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“From Skills to Virtues” . Enhancing Self-Reflection in Student Group Work. Professor John Lippitt & Dr Sylvie Magerstädt School of Humanities. Anxieties about higher education: .

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from skills to virtues

“From Skills to Virtues”

Enhancing Self-Reflection in Student Group Work

Professor John Lippitt & Dr Sylvie Magerstädt

School of Humanities

anxieties about higher education
Anxieties about higher education:
  • ‘in modern times ... there are no generally accepted assumptions about what the young should learn, either for virtue or for the best life; nor yet is it clear whether their education ought to be conducted with more concern for the intellect than for the character of the soul. The problem has been complicated by the education that we see actually given; and it is by no means certain whether training should be directed at things useful in life, or at those conducive to virtue or at exceptional accomplishments. (All these answers have been judged correct by somebody.)’
  • Approx 350 BCE (Aristotle, Nicomachean EthicsBk VIII ii 1337a33)
contemporary worries
Contemporary worries:
  • ‘Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, business managers, teachers, faith leaders, politicians, citizens, activists, parents and neighbours. While they need to be able to demonstrate key skills and knowledge to enact these roles effectively, they must also demonstrate good character in carrying out these responsibilities ... In recent history ... moral and social aims of higher education have been overshadowed by emphases on instrumental and economic goals, including employability skills and preparation for the workplace.’
    • K. M. Quinlan (2012). ‘Developing the whole student: leading higher education initiatives that integrate mind and heart’.
our lti supported project
Our LTI-supported project
  • Grounding assumption: Talk of ‘graduate attributes’ is a welcome move beyond one-dimensional talk of ‘skills’. But much of what is valuable in such ‘graduate attributes’ is in fact a cluster of key ethical and intellectual virtues.
  • For instance: Successful team-working typically requires patience and trust. In many circumstances, it also requires a subtle blend of pride (in our work) and humility (recognition of what we owe to others and of the defeasibility of our own judgements). To say nothing of gratitude, hopefulness, justice and – sometimes – the capacity for forgiveness.
our lti supported project1
Our LTI-supported project
  • This semester we have been exploring a body of writing on such qualities of character in a final year Philosophy module, ‘Virtues, Vices and Ethics’, which is part-assessed by group presentation.
  • In addition, we have run two sets of focus groups:
  • to gauge student views of the pros and cons of assessed group work
  • to assess whether and to what extent reflection on the virtues addressed in the module has aided their ability to work collaboratively and/or had an impact beyond the seminar room.
focus groups first round
Focus Groups – First Round
  • 2 Focus Groups with Philosophy and Media students.

Results:

  • General attitude towards group work was more positive than expected. Students seemed to understand its relevance and purpose.
  • But: General concern about grades and being ‘pulled down’ by others
  • Positive comments: ‘helps to make contacts’, ‘Getting different points of view’, ‘learning from others’, ‘learning to compromise and not being selfish’
philosophy module rationale
Philosophy Module rationale
  • A flourishing human life is attained in large part through the exercise of “practical wisdom” (phronesis)and the cultivation of arete: “excellences” or “virtues” of character.
  • ‘The way to study virtue is to study the virtues, and to do so rather in depth’ (Robert C. Roberts)
  • To consider the conceptual and phenomenal features of specific individual virtues
  • Questions such as: What is it? What’s good about it? How does it benefit its possessor and those around him/her?
focus group ii questions
Focus Group II - Questions
  • Has your study of the virtues in this module impacted on your life outside the classroom?
  • Thinking specifically of preparation for your group presentations, has your study of the virtues impacted upon your ability to work collaboratively?
  • In reflection on virtues and vices, we all tend to recognise something about the strengths and weaknesses of our own character. How might developing your own personal virtues help with your

– collaborative academic work

– future careers

– life in general?

focus group ii some student replies
Focus Group II – Some Student Replies
  • “I’m a changed man!” - “It empowered me”
  • “Thinking about virtues and vices helps me better understand other people and their actions” – “helps develop social skills”
  • “I can (and do) now talk about virtues with my family and friends”.

Self-reflection:

  • “It changed my perception of things – I know the importance of something that I didn’t know before ... Maybe I didn’t trust people enough.”
  • “I can’t stop thinking about the virtues, even if I tried” ... “Each week, I asked myself: ‘What would my life be like if I had more pride, self-respect, patience, or whatever...?’”
focus group ii some student replies1
Focus Group II – Some Student Replies

Self-reflection:

  • “It helped me with my interview skills, I can now talk about my virtues!”
  • “It helped me to analyse myself a little more. I realised that what would be considered virtues in one career (publishing) are not what I value. So now I’m going into teaching...”
  • “When my friend was recently diagnosed with cancer, reflecting on virtues helped me to handle the situation better. It made me reflect on my own virtues and vices. I realised that I had to be more patient and to develop hope and forgiveness.”
  • “I’d advise everyone to develop their virtues – academic staff as well as students. ... Staff and students need to have the courage to meet at the same level.”
focus group ii results
Focus Group II - Results
  • Rather than having an immediate influence on the group work in this module, students thought that the impact was likely to be more long-term
  • But some direct effects:
    • “I was in a situation were I could have lied easily, but now didn’t want to lie because I thought I didn’t want to be a dishonest person.”
  • The project seemed to have impacted on students well beyond the collaborative work and influenced them much more broadly.
focus group ii results1
Focus Group II - Results
  • Talk of ‘graduate attributes’ - while preferable to talk of ‘skills’ alone – must be careful not to ‘reduce students to ... packaged products with a set of specifications’ (Quinlan 2012: 7).
    • “Talk about graduate attributes can be too dogmatic ... Cultivate the virtues and you get them straight away”
uh graduate attributes
UH Graduate Attributes
  • ‘Our graduates will be confident, act with integrity, set themselves high standards and have skills that are essential to their future lives’
  • Pride? Courage?
  • ‘Respect for others: The University promotes self-awareness, empathy, cultural awareness and mutual respect. Our graduates will have respect for themselves and others and will be courteous, inclusive and able to work in a wide range of cultural settings.’
  • ‘Social responsibility: The University promotes the values of ethical behaviour, sustainability and personal contribution. Our graduates will understand how their actions can enhance the wellbeing of others and will be equipped to make a valuable contribution to society.’
  • Patience? Humility? Gratitude? Justice? Compassion? Hope?
  • Practical wisdom?