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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