sue watling

Unique distance from isolation - reflection in a mirror

Week 2  of #FSL14t was reflection. The activity – submit a reflective piece on teaching and learning. I find myself reflecting on the way I did it. In a rush. Full of typos.  I didn’t agree when FSTL14 Facilitator Neil Current wrote For us as tutors, we feel it is more important to share than worry too much about trying to craft the perfect response. So we hope that you won’t mind typographical errors….’ I wasn’t sure about condoning typos. What about spellcheck and taking time to make sure the text is good? Huh! Isn’t it always the way – you disagree with something then find yourself in exactly the position you disagreed with. My reflection wasn’t crafted. It was Bitty. Disjointed. Like my mind on Fridays – my busiest days – and it was full of errors.

A useful life lesson is learning more from mistakes than perfection. I lay no claim to being perfect – but admit to many bloopers over the years. When learning styles were in vogue, they didn’t fit. We had a Honey and Mumford questionnaire which used Cadbury Crème Eggs. The question being ‘How do you eat yours?’ New to education development, I found the analogy a helpful example of matching new information with existing knowledge. It was a light bulb moment. I remember this – and how the questionnaire confused me. I was Activist, Reflector, Pragmatist and at times a Theorist. I ate my egg in four different ways.

cadbury creme egg lies on a therapists bed

Today I still jump in and am more pragmatic than theoretical, but over the years I’ve learned to learn through hindsight and adopt an experiential approach to CDP. Brookfield says a way to evaluate your teaching is the “… extent to which teachers deliberately and systematically try to get inside students’ heads and see classrooms and learning from their point of view.”  (Brookfield, 1995. p.35) This is a good a reason as any for MOOCing.

On FSTL14 I’m in an unfamiliar place. I think it’s Moodle but I don’t care. I don’t know my way around, it’s easy to miss things, get lost, feel panic. What’s obvious to the site builder is less clear for me. I’m getting frustrated because I can’t find a forum, am not sure where to post the assessment or how to sign up for peer review –  maybe it happens automatically. I don’t know. The loneliness of the long distance learner – a unique distance from isolation – alone but connected – is the challenge for all online learning design.

I don’t think we can teach online without continual reminders of what a strange virtual environment feels like – and to reflect on the process of disorientation. Also it’s one thing to say reflection helps learning – but unless we practice ourselves, the pragmatics can be forgotten. Week 2 has been good for me. On multiple levels. I knew reflection was an issue for some colleagues on my TELEDA course. It’s not enough to present it as a core component. It needs more support and Week2 has given me ideas to try out in my own practice.

In Learning by Doing Graham Gibbs offers useful ideas; using video and audio, sharing the reflective process in groups or online discussions, dividing pages in a reflective diary into columns for recording events and reactions to them. Gibbs also advises immediacy. Recollection of detail fails after 24 hours. This can be tricky. If the process of reflection isn’t presented as manageable students will think they can’t find the time. Reflection must be seen as beneficial.

reflection must be seen as a positive process

It’s important to distinguish events which are learning opportunities. Like dismissing a suggestion its ok to have typos in contributions to online environments. Then – on reflection – understanding how unrealistic I’m being to think everything I upload should be perfect. I know where it comes from. Brookfield says our autobiographies are “one of the most important sources of insight into teaching to which we have access.” (1995 p.31). We are products of our life experiences; creators of our own realities.  I’m asking the impossible. On reflection…… I realise the need to be more forgiving of insignificance in order to make time for what really matters.

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‘at.this unique distance from isolation’ comes from Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

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