Opening salvo: reflection on current practice

I’m a product of a career path that went from being employed by many education institutions who wanted me to help them marry industry practice with course content. I’ve been an intermediary between industry and HE- interpreting vocational practices and “levelling” them or simulating them. I’d written hybrid training/education courses (which I’d now label as Work Based Learning) for a variety of HEIs. In fact, that’s probably why I was employed at NUA- I knew how to write a course, but I also knew how to get on board the industry.

risks_mouseAs a one-person band- I’m the Course Leader but also the only tutor and technician on a new course, reflection is ad-hoc and rare, and seems more subliminal than conscious. Apart from Peer Observation of Teaching sessions that took place in October and November 2015 it is not easy to get feedback from peers. It’s akin to being in a bubble. The only feedback loop possible is whether students are comprehending that is taught, and this isn’t always picked up until too late, which I guess points to an issue with my teaching method- a lack of checking that students have not only been listening/watching/partaking, but also comprehending and internalising to their own nascent practice.

However recently I have been able to observe another Course Leader and also, more notably a couple of HPLs. It was interesting that neither HPL was a teacher, but had been brought in for their industry background. One HPL had a particular style that galvanised the students. However I also realised his age was a factor in how attentive students were. He’d been out of college for three years, so was viewed as being much closer to where they wanted to get to, a fellow traveller. The implications of apparent student assumptions around the teacher’s authority and experience were slightly dispiriting, as he repeated things I’d said a thousand times, but they sat rapt and seemed to hear it for the first time. Students who in the past needed regular fag breaks seemed to be reluctant to move from their chair.

Reflecting on this, I realised this idea of identification with the tutor is not supposed to happen within my own received notions of dissemination. Surely the purity of the information is the main factor in education, not the demographic profile of the tutor? But maybe I’d also been guilty of the same ideas of education as a sausage machine, the idea of inputting the right information that many business leaders in my previous job at Creative Skillset had expounded. The idea that the quality and contemporaneity of the information was important, not how it was delivered, or who delivered it



It was then I realised how important (and possibly underestimated) the notion of learner motivation is, and my lack of awareness of how I could leverage both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in my new, and easily distracted students. Maybe there were a range of psychological levers that could be employed in class to enable learning in young people.

This notion of motivation is something I’d like to explore. I’d read Carol Dweck’s ideas of Mindset, but to me it seemed to be more truly about issues of Pedagogy in the original sense, rather than Andragogy. Younger junior minds which are like putty seems to be the main area for Dweck’s Mindset theory- but for HE’s clientele of mainly teenage minds that are recently separated from family for the first time, or trying to find student accommodation, or partying all night as they are free from parents reins for the first time, or suffering from financial problems- the Mindset theory seems too clean in a messy world. Add on top of that the students previous learning experience of studying for the test; these are all the everyday factors that impinge on a receptive Mindset, the routine things that disrupt receptive learning.

It’s hard to factor this kind of messy world into a course document when you are writing a module and learning outcomes.


Enter the MOOC

Possibly ironically, I find it easier to get feedback on the MOOC I have designed for Futurelearn, although this is confined to their Social Learning model, which I think only works for the already motivated learner. However I surprisingly felt reflection within this online practice is built into the system. In a strange way being ‘blind’ to the capacities and abilities of the student means you reflect more on the impact of what you do. You reflect on your diction, your clarity, how much potential for misunderstanding there is, because you have to privilege the written word. There’s the same tentativeness that you face on a road with oncoming traffic with no central white lines.

This is opposed to my everyday classroom experience where my voice and physicality are privileged, and attendance is obvious and noted, but comprehension might not be. In this physical environment, text is only used to give formal feedback at set points.

Now, I’d grown up with the neo-liberal gush about the disruptive nature of the MOOC with the Pearson’s funded IPPR “An Avalanche is coming: Higher Education and the revolution ahead” report, and recognised the agendas behind the Universities are doomed subtext, but as the crowds of pundits have moved on, and I’ve finally had an opportunity to create an online course instead of a University course, I’m pleasantly surprised. The student motivation on a MOOC is all you really see. That’s because the unmotivated drop out or don’t sign up, of course. more importantly the feedback loops are there- so missing from my classroom experience. Ten Thousand people will drop away if an article isn’t engaging, or they’ll reply in their droves if a video demonstration isn’t clear.

To enhance my own practice I need to explore learner motivation in different domains and situations, and I need to understand more about how to pick up feedback and feed this forward. I want to reflect on how I can combine different modes of teaching and learning to combine the best of online and offline teaching for the benefit of the learner and their future.

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