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August 13, 2009


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:

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.

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