July 07, 2009

Why this blog?

July 7th 2009

This is a new venture for me. I've blogged a bit before, but never for this reason. I want to see if I can achieve something new, not only for me but also for (and with) some of those I work with.

Let me explain.

I came to Warwick on April 1st to take a post of Learning and Development Adviser. It's a job which matches all of my interests, although that isn't necessarily evident from my background as an academic working in theology! But my work in theology has largely been in distance learning, and that's because of my five years as an EFL teacher which gave me a brilliant foundation in student-centred learning. I started off in Spain with a class of fifteen complete beginners who had not a word of English and I not a word of Spanish. I had to learn very quickly how to communicate - 'teach' - in such a way that they would both understand and be able to own and reproduce. This was my introduction to what has been my passion ever since: not just the content of my subject discipline, but how to communicate it to people who might actually find it quite difficult to understand and even more difficult to reconstruct and make their own. Distance learning has many parallels to Teaching English as a Foreign Language: there is a 'gap' between teacher and learner which needs to be bridged, in one case the gap is linguistic, in the other geographical. However, in both cases teachers have to anticipate the difficulties learners will experience well in advance of the actual study time and find ways of overcoming them. This process lies at the heart of student-centred learning, although other features such as an individual one-to-one situation between learner and tutor and questions of choice and power are also significant. For a great paper on student-centred learning have a look at this one written by Geraldine O'Neill and Tim McMahon from University College Dublin.

I shall undoubtedly return to discuss student-centred learning from time to time. It underpins the whole of my approach to teaching. However, back to my main thread...

Part of my LDA role involves delivering workshops for academic colleagues. My first experience raised a whole range of issues which, although I had to a point anticipated, nonetheless set me off on a big reflective exercise. I am a highly reflective practitioner, always thinking through what went well and less well, tweaking and amending for future occasions, and sometimes I find it useful to write about it. I did that this time, and it allowed me to formulate a new way forward which I tried out in my next workshop on Assessment. I conducted the workshop in the Teaching Grid and once again wrote up a reflective evaluation using the TG's proforma. The TG asks this of all the people who make use of it and they publish the write ups on their website. You can see mine here. I thought it would be courteous to send it to each of the participants individually as well, and was delighted to receive feedback to it from one or two.

So the idea was born. Part of the PCAPP programme's aspiration is that participants become reflective practitioners. All of a sudden I seemed to have stumbled on a way of fostering that. By modelling my own reflection I could not only encourage good practice, but also hopefully encourage participants to reflect with me on my own practice. This blog seems a good way of doing that. I'd like to use it firstly to reflect in advance of a session so that anyone who is interested can see why I've decided to do something the way I have and what some of the issues I've grappled with were, and then to reflect following the session. Blogs are great because others can contribute, so anyone who looks at these pages, please do contribute. My (perhaps high?) ideal is that we can create a community of reflective practitioners. Let's see how this develops...

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