All entries for August 2009

August 20, 2009

Dual professionalism

I've found another paper that's really interesting for my purposes, especially as it relates head-on to my job and some of the things I'm grappling with and working through. The paper is entitled 'Dual profesionalism: facing the challenges of continuing professional development in the workplace?' and it's written by Deborah Peel who is from the Geddes Institute at the University of Dundee. (Published in 'Reflective Practice', Vol 6, No 1, Feb 2005, pp. 123-140.) Peel explores the fact and the associated challenges that academics in HE nowadays are expected to be 'dual professionals': professionals in their subject disciplines, and professional educators. While she doesn't tackle the issues of resentment, motivation and even aptitude that those responsible for helping academic colleagues achieve an educational professionalism experience, she does acknowledge that time can be an issue. Her focus, however, is more, firstly, on what it means to be a 'professional', and secondly, on how that impacts on and relates to CPD.

Peel cites Bayles (1988) and Carr (2000) in identifying five 'principal characteristics of professionalism', as follows:

  1. An extensive training which comprises a significant intellectual component and involves theoretically as well as practically grounded expertise;
  2. The provision of an important public service;
  3. An organisation of members and a process of licensing and regulation of practice;
  4. A distinct ethical dimension which calls for expression in a code of practice;
  5. A high degree of professional autonomy in one's work.

I find these characteristics quite convincing, and reasonably easy to apply to HE, with the exception, perhaps, of (4). Maybe I'm being obtuse, but I'm not sure I can quite put my finger on what HE's ethical code of practice would be... I don't want to imply that it has none, but I find it easier to identify a code of practice in, say, medicine or law than I do in HE. I stand to be corrected! Maybe it lies in the altruistic devotion to the development of our learners?

Peel argues that 'the nature of professionalism and professional boundaries is changing', and as a result, professionals have to learn to adapt quickly. She proposes four 'shifts' which professionals may adopt in order to cope with the evolving professional habitats. These include:

  1. Limited change by integrating new competencies;
  2. Professional elitism;
  3. The culling of merging of professiona or 'imnplsion' of local government as (elite level) professionals are lost to a general managerial profession; and
  4. Professional flight (where professionals shift career path to the serive-providing organisations, as witnessed, for example, within the housing profession).

She comments, then, that 'the use, purpose and value of CPD will be variously interpreted depending on the particular circumstances and scenarios adopted'. Nonetheless, CPD is a contested concept, 'freighted with a range of expectations', and it is 'easily discussed and stated but much harder to do in reality'. As a Land Use Planning professional, Peel turns to documents from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) for a definition of CPD: 'the systematic maintenance, improvement and broadening of knowledge and skill and the development of personal qualities necessary for the execution of professional and technical duties throughout the practitioner's working life', which encompasses 'intellectual, motor, and personal dimensions'.

Somewhat inevitably, since 'reflective practices are very much in vogue', she turns to reflection and reflective practice as a core aspect of CPD, and uses Zuber-Skerritt's (1996) 'CRASP' approach to provide a conceptual model for CPD.

  1. Critical attitude (encompassing critical thinking, critical practice and critical reflection)
  2. Research into teaching (reflective practice through action research)
  3. Accountability (the retention of autonomy through self-directed action research)
  4. Self-evaluation (improvement of practice, control of input into appraisals, publication)
  5. Professionalism (systematic involvement in educational research, theory and practice)

Peel used this model to teach professionalism in the classroom, and in so doing discovered that her own professionalism was enhanced as she reflected on her practice in light of the reflections of her students. She made her thinking available to her students and opened a dialogue with them about the 'development of [her] teaching craft' and I suddenly found a partner whose aims match(ed) mine in writing this blog. Peel writes:

Together the students and I learned about the subjstantive issues of professionalism and CPD in the classroom but, in addition, I was actively practicing professionalism in the classroom - I was acting and reflecting in my place of work. Further, by explicitly articulating the development of my teaching craft with the students, seeking feedback, debating learning through experience, and sharing my insights, I sought to provide a model of professional (and public) reflective practice in action. Yet, such baring of the soul required considerable courage, and it is difficult to find any evidence that the students genuinely learned from this vicarious experience, or whether (as customers) they simply expected a professional service. As reflective practices and CPD requirement and obligations spread, however, we need to better understand how public we wish the often private professional learning activities to be, particularly if our pforessional working environments then become our research laboratories. (2005:135)

I was a bit disconcerted to read that 'it is difficult to find any evidence that the students genuinely learned from this vicarious experience'. I have to say that my hope is that by modelling my way of reflecting on my practice (and I must challenge myself here about whether I stay within comfortable limits, although perhaps the very act of making my practice public through this blog will start to force me out of my comfort zone) then others might see how it can be done, and, if in one of my sessions, the impact that my own reflection has on my practice. Peel's comment suggests I may be overly optimistic... Ah well, I can but see...

At the same time, Peel concludes with the following.

If professionalism depends, in part, on the quality of critical personal reflection, then professionals require the support and resources to develop those skills and to build the confidence to profess the theories that inform their practices in public. As the self-study illustrates, this appears particularly important where professionals straddle more than one professional identity.
If we are to better understand the synamics of evolving professional species, and more accountable CPD, then reflective practices may need to become much more than the private interrogation of the nature and impact of one's professional performance. Reflective practices will need to support, in a relatively more explicit way, the wider social reconstruction of professional practices in the public interest. This may include more professional boundary crossing. Reflective practices may thus need to become relatively more open. Indeed, the public realm of inter-professional reflection on changing practices could become an increasingly important arena for professing and challenging contemporary evolving professionalism. Such activities will, however, have to be alert and sensitive to the ethical issues with respect to the object of one's professional practices.
(2005:136)

Maybe I'm not on a losing wicket after all!!!

As always, comments welcome.


August 13, 2009

Reflective practitioners

I've been doing some reading today. A rare luxury. Lin Norton's 2009 book Action Research in Teaching and Learning has just come in and I dipped into it to see what she had to say. Chapter 2 is entitled 'Why be a reflective practitioner?' so I thought I would reflect on that! I tend to copy out chunks from books when I'm reading. It helps me focus and gives me time to think about the content as I'm typing. I copied out a large chunk of that chapter, as I thought it had a lot that I could cogitate on, but also that might be of use to the academics I'm working with. At the risk of breaching copyright regs (no, this isn't more than 5% of the book), take a look at this.

P29 Gravett (2004) lists eight elements of what she calls transformative learning, based on the literature. To illustrate these, I have added my own examples in brackets.

1.      It needs a trigger (problem/issue) that makes us aware that the way we previously thought and acted is not adequate to deal with this issue. (Students are not attending my carefully prepared lectures, which I thought were both stimulating and exciting.)

2.      It engenders a feeling of disequilibrium or unease. (Are my lectures not that interesting? Am I a poor lecturer? What are lectures for anyway?)

3.      There is a recognition and articulation of assumptions that are largely held unconsciously. (It is essential to cover the content when designing my courses.)

4.      This is followed by a questioning and examining of out assumptions including where they come from, the consequences of holding them, and why they are important. (Is covering content what the curriculum means? If so, it means believing in the information transmission approach to teaching, which I am no longer sure I do believing. Yet this is the way it is always done in our department; indeed, this is the way I was taught, so can there really be anything very wrong in it?)

5.      There is a need for engaging in reflective and constructive dialogue in which alternative viewpoints are discussed and assessed. (I talk to my colleagues in the department who assert that lectures are the staple of the curriculum and the problem lies with this year’s cohort of students who are not as able as previous cohorts. I am comforted but not entirely convinced by this explanation, so seek the advice of the staff development unit who introduce me to the concept of teaching as learning facilitation and suggest methods such as problem-based learning or experiential learning methods. I am quite shaken by this new way of thinking about teaching as it had never occurred to me before, but now it has been explained, it seems so obvious.)

6.      Assumptions and perspectives now need to be revised to make them more discriminating and justifiable. (I now see lectures in a completely different way and while not ready to jettison them completely, I do feel able to revisit each one to make sure it fulfils my new learning-facilitation approach. This is the ‘perspective transformation’ that Kember refers to.)

7.      The need to take action arising from the revised assumptions. (I am redesigning my courses to use lectures as spaces in which students become more actively involved in the topics I am presenting. I have been given so many suggestions by the staff development unit that I fear the result might be a mishmash of innovative techniques which are exciting in themselves but which, if put together without an underlying pedagogical rationale, will possibly do more harm than good and confuse the students.
I decide to focus on using the personal response system (PRS), an electronic device where students use handsets in the lecture theatre and can vote in answer to a number of questions I pose to them. Not only will students enjoy being actively involved in this way, the technique will give me an on-the-spot way of checking their understanding about certain concepts, which I can further explain if it appears they do not understand. I am also keen to see if the PRS system will have an effect on student attendance, my original problem, as well as what I hope will be a more long-term effect on improved understanding, leading to better exam performance.)

8.      The previous seven steps will build a sense of competence and self-confidence in our teaching role.
(I am wholly respectful of the way my colleagues teach, but no longer feel that I have to accept unquestioningly that doing things differently is not to be encouraged. I feel ready to be able to defend this point of view with some solid theoretical arguments as well as with some empirical evidence of the effects of my own experimentation with a new teaching method.)


I am really interested in these steps. Number 4 attracted my attention in particular. It's something I think about very regularly, both as I prepare my own classes, workshops, learning sessions, and as I think about what, for me, education is all about. I'm writing a book entitled Spirituality, Faith and Learning which is due to be published by Ashgate next year, and I'm including a discussion about the relationship between teacher, content and learner. I think there has traditionally been an upside-down pyramid with teacher and content lying at the two apexes at the top, and student at the bottom. Recently, that configuration has been challenged, and the pyramid has either been completely abandoned in favour of a circle in which all three components constantly circle and interact, or it has been rotated so that content and student lie along the top with teacher at the bottom. In this model, teacher, although expert, becomes a facilitator or guide rather than a transmitter of information and guardian of expertise. My own reading puts this into the category of a shift towards student-centred learning. I particularly like the paper on Student Centred Learning written by O'Neill and McMahon (2005), which is available here:  http://www.aishe.org/readings/2005-1/oneill-mcmahon-Tues_19th_Oct_SCL.html.

Oh dear. Is this going to be another paper that is incomprehensible to people outside the discipline (see my other blogpost for Aug 13th 09)? As always, comments welcome.




Feedback

Follow-up to Paper on the processes of reflection from Alison's blog

I tried something different with this paper. An MA participant and I were discussing the differences in writing at M-level in different disciplines. I thought he might find it useful to see how an academic paper in my discipline of education was composed, so I sent him a copy, suggesting he didn't focus too much on the content but looked at the style, structure, ways of composing and justifying an argument, and other aspects which I sensed would differ from his own disciplinary practice. A day later, to my amusement, dismay yet pleasure, I received the following feedback from him.

Dear Alison

Indeed questions do abound from paper, possibly more to do with content than structure however, as discussed at our meeting I am a big fan of complexity but the complexity you have introduced tends to mask the structure as I struggle with the domain specific jargon, and that's with a background in knowledge acquisition in a knowledge based engineering environment that spanned two universities as a research fellow, over a period of 6 years. So you got your own back on me there.

It's English but not as we know it, for instance I would have used in stead of your jargon:

Lacuna: "small gap"

Epistemology: "a branch of philosophy studying the nature of knowledge"

Existential: "human existence"

Selfhood: "unique identity"

Synchronically considered: "studying something at a point in time"

Diachronically: "the study of something through time"

Ontically Distinct: no idea I assume its ontologically distinct?

Internalisation: the adoption of others ideas

Objectivation: no idea what that means?

Dialectal: "linguistically"

Retrojected: something than is rejected in retrospect, I hazard a guess?

I am not sure how you can have a phenomenological meaningless experience when that is the study of conscious experience, and chow you can have a non acquiring knowledge experience unless of course you are lecturing 1st year students after a bad night at the student bar.

Alison I have abandoned this read at page five after spending 3 hours reading this, I am sorry but this is less fun than stabbing hot needles in my eyes. If this had been in plain English I might have enjoyed this, however the obverse was the case.


Hmmm. I have to take his point. The paper *is* 'specialist' and isn't written in 'plain English'. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all to make it available to him. Yet at the same time, his point is exactly mine: disciplines have their own way of expressing themselves. That includes language, style, structure, conventions such as referencing, arguing, going about the stuff of pushing the discipline further and advancing our understanding of it. It was maybe asking a bit much to thrust a full-blown academic paper at someone who hasn't got a background in the discipline... Lots of questions emerge.

  • What does this mean for academics from any discipline outside education who want to (or are required to) engage in post-graduate studies in education? How can we best introduce them to the conventions of the discipline? How far can we allow them to deviate from those conventions? Is it fair to expect them to pick them up almost by osmosis, having read what is often a comparatively small sample of the relevant literature?
  • Is the literature itself accessible to people from other disciplines? Although my paper was well into post-doc, professional researcher territory, so are a number of the books and papers we recommend that participants on our programmes (especially PCAPP) read and refer to. Indeed, this paper might well be included in a list of recommended texts.
  • I have other 'students' who recognise the challenges and who put a lot of effort into reading up on how to write a critically reflective essay, how to signpost, how to construct an argument, etc. But this is hugely time-consuming and they have to be extremely motivated to do this. Is there a quick way or a short cut? Probably not.

I shall go on reflecting and thinking, as well as discussing with participants about these issues. Any comments posted to this blog would be welcome!



August 03, 2009

Paper on the processes of reflection

At last my academic paper on the processes of reflection has come out! I'm really pleased about this paper. It's been published by the largest and most prestigious Journal in the field of (Adult) Education in the world! Wow. I think I'm saying something really significant and important in it, namely that there are other forms of reflection than the 'critical' which we in HE in the West put such great store on, and that how we reflect has a direct impact on the type of 'self' which we develop as we continue through our lives. So the importance of the paper extends well beyond the academic study of reflection; it has direct implications for society, civilisation, and, of course, HE practice, especially in the way in which we assess. In the paper I argue for a form of reflection which I call 'appreciative', taking the term and acknowledging the links with Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Although I haven't been able to explore this in the paper (so I shall pursue it in the next one...) it seems to me that we are very weak at engaging in Appreciative Reflection and suffer consequences of overly-great individualism and separation from our fellow human beings. Big claims. We are good in HE at formulating assessments which require students to demonstrate the ability to think critically. That is right and proper, and scholars such as Brookfield and Mezirow are spot on in insisting that this ability is crucial to our continuing growth and development. Nonetheless, I would argue that Appreciative reflection is equally important. We need to be able to see value in things, in ourselves and in others. We need to be able to express our connections and connectivity, our understanding of what is good and beautiful, our appreciation of their value. We are used to formulating Learning Outcomes which include the ability to critically evaluate, to critically compare and contrast, etc.. I wonder whether the key words for Appreciative reflection are insight and illumination. For Appreciative reflection, we dig deeper, we go profoundly into something to discover new aspects about it which we hadn't realised. We see it differently, with new eyes, appreciating even more what it contributes to our lives and to our understanding of our world. I am exploring in my thinking whether illumination and insight might not even be ways in which originality and innovation can be enhanced and indeed cultivated. Watch this space for further thoughts and publications...


For anyone who's interested, the paper can be accessed here:

http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/blogbuilder/admin/adminFiles.spr?blog=094d7399223072b5012254d5ca2d1000

or if it can't, get hold of it through the publisher's website. Full bibliographic details are:

Le Cornu, Alison, 'Meaning, Internalization, and Externalization: Toward a Fuller Understanding of the Process of Reflection and Its Role in the Construction of the Self', Adult Education Quarterly, 2009, Volume 59, issue 4, pp. 279-297.


Assessment Practice and Strategies web ad


August 3rd 09

Last week I worked on the advertisement for the PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies'. It will provide the general information about the workshop that potential participants will see when they first start looking for information on the LDC website, so it is important that I compose something appealing. It's also important that it reflects transparently what the workshop is aiming to achieve and the way it will be conducted.

With my developing desire that these workshops should be highly reflective, I am concerned that this web ad communicates this. Composing it was an interesting exercise. The first issue which it raised was what the role of the content of the workshop was, and therefore what the purpose of the workshop was. So I grappled with questions such as:

  • Is this really a session in which I plan to transmit a fair bit of information about assessment practice and strategies to the participants?
  • Is that the primary goal of the session?
  • Clearly one of the purposes of the session must be to transmit information, since this is important and relevant, but can I do this in a way in which reflection is also fostered and engaged in?

It seemed to me that I needed to bring in an additional dimension but without sacrificing the content completely. Content and reflection on content and practice needed to walk hand in hand, but in many ways the reflection needed to have the upper hand. A number of participants at these workshops have had relevant experience in designing assessment tasks with their students and one of the things I wanted to do was to respect this, to treat all participants as adults by not simply expecting them to sit behind desks (feeling diminished?) and dutifully take notes about something they were already familiar with. Instead, I wanted to capitalise on their experience, hopefully getting them to share it with others who either had less experience or whose backgrounds (especially those from abroad) meant that they really needed the introduction and the content. But even this is not enough: for those with this type of relevant experience, I wanted to develop their ability to reflect and evaluate on their previous and present practice, with a view to enhancing it in the future. In short, I wanted to develop reflective practitioners, and potentially a community of reflective practitioners.

I decided to state that in the web ad. In response to the prompt, 'What for will the workshop take?', I wrote the following.

The workshop will focus on a range of issues relating to assessment. Although it will introduce material derived from the scholarship of teaching and learning, its primary emphasis is on developing reflective practitioners. You should come prepared to discuss and evaluate aspects of your practice through dialogue with others and engagement with educational theory and research, with a view to developing your thinking in this area.

I hoped that this outline appropriately highlighted the fact that participants would be introduced to content and some of the relevant scholarship on assessment that needs to inform their practice, while at the same time emphasised that this content in some way took the form of a tool rather than an end in its own right.

The learning outcomes were a further challenge. I tried to compose LOs which prioritised the reflective aspect of what I wanted to achieve, but to my dismay, everything that I put on paper sounded rather weak. I realised at that point that 'reflection' can sound insipid, worryingly empty, and hence unattractive, especially for colleagues whose subjects are very content-focused. I came face-to-face, again, with the realisation that so much of my subject discipline, education, is about process. How to communicate that in such a way that participants can grasp what I'm getting at? Maybe this blog is one way in which I'm addressing that... In the end, I opted for a longer list of LOs which had a mix of content- and process-focused goals, as follows:

By the end of the workshop you will:

·        Be able to state the major reasons why good assessment practice is crucial within Higher Education and compare this thinking with your own practice

·        Have engaged with current thinking about how to ensure good quality, and appropriate, assessment

·        Be able to identify a range of methods of assessment and associate these with desired types of learning

·        Have reflected on your own practice through interaction with peers and educational theory

·        If appropriate, have formulated ideas about how to enhance and improve the assessment methods you currently employ

·        Have reflected on and internalised the session as a whole so that your future practice is enhanced and you have developed the skills of a reflective practitioner

As I progressed, I realised that the emphasis (and addition) of reflection into the normal 3-hr workshop would have a major impact on time, and therefore on the amount of content that could be introduced or 'covered'. Another challenge! My concern to treat participants as adults resurfaced, and I decided the only way forward was to suggest that they did some prior reading. Glasgow University's equivalent to the LDC offers a good self-study course on assessment, and Brookes's CETL, the Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe), has made a relevant Position Paper available on the web. I couldn't be sure that people would read either (everyone must be familiar with that difficulty!) but if some did, then once again it would give them material to work with during the session as well as a resource to turn to afterwards.

The full web ad can be found here:

http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/blogbuilder/admin/adminFiles.spr?blog=094d7399223072b5012254d5ca2d1000

It's just a draft at the moment. Please feel free to comment!


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