has retained a strong accent. He/she has students in his/her class for whom English is their second, if not third or fourth language, and many never ask or answer questions. The medic is worried that they don't understand him/her, but the only way she can think of handling the situation is by providing photocopies of his/her powerpoint and hoping that they find a way of keeping up.

I will write out these Case Studies in advance and give one to each participant. They are very brief, so it should only take them a minute or two to read them. Then I plan to ask them to think of one more 'problem' or challenge that that academic might face in that particular situation. My intention is that this will help to personalise the learning.

I will then present Biggs' cycle of reflective practice:

    1. Defining the problem
    2. Implementing a change
    3. Monitoring the change
    4. Fine tuning
    5. Discussion with a critical friend

    I plan to ask each person to think of one way of addressing (implementing a change) one of the problems I have given them. What are the advantages and potential drawbacks? This will provide them with a way of monitoring the change (point 'c'). I also plan to give them a handout with Bigg's model of reflective practice as another reference point, and something which they can take away and think about (reflect on!).

    Lastly, I will ask the participants to discuss together their tentative 'solutions' to the problem, hence engaging them in discussion with a critical friend. I will make the point that peer observation and feedback is a very valuable way of enhancing their teaching, and I would recommend they find a group of 'buddies' who will function in this way for each other.

    So, my pre-session reflection...

    A big challenge is going to be to keep within the 10 minutes. However, I think I have achieved what I want to in the plan: I want the participants to be engaged and to interact with me and each other; I want to give them some solid content as well as a reference point if they choose to follow it up, so I have gone for Biggs; I also want to take my brief seriously. I mustn't ask or expect too much from these participants. They are new to the profession (although I guess some of them may simply be newly appointed to the university and come with extensive experience from elsewhere... help! In which case I will have to draw on that experience...) and come from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines.  Another challenge might be that they feel slightly uncomfortable role playing, and if they do, then I will feel uncomfortable about having asked them to role play! I must be prepared to come out of the role play situation if that seems appropriate, and certainly be prepared to allow the session to move out of the role play if that's the direction it moves in. Can I anticipate anything else that might go wrong? (One of the most valuable things I learnt when training to teach English as a Foreign Language was to focus on 'anticipated problems' in my lesson planning. In some senses, it is easier to do in an EFL context, but with some practice, it has proved a really useful tool in all my teaching and facilitating, both before and during a class or workshop.) For the moment, I can't think of anything. I will come back and add something later if it comes to mind.

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