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H808 Core Activity 2-5: Criteria for reflective writing

In some courses, notably in nursing, teaching and other humanities learning, students are requested, encouraged or made to create and/or provide pieces of reflexive writing about their learning process. Starting such a task is not necessarily easy for everyone and writing about personal things, to look inside our personal thoughts, may seem to be for gifted students only. Nevertheless, I personally think that reflexive practice and reflexive writing about our learning is something that we can learn by practising. Here are some pieces of advice from a reflexive learner, me, reflexively writing about reflexive practice in learning.

Start small or K.I.S.S.

First of all, years ago, when I had to start a journal about my learning as a trainer teacher, I decided to start without too many expectations, and privileged regularity over quantity and quality. What was important was to start the process and write on a regular basis. To be focussed on the task more than on technology, Keep It Simple and Stupid (Kiss) and begin with what you are most happy with: pen and paper, emails to yourself, blog, e-porfolio, whatever suits you the best.

With time, you will discover that taking notes and posting them in an electronic form gives more freedom in the organisation of your work and the reuse of your editing.

From the surface to the depth

Writing directly about profound and personal thoughts on such an intimate subject as our transformation through learning is not easy, but this comes in time. Begin to write about facts to help your brain to focus on what happened, on what you learned or what you read, watched or listened to. Let your thoughts and feelings come up without any judgement. Think less and less about generalities and focus step by step on more specific points about the learning. These points should evoke agreement or disagreement, good or bad feelings, new ideas or bring back old personal experiences. Write all you get. Later, or in another post, you may go over and process your material to deepen or edit it. With time, this exercise will become more and more familiar and the path to your thoughts and deep memory will become brighter and quicker.

From privacy to publicity

It is important that this task must remain something you are confident about and trust in. Begin by writing your reflection for yourself and open them up to others with time. Opening your reflexive material, or a part of it, to others gives you the benefit of their comments on your work and the reciprocity to their own intimacy. This sharing can be made only with peers of the same cohort within a wider community. Making part of your thoughts obvious to the world gives you a way to be recognised for who you are. Whichever way, never lose the control of your image. When it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Writing towards objectives

The question of having a living reflexive journal in whatever form it can take, is of course driven by targets. Even if we know, through literature, that reflexive activities give students wider ownership of their learning and foster a deeper learning approach with tangible results in higher marks and better learning, these activities are time consuming. Moreover if such tasks are compulsory and have to be assessed, the style, grammar and structure will have to be reviewed.

As a personal learning tool, a reflexive journal is something that has to be tried for a minimum basis of one course before you can discover its advantages, so persevere, or follow a syllabus where you will be forced to do it, if you need, as I did, such a ‘driver’.

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Reading notes on ‘Reflection in higher education learning’

October 29, 2009 7 comments

In his paper, Moon (2001) draws a picture of the conception of reflection in higher education as a tool to a better learning. The main points are also summarised in another article written four years later (Moon, 2005).

Moon begins by searching for a definition of the concept of reflection, suggesting that it is a form of mental processing to achieve some anticipated outcomes, and is applied to relatively complicated or unstructured ideas for which there is no obvious solution. Moon believes that emotions are also part of the process of reflection and may influence the way it is carried on. For Moon the process of reflection can occur only on something when you already have some knowledge about it, therefore reflection from scratch has no sense. I find this point interesting regarding what I notice in my course or in the courses I mentor as referee, when students are asked to think and reflect about a case study at the early beginning of learning about a subject where they have only a few ideas about it. What can we really expect from such a demand?

The article then explores different authors’ approaches to reflection, encompassing Jurgen Habemas, David Kolb, Donald Shon. From this quick browsing I was struck by the description of Kolb’s cycle which was visualised as a spiral later by Cowan (1998)

Moon1

Adapted from Kolb (1984) and Cowan (1998)

The important point I keep from this schematic vision is the principle of ‘cognitive housekeeping’ given to the reflection process explained by Moon which permits integration of old and new raw cognitive material into a new form of knowledge. We can then consider actual knowledge as a big jigsaw puzzle image where each piece has its importance but reveals a higher level of understanding by putting it all together in an way that makes sense.

From his summary of Habermas (1971) I note the three kinds of knowledge he described:

  1. instrumental knowledge – how we understand and control our human environment;
  2. knowledge as the interpretation of human action and behaviour – to better understand the society in which we are living and behaving;
  3. knowledge as a way of acting on the two first forms of knowledge (reflexive knowledge?) – which transforms personal, social and other situations and gives the bases ‘on which we make judgements’.

The most interesting point about Schon (1983) is the separation of reflection into a dichotomy, reflection-on-action and reflection-in-action. If I can clearly see how we can reflect on and what we have done as a process ex-post, I agree with Moon that reflecting during the action helped my thought process.

Mo0n concludes this theoretical presentation claiming that none of the previous authors study the importance of emotion in the the reflection action and he raises the question of whether emotional content is always present in reflection and if so, how it influences its result. He concludes that this important point for him is not answered in the literature so far.

For Moon, we can only see the result of learning but it is difficult to perceive the process. Nevertheless, Moon suggests that learning passes through different stages: Noticing and Making sense which belong to a surface learning approach (Marton (1997)) and Making meaning, Working with meaning and finally Transformative learning which all belong to the deep approach of learning.

Moon and assessment of students reflective work

I agree with Moon that ‘assessment tends to drive student learning’ and that we can force them to follow a deep approach of learning if they see in this a way of succeeding in the learning task. For this to be true, we, practitioners, must believe in the method we use and show the way to students instead of asking them to adhere to our proposition of methodology. For reflection as a learning tool, practitioners must believe in its potential outcomes to foster such behaviour. Moon suggests that positive outcomes of reflexive work are apparent during the period of revision before examination.

As long as reflection is an ‘encouragement for learners to follow their own thinking, to work without a curriculum’, Moon is not in favour of a formal assessment of this material. But on the other hand, he claims as I already pointed out in a previous post, with Crème that whenever we see value in students’ work it has to be assessed.

Moons then suggests that assessment must follow very clear, and maybe new, criteria enabling fair marking. He also suggest that such artefacts could be marked as ‘adequate and passed’ or ‘not yet adequate and not yet passed’, privileging qualitative rather than quantitative marking. I note that Moon’s marking suggestion gives students a chance to improve even after a final marking. I personally agree with this approach which fosters lifelong learning and the fact that learning from a course continues long after the course’s end.

Positive outcomes of reflection in learning

  • Reflection slows down activities
  • Reflection enables learners to develop greater ‘ownership’ of the material of learning and enhances the student’s ‘voice’
  • Foster ‘metacognition’
  • Challenging learners with ill-structured material of learning improves students’ cognitive ability

Comparing these claims with H808, I agree that reflection slows down the process of learning, fostering a deeper approach and a time left to analyse and incorporate new information to create a bigger picture. This is maybe why the course syllabus is short in H808 but the tasks themselves take a long time to be processed by students. I personally already complained in another post about my feeling of a lack of structure in this course, but in the light of Moon’s claims, this is maybe not a lack but a pedagogical way to push students to find their own way toward professionalism and improvement of our  cognitive ability.

Reflexive tools

Comparing Moon’s suggestions of tools to reflect on, most are offered for engagement during H808: learning journal, portfolio, reflection on work experience, reflective exercises. The following proposed tools are, not yet, part of H808: reflection on work-based training, reflection on placement learning, peer and self assessment.

Issues relating to the introduction of reflective activity

Moon points out different issues as follows:

  • students’ ability to reflect is sometimes weak – ‘not all students find reflection easy’;
  • some staff will not understand reflection either
  • cultural issues – ‘some languages do not have a word for reflection’
  • disciplinary issue – ‘the discourse of some subjects are, by nature, more likely to require reflective activity’

References:

Cowan, J. (1998) ‘On Becoming an Innovative University Teacher’, SRHE / OUP, Buckingham.

Habermas, J. (1971) ‘Knowledge and Human Interests’, Heineman, London.

Kolb, D. (1994) ‘Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development’, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Marton, F., Hounsell, D., Entwistel (1997) ‘The Experience of Learning’, SCottish Academic Press, Edinburgh.

Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf (accessed 29 June 2007).

Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc (accessed 2 July 2008).

Schon, D. (1983) ‘The Reflexive Practitioner’, Jossey-Bass, San-Francisco.

Some notes on: “Should student learning journals be assessed?”

Here are some notes I have taken during the reading of Crème (2005) about if, why and how student learning journals should be assessed. Before this reading I had already been thinking for a long time during other courses and even before having begun the MAODE courses, about whether it was a good thing to have a blog or not.

In an essay for H800 (Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates) I argued that I didn’t use a blog (even if it was requested) because of a lack of time and because I didn’t want to expose my writing (English is not my native language) and knowledge-in-development to everyone. I felt that the content of blog posts could be used by anyone to judge the post’s author and I was not ready to accept this, especially as I had to write in my third language.

With the beginning of H808, the choice is not mine any more and I am forced to post regularly to provide evidences to be enclosed with the different assessments during the course.

After my reading, I begin to see the direction in which the course drives us. During the two other courses I have already taken in the MAODE’s syllabus, we were also students reflecting on their learning, but the learning was more centred on knowledge acquisition, things to know. In H808, so far, I have the feeling that the outcomes are more about becoming self-sufficient and independent. While a student is learning a subject with their peers, a professional must come to a point where he/she can think by him/herself and take the best decision for their clients.

I think, therefore, that this becomes important for tutors in such a course, as well as for students themselves, to see the progress achieved in gaining independence and experience in e-learning. The use of a reflexive journal is thus no longer simply an option but a useful tool for everyone concerned.

The question raised by Crème in his article is whether such a learning process has to be assessed or not. Without responding directly to the question, Crème points out a certain number of issues for both cases:

Where assessment of student learning journals is made

  • students may engage with this form of learning because it is assessed and not because they find it useful;
  • it means that the institution recognises a different way of thinking and then a different way of assessing skills and knowledge acquisition;
  • tutors estimate learning journals are useful and pedagogically important (we assess what we think is important);
  • students may be intimidated by such a big process (i.e., amount of work, difficulties in commenting regularly about what is read, fear of showing their weak points);
  • the risk is that student will be tempted to write journals as if they were a final and definitive product and not as a reflective and formative instrument.

In short Crème states that assessment may have ‘killed off the qualities that the work itself was designed to foster’: to be a more personal tool showing how students’ ideas have changed and to give students ownership of their learning.

The problem of honesty

Writing a journal and making it public or semi-public, exposes the owner whenever their writing is honest and not driven by the desire to present information to please tutors, but to serve their own reflection on the path to knowledge. I agree with Crème that assessing such sensitive work is judging the person more than their abilities. Knowing that learning journals are being assessed will just push students to write about non personal feelings and then turn the reflective blog into another plain essay without heart.

A mid-way solution

As a solution, Crème suggests using learning journals as evidences to quote from during the writing of a formal essay for assessment. These entries are provided as evidences and not assessed for themselves but serve to scaffold the final work  students will present to their tutors for validation. In this way, students are forced to engage with a reflexive tool such as a learning journal and can hold forth on the subject in their own language, fostering questioning more than answering, learning more than knowing.

Regarding the H808’s Course Guide and Assignment Guide, this middle approach to assess an essay (TMA) supported by evidences drawn from our blogs and e-portfolio follows Crème’s suggestion, thus emphasising the importance of the process but keeping formal writing for formal and final assessment.

Reference:
Crème, P. (2005) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 287–96. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930500063850 (accessed 9 October 2009).

H808 Core Activity 2-3: Case studies

After the reading of the different suggested documents, I have chosen to focus on the second case study from the Becta’s Impact study of e-portfolios on learning (2007), called Early e-portfolio activity across a local authority – West Berkshire Council.

West Berkshire Council is a local authority where a diverse range of learners (teachers and students) are encouraged to collaborate and cross many types of boundaries.

What were the anticipated outcomes of using an e-portfolio?

Some teachers believed that using e-portfolios will help students to identify their needs and express themselves however they want. Other outcomes were also targets such as being able to follow students across the board from primary all the way through. From the beginning it was clear that the institution wanted e-portfolios to encompass every bit of the students’ learning.

What were the limitations to its implementation?

Because Schools in West Berkshire do not have policies regarding e-portfolios, each has taken different approaches to implementation. This has certainly limited the adoption rate by the lack of good practice, moreover, the project started with the children only, and in certain cases only with gifted students, without teachers showing the path. The result was that at the time of the survey, no school has achieved complete implementation of e-portfolio use.

The tool was primarily used as a show case e-portfolio allowing parents to watch the work of their children; for communication and feedback between students, teachers and experts.

A strong policy fostering standardisation and extensive use of e-portfolios would maybe have helped the development and a quicker adoption rate through the different schools. The lack of harmonisation will certainly create problems of interoperability and data exchange between the different schools.

According to the survey it seems that the curriculum has not been adapted to e-portfolio use and support which would have created a better engagement with e-portfolios from the students (some surveyed students claim they don’t know what an e-portfolio is, even after having used the tool).

How is the e-portfolio supposed to help the user to identify and manage their learning?

Teachers report they have changed their practice through using ICT resources, which doesn’t imply they have changed their practice against e-portfolio and student-centred pedagogy. One school’s Head teacher claims that now ‘people see the reason behind things, they are introduced reflectively. We are good at reflecting and evaluating, creating a learning culture’.

In this case, there are not many contributions from students and comments are generally made by adults. They believe that such a tool permits students to ‘access [the learning platform] at any time and […] work on things in the way they want to , rather than just what the teacher is telling them to do’.

Surveys in that case study suggest that teachers were confident enough with the ICT facilities and had allowed students to take a lead in learning.

In primary classes, pupils’ parents have the possibility to connect on the system together with their children and be involved in their apprenticeship. This symbiotic relation of school-pupil-parent seems to be a good thing according to all the stakeholders.

H808 Core Activity 2-2: Reflection

This activity was twofold: finding information about the ‘drivers’ behind use and development of e-portfolios in UK, Europe and other countries; working in groups to divide the workload and complete together the table proposed as template in the course’s wiki.

Being behind for technical reasons (lack of Internet connection since the beginning of the course after my return to Switzerland) I am trying to catch up but also I am working on the different activities after the other students, who are further ahead and have deserted the place.

After an attentive reading of the different forum posts and a comparison of the already completed jobs in the wiki with the content of all the bibliographies I read, I decided to complete the table with other countries not covered by my peers.

From experience and from having participated in different conferences (e.g. MoodleMoot, Mahara) I know that Austria already has a strong implementation of e-portfolios in education. I then began to search for information about the ‘drivers’ that underpin the adoption of such a tool and methodology. I also wanted to compare this development in Austria with other Germanic and culturally related countries (i.e Germany and Switzerland).

Where Google and Bing were very useful for finding information about Austria, search engines were not useful for gathering information about countries, such as Switzerland and Germany, which lag behind with e-porfolio adoption.

First observation: it is easy to find information whenever the subject has been highly developed and is fully published on by many authors, but finding details on the lack of something with Google is more difficult. The quality and pertinence of the search string is then more important. The subject has then to be approached laterally and not frontally: it is not productive to search with, for example, ‘e-portfolio drivers switzerland’ but instead it is better to find other related keywords that may find relevant side articles about different pedagogy experiences, linking, perhaps, to  e-portfolio use.

Second observation: where the lamba user will just stop after having searched (and found little information for Switzerland and Germany) the e-learning professional can provide more by using their alternative sources of information: their social network on Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo; their personal contacts encompassing other experts; forums and specialised web sites where he/she knows specific information can be found.

After having contacted two people in Germany and Switzerland, whom I consider as experts on e-porfolios, and having browsed on different academic and institutional web sites from my Delicious bookmarking system, I had sufficient information to complete the wiki with relevant information about Switzerland and Germany.

This shows the importance, for an e-learning professional, to not only develop their skills and knowledge but also to cultivate their networks and relations with peers and other specialist, locally and globally, and to manage all such gathered information in an efficient system for finding, managing, and sharing information quickly, such as Diigo or Delicious.

Week 1

This are my first feelings about H808 after one hectic week. I spent time reading all the material and printing everything to create my working files. Lot of documentation, articles to read and web sites to visit. The information seems less well presented than in H800, which I prefer for the more clear course presentation I had in MAODE.

This time I was on schedule despite all the work I had to tackle with the return to school and associated problems, such as lesson preparation, irritated colleagues discovering that some part of the VLE/IT system was not working.

The more I work the less I am feeling concerned by end user problems and I try not to take it upon myself to solve all THEIR problems.  Instead, I stay focussed on the wider agenda and the global issues. Most of the time, PICNIC is true: Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.

After having studied in H807 – Innovations in e-learning and H800 – Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates I have the feeling of returning to school in H808 – The elearning professional.

  • whereas material there was highly structured with course-lecture-task and clear outcomes, H808 seems to be the contrary;
  • whereas all the units were available in other courses, only a small part of H808 is actually visible;
  • whereas people were cool and friendly, here in H808 they seem stressed and full of doubts.

I don’t have as much time as I wish these two for coming weeks. My ECA for H800 has to be done and will take me most of my free time. Then it will be the time to draw up a small balance of what and how things are going for me in this course.

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