Category Archives: reflective practice

COVID-19 and meaningful reflective practice

I could give a lot of time to writing about the current COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of universities and the move to ‘remote’ learning. I fully expect COVID-19 to spawn its own pandemic of reflective (or not so reflective) type narratives from academics. In fact, I am actually developing an assignment along these lines as a replacement to an assignment it may not be possible for my own students to complete.

In the process of putting together a reading list I came across this article by Janet Hargreaves in Nurse Education Today (2004). She concludes that “the imperative to do well academically discourages students from engaging in honest and open reflection.”

The consequence of this, according to Hargreaves, means that there just three legitimate forms of reflective practice, none of which represent reflective practice that might meaningfully improve actual practice.

1. Valedictory narratives. I am the hero of this piece. I recognised the crisis and got on with solving the problem. Everyone was very happy about this. My students were very happy with alternative assignments and the VLE I developed during the COVID-19 crisis. I was a great inspiration to my colleagues. In the film version there would be some sort of crusty Lex Luther-like villain trying to impede my progress.

2. Condemnatory narratives. In this one I am the guilty party (along with everyone else). COVID-19 was a real opportunity to enhance online learning. It showed that everyone was able able to teach remotely. I learned a lot of new skills. But the minute it was over we all went back to our old ways as if nothing had happened. O, that we would have repented of our former ways. The film version might be a good project for Ken Loach.

3. Redemptive narrative. I am a cynic who despises the idea of teaching online. I regard anything other than unseen exams as the dumbing-down of the curriculum. Yet thanks to COVID-19 I see the light. Like Captain von Trappe in the Sound of Music or George Banks in Mary Poppins I go from a miserable reactionary to the enlightened convert –that which I once resisted I now embrace wholeheartedly.

We are starting to see various narratives emerging already and I suspect this crisis will lead to thousands of academic articles. Not all of these will be in the reflective practice genre, and I suspect that we will see a lot of valedictory pieces in the next couple of years. Perhaps I might be the author of some of these.

Hargreaves is right to have reservations about the assessment of such pieces for students and she offers further thoughts about this in her article. Pure honesty is difficult for students as it likes outside these three ‘legitimate’ narratives. It is also difficult, perhaps more so for those wishing to put their reflections into the public domain – in my private reflections I might wish to assess and evaluate the responses of those around me, my family, my colleagues, others in my professional community. My own students (who are on the PGCert in Learning and Teaching in HE) may also wish to share honestly what they think of my behaviours and I cannot guarantee they will be kind to me. Another key danger in a time of crisis or conflict is falling foul of one of Krister Stendahl’s three rules of religious understanding ‘Don’t compare your best to their worst’. If we are honest we are all to apt to do this, and it takes a truly reflective practitioner not to fall into this trap.

I will try to keep some reflection going on this blog over the coming months considering the points Hargreaves makes.

Reference

Janet Hargreaves (2004) So how do you feel about that? Assessing reflective practice. Nurse Education Today 24(3), pp. 196-201 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2003.11.008

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'Louder voices for people in the middle of things': Reflections on the HEA 'Beyond Fellowship' conference

I spent yesterday at the HEA's 'Beyond Fellowship' Conference at Aston University. As well as catching up with old friends it was a chance to meet new people. Like me, most of those present support others in obtaining their HEA Fellowships and/ or teach on PGCert courses. I have shared here a summary of the key lessons I took away.

Going above and beyond
Claire McCullach, Eileen Hyder and Cherry Bennett, University of Reading

An occupational hazard of these conferences is that you meet like-minded people – in this case people who think teaching in higher education is important and that it is important for all staff to develop their teaching and gain recognition for the skills and knowledge they have. The tyranny of Key Performance Indicators can mean we are apt to measure success in terms of counting people who have a fellowship of the HEA rather than the process of becoming a fellow, and, perhaps more crucially, the responsibilities of being a fellow. Wouldn't it be great is every fellow took it upon her/ his self to mentor others through the fellowship process?

Digital portfolios for good standing
Chrissi Nerantzi and Kate Botham, Manchester Metropolitan University

We have recently submitted our re-accreditation documentation to the HEA and like many institutions we plan to offer a digital e-portfolio route alongside our 'written' route. I went into this session hoping for a sense of what an e-portfolio might look like, but I left with another challenge-- how do I document my own CPD? I need to record my own development more systematically and this was the challenge I left the session with. This blog is part of that process, but I am not always consistent in the way I record my reflections.

Beyond compulsion, KPIs and targets: an optimistic look at an alternative based on authenticity, prestige and expectation.
Martyn Kingsbury and Huw Rees, Imperial College London

The key lesson of this session was to build your practice on the 'prestige economy' of your institution. As Imperial is very very very research intensive, the speakers had developed an approach to their academic development which centres around valuing the research-based 'prestige economy' rather than fighting against it. Interestingly they found that motivation and demand for PGCert courses and other development increased when the programmes were no longer compulsory. Imperial is an outlier in terms of its research profile, even amongst research-intensive universities. I am still trying to think through the implications for my own situation.

Leading the Leaders and the Laggards: how Senior and Principal Fellows can support institutional and individual goals to enhance the learning experiences of students
Sue Eccles, Bournemouth University

In this session we had to do some group work. A collective sense of 'Why do we have to do this?' went around around the room for the few seconds it took for everybody to recognise their hypocrisy. We are always going on about the value of group work, working in teams, student as producer, student as knower etc. etc., but even we have a tendency to want to sit back passively and listen to someone talk about something or other for 40 or 50 minutes. Anyway –back to the session– as academic developers we are in the middle of things. We don't write and decide strategies (at least not directly), but we are expected to make them happen. In my notes I wrote 'Louder voices for people in the middle of things'. When senior mangers set targets for things like HEA Fellowships it often appears that meeting this target is the responsibility of a handful of people who are not senior managers. Teaching staff have all kinds of targets, aspirations, expectations and ambitions and we can often be frustrated when these conflict with our own targets, aspirations, expectations and ambitions, especially when it is our job to implement strategy. At a time when we are about to launch a new strategy at the University of Brighton, the question of who owns and is accountable for its contents is a crucial one.

A final plenary of the all the speakers (including those from the parallel sessions I didn't make) started with a discussion of 'ethical stealth'- terms which had emerged from one of the sessions. A sense of doing unseen work is very prevalent in my line of work, 'helping other people look good' as a colleague has put it. Ethical stealth is a problem though. One speaker noted that we need to be demonstrating our impact and we need to be confident that what we do has value. Doing good work which is unseen might please God, but not university senior managers.

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