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Developing the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) to facilitate reflective journal writing in the professional education of teachers – Online dialogue journals.

Summary


Developing the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) to facilitate reflective journal writing in the professional education of teachers – Online dialogue journals

  • Moira Hulme School of Education, University of Wolverhampton

  • Julie Hughes School of Education, University of Wolverhampton

  • Robert Hulme, Department of Applied Community Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University

  • Ruth Pilkington, Department of Education & Social Studies, University of Central Lancashire

  • Stephen Bostock, Staff Development, Keele University (critical friend)

  • Monica McLean, Institute for the Advancement of University Learning, Oxford University (critical friend)


Introduction

This project examines the use computer-mediated communication (CMC) to support reflective writing in the professional education of teachers in post-compulsory education.

In a collaborative venture between three HEIs, the project examines the use of CMC to facilitate dialogue and reflection among a sample of teachers who are at different stages in their professional education, geographically dispersed and working in a range of differing contexts.

These include pre-service teachers completing a PGCE in Post-Compulsory Education; lecturers in further education colleges and in HE pursuing accreditation and a group of overseas university teachers engaged in an international professional learning project.


Objectives of the project

  • To develop the use of online dialogue journals as a learning tool:

  • To encourage practitioners to take responsibility for professional action and development;

  • To make explicit and strengthen links between theory and practice;

  • To encourage a collegial approach to professional learning.

  • To develop the use of existing technologies to create secure learning environments that support critical reflective practice and professional dialogue – WebCT, WOLF, BSCW.

  • To develop, evaluate and disseminate guidelines for establishing collaborative mentoring relationships in professional education.


Reflective writing

Reflective journal writing is an established technique in the professional education of teachers and those working in the related areas of health and social care (Moon, 1999; Bolton, 2001).

Grounded in the reflective paradigm (Dewey, 1933; Schon, 1983, 1987; Boud et al 1986; Kolb, 1984; Rogers, 1983), journal writing helps to make connections between specific, situated aspects of practice and general principles of professional knowledge.

The centrality of critical reflection and dialogue in professional education reflects the Vygotskian (1962) notion that verbalisation is integral to the creative development of understanding and the development of more ‘inclusive’ and ‘integrative’ professional practice (Mezirow, 1990).


Developing the use of online journals as a learning tool

Project With Udmurt State University:

Ten Russian colleagues were asked to record their own experience by keeping a reflective journal to reflect upon the use and impact of their learning on their decision-making and practice in the delivery of their services.

Participants:

10 Russian colleagues - 6 academics, 1 minister in federal government, 2 senior social workers/mangers ( HIV & youth issues), 1 psychiatrist

2 British colleagues – Researcher & translator/ web manager

1 Finnish colleague - Professor of International Social Policy

VLE: BSCW Basic Support for Collaborative Research

Secure ( access permissions), multi lingual, free, ‘at a distance’ professional learning


Issues in tutors’ online participation in (and assessment of) digital portfolios.

There is no denying the considerable demands placed on tutors who choose to engage in online mentoring. The requirement to fade from the discussion and enable learners to eventually support a self-sustaining online community is important.

The tutor might aim to progressively recede to the less visible and less interventionist role of moderator and lurker. Not all tutors will feel comfortable with this re-positioning and may struggle to cede ‘authority’, ownership and control to the learner.

Dialogue journals strengthen the relationship between tutor and learners. However, what may initially begin as mundane and superficial readings as writers ‘suss out’ the environment, can quickly become absorbing, fascinating and exhausting to maintain.


Interoperability of e-portfolio across platforms (on graduation)

Accreditation is one step in a teaching career, it is not an end in itself. Professional learning does not cease with the award of a formal teaching qualification. In designing platforms to support e-portfolio building, it is important to look to the future.

Will the learner be able to continue to compile and/or showcase their journey, the ongoing story of their professional development?

Will potential employers be able to access updated versions? How can the conversations be sustained in new contexts of practice as fresh challenges emerge?


Issues with online participation (in the Udmurt State University project)

:

  • Initially Russian Colleagues mistrusted the VLE as a ‘public space’ which was in some way unsafe and open to ‘surveillance’.

  • Yet encouraging regular collegial interaction through the VLE encouraged the development of informal support networks which operated in ways similar to the operation of ‘blat’ networks in Russia, informal groups and interaction formed to develop mutual aid and support.


Resistance from strategic learners anxious to ‘play the game’ of assessment.

The close and sustained conversations encouraged through sharing stories work against the considerable pressures to mimic the ‘authoritative voice’ of the tutor as ‘expert’. The absence of a compulsion to share diminishes the likelihood of inauthentic contributions to discussions. The capacity of learners to direct asset sharing is an important consideration in challenging students’ long-held notions about ‘writing for assessment’.


To make explicit and strengthen links between theory and practice: the Russian cultural context in the Udmurt State University Project

  • Analysis of the use of the VLE in Russian context focussed on the work of cultural theorist Bakhtin whose work suggests that:

  • Communication is filtered through two opposing forces:

  • Centripetal forces- authoritative, fixed inflexible regimes of truth- “ the authoritative voice”

  • Ventriloquation: “ Tell me what to write”

  • Our writers the ‘authoritative voice’ from us

  • Centrifugal forces- stratified diverse genres – open, provisional and unstable- “ inwardly persuasive discourse”. This corresponded with the informal supportive communication established within and extending from the community of writers

  • Most reflective entries in response to ‘directorial mentoring’- specific ‘instructions’ etc.

  • This dichotomy replicates the long standing distinction between the private and public cultures in Russian society and the means by which people working in the public sector have used informal networks to overcome inflexibilities within Russian state structures.


Training needs of learners and mentors – technical and pedagogical.

Innovation within teaching and learning requires embedding through a process of backward mapping, rather than ‘rolling out’ (or ‘over’ colleagues and students). Technological literacy and a commitment/readiness to change require support and time, rather than hasty imposition. There are clear resourcing implications here. The history of curriculum reform is littered with short term, top-down experiments that falter and fail with the withdrawal of the ‘pioneer’ or ‘champion’. Sustained exposure to the technology is necessary from induction. The fostering of a non-threatening and supportive community takes time. The regular and autonomous sharing of writing is likely to take a minimum of three months to establish.


Equitable access to resources away from the university campus.

Technological tools, like any other learning resource, need to be assessed to ensure equitable access for all learners. Initial assessment of learners’ needs should consider variations in the availability and speed of online access, as well as levels of competence and confidence in using tools without (and/or beyond initial) face-to-face support. It is important that technological ‘advances’ do not further exacerbate the problems faced by learners who are already disadvantaged or excluded by traditional academic practices.


Encouraging a collegial approach to professional learning.

Udmurt State University:

The project enabled the establishment of genuinely international informal communities of learning.

  • Informal network of academics and practitioners developed through and beyond the VLE with a common focus on building institutions of social welfare in Udmurt- trade unions, voluntary orgs.

  • International network to supply literature and case study material- 4 Universities- MMU, Udmurt State, Helsinki University, University of Central Lancashire (UK) – elearning- international and comparative social policy

  • International network of authorities: Salford City Authorities- Ishevsk City Authorities- Welsh National Assembly

  • Individual pioneers – ‘white zebra’ ( a psychiatric practice sustained without financial resources or drugs. This was of great interest to practitioners in the mental health in Manchester


Using BSCW for collaborative work with Udmurt State University


Future trends

VLEs have been available from the mid-1990s and can be used at a number of levels for a range of different purposes (O’Leary, 2002). The challenge facing educationists in the future is to move from the simple ‘content and support model’ of VLE use (Mason, 1998) towards more ‘integrated’ models that support interaction and collaboration. The former require only the archiving of course materials and the transmission of information to passive recipients. The latter requires much higher levels of learner participation as decision maker and contributor. Learning environments informed by constructivist approaches need to offer open-ended, exploratory, authentic learning tasks that encourage meta-cognition and enhance student motivation.


General conclusions in the use of VLE across the contexts of the project

Unlike objectivist pedagogy that sees the learner as passive receptor of de-contextualised knowledge, constructivist approaches accentuate the knowers ‘construction’ of reality as a purposive act.

This extended version of VLE use is not simply about giving information but also coming to understand through collaboration and dialogue (Laurillard, 2001; Bohm 1996).

The use of dialogue journals is one strategy in this move from transmissionist to collaborative uses of ILT.


General conclusions in establishing collaborative mentoring relationships in professional education

Online dialogue journals supported within VLE work group folders have the following strengths:

They can accommodate collaborative working - shared resources and dialogue – at a distance. Dispersed groups in workplace settings are able to stay in touch quickly and easily. A single posting can reach every group member.

Access permissions can be used to create a secure and safe space for discussion.

A transparent record of activity is developed through discussion threads that can be moderated.

In addition, the asynchronous nature of communication allows time for learners to formulate considered responses.


Potential problems

Asynchronous communication may prove a barrier to the formation of group identity with learners who do not meet face-to-face.

Online ‘talk’ lacks the visual cues that support face-to-face communication and this may prove an obstacle for some learners.

The location of work group folders within a formal learning environment, hosted by the ‘assessing’ institution, may distort communication.

There are cost implications for learners in accessing online activities away from the university campus and this may raise equity issues.

Learners need to develop the skills and motivation to participate effectively in an online learning environment. Not all learners will elect to participate to the same extent.

There is also the danger that more assertive online ‘voices’ may stifle discussion and influence the contributions of others.


Udmurt State University:The limitations of policy transfer and international professional learning

  • Many of the basics of social policy and education reflect the culture, language and politics of their country of origin: i.e. anti-discriminatory practice

  • Adapting ‘western’ notions and concepts of social problems rarely works and imports as many problems as it does solutions

  • All our practitioners, whether social workers or educators suffered from a lack of instruments- “the market or the old department”

  • The enduring attitudes of the Soviet style ‘managerial elite’ made institutional progress difficult but also underlined the importance of the VLE as means of communication

  • Lack of institutions of civil society- voluntary sector hinder the sustainability of projects based on collaborative work.


Further reading on relevant themes: the use of reflective writing in the professional education of teachers

[1] Moon, J. (1999) Learning Journals. A Handbook for Academics, Students and Professional Development. London: Kogan Page.

[2] Bolton, J. (2001) Reflective Practice. Writing and Professional Development. London: Paul Chapman.

[3] Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process. Chicago: Henry Regnery.

[4] Schon, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[5] Schon, D. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[6] Boud, D. et al (eds) (1985) Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning. London: Kogan Page

[7] Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[8] Rogers, C. (1983) Freedom to Learn. Colombus, OH: Bell and Howell.

[9] Vygotsky, L. (1962) Thought and Language. New York: Wiley.

[10] Mezirow, J. (1990) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Further reading on relevant themes (Udmurt State University)

  • Informal networks in Russian Society; Ledeneva, A. (2000) ‘Continuity and Change of Blat Practices in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia’ in S. Lovell, A. Ledeneva, & A. Rogachevskii, Bribery and Blat in Russia.

  • Iarskaia-Smirnova, E. and Romanov, P.(2002), ‘A Salary is not Important Here: The Professionalisation of Social Work in Contemporary Russia’ Social Policy and Administration Vol. 36, No. 2, pp123-141

  • Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


University of Central Lancashire (i) Example of background extracts for sample activity

Background Extracts © Ruth Pilkington

PREPARING FOR REFLECTION (DLO Project)

Enhancing Reflective Skills

  • Developing skills for reflection enables you to learn more effectively from practice situations, and identify what you have learned in practice. In the context of this programme it will encourage you to think about the value of your learning from the workshop input for your own developing role and expertise in Student Support & guidance. The skills required to engage in reflection have been identified as self-awareness, description, critical analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

  • Self-awareness is about knowing yourself: being conscious of your personality, beliefs and values, feelings, qualities, abilities and limitations. Self-awareness enables a person to recognise his or her beliefs and values, and to analyse feelings and behaviour and how these affect the behaviour of others. These are essential activities in reflection. To help you become more self aware we suggest you look at your strengths and weaknesses in respect of the programme as you will have done for the learning agreement.


University of Central Lancashire (i) Example of background extracts for sample activity

  • When starting to reflect it is helpful to start with description or narrative. Good description is about giving a comprehensive account which captures the essence of the situation. It should include the following key elements:

  • Significant background factors.

  • The events as they unfolded, for example.

  • What you were thinking at the time.

  • How you were feeling at the time.

  • It is important to refrain from making judgements at this stage. A common problem may be that because you were involved in the situation, you may omit certain details which you have taken for granted. You may also find it difficult to recall all the key factors. In any situation there are also likely to be feelings beneath the surface which may need more detailed exploration. Good description, therefore, would also describe your feelings accurately and truthfully.


University of Central Lancashire (ii) Sample Activity

  • Activity:Either use a mind map to describe your life and how you have ended up here.

  • OR

  • Write a description of your life and how you come to be here.

  • Critical analysis involves:

  • Examining the components of a situation.

  • Identifying and scrutinising existing knowledge and how relevant this is to the situation.

  • Exploring the feelings you have or had about the situation.

  • Challenging any assumptions you have made.

  • Imagining and exploring alternative knowledge and actions.


University of Central Lancashire (ii) Sample Activity

  • In order to shed light on a particular situation, you need to search for and examine knowledge which at first may not seem relevant. This is analysis. It is therefore important that you examine the sources of knowledge that you use in your professional practice. Knowledge may be gained from three main sources: personal experience, social groups, and formally, from theory or research, and in this case through workshop input.

  • Learning from experience also involves analysis of feelings, and without this understanding you may miss real opportunities in your experience which allow you to learn about yourself. Your self-awareness and ability to analyse your feelings will enhance your professional practice.


University of Central Lancashire (iii) Sample Activity

  • Activity:Describe an incident you remember from your recent past and describe what you learnt from it and how.

  • The integration of new knowledge with previous knowledge is termed synthesis. This is a particularly important skill if the outcome of reflection is to be a changed conceptualperspective (way of looking at things). When using synthesis, you can identify the learning you have achieved and how this fits in with your existing knowledge. It can then be used creatively to solve future practice problems, and may enable you to predict the likely consequences of your actions in practice.


University of Central Lancashire (iii) Sample Activity

  • The skill of evaluation enables you to make a judgement about the value of the knowledge you have achieved. It involves the use of criteria and standards. Mezirow argues that evaluation in addition to synthesis is crucial to the development of a new perspective.

  • Having described and analysed what you experienced, you then synthesise it by placing it in the context of previous learning. You then evaluate the value of your knowledge. The final and critical activity in focusing learning and feeding it into practice completes the circle. This requires you to determine an action plan or actions to apply your learning/knowledge in new situations and experiences.

    Reflection Description Implementation Experience


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