Monday, December 14, 2009

Reflective Practice

I’m working my way through “facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education

and I’m still finding it hard to distinguish “reflective practice” from “think about what you are doing.” 

Often in teaching mathematics I encounter students who are looking for a deeper understanding of some method which you have just run through with them. They have the sense that there is some great mystery of mysteries out there and when you say that that’s all there is to it, there is a palpable sense of let down and disappointment. For some there is a very real sense that they haven’t got it and this can be a barrier to their further progress.

I find I have this same uncomfortable feeling when it comes to reflective practice.  I plan before I go into a class and work out what I’m going to do with a class that day.  I do it and I will consider afterwards what worked out and what did not go over so well.  This helps me decide what I’m going to do next time around. 


Is this reflective practice?  Is this going to have a transformative effect on my teaching and education?  When I’m considering what my students might be thinking about, and then thinking further about what my students might be thinking that I’m thinking about them, and considering how their modeling of my modeling of their thinking about my actions in trying to modify their thinking about the subject about which I’ trying to convey my thoughts to them....  I think this is definitely reflective practice but I’m not convinced that the time I spend on this couldn’t be better spent doing corrections.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Humility in adult education

In thinking further about a workshop on reflective teaching and development education, I have been examining a disquiet with the idea of education for change. In doing this I am helped by my subject matter (mathematics) as it is inherently less value laden that such subjects as history , political philosophy or religion.

My considered position is that I teach mathematics for what ever my students wish to use it for. They have made the decision to learn and unless I have specifically agreed a curriculum of change with them, then its is arrogant and presumptious of me to assume that they need re-education in the areas of social justice or world peace.

I'm not saying that I ignore such issues, or that I dont introduce them to my classes, on the contrary I do, but what I am saying is that in using such material I am not assuming that my students are ignorant of it or need to adapt my point of view on the issues raised. There is an unequal power relationship in the classroom as has been pointed out by such worthies as Foucault, which one must be both aware and wary of in order to avoid exploiting it to propagate a personal agenda which your students have not signed up for.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Feynman, models and e-Learning texts

I’m reading “interactions in online education” by Charles Juwah, and so far it’s very good. However I am reminded of Richard Feynman’s account in “Surely you are joking” (online here) of how he listened to mathematicians in discussion. He said he always kept an example, like an orange, of whatever they were talking about in his head and when they were stretching it or subdividing it or whatever he would do the same with the orange. There’s a lot more to Feynman’s orange than we need to go into here, however I find it useful to keep a specific learning object in mind when I’m reading a text like this. So for instance when they say that two way communication is essential for learning to take place, my learning object is a book…
I’m still waiting for Aristotle to get back to me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Assessment is the course, sometimes.

I went on a visit to a school open day for parents of prospective students, and I took the opportunity to do a survey of the teachers present. I was asking about IT use in the main, but I asked the religion teacher how you teach religion. Well this obviously depends on the course, and as she said she is not looking to convert, but to inform and there is a lot of comparison religion material in the course. However one remark struck me: She said the students were generaly fine and interested in first and second year, but when they got to third year and realized that there was an exam at the end of it, teaching them became more up-hill work.
There is a nice distinction here between learning for the sake of it, typically associated with adult education, and the more usual paradigm that the assessment is the course.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The bad workman

I'm starting to build prototypes for a project in articulate, a rapid prototyping tool, and I find that I'm modifying the design to accommodate the affordances of the program, and it struck me that in the old days craftsmanship meant knowing your tools and materials and extending your virtuosity to the limits of the medium defined by the combination.
Now we are advised to design without any particular tool in mind, as the constraints of a particular tool will limit your vision, and by the time you have developed mastery of the tool, that version will be out of date, and that company may already be out of business.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Power in the classroom

I've been reading Stephen Brookfield "The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning…" which is not to be confused with critical thinking. The section I was reading was looking at Foucault's analysis of the social interaction in the classroom in terms of the power structures present and the micro managed control exercised by the teacher in managing class discussions, and enforcing classroom norms of behavior. The analysis seemed to imply that in some sense the role of the teacher as a constructor of the norms of civilized behavior is at the very least questionable in principle.

In teaching early school leavers I was very aware that in assessing their work "you are no good at multiplication" you were also projecting a message "you are no good". For students at the margins of society self worth may be the only thing they have so it was important to try and validate any other interests (self generated culture in Ziehe's(Ch.13) ) terms.

This led on to the thought of the importance of separating a class's educational goals and performance from the personal goals of its participants. Relating this to eLearning, we want to place ourselves within a person's domain of self value so that they personally take ownership of their learning. This may be a significant difference between F2F learning and classic eLearning.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You’ve got to start somewhere

Thoughts on the design process for developing educational software.

Starting out one has an image of the user, an educational model for the learning, (which may or may not be enunciated) and an idea for the content, that is what is to be learnt.


We build by analogy, using what we have encountered before either as a model to be improved upon, or as an example of that which should be avoided.

It may be usefull to identify a number of exemplars of good and bad practice.


Most software development is iterative so we should think about the space within which our software/website will evolve.

What limitations are defined by our initial choices as to what and how to build?

We should think about what inputs will drive that iteration and what will shape its course.

Student feedback/Validation are good shaping factors, organic growth is probably not the best model for expansion.