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July 14, 2010

The reflective teacher

I have been refreshing my memory of John Bigg's book, Teaching for Quality Learning at University (2003, 2nd edition). I always find it helpful to copy out some of the content which I find most useful, thought-provoking, stimulating, etc. Below are some of the aspects I have picked out in relation to reflective practice.

Biggs, John, Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 2nd edition, Maidenhead: SRHE and Open University Press, 2003.

P20. The 3P model draws attention to three sources that might affect the learning outcome: a direct effect from the student-based factors, another direct effect from the teaching-based factors, and an interactive effect from the system as a whole. Each of these ways of determining learning forms a theory of how teaching works.

  1. Learning is a function of individual differences between students.

  2. Learning is a function of teaching.

  3. Learning is the result of students’ learning-focused activities which are engaged by students as a result both of their own perceptions and inputs, and of the total teaching context.

These different ‘theories’ of teaching are in order of complexity and sophistication, and so we refer to them as ‘levels’. They include what others call intentions or conceptions (Trigwell and Prosser 1996).

Teachers tend to hold these theories at different points in their teaching career, some progressing to level 3, others staying at levels 1 or 2. They describe a sequence in the development of teaching skill: a route map towards reflective teaching, if you like, where the level at which you operate depends on what you focus on as most important.

P20/21

Level 1. Focus: what the student is

At level 1, teaching is held constant—it is transmitting information, usually by lecturing—so differences in learning are due to differences between students in ability, motivation, what sort of school they went to. Ability is usually seen as the most important factor.

Level 2. Focus: what the teacher does

This view of teaching is still based on transmission, but of concepts and understandings not jus of information. The responsibility for ‘getting it across’ now rests to a significant extent on what the teacher does. The possibility is entertained that there may be more effective ways of teaching than what one is currently doing. Learning is seen as more a function of what the teacher is doing than of what sort of student one has to deal with.

Level 3. Focus: what the student does.

Teachers at level 3 focus on all the components in the systems, in particular on what the student does at process and product, and how that relates to teaching. Level 3 sees teaching as supporting learning. No longer is it possible to say: ‘I taught them, but they didn’t learn.’ Expert teaching includes mastery over a variety of teaching techniques, but unless learning takes place, they are irrelevant: the focus is on what the student does, on what learning is or is not going on.

P251

A reflective teacher starts with three important components:

  1. Experience. You cannot reflect on a blank slate.

  2. Deep content knowledge. You cannot teach effectively if you don’t know your subject content very well indeed.

  3. A level 3 theory of teaching. As a level 3 teacher you say: ‘Why aren’t they learning? How can I get them to be relevantly active? That is the sort of theory we want here, one that focuses on what the student does. This is a cyclical process; you keep looking at what they do, what they achieve, and link that with what you are doing. You get to know your students as learners very well.

There are several outcomes:

  1. Teaching is enhanced, eventually. You may need several goes at the problem.

  2. Experience is enriched. Each go at the problem adds to your store of experiences

  3. The teaching theory is enriched. Using the theory in action makes you realize which aspects of the theory work and which do not.

P252.

There are three questions that the teacher, to be reflective, needs to ask:

  1. What is my espoused theory of teaching?

  2. Is my current practice in keeping with my theory? How can my theory help me teach more effectively?

  3. What, within myself or in my context, is preventing me from teaching the way I should be teaching?

P252.

We are back at the two faces of good teaching:

  1. Promoting those factors that support the deep approach, which we now know to be about getting students to be relevantly active, and constructive alignment is a good way of doing that.

  2. Eliminating those factors that support the surface approach, which were discussed in Chapter 4.

P252.

Further steps. We will use an action learning structure to define and then attack your problem.

  1. Defining the problem. … The issue is what the students are doing: are they doing what you don’t want them to do, or not doing what you do want them to do?
    So the first step is to reflect on the problem, using the constructive alignment theory in Chapter 2, which addresses both students’ learning behaviour, and the design of your teaching. Examine your problem in these terms, hypothesize as to the possible reasons for it, and possible solutions. The process can be made much easier with the help of a ‘critical friend; (see below).

  2. Implementing a change

  3. Monitoring the change
    Before putting the change into effect, you need to decide how you are going to make sure that what you are proposing to do will be effective. It is necessary to observe systematically what is going on, to know where you and/or the student behaviour started from, and where it ends up after the change has been implemented.

  4. Fine tuning.
    Action learning recycles: you try something, see if it works, then try again with a slight variation. You will be unlikely to get something as complex as teaching right first time, so it is a matter of looking back over your observations, after you have implemented the change you had decided to make, and see how things are going. Did matters improve? If not, or if not enough, what might have been the problem?

  5. The role of critical friend
    Reflection is often not best carried out alone. You have been living with the problem possibly for some time and may be the last person to find out about it.

I like Biggs' general approach, although sometimes I find him a little sweeping and over enthusiastic in the presentation of his position and views. He bases a lot of his argument on Marton and Saljo's notion of Deep and Surface level learning, which again I have a lot of respect for and, indeed, have turned to and used in my own publications (see elsewhere in this blog). However, I am surprised that Biggs appears to dismiss surface level learning altogether. It seems to me that both are important, and that Deep learning on its own, while almost certainly of a greater 'quality', however one would like to define that, is inadequate. We need to have a grasp of content, to be able to remember facts and figures, to store information and knowledge, and be able to reproduce it. The risk with a Deep approach to teaching and learning that Biggs advocates is that we sacrifice this dimension, or at least downplay it to the point of it no longer playing the role it should. I would favour an approach which emphasises both dimensions. (As I write this, I am reminded of a paper I think Biggs himself wrote about the 'Brainy Asian'. In it, he reported on a research project he and others had conducted which investigated why it was that a small group of Chinese learners appeared to do much better academically and intellectually than both their peers and most Westerners. His interest was spurred by the fact that Chinese education was principally by rote learning (and therefore tended to foster a surface approach to learning) while Western education systems valued and practised learning from experience and reflection (fostering a deep 'meaningful' approach). The 'Brainy Asians' somehow managed to bring both approaches together with the result that they were far better learners and developed in an exceptional manner. How ironic that this message doesn't come through in his book, even though he does explore aspects of it in his chapter on Teaching International Students! Unless, of course, I've got it wrong somewhere...)

Secondly, although I think I concur with Biggs' statement that experience is indispensible to the process of reflection, it does beg the question of what that means for new and inexperienced teachers and lecturers. I suppose everyone has the experience of being at the 'learning' end of the teacher-learner relationship and so has that experience to draw on, but I really can't agree with the implication of his assertion for 'beginners'.

I guess I would place myself as a Level 3 teacher, in Biggs' hierarchy. I am very much a facilitator, someone who does focus on what the student does, yet I am aware too of weaknesses that I want to strengthen. Maybe my comments about surface learning relate to these, since I don't have a good memory, can find it hard to recall facts and content, and can be unconfident about my 'deep knowledge' of the subject matter (although in reality that is not the case). For me, the biggest challenge to come out of this reading is Biggs' assertion that teachers need to be:

...clear about:

1. What it means to 'understand' content in the way we want it to be understood';

2. What kind of teaching/learning activities are required to reach those kinds of understandings.

Now I have a lot to go and reflect on!


July 07, 2010

New idea

Follow-up to PCAPP Assessment Practice and Strategies workshop, June 24th; post–workshop reflection from Alison's blog

I have continued to ponder on this session in the couple of weeks since it took place. I have been wrestling with the fact that such a great variety of needs, expectations, preferences, subject disciplines, backgrounds, nationalities, ages... are generally represented in these workshops that it is a huge challenge to get positive feedback from everyone and indeed, a huge challenge to organise a session in which everyone will benefit to the maximum for themselves. Yet this is a challenge I want to rise to and I'm not content simply to shrug my shoulders and say 'Win some, lose some', or 'I can't please everyone'.

I recently did a Return to Teaching course organised by the Training and Development Agency. It's a course intended to get erstwhile but qualified school teachers back into the classroom after a lengthy period out. It attracts women who want to get back to teaching after raising their children, people seeking to return to the classroom after redundancy, or a career break, or various other things. I found it really useful. One complete morning was spent on 'differentiation'. Geoff Petty (http://www.geoffpetty.com/differentiation.html) states that:

Differentiation is the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning. We used to teach subjects and classes - now we teach students.

I was intrigued and inspired by some of the ways in which some of the teachers I observed managed to keep all the children in their classes motivated and stretched, often without having to put significant extra effort in, or providing a huge number of additional resources.

I wonder whether the same idea could, even should, be applied to PCAPP. Can I 'differentiate' between the participants so that all of them are stretched and motivated, learning the maximum they can by attending the session. It's a tall order, and I need to do quite a lot more reading about differentiation in order to see what I might be able to put into place.

One idea that I am playing with now, though, is the idea of using Problem Based Learning PBL) for my Assessment session. Wikipedia actually provides quite a good introductory summary to PBL, as follows:

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered instructional strategy in which students collaboratively solve problems and reflect on their experiences. It was pioneered and used extensively at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada as well as the Monterrey Institute of Technology ITESM. The Materials department at Queen Mary, University of London was the first Materials department in the UK to introduce PBL.[1]

PBL is based on the educational theories of Vygotsky, Dewey, and others, and is related to social-cultural constructivist theories of learning and instructional design.

Characteristics of PBL are:

  • Learning is driven by challenging, open-ended, ill-defined and ill-structured, practical problems.

  • Students generally work in collaborative groups. Problem based learning environments may be designed for individual learning.

  • Teachers take on the role as "facilitators" of learning.

  • Instructional activities are based on learning strategies involving semantic reasoning, case based reasoning, analogical reasoning, causal reasoning, and inquiry reasoning, These activities include creating stories; reasoning about cases; concept mapping; causal mapping; cognitive hypertext crisscrossing; reason analysis unredoing; analogy making; and question generating;

In PBL, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their group and organize and direct the learning process with support from a tutor or instructor. Advocates of PBL claim it can be used to enhance content knowledge and foster the development of communication, problem-solving, and self-directed learning skill.

PBL positions students in simulated real world working and professional contexts which involve policy, process, and ethical problems that will need to be understood and resolved to some outcome. By working through a combination of learning strategies to discover the nature of a problem, understanding the constraints and options to its resolution, defining the input variables, and understanding the viewpoints involved, students learn to negotiate the complex sociological nature of the problem and how competing resolutions may inform decision-making.

Support systems, which include resources germane to the problem domain as well as instructional staff, are provided to scaffold students skills "just in time" and within their learning comfort zone (Vygotsky's Zone of Proximity)

Could I adopt a PBL approach for my workshop? How would it work... I would need to think about how to set up the problem itself, or probably have two or three problems so that participants do actually encounter thinking about a range of assessment-related issues. But it would mean that those who prefer a more formal 'lecture-style' session could possibly get that through video-casts, podcasts, and even a specialist lecturer who comes in for a short time; while others could get immersed in group work, finding the answer to their problem through engagement with a diverse range of resources that I could provide, including myself. Something to think about. If anyone has an observation or comment, please do contribute!


June 25, 2010

PCAPP Assessment Practice and Strategies workshop, June 24th; post–workshop reflection

Follow-up to PCAPP workshop, Curriculum and Course Design, June 24th 2010 from Alison's blog

There are various things to comment on about this workshop. I shall start with the participants' feedback.

  • The most useful aspect that was almost unanimously identified was the discussion with peers throughout the session but particularly in the last part which made use of the clickers in a whole-group setting.
  • The clickers were generally liked, although one participant felt the activity had gone on too long and that more specific input about how to use them for increased interaction would have been useful.
  • The opening activity where participants circulated and initialed the sheets with a variety of assessment methods on was liked, but a number of people felt it should have been built on and developed.
  • The Deliberations website was appreciated and a number said they would refer to it again after the workshop.
  • The areas not covered in the workshop which they would like to have been addressed were:
  • More practical examples, and discussion of how to use the more unusual examples
  • How to design questions for exams and essays
  • Which assessment methods are appropriate for assessing what kind of knowledge
  • More practical ideas of how to improve assessment
  • Too much articulated consideration of the teaching method I had adopted (which also overlapped with the morning Exploring Course Design session)

It was also clear that the workshop had not met the needs of one participant who stated that he/she had found 'nothing' ('nil') the most useful, and that the session had 'not been his/her expectation at all, sorry'. Oh dear... But how disappointing not to get any constructive feedback to accompany this observation.

I was specifically interested and appreciative to receive feedback about the Deliberations exercise since that had been my experiment that I was unsure about. My own experience of it had been mixed as I moved between the groups. (Interestingly, everyone chose to work in a group and no one opted for an individual laptop.) I think I had done well to design a series of questions to direct and give a purpose to the reading but the questions also seemed to be a bit of a hindrance. There were probably too many (something confirmed in a conversation with a participant at the end) so on a future occasion I need to cut them down to two or three. Some groups seemed to feel pressured to find the answers in the time allowed (whoops, inadvertently, I slipped into the 'surface learning' format), and some seemed to think it was very important to obey the task to the letter, looking for the answer to each question, when I think I had anticipated that they would use them as guides and prompts, skipping any they weren't particularly interested in and/or couldn't find the answer to quickly enough. So if I adopt this approach again I need to think about all these dimensions. Some of it can be easily addressed by clearer instructions at the beginning, of course.

I have done the individual assessment sheets that opened the session before, and have never really engaged with the participants' felt need to follow it up. I have received this feedback before. I must now give it some concrete thought. I wonder what would be most appropriate. Options include:

  • Asking the individuals who were the only ones to use a particular type to talk about it (if I do this activity early, might they feel intimidated?)
  • Link the activity to ways of evaluating assessment and to constructive alignment, finding some way of equipping people to do this for themselves (an important and relevant skill for their own practice, in fact)
  • What else??? I will go on thinking...

Lastly, I wonder if I do try to articulate my own thinking about the session structure and pedagogy too much. Maybe I overdid it, especially for those who had attended the morning workshop. However, I think it is important, especially in a PCAPP context, for participants to engage not only with the focus of the specific content, but also the 'how' of the workshop. After all, that's what we're asking them to do in their own practice, and I want to explore how that might be modelled, especially for those for whom it doesn't come naturally. More to think about.

The clickers seemed to work well, and I liked the opportunity to refresh my own use of them. I think I need to work at thinking how they can be made to work harder in my workshops.


PCAPP Exploring Course Design June 4th; post–workshop reflection

Follow-up to PCAPP workshop, Curriculum and Course Design, June 24th 2010 from Alison's blog

Teaching is a funny business! I had somewhat naively anticipated that because my approach and structure to this workshop had been successful the last time I ran it, it would be equally successful this time. It was different, which of course is to be expected simply because the participants were different, but some parts, most notably the mind map exercise was less successful. Only 7 of the 9 people registered turned up, so I divided the class into 2 groups rather than 3, one of which found the mind map activity easier and more fruitful than the other. Feedback confirmed that it hadn't scratched where all of them were itching, with some identifying it as the 'least useful' aspect of the workshop. Others, however, indicated that it had been the 'most useful', so I suspect this was as much a case of group dynamics and, in one case, an articulated dislike of groupwork as a teaching method. However, there was also the comment that 'there was not enough knowledge in the group to be able to do this exercise, especially re policy', which I need to think about for future occasions. The experience has not put me off doing the activity again, but next time I might try to prepare a more formal approach to offer alongside the mindmap, offering participants the choice of which they would prefer to do. I am reminded of the 'differentiated' teaching I needed to incorporate into school classrooms when doing my Return to Teaching course, catering for people of different levels, as well as the need to meet a variety of learning styles.

The discrepancy between the expectations and learning styles of individual participants was also evident when it came to the design of a hypothetical module. One participant stated 'The workshop-based construction of a hypothetical new module was excellent. This is the best way (for me) to understand some of the issues involved. I especially liked and appreciated the feedback at the end from everyone else. I think more time for this would be appropriate (as a % of the session)', while another wrote: 'I don't find 'unreal' examples useful in workshops'. I had suggested that the groups might like to focus on PCAPP itself as the one common denominator between them, and also as a 'real' example rather than hypothetical, and one group took that option up. However, on a future occasion I might actually take a PCAPP (or other) module descriptor in and ask participants to choose between constructing a hypothetical module, or critiquing a real life one. That might meet the variety of likes and dislikes better. In general, the practical module design was given the thumbs up, with most participants citing it, and Katherine Gray's input and feedback, as the 'most useful' part of the workshop.

Feedback apart, my own experience of the workshop was positive, and I appreciated the willingness of participants to throw themselves into activities which needed them to do that, or things would have fallen pretty flat. I have a developing awareness of the fact that I adopt a high-risk approach, and perhaps need to develop some specific risk-management strategies. I think differentiated learning activities might be a useful thing to explore, although it's quite demanding both in preparation and in execution. I like the idea of the challenge, though, and maybe this will provide me with my next 'innovation' to try out in the Teaching Grid, hence honouring the spirit of the TG.


June 23, 2010

PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies' June 24th 2010: pre–workshop reflection

I have completely transformed this workshop following the last time I ran it when I felt that I had provided too little content for participants to engage with and reflect on. (For my pre- and post-workshop blog reflection, please see: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/alisonlecornu/entry/pcapp_workshop_assessment/) How to provide content in an appropriate, stimulating, motivating yet appropriate way is my big challenge of the moment. It is, I think, the biggest challenge that relates to my having adopted a largely reflective approach that invites participants to contribute their own experience. While all the feedback to my sessions indicates that this is a welcome approach which participants find effective and 'dignified' (they don't feel like students!), I am aware that many, even most, actually do come wanting to leave having learnt something concrete that they can take away and put into practice. While this can, of course, come from their peers (and is often all the richer for that), I also sense a desire for the 'expert' to convey what contemporary scholarship considers important and convey too what some of the principles of good practice are.

My challenge is that in general I have experienced quite a strong resistance to the approach which means I, as the expert, prepare a powerpoint presentation and stand or sit in front of the class and deliver it. Even if (as I always would) I built in plenty of opportunity for discussion, group work, etc., there still seemed to be a sense of resentment that (I think) may have been linked with the fact that this approach finds it very difficult to adapt if someone comes with significant experience and feels they are being talked down to. The PCAPP context is unlike most teaching situations, since although there is some continuity of participants (we see most people for all 10 obligatory workshops) there is no continuity of content and it is impossible for those of us in the LDC to ascertain in a meaningful way who will benefit from what degree of input at what level, and equally impossible for us to know who comes with what level of experience.

So I changed my approach to a primarily participant-driven model, structuring my sessions in such a way that participants' experience provides a significant degree of content, but I am left with the above conundrum!

For this session, I have done something quite different, and I have designed the workshop around the Deliberations website hosted at London Met University. There are some excellent resources there on Assessment, and the advantage of using the website in the session is that I am introducing participants to a really useful resource that I hope they will get to know well enough to be able to refer to in their subsequent practice. It also means they hear new and different voices to my own, as well as being provided with and having the opportunity to engage with a good degree of content. My decision to use the website provoked new challenges, though. Does the Teaching Grid have enough PCs for each participant to work alone? Do I want them to work alone? Can they work in pairs or small groups around a laptop? Some of the articles are quite long. Will they all read at the same speed? Do I (or they) want long periods of silence while everyone is reading? Will they consider this any better than listening to me with my powerpoint?! Would it be any better?!

I found a way forward through these questions by deciding to direct the participants' reading. I have prepared a short set of questions which are designed to focus on the most significant dimensions of the content, the answers to which they will need to find by surfing the site. The TG has promised about 12 laptops, which means the best course of action is almost certainly for people to work in pairs or small groups (there are 15 attending). I hope that by making the questions the focus of the activity, rather than the text, the reading will be more fun and less intense, allowing for discussion and conversation as they hunt for the information as well as once they've found it. There is a great paper on the site called 'Changing Assessment to Improve Learning'. It is the summary of an interactive keynote session led by Prof Phil Race at the 1st Northumbria Assessment Conference UK in 1996. However, it's very long, so I've decided to mimic the original session, using some of the questions Race used to initiate thought and discussion. In order to introduce some added value, I have prepared these using Clickers (hand held voting remote controls), so I will be asking participants to vote on a range of issues to do with assessment. This is the only paper from the website that I have photocopied so that once we have engaged with its content, small groups can go and discuss, comparing their own responses with those of the people who attended the original session.

Will it work? I can only try it and see. But that's what teaching is, evaluating my practice, seeing if I can find ways of addressing the issues that I think need(ed) attention and then evaluating again. Feedback from participants is therefore crucial. Hence this blog.


PCAPP workshop, Curriculum and Course Design, June 24th 2010

Writing about web page Pre-workshop reflection

The last time I ran this workshop the feedback was very positive. Some of it (together with my pre- and post-workshop reflections) is posted into this blog, so check back to my previous entry at: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/alisonlecornu/entry/pcapp_workshop_exploring/ if you're interested. For that reason, I think I will adopt a pretty similar approach for this session. My workshop plan is available here. Looking at the list of participants I see that there are 8 people attending, and with the exception of one person from Engineering, everyone else is from either the Business School or the Medical School. That has its pros and cons. One Pro will be that there will be there will be a 'critical mass' of people there to provide a common experience (although with the one exception) which might help address the frequent feedback that PCAPP workshops struggle to meet the specific needs of individual Schools and Departments. Another Pro might be that people come with friends and colleagues who are already known to them, and there is less need to ice-break. A Con, however, could be that the session becomes 'cliquey' if people from individual Schools band together. For that reason, I anticipate splitting the group up, although I will also go with the flow at the time. Close colleagues attending together has occasionally presented quite a challenge if there is a sense of reluctance to attend which is expressed in lack of cooperation or motivation. I have worked hard at finding ways of addressing this, many of which once again are recorded in this blog, and I have been gratified to have ever-increasing levels of enthusiasm during sessions. Roughly summarised, I have moved towards implementing a new approach which has been characterised by:

  • A move to the Teaching Grid which gives all sorts of 'added value' to sessions, including allowing participants to try out technologies such as Smart Boards, Clickers and Digital Imaging thingies(!!!). The TG also lessens the sense that people are coming to be 'instructed' and allows them to behave like adults, moving around the space without inhibition, helping themselves to coffee or tea when they would like, and generally owning the experience in a way that is far more difficult in a conventional classroom. This raises, for me, real questions about the use of space, and as I write I make a mental resolution to engage more with the work of the Reinvention Centre. How lucky we are at Warwick to have the Teaching Grid, Reinvention Centre, CAPITAL Centre, and so many more resources that contribute to excellence in teaching and learning.
  • A move away from adopting a 'formal instruction' approach towards a 'reflective practitioner' approach which embraces and makes use of participants' existing experience.
  • A willingness to make myself vulnerable in letting participants know that/if I am uncertain about an approach that I am going to adopt with them, and asking them to work with me and feed back so that we can all learn together.
  • The use of this blog in which I can record my own reflections and invite others to dialogue with me (thanks to those who have!)

There are, of course, challenges to this approach. The one I am most conscious of is how to ensure solid and appropriate content is communicated so that participants really do leave the session with an enhanced knowledge and understanding of the subject. I guess my response to that is (a) to make sure I am well prepared and can play the role of 'expert' if required; (b) to assume the role of facilitator who engages with the experience and content that individuals bring in the same way as other participants; (c) to continue working hard on finding ways of providing solid content which doesn't necessarily mean people simply sit and listen to me and watch a set of powerpoint slides! I have got quite a lot further to go in this area, and am trying out something new in my Assessment workshop which follows this one.

So this workshop will be highly interactive. I have tried to design it in such a way that I provide a structured framework that will allow participants' experience to play a significant role. I am, of course, dependent on their cooperation, and there may always be a time when my approach doesn't quite work for someone. However, my experience thus far suggests that for the majority this is a successful technique and I am looking forward to the session.



December 17, 2009

PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': post–workshop reflection

Follow-up to PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies': pre–workshop reflection from Alison's blog

I find reflecting on this workshop quite challenging. At one level it seemed to go reasonably well. 8 of the 10 people who had registered for it turned up, three of whom had attended the morning session on course design. There was a general mood of interest, engagement and cooperation and participants contributed well to the various activities I had organised. Discussion was focused and on task, and in general terms I think the learning outcomes for the session were achieved. Feedback too was good. All the participants indicated that the teaching and learning methods used had either been effective or very effective, with none ticking the 'neutral' box or below. There was a range of things which people indicated they had found effective, useful and would take away to use in their professional practice:

  • Discussion with others, sharing experience
  • Handouts that I can refer back to and which I will use to improve my essay and exam question composition
  • Good mixture of lecture and group work
  • Great mix of task types; kept me engaged and interested. Delivered mirrored principles.
  • Opportunity to reflect and focus on this aspect of my practice
  • Disseminate some of the information provided to colleagues
  • Small group work was very effective
  • ...

So what am I dubious about? One participant commented (correctly, I think) that 'the activities could have been a bit more challenging' and another said 'maybe we spent too long in our small groups discussing only one of the three issues'. That groupwork activity was probably the least successful dimension of the workshop and I need to revisit it. The intention was to provide content, but rather than transmit it from the front, to get the participants to engage with it on their own terms and then teach each other, but it needed more careful planning. I think I still consider the approach valid, but the way I constructed it didn't really gel.

I guess I feel therefore that I didn't really introduce the participants to some of the basic, and essential considerations when thinking about assessment. That's pretty crucial! Yet I also need to listen to that good feedback. I had deliberately designed the session in a way which acknowledged and took advantage of people's experience. Although some participants were relatively new to lecturing in HE, none of us gets through our national educational system without experiencing assessment from the other side of the fence, and all had something to contribute. My role therefore became one of guiding discussion, filtering in my expertise at appropriate points, and making sure that as far as possible people moved on in their 'informed' thinking about their practice.

I can probably leave it there. But my musings feed into my bigger questioning about how best to impart scholarly content in these workshops. I am beginning to explore the idea of a 15 to 20 min 'This is what scholars are saying' slot. PCAPP is a post-graduate certificate, and it is important that I do give participants content appropriate for that level. It becomes attractive to them too because it gives them a leg-up for their PCAPP assignments. I shall have to give that more thought.

Comments welcome!


ALeC to ES Dec 17th 09

Follow-up to ES to ALeC Dec 17th 09 from Alison's blog

Dear Eric,

I am delighted, once again, to hear from you. Please don’t worry about offending or upsetting me. You won’t, because I too can sense that you too are genuinely concerned to reflect and dialogue candidly and openly. Thank you.

I will need time to digest what you express, so won’t try to engage too much with the content of your email here and now. I am off on holiday tomorrow evening for the Christmas period and will appreciate the space to return to what you say and think it through. If I remember rightly, you were also articulating something of the same in the THES discussion. Instinctively I think you have an excellent point, although I equally instinctively want to respond by suggesting that reflection on teaching and one’s own role as an educator is equally as appropriate as reflecting on the learning that is taking place. Teaching and learning are partners in dialogue (that word again!) and I suppose I have exposed my reflection on my role in my blog and paid less attention to the learners’ learning primarily because I think I have a responsibility to self-examine, have experienced success in changing my practice resulting in better learning taking place, and in a public forum such as a blog I don’t want to second guess, perhaps erroneously, what is going on with my learners. That’s why I am so keen that they speak for themselves.

Your comments remind me of the position taken by Marton and Booth in their 1997 volume ‘Learning and Awareness’ where they argue very much for a study of the process of learning that begins with and focuses on the learners themselves, rather than on the internal/external interaction of teaching and learning. In a previous email you ask whether I am familiar with Rogers. Yes, of course, and Dewey, and many others to whom a student-centred approach to teaching and learning owes much. I agree that Rogers probably over eggs his pudding; Dewey too, undoubtedly, and many would consider that the thinking of these great educationalists had an adverse effect on British schools and schooling during the 60s and 70s. I come from a strong background in distance- and e-learning, together with 5 years of teaching English as a Foreign Language in Spain and France (with commensurate training and qualifications) and eventually did my PhD in Adult Education. I focused on how a particular subject discipline (theology) influences the way in which students learn.

I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting all our emails into my blog. Please do let me know if you are uncomfortable with that. I can easily edit every post.

I would be interested to hear more about you. Where are you based, and what is your background?

Best wishes

Alison


ES to ALeC Dec 17th 09

Follow-up to ALeC to ES Dec 15th 09 from Alison's blog

Dear Alison,

Many thanks for your recent e-mail. It was nice to hear from you.

First, and in reply to your question, I confirm that you are welcome to quote me in your blog. That comment also holds for this email if you so wish.

Second, your e-mail puts me into a dilemma. On the one hand, I warm to your candid and open manner. But, on the other hand, your manner tends to encourage a more than usually honest response, and I fear that you might find my response annoying, condescending, offensive, upsetting or absurd. On reflection - or perhaps it is something else - I think I will choose the latter option, because I sense that you may well find my response absurd.

I have read your email several times, and it strengthens my impression that you are deeply and honestly concerned with your teaching, and its effects on your students. But I believe that there is also a fundamental and very common error in the position that you take. Perhaps I might be permitted to try to convey what I have in mind with an analogy. I believe that the approach that you - and, in my experience, most educationalists - take, is like a person who wishes to understand the movement of tides and does so by measuring the salinity of the water.

I write like this because it appears from almost everything you have written that your focus is on teaching, and I believe that such a focus is at best on a secondary matter, and more often than not deeply misleading. I believe that the latter is the case because only a moment of reflection indicates that teaching has the aim of fostering learning; and, if that is the case, teaching is merely a tool towards encouraging a far larger aim, namely, learning. And if that is the case, it follows that a teacher’s focus should be on learning. It then further follows that a focus on teaching - understandable in egocentric terms - tends to blind a teacher to implications of the foregoing simple facts.

I have also found that when teachers begin to focus on learning, many of their concerns about their teaching diminish. It is as if, when one focuses on learning, teaching takes care of itself. Or I could say that I have found that, when teachers focus on learning, their concerns tend to change almost radically.

For example, as there is no serious difference between studying learning and studying physiology - or any other mental process, and indeed any other subject - concerns about not being condescending tend to be no stronger in the teaching of teaching that in the teaching of any other discipline. In the same way, the problem of imparting knowledge in a non-didactic manner becomes a problem in the teaching of all disciplines, especially factual ones. And perhaps most important of all, one's focus shifts from what one is doing, to what one's students are doing; and when that happens, one begins to see that much of the talk about being a reflective practitioner is generated by what happens to be fashionable, - as is so often the case in education.

At risk of sounding fanciful, I'll add that I believe that a preoccupation with being ‘a reflective practitioner’ is also, to a considerable extent, one more manifestation of the cult of the individual that is endemic in the West. From such a perspective, one might also see that a concern with being a reflective practitioner can slide very easily and very often into self-indulgence.

I've done my best to express my position as briefly and simply as I can, and past experience suggests that I am very unlikely to have been persuasive. And it is of course also the case that I may well be wrong.

Lastly, I very much hope that you sense that I do not write in order to criticise you. That is not remotely my intention. On the contrary. As I've noted, I much admire your candour, and I have largely written as I have in response to this.

   With very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,

       Eric


ALeC to ES Dec 15th 09

Follow-up to Dialogue with Sotto from Alison's blog

I replied:

Dear Eric,

I am delighted to hear from you and very honoured to receive feedback. Thank you. My first inclination was to copy and paste some, if not all of your comments, into my blog, and if you choose not to do that yourself, may I ask your permission to do so? Your points are entirely pertinent, although I would like clarification about point (2). I also hope you noticed that while I 'accused' you (respectfully, in intention, if not conveyed adequately in tone) of having been 'verbose', I also recognised and affirmed your correct, perceptive and valid comments on the THES blog. Your contribution was vital and significant.

You are entirely correct about the role of teaching and communicating content (point 1). It is something I reflect on vigorously and am hugely aware of my discomfort in this area. I am constantly wrestling to find what I consider an adequate balance as well as appropriate means of informing the people who attend my workshops and courses about the scholarship of teaching and learning; it is something which I was working on this very afternoon as I led a workshop on Assessment Practice and Strategies and I came away dissatisfied with the approach I had taken. I have committed myself to writing a pre-workshop blogpost and then a post-workshop blogpost, so will be writing on that within the next day or two.

Thank you too for the encouragement to keep on posting. My aim is to model reflective practice, despite the fact that I may not model it perfectly. It is the prime way that I have chosen to handle the lived-out behaviour that was articulated in writing in the THES paper. I hope that participants will read my pre- and post-session reflections and understand so much more not only about how I decide to impart content, but also about classroom management, and hence how my pedagogy is consciously designed to meet a whole variety of needs. It's early days, but so far so good; behaviour in my sessions has improved enormously and feedback is excellent. The next step is to get participants themselves to contribute to the blog. The first did so today! So I hope to construct a bigger community of reflective practitioners...

Here am I being verbose in my turn: your point exactly! Ah well...

With very best wishes

Alison


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