Monday, May 31, 2010

Whoever comes to the table

The course is now at an end. I don't think I am alone in wondering where the past four weeks has gone to. In one sense, it would make sense if the course were longer. Reflection takes time and learning about reflection even longer, so four weeks hardly feels sufficient. On the other hand, I know from experience that the longer an online course, the more difficult it is to sustain any sense of momentum and motivation. I think if this course were longer it would have to be for a more substantial form of accredition. As it is, I think it is probably about the right length.

However, we have had a significant drop in the number of people participating in this last week. Weeks 2 and 3 of the course are demanding in terms of time, but also in the nature of what is being discussed and learned, so perhaps a slower Week 4 is unsurprising.

I am also reminded again of something a colleague once said to me when I told him I was worried by the small numbers who had attended a programme meeting. He told me not to worry, because in all likelihood 'the right people were at the table'.

I have been struck by the fact that although only a small number of participants have posted in Week 4, their posts have been thoughtful, reflective and interesting and they have enjoyed the course - which is great. I think 'the right people have been at the table' at all stages of the course!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Tall Ask

There seem to me to be two 'tall asks' in relation to this course on reflective learning.

A course about reflective learning seems to require slow (or slower) posting and slow blogging than you might otherwise expect. I first came across the idea of slow blogging a couple of years ago when I read Chris Lott's blog. But there is a tension in a short course about reflective learning (four weeks) between having enough time to reflect and post to a blog or journal and the time limitation of the course. This is the fourth time I have worked on this course and I struggle myself to post to my blog within the time frame - so what does that say to the course participants.

The other 'tall ask' relates to openness. In Week 3 of the course, participants are required to post a piece of reflective writing and the intention (from the course design) is that this is a personal reflection. But in a course of only four weeks, there is scarcely time to build up the trust levels required for such disclosure. For some participants, who are used to working online, they will have become accustomed to the level of openness required, but for others this will be a most uncomfortable process, which I, for one, have in the past avoided.

I think this blog post of my online colleague Matthias Melcher explains the associated difficulties far better than I could.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Tools for reflective writing

Increasing learner autonomy and increasing familiarity with a wide range of technological tools means that inevitably learners will be using a wide range of tools for reflective writing. What might these tools be?

Pencil/pen and paper will I think continue to be used, although maybe not so much for assessed reflective journal writing - as in the case of students' work. In most cases this would be too time consuming - although art and photography students for example, might still use paper-based sketch books or notebooks and there will be other disciplines where paper will serve the best purpose. And of course - for non assessed journals, many people like the feel of paper - just as they like books - and how a paper journal can be personalised. Jenny Moon in her writing (Learning Journals - A Handbook for Reflective Practice and Professional Development, p.138)  has mentioned having a hand made book that is just the right size for her bag, so that she can carry it around with her and make notes as and when appropriate. Chapter 12 in this book is all about examples of journals.

But students and learners in general will increasingly use a whole host of different tools. I myself have three blogs - this one, my Wordpress Jenny Connected blog, and a private blog (Commonplace Thoughts) which I use for very personal reflections. However, I  have found over time that it is very helpful to have an audience for my reflections, even if this sometimes creates  huge feelings of over exposure. I find that my network is able to offer me alternative perspectives that I am not able to see for myself.

As well as blogs I am increasingly seeing learners using e-portfolios, wikis, Youtube, audio files, digital story telling and there are probably more which I am not aware of or have forgotten about in this instance. I have seen instances of people using photography to reflect on personal situations - words are not used at all. I find these fascinating and impressive. Reflection comes in all sorts of guises - not just the written word.

Interestingly - in her Learning Journals book (p.52) - Jenny Moon writes:

'It may surprise some that we do not make the distinction between electronic and paper-based jouranls. At the time of writing this second edition of this book, there are many more electronic journal forms in use (in particular in the context of personal devleopment planning). However, this book concerns the principles behind working on a learning journal and generally these are no different whether the writing (or representation) is on paper, screen or on an audio recorder, etc.'

A year or two ago I might not have questioned this - but recently I have begun to see that there is a strong interplay between the tool that is used and the learning that occurs and I think this has been researched - although I cannot remember where I have read about this, i.e. that the tool has an effect on the learning and the learning has an effect on how the tool is used.

I think it would be worth trying to follow this through a bit further.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

A dark night of identity

I have spent the last 24 hours at a conference in Birmingham. Unlike the last conference I attended - this has been a highly stimulating event. Once again, Etienne Wenger was the keynote speaker, but this time he was speaking specifically about the meaning of learning, to an audience of mostly Higher Education academics.

I find Etienne inspiring to listen to. There are many things I could have picked to quote from his keynote today - but this is one that struck me as relevant to the process of reflective learning:

He said:

'Any serious learning will take you through a dark night of your identity'.

I can absolutely relate to this and how this relates to the transformative aspect of deep learning and knowledge being troublesome. According to Etienne, we need to be able to cross a boundary and know how to engage enough on the other side of a boundary.

If anyone 'out there' is reading this - does this stir you as much as it stirs me? I think I will post this to my other blog as well.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Week 1 Reflective Journal entry

One of the questions that has been asked in the Journals forum this week is:

What has helped you to come to an understanding of the role of reflection in learning? (this might be something you've read, a conversation you've had. It might have happened this week or many years previously).

Like many others on this course, I first had to consider this when building it into a course for trainee teachers - that was when I realised that I didn't know enough about it and decided to participate in the first run of this course to learn more.

However, what I have learned is that it is one thing to know something in theory, it is quite another to apply it in practice. I find the process difficult for myself. I think and reflect a lot about my own practice, but sometimes I think I am doing little more than evaluating. I find it difficult to dig deeper and follow things through. Some things I simply don't want to follow through - its much more comfortable to let them pass - maybe I miss real learning opportunities in doing this. Also - I am a 'busy' person, i.e. busy in nature, so no sooner has one thing happened than I am on to the next. I think and reflect a lot, but I don't 'mark' my reflection enough.

So sometimes I think my understanding of the role of reflection in learning has not developed very much, but I think I can recognise it when I see it.
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