Sunday, 31 August 2014

Reflecting on reflection

Moon,(1999) Map of Learning

An interesting by-product of the international virtual collaboration project is that it is really making me focus much more closely on the subject of reflection in learning and professional development. Indeed that is the title of a really great book by Jenny Moon which has been the inspiration for my redesign of my study skills module .

The aim of the assessment in my module is to enhance students' reflective skills - and, along the way, their digital skills - by asking them to develop (part 1) digital artefacts which reflect their thoughts and feelings about their future careers and (part 2) tell the story of their learning journey through their first transitional year as "becoming" professionals.

I have been ruminating on the precise tools to be used in this first exercise - Gemma has used Photopeach  over the past couple of years (you can view some lovely examples - in Catalan - on Gemma's blog), I rather favoured Padlet, Thinglink or Pinterest (thinking about platforms for curating links), whilst Victoria was inclined to give her students free rein to choose.

This weekend I have been involved in analysing the levels of reflection in the Photopeach artefacts produced by Gemma's students (relying on Google Translate where my rudimentary Catalan failed me!!) and as a result have become rather more enamoured of it. The combination of images and music in a gently flowing slideshow give the artefacts a romantic and filmic quality that conveys, and invokes, powerful emotions. For an exercise that requires students to make a statement about values, ethics and aspirations, this seems highly appropriate.

There are lots of opportunites in higher education courses for students to present verbally and in writing but few where we ask them to engage at an emotional level. For students entering into the "people professions", developing their emotional intelligence is crucial. The use of imagination, creativity and imagery involves making manifest some aspects of knowing that are not fully conscious but which are felt at a bodily level (Collier, 2010). Hence the combination of music and images, together with inspirational quotations, powerful value statements and expressions of desire, has a powerful emotional impact on the viewer.

Another aspect of importance for me is that I have asked students on many occasions to write a reflective account of their learning as a short essay and often been disappointed to read rather impersonal, imitative (if not actually plagiarised) accounts, focussed on what has been taught rather than a personal learning experience. The best of the Photopeach video essays I viewed this weekend were each uniquely individual and referred to theory only where it had been inspiring and transformational for the student. 

On the other hand, these first artefacts were not deeply reflective, but that was not surprising.
According to Moon's Map of Learning there are five stages of learning:

Noticing – acquisition and organisation of data; filtered through previous learning/experience and motivated by the perceived purpose of the learning Making Sense – a process of growing awareness of the coherency of the material – organizing and ordering the material Making Meaning – the new material is assimilated and allows a deeper understanding of the discipline; material is well linked together and there is evidence of a holistic understanding of the subject Working With Meaning – linked to higher levels of reflection, summarising themes, critical analysis, marshalling an argument Transformative Learning – self motivated learning, learning that is reorganised and restructured by the learner in a creative way; evidence of change in the learner of which the learner themselves is cognizant. Learning about learning.

The last two stages need further reflection on the intitial stages/outcomes of learning in order to materialise - which provides the link between part 1 (the first, tentative exploration of values and aspirations) and part 2 of the assessment: the final digital story which pulls together the learning experience across the entire semester or academic year.

Finally, Moon suggests that students need a clear sense of the purpose of their reflections, require a degree of scaffolding (which the two part assessment provides) and a specific rubric to help them understand what is required of them. The work I have been doing in analysing the Catalan artefacts has really helped me to develop my module's structure and learning activities to ensure these factors are all included.


Collier, K. 2010, 'Re-imagining reflection: creating a theatrical space for the imagination in productive reflection' in H.Bradbury, N.Frost, S.Kilminster, M.Zukas (eds), Beyond Reflective Practice, Routledge, London and New York, pp. 145-154.

Moon, JE (1999) Reflection in Learning and Professional Practice, Routledge, Oxford

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

21st century skills: virtual collaboration

I recently started - but regretfully did not manage to finish - an interesting MOOC on the teaching and assessment of 21st century skills. The main focus was the teaching and evaluation of collaborative problem solving skills and case studies were drawn from an online, transglobal exercise in which the participants could chat with, but not see, one another whilst completing tasks of varying complexity. (Well, that's as much as I recall - apologies if I am misrepresenting the MOOC).

Anyway, yesterday I embarked on stage 2 of my international research collaboration project with Gemma and a third colleague, Victoria, which reminded me of the MOOC and caused me to reflect on the skills of collaboration once more. We were Skyping (without benefit of video) between the UK, Finland and Spain with frequent drops in the signal, occasional problems of translation between Catalan and English, and using Google Docs to capture ideas and action points. Clarifying meaning and intention was a key part of the discussion as we were each of us bringing a degree of knowledge about some, but not all, aspects of the project and experiences that varied in terms of our teaching and research backgrounds.

The MOOC I briefly sampled is now closed, but the assessment framework can be found here as a PDF and it provides a useful guide to the functioning of online collaborative partnerships. What I found interesting in our discussions yesterday was the need - and our willingness - to clarify misunderstandings and arrive at shared definitions of our "problem" and how we plan to tackle it. At times it was a case of groping in the dark - which reminded me of a great book about virtual teams I read many years ago and a training exercise it described where a team is sent blindfolded into a room to erect a tent!

I feel quite excited about the collaborative project. The subject matter interests me and fits perfectly with my teaching - indeed, starting on this project has already caused me to redesign the teaching and assessment for my module (and hopefully thereby improving it too). On a personal and professional level I am motivated to do the work in a way I never have been when contemplating starting on a research project of my own, which leads me to think that support and mentoring through the process is what has always been missing for me. Furthermore, collaborating with people who work in different institutions, different countries even, and in different disciplines from my own, is both liberating (I feel more free to make mistakes and admit my shortcomings than I might do with a close colleague) and challenging - the difference of perspective forces me to look at the subject matter in a new light.

Well, one of the principal focii of our project is reflection so here I am reflecting on the way we are working together - telling the story as it unfolds, recording my feelings about the process, making links with my previous experience and setting out my hopes for the future. I have already discovered a surprising new thing about myself from this exercise - I like being part of a team! and I feel a genuine synergy emerging from our combined efforts. This is perhaps a rather shameful realisation for someone who teaches team dynamics and indeed has mainly, over a 30 year career, been employed in the position of team leader. But maybe it simply reflects the perennial difficulty of finding exactly the right combination of people, with exactly the right collaborative skills, to make team work really work.