All 10 entries tagged Reflective Practitioner

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July 21, 2010

Post–session reflection on 'Reflection on Practice with newly–appointed academics'

Follow-up to Reflection on Practice with newly–appointed academics from Alison's blog

I changed things at the very last minute! As I was thinking through the session just before it was about to start, I decided that I needed to adhere to my principle of not asking participants to do something I needed to model beforehand. In this particular context, it was also important for me to provide input and content, not just elicit responses from the participants. So while originally I had planned to use the three case studies as material for individual participants, at the last moment I decided to demonstrate Biggs' stages of the reflective process myself, using one of my early PCAPP workshops as an example. That allowed me to model the process using Biggs' framework which seemed to work well. However, it left me with a problem, because doing that meant that I had no chance of getting through what I had planned in the allocated ten minutes! So a bit of quick thinking... I gave out the case studies, allocated each to individual participants, gave a minute for them to read them through and then decided I could just run with one of them, so asked for a volunteer to summarise the problem his/her case study articulated. Then I invited everybody to contribute to going through the reflective stages together, all focusing on that one case study. Of course, that meant that the other two case studies weren't actually used, although I guess just having them there served a purpose of inviting further reflection once the session was over. I got it all done with ten seconds to spare! But since here in this blog post my task is to monitor, fine tune and change things for future occasions, if necessary, then on another occasion I would just prepare one case study and everyone would look at the same one. Either that, or I would offer the three and we would come to a common concensus about which one to use (although just doing that is time consuming). I wonder too whether I allowed one of the participants to be slightly left out and could have worked harder at including this person and inviting their contributions.

I was pleased the participants contributed willingly and thoughtfully. In the question time afterwards it became apparent that these were, in fact, familiar scenarios to them, so that introducing a structured way of thinking about them should have been quite useful (given their 'newbie' status). One question struck me in particular, and I have mulled it over considerably since the session. A participant asked if I thought there was one, or maybe more than one, defining characteristic of a 'good' teacher or lecturer. Gosh. I've not been asked that before and it's fascinating. At one level, it's impossible to answer, but that's just not good enough. We must know what goes to make a good teacher, or the whole of our profession and my field of expertise is thrown into question. I said, thinking on my feet (again!) that I thought the awareness of the other was probably the most important thing for me. By that, I meant much more than simple consciousness, but an awareness of what's going on, that there are real live people in front of us when we teach, who have questions, get bored or tired, can't follow, need help... On reflection now, I wonder whether I meant something perhaps better articulated as 'connectedness'. I think the mark of a good teacher is someone who connects with his/her students, doesn't see them as bodies to perform to (as in theatre), doesn't see them as animate yet largely passive recipients of the 'gift' of content he/she has to bestow, but instead sees them as beings who are in the process of growing and developing, and the teacher's role in this is crucial. I guess I'm really trying to articulate the principles behind social constructivism, or behind student-centred learning. I shall go on thinking about that.

As always, comments are welcome. What does anyone else think about the hallmark(s) of a good teacher/lecturer?

Another topic that we touched on so briefly it wasn't possible to follow up was that of the use of games for learning. I have been looking at that a bit while I've been reading in preparation for writing the paper on Visitors and Residents with Dave White, as we challenge Prensky's Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Dave and I need to talk more about this. Prensky comes from a gaming background, but Dave reckons that the link between gaming and learning is very tenuous. Interesting, and something else to pursue.

Again, any comments from anyone?

July 18, 2010

Reflection on Practice with newly–appointed academics

I have to prepare and present a 10 minute session on the topic of 'Reflection on Practice'. Gosh. 10 minutes. The 'audience' will be small, but a group representing a variety of subject disciplines. So here I am, planning and reflecting on the session that I am gradually preparing.

I plan to use Case Studies, one for each participant, and each from a different subject discipline. Since these are newly-appointed academics, they may not have an enormous amount of experience to draw on, and I am reminded of Biggs' assertion that all reflection requires experience. I can see what he means but dislike the implication that the ability of new lecturers to reflect on their practice is therefore hampered! However, since this is the first time that I will have met this group, and as I have been assured that they really are 'newbies', providing case studies that I hope they can relate to may be a way of giving them something to reflect on.

I have chosen three typical scenarios, ones which I have encountered quite regularly.

a) someone faced with lecturing to very large classes in a fairly straight-laced discipline, who finds the traditional lecture very restricting and one which presents challenges to his/her desire for student interaction, but whose attempts at opening up subjects for discussion fall flat on their face due to the class size and location.

b) someone who is excited about the potential Second Life has for their Art and Design class, but who has discovered that the time taken to induct students into its mysteries eats into class time. There is also a small section of the student body which has reacted quite unfavourably to using Second Life in class at all.

c) a newly-appointed Polish medic who, despite having studied and worked in the UK, has retained a strong accent. He/she has students in his/her class for whom English is their second, if not third or fourth language, and many never ask or answer questions. The medic is worried that they don't understand him/her, but the only way she can think of handling the situation is by providing photocopies of his/her powerpoint and hoping that they find a way of keeping up.

I will write out these Case Studies in advance and give one to each participant. They are very brief, so it should only take them a minute or two to read them. Then I plan to ask them to think of one more 'problem' or challenge that that academic might face in that particular situation. My intention is that this will help to personalise the learning.

I will then present Biggs' cycle of reflective practice:

    1. Defining the problem
    2. Implementing a change
    3. Monitoring the change
    4. Fine tuning
    5. Discussion with a critical friend

    I plan to ask each person to think of one way of addressing (implementing a change) one of the problems I have given them. What are the advantages and potential drawbacks? This will provide them with a way of monitoring the change (point 'c'). I also plan to give them a handout with Bigg's model of reflective practice as another reference point, and something which they can take away and think about (reflect on!).

    Lastly, I will ask the participants to discuss together their tentative 'solutions' to the problem, hence engaging them in discussion with a critical friend. I will make the point that peer observation and feedback is a very valuable way of enhancing their teaching, and I would recommend they find a group of 'buddies' who will function in this way for each other.

    So, my pre-session reflection...

    A big challenge is going to be to keep within the 10 minutes. However, I think I have achieved what I want to in the plan: I want the participants to be engaged and to interact with me and each other; I want to give them some solid content as well as a reference point if they choose to follow it up, so I have gone for Biggs; I also want to take my brief seriously. I mustn't ask or expect too much from these participants. They are new to the profession (although I guess some of them may simply be newly appointed to the university and come with extensive experience from elsewhere... help! In which case I will have to draw on that experience...) and come from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines.  Another challenge might be that they feel slightly uncomfortable role playing, and if they do, then I will feel uncomfortable about having asked them to role play! I must be prepared to come out of the role play situation if that seems appropriate, and certainly be prepared to allow the session to move out of the role play if that's the direction it moves in. Can I anticipate anything else that might go wrong? (One of the most valuable things I learnt when training to teach English as a Foreign Language was to focus on 'anticipated problems' in my lesson planning. In some senses, it is easier to do in an EFL context, but with some practice, it has proved a really useful tool in all my teaching and facilitating, both before and during a class or workshop.) For the moment, I can't think of anything. I will come back and add something later if it comes to mind.

    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: 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.

    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!

    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.

    July 07, 2009

    Why this blog?

    July 7th 2009

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

    Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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