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December 17, 2009

Dialogue with Sotto

This blog has attracted the attention of Eric Sotto, a respected and experienced educational developer and author. I feel privileged to engage in dialogue with him. He has given permission for me to copy our email correspondence into the blog.

He first wrote me with the following email:

Dear Alison,

I've just come across your blog, and thought you might like to have a few general responses.

1) Much of what you write is on how to avoid a conventional teacher/student situation, and the allied question of how to encourage a collaborative atmosphere in a classroom in which everyone feels inclined to participate. I warm to such wishes, but believe that you omit a consideration of something essential. This is that learning is not only a matter of debating, but also a matter of taking in factual information. Although I did not read all the earlier entries in your blog, I did not find any consideration of this essential matter. In short, how are factual matters, and especially the matter of scholarly evidence, to be brought to the attention of students in a non-didactic manner?

2) Your entries strongly convey that you not only believe in but also practice honest reflection. It also so happens that I am personally strongly attracted to such a quality. However, it seems to me that your focus on honest reflection eventually results in the neglect of an attempt also to view the matter under consideration in as objective a manner as is possible. Indeed, I note with respect and affection that your focus on honest reflection sometimes leads to what a critical person might consider self-indulgence.

3) You often mention student centred learning, but I have the impression - it can be no more - that you are not closely acquainted with the originator, Carl Rogers, of this notion. Among other things, the position that Rogers advocates is at odds with the requirement for knowledge to be assessed by objective criteria; and his focus is so completely on the individual, that he tends to ignore the needs of a community.

4) I thought your comments on what I sought to do in that debate posted in the THE plain unkind. My first responses were, I believe, succinct, but I had so much flak and rubbish thrown at me by the great majority of participants that I thought I must respond as best as I can. I also believe that in your blog you are often guilty of that of which you accuse me. But this item is of course not very important.

5) Lastly, I do hope you will continue to express your concerns on this matter of teaching and learning! The topic is of course very important.

Kind regards, Eric Sotto

December 15, 2009

PCAPP Exploring Course Design workshop: post session reflection

Follow-up to PCAPP workshop: Exploring Course Design (pre session reflection) from Alison's blog

I was pleased with this workshop, although (predictably perhaps) it didnt go entirely according to plan. The mindmap activity took longer than I'd anticipated, but I realised as I circulated around the three groups that they were achieving exactly the purpose(s) I'd intended: it was proving an effective way of enabling us all to map the terrain and to benefit from the experience of all attending; it immediately put the whole group into 'collaborative' mode, setting the scene for the rest of the session; it engendered discussion about why people had included certain aspects and placed them were they had, when other groups had done something different (a very fruitful discussion since participants then started to dig deeper into issues of course and module design); and it was a good way of getting participants to get to know each other relatively quickly.

Using the Smart boards was less successful! For a previous workshop this had been a definite 'value added' aspect of the session. Lots of boys enjoyed playing with lots of toys! (Sorry chaps, am I being sexist?!) However, this time round the groups generally found the Smart boards more of a distraction than an attraction and before two long two of the three had abandoned their use in favour of flip chart and conventional whiteboard. I could entirely understand why, since the tablet gave too small a writing area for a mindmap, and one of the two others seemed really tricky to write on legibly. A lesson for me here: I don't use these Smart boards regularly and although I had a good hour (plus) playing with them a few months ago and getting to know some of their features, I had forgotten how to get them to do basic things like convert writing to typed fonts, or turn over a page. Had I had that information at my finger tips I might have been able to make the experience of using them more straightforward.

I often wrestle with how to balance my desire for sessions to be interactive and participative with the need for input of content and giving participants something meaty to chew on. In this workshop, the mindmaps did seem to meet that need, and it was augmented by Jenny Hughes's contribution which a) provided us all with an authoritative source of important and relevant information, and b) offered the opportunity for questions at a later point in the session. I think Jenny achieved just the right balance too between showing people where they could go to find information and highlighting aspects that were particularly relevant.

The practical application worked well, and each of the three groups quickly and effectively understood the task and went into action. Some excellent and well-thought-through examples of constructive alignment were developed.

I think I achieved what I wanted to achieve, therefore. I wonder whether I should consider designing some sort of way of testing that, but I guess that would be unpopular! But my sense following the workshop was that we had done what we could in 3 hours: introducing participants to the major aspects that needed to be taken into consideration, allowing plenty of space for contributions and questions, giving the opportunity for practical application, and generally equipping those attending with information and skills necessary to enhance their practice in the future. I hope I also achieved some of my deeper-level goals, modelling ways of teaching and facilitating sessions that might have been new, and engaging in reflective practice.

Participant feedback and comments from evaluation sheets

Feedback from the group was good, although with the predictable mix of preferences. Some would have liked more direct input, some even less; some found the contribution about the university's regulations the most useful part of the workshop, some the least. All found the teaching and learning methods either neutral (2 responses), effective (5 responses) or very effective (2 responses). The feedback comments included:

I just wanted to say thanks for today's workshop, it was the most useful and enjoyable pcapp workshop that I've been to!  Lots of useful information and it was really great to have Jenny there to answer the specific details.  This made our learning very tangible.

There was a lot of reflection and group work. I would have preferred this to have been integrated with some stand alone teaching eg via powerpoint.

I really enjoyed the mind-map / group activity. Very effective model.

I take the second comment seriously. It is something I have to work at thinking through. I shall start a new blogpost thread.

What would I do differently next time? I would re-think the use of the Smart boards. I will think through whether a more focused 'content delivery' would be appropriate, and if so, how I can do that without abandoning or upsetting some of the other more reflective dimensions of the workshop. That's a good challenge I relish getting my teeth into!

December 11, 2009

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

As I've planned this workshop (see outline here) I've become increasingly aware of how dependent I am on the participants wanting to contribute and being prepared to engage and discuss. Without that, the whole thing will fall on its face! Unlike the Course Design workshop, however, I think I can assume that all the participants have experience both of being assessed and of setting assessments. So I think it will be crucial to take advantage of that bank of resource(s) and fully acknowledge that experience right at the start. That's one of the reasons why I've begun the workshop by asking participants to circulate round the whole Teaching Grid space and to initial each of the A4 sheets which outlines a form of assessment they use in their discipline. The point of that is not only to value their experience, but also to demonstrate to them that there are many types of assessment, some of which they may not have come across but which may well be routinely used in another discipline. I did the same exercise the last time I ran this workshop, but not at the beginning, and I was poor at following it up with the result that all the richness was not made available to everyone. This time I'm using it to kick the workshop off and it will lead immediately into a time of discussion. This will focus on questions such as, 'Why are different types of assessment used?', 'What's the difference, from a learning perspective, between an exam and an essay?', 'How do we evaluate the quality of essays?', and the more personal 'What assessment practices are you particularly proud of?' and 'What have you struggled with?'. If participants (I think about 9 of them) are unwilling to speak in front of the whole group I will divide them into smaller groups and have a feedback session after. I will follow that up by brainstorming the times when we need to be able to evaluate assessment practice (and hence introduce the need for this workshop), introducing occasions such as external examining, being an external member on a validation committee, following best practice for marking procedures, and responding to student feedback.

From there I want to go into some of the meat of the session, eliciting from the participants some of the key considerations when assessing. For me, those key considerations are:

  • Constructive alignment
  • Formative and summative assessment
  • Good practice when designing assessment tasks and activities
  • Responding to student feedback.

There may be more that I need to add as I go on reading and reflecting.

I am keen to avoid as much as possible asking participants simply to sit and listen. For one thing it doesn't cohere with my understanding of how people learn best; for another, feedback (spoken, written, and in body language) has indicated that this is rarely appreciated in the context of PCAPP. So how can I 'deliver' this content?

I decided that I would try a technique that can really only happen in the Teaching Grid given its fantastic array of technology. If I were in a traditional classroom or lecture theatre I would have to think about how it could be achieved in a different way. However, since the TG has a lot of computers available, and there is a good amount of material on the web about Constructive Alignment, I plan to divide the participants into 3 groups, one of which will use the computers to find out as much as they can about CA. Another group will brainstorm good practice when designing assessment tasks and activities, and the last will look at a photocopy of Phil Race's chapter on 'What has Assessment Done for us--and to us?' and evaluate his suggestions. Each of the groups can use a Smart Board to make notes and compile a 'poster'. After about 15 minutes I will ask the groups to reform and tell the others about their findings, going on to discuss the relevance and critique as well as find the good in all the ideas.

Then a break.

After the break the session will become more creative. Ask the participants firstly to design an assessment for this workshop. Once they have done that, then ask them to design the assessment for the whole of the PCAPP programme.

I have never tried the approach of what is effectively peer to peer teaching in this context before. I am not sure what I think about it for this workshop, although I am certainly convinced of its efficacy in other situations and have experienced its strengths. I have decided to go for it here because I really want to avoid the 'sit and listen to the expert' scenario, but also because I hope it will encourage participants to engage with the material at a deeper level, asking questions, sharing discussion and applying it to their practice. Much depends, as I said when I started this blogpost, on their willingness to cooperate...

December 02, 2009

PCAPP workshop: Exploring Course Design (pre session reflection)

Follow-up to PCAPP workshops from Alison's blog

I have just finished planning the first of the two workshops on Dec 15th, Exploring Course Design. My workshop outline and plan can be accessed here. I think it would be helpful if I provided some sort of rationale about why I've planned it like this.

I had originally wanted to do something much more innovative, bringing in people from the Capital Centre and maybe others from different departments in the University. I may still do that the next time I run it, but this time there were particular circumstances that meant I needed to play a bit safer.

My major criteria continue to focus on my desire: a) to treat participants as adults, many of whom may well bring experience of course design to the session; b) to encourage, foster and model reflective practice; and c) to make the session as applied as possible, so that participants leave not only with an awareness of the issues embedded within the subject but also having had the opportunity to think about how they relate to their own practice and discipline.

In response to the first criterion, the first aspect I know I must do is not put a 'teacher-student' relationship and dynamic in place. I think some of the metaphors for teaching and learning are very powerful, and in this case I do not want to cultivate a culture of 'sage on the stage' transmitting wisdom to those who know little; the mug and jug metaphor, where the jug 'pours' knowledge into 'mugs' (in more than one sense of the word!). Instead, I want to be a facilitator, a guide to fellow journeyers who has as much to learn from those I am guiding than they have from me; the 'guide on the side' metaphor. The obvious way in which this can be put into place is by preparing activities in which there is a significant amount of peer-to-peer interaction and learning, and I draw alongside to contribute expertise at times when needed or it would be beneficial. The opening task of my workshop will work to that principle. I hope that by asking participants to develop a mind-map using the early prompts I provide a  number of things will be achieved. Those who have experience in course design will be able to use it as well as teach their less-experienced peers. Those who might be reluctant to ask questions in public will hopefully be more willing to ask, or at least learn by osmosis, through the group discussion. The mind-maps which the groups  produce will undoubtedly differ from the one I prepared earlier (Blue Peter- or Delia Smith-like!) which should then give rise to a good number of questions that we can pick up and discuss in the plenary following. It's at that point that I can monitor and check what content needs to be formally introduced, but rather than present it in a 'you need to know this so please sit quietly and listen' fashion, I hope that having created the need to know, participants will be more ready to actively listen and engage. I will have a range of photocopies ready to give out so that they can go away with something as well as see its relevance for their own purposes.

This is one way in which I also hope to address the criticism that my previous workshop on assessment was 'content-lite'.It's quite a delicate balance to get this right: delivery of too much content makes PCAPP participants feel diminished and inferior; too little, on the other hand, makes them wonder why they needed to attend at all, and they leave frustrated because most of the time they actually did want to go away confident that they had a reasonable overview of the terrain. I think this is a balance that many of my academic colleagues also face in their own lectures, so I hope that maybe this workshop will offer at least one way of handling the dilemma.

Which brings me to my second criterion: the desire to foster and encourage reflective practice. I am trying something new in deliberately pausing the workshop and asking participants to reflect, privately, on the way I am running it, its structure, its plan, the rationale behind it, and its outworking. I can't afford to allow this to open up into a public discussion (and even I might find that a bit too close to the bone if they are highly critical!) but I would like them to realise that there are two dimensions to any class: content and pedagogy, and that the purpose of PCAPP is to focus their attention on the latter. I also want them to realise that there are few rights and wrongs in this arena, and that even the so-called experts can try things out which fall flat on their face, or be highly successful for one class and a flop in the next. Teaching, learning and assessment is like that: territory which, although well explored and mapped, is nonetheless often unpredictable. So I'm going to ask them to make notes, just bullet points, but something that focuses their attention on the pedagogical side of the workshop as well as on its content, in the hope that they will develop a sensitivity to thinking about their own practice. If they chose to, though, they could put some of their comments onto this blog...

Lastly, I want the session to be applied, relevant, and useful to participants. My original idea was to get everyone to design a new PCAPP module or programme. It is the only thing we all have in common, and I might still offer that as a possibility. Participants often comment on (complain about?) the fact that the PCAPP approach seems to be 'one size fits all' when in fact each subject discipline functions very differently from all the others. It would be a bold move to ask them to redesign PCAPP, but it would have a number of advantages, not least providing the PCAPP team with valuable feedback about what participants would value, and how they would go about providing it. We could then incorporate it into our own revisions of the programme. I shall play that by ear on the day though, and also go with a neutral module that most of them could hopefully relate to, as well as give them the option of designing their own. Jenny Hughes from the Academic (something) office(!) will be coming in half way through to talk about many of the university's policies and regulations regarding course design and validation. I am toying with the idea of asking her to stay, or maybe return, so that when the groups have prepared their modules or courses, she and I and the remainder of the class can act as a validation panel. This should be a reasonably effective way both of revising content and of bringing home to the participants the experience of a mock validation and the need to take a wide range of issues into consideration when designing a course.

So that's what I'm planning. The next thing is to conduct the workshop. I've got my photocopies prepared for the class, and will need to confer with the Teaching Grid staff to see how best to set up the space. But for the moment, I'm done. :-)

November 12, 2009

PCAPP workshops

I am thinking ahead to the two PCAPP workshops I am due to deliver in December. I delivered them both last year, for the first time, soon after I arrived at Warwick. I quickly realised that all was not plain sailing and that I needed to take quick and effective action (see previous blogpost) and one of the measures I took was to move the next session into the Teaching Grid. It made a huge improvement, partly because of the added value of having the technology to play with, partly because it was much more effective at respecting the 'adultness' of participants, and partly because it allowed me to experiment with a different approach to the session.

One of the regulations that the Teaching Grid requires in order for people to use it, is that facilitators/teachers should be trying something out that is innovative. It doesn't need to be innovative within the whole teaching profession, but it does need to be new for the individual concerned, who should be trying out something that he/she hasn't done before. That was clearly the case for me at that workshop. The success of the workshop meant that I wanted to continue having it in the Teaching Grid, which in turn provided me with the opportunity to continue reflecting on my practice and exploring new ways of conducting these workshops.

The TG has requested now that for each booking we articulate, albeit in draft and semi-formed form, the innovative nature of each session we conduct there, so I need to think about the sessions I am running on Dec 15th. I have already changed a few things. I am running 'Exploring Course Design' and 'Assessment Practice and Strategies', which last year were put on as two separate workshops on different days. However, there is a clear overlap between them, and so this year I have arranged for them to take place on the same day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, with a lunch break between. This follows the format of the Teaching Large Groups and Teaching Small Groups workshops, so there is already a precedent. I anticipate (and hope) that the participants will be largely the same for both sessions, although I can obviously not make this a requirement and it may be that some come for the afternoon that did not attend in the morning, and the reverse. I have reworked the workshop outline for each of them (these can be found here and here) and have put an emphasis on reflection and reflective practice, hopefully balancing that alongside input of content.

So what am I going to do that is innovative?

I have a number of innovative ideas that I want to put into place, but this time round I am going to hold back. It may be that I can't conduct the workshops in December; for private and personal reasons I may be absent, and so I need to think about someone standing in for me would feel comfortable doing.  However, I think that the major underlying premise of developing reflective practitioners may serve the purpose. I am planning sessions in which participants collaborate and contribute expertise and knowledge to construct something together, reflecting as they progress and as new knowledge and information becomes available. This is quite different from the traditional lead and transmit content from the front approach, and will be quite different for me in this situation, although in some senses it is an approach I am familiar with through my background in distance learning. Face-to-face and DL operate quite differently, though, so I think it is legitimate to claim this is innovative for me, especially in the context of PCAPP which has a unique group of participants.

Secondly, although I can't make too much of this, I think the idea of holding two separate workshops and integrating them into a bigger whole is also innovative. It will potentially mean that 'experts' from the morning have the opportunity (if I build this in) to 'teach' newcomers any essential information in the afternoon, which is a different approach in its own right. It means I can allow a greater degree of flexibility and follow leads and questions as they come up to a greater extent, although I must also make sure that important and necessary content is introduced and engaged with.

So what can I write for the Teaching Grid? Let's have a go...

I am requesting to book the Experimental Teaching Space in the Teaching Grid all day on Tuesday December 15th in order to hold two PCAPP workshops there: Exploring Course Design, and Assessment Practice and Strategies. It is the first time that these two workshops have been held on the same day (and therefore also in the same venue) and one of the opportunities that this offers and which I would like to explore is a different use of time, with corresponding different 'use of' or participation from those attending. I plan to use a constructivist approach in which the experience of those attending is built on and used right from the start, probably using case studies and/or the only shared programme that everyone has in common, the PCAPP programme itself, in order to encourage participants to identify and engage with the challenges, first of designing a course or module, and secondly of setting assessment for it. Because it is impossible to anticipate in what order questions, issues, ways of responding to challenges etc will arise, this necessitates a very flexible approach which is quite different from anything I have done before. It will require me to adapt my role and take on an identity with participants that they may not be expecting or be familiar with: that of an expert whom they can consult and a person who asks pertinent questions they need to wrestle with, rather than someone who delivers information they need to absorb and take away. Another innovative feature I might include (this needs further thought and/or organisation) is to invite three or four outside experts who will form a panel to scrutinise the design of the module or course that participants have drawn up, and who will therefore provide authoritative content.

In the afternoon session, the expertise of those who attended in the morning will be used in order to do a quick brief of newcomers. This again is not something I have regularly built into my workshops, but I feel it will contribute enormously to the dynamic of the session. In the past, a (small) proportion of participants have clearly had considerable experience in the area that the workshop tackles, but since it is core to the programme they have not been able to gain exemption. Rather than ask them to sit and be 'informed' about things they feel they already know, I intend to exploit (and value) this wealth of experience and knowledge by asking them to lead, mentor and contribute. All of the participants will come with some experience of assessing students, and I plan to use this for discussion leading to a critical evaluation once again of the PCAPP programme.

Lastly, one of my goals is to develop participants as reflective practitioners. Before the session I will direct them to this blog and from time to time during the session I will ask them to pause and reflect on how it's going, what is making it a success and what needs to be rethought for next time, as well as what they might be able to incorporate into their own practice. This will include the use of space, something which will direct their attention to the attributes of the Teaching Grid. I have never incorporated a deliberate reflection on the dynamics of my class as it is progressing into my teaching. I will feel somewhat vulnerable, but think it is important to model externally what I hope they will take away and put into practice internally.

For all these reasons, I feel that my sessions are enabling me to try out some innovative teaching practices that are new to me, and which I hope will develop my own practice.

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.

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

As always, comments welcome.

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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