Monday, April 27, 2009

3*: Reflective journals - helping students to 'dig deeply'

An article by Hume in the latest Higher Education Research & Development 28(3),"Promoting higher levels of reflecting in student journals" caught my attention. The power of reflection is widely acknowledged in adult education literature and practice however it is also done so appallingly by many students, who tend to treat reflection assignments as a chance to say what they always knew. This, of course, makes it a pointless exercise for both them and their reader. Hume (2009, p.247) describes this sort of reflection as "shallow... [and] often trivial", with the student focus tending to be on "descriptive rather than evaluative thinking" (p.251). How, then, can we unleash the true potential of reflection in our students?

Hume has been action researching (and no doubt reflecting!) on her own teaching practice as it relates to introducing and evaluating a student reflective journal assignment for the last few years. She reports that we can make a great deal of difference to the depth of student reflection with some easy interventions.

  • Don't make guidelines too broad, or too open-ended. Hume uses a framework or model to help focus student reflection. Related to this is the point, don't assume that students 'know' how to reflect. Provide effective scaffolds.
  • Develop deliberate activities designed to encourage reflection - problem-solving, group discussion, ideas from professional readings, time put aside in class for reflective writing.
  • Make exemplars available, and 'pre-teach' the skills required for reflection.
  • Provide effective feedback (even based on peer-exchange).

Hume's approach includes "the use of timetabled slots solely for reflective writing early in the programme, exemplars of reflective writing, reflective frameworks and regular written feedback and feedforward comments from myself about their writing" (p.258). She notes that effective reflection activities in formal education can prompt ongoing practice for students.

As with most educational interventions (technology firmly included), the technique of reflection must be properly scaffolded and purposefully applied if it is to be successful. Also explicit in Hume's approach is the fact that her role as teacher is an important part of its success for students. Teaching the skill, focussing subsequent activity and providing feedback are, surely, timeless princples of effective education.

[Image "Reflection_3850"Uploaded on May 6, 2007 by mtbjohn]

Thursday, April 16, 2009

5.*: Second Life in peer review

The latest British Journal of Educational Technology (40, 3) is a special issue focussing on the use of MUVE's (specifically Second Life) in higher education. This complements a special issue of ALT-J (17, 3) last year. It is great to see Second Life receiving attention and evaluation through journals; it is somewhat tedious looking for useful material among blogs and news sites, which either tend to being too subjective or else not detailed enough. Even with this attention however it is difficult to determine where MUVE-assisted education may end up. This quote from Salmon & Hawkridge's (2009, p.403) editorial puts it well:

It may be too early to be sure that 3-D MUVEs are more than a flash in the pan for higher education: after all, plenty of other technologies have been used for education for a few years only to disappear. We recognise that this special issue of BJET may be at the very beginning of the 3-D MUVEs’ potential development ... or maybe the middle or even towards the end.

So, who knows? Will the educational use of Second Life mirror the tertiary uptake of LMS or VLEs? Or will it mirror the experiences of businesses - many of which are now pulling out of Second Life? Only time, innovation, trial and error and the sharing of experiences will tell... my perspective is clear.

Monday, April 6, 2009

5.*: IPTS Review of Learning 2.0 practices

A series of reports from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) examines learning 2.0 and its impact on education and training in Europe. This looks to be a thorough - and timely - study that summarises the learning 2.0 paradigm as follows:

  1. Due to information overflow, there is a need to learn how to sift, select, organise and manage information according to its relevance.
  2. Learning in the digital era is fundamentally collaborative in nature; social networks arise around common (learning) interests and aims and facilitate the learning process by providing social and cognitive guidance and support.
  3. The learner plays a central role in the learning process – not as a passive recipient of information, but as an active author, co-creator, evaluator and critical commentator.
  4. As a consequence, learning processes become increasingly personalised, tailored to the individual’s needs and interests.
This is not a critique of the value of the report, which I will get to... I just remain somewhat skeptical about this paradigm as a viable one for higher formal education. Information management is not the equivalent of conceptual learning; collaboration is not, in my view, as powerful as reflection as a means of learning; only a very poor traditional tertiary education experience can be described as encouraging 'passive' learning; and personalisation "tailored to the individual's needs and interests" is nice rhetoric, but lousy education. So: Should the tail of learning 2.0 wag the dog of formal education?

Perhaps a crude analogy. 'Car enthusiasts' like to drive fast, burn off rubber, and race on public streets. High performance cars enable them to do this. The appearance of the car is central to the experience. Rather than get from A to B, car enthusiasts enjoy the socialisation and thrills of a driving experience that suits their needs.


Laurillard's difference between everyday and academic knowledge is a handy shorthand for my concern. I also have a few difficulties with the validity of the paradigm suggested for learning 2.0:
  • Who decides what information is 'relevant'? Google? Issues here are addressed well by Jeanneney. Could it be that an expert's perspective on what is 'relevant' might be more enlightening than that of the crowd, for the purposes of education?
  • Social networks and collaboration: Are these subject to homophily (as suggested by Shirky as being characteristic of Web 2.0?) Does this not make the potential horizon for collaboration smaller? Do social networks limit, rather than stimulate, the development of broader perspectives?
  • Learner centredness: Are students in tertiary (higher) education really 'passive recipients'? Is this how they emerge from the system, as dependent passivists? Is reading or listening passive receipt?
  • Is personalisation of learning a valid goal for education to aspire to? Do my 'needs and interests' limit me to what I already want? How, then, can I be exposed to the new?
So, again my question. Should 'learning 2.0' determine how formal education is offered? Is "learner-centred collaborative information management suited to my needs" the utopia of formal education? My own desire is for "subject-centred perspective shifting conceptual development that transforms my understanding of reality"... and this more often than not involves developing a respect for the subject, individualistic reflection, considering the work and feedback of experts (rather than peers), and being taken places I did not even know existed.