FULT ePortfolio Blogs #1: Reflection

The task is to write about how you will practice reflection, paying attention to the three lenses of self, students, peers and theory.

Disclaimer: these are my thoughts and opinions and almost certainly do not reflect those of my employer.

I think I already practice reflection on my teaching, although given how many demands there are in a day it’s quite often on a semester time scale rather than an individual class scale.

For example, I make a practice of drawing up a list of things that went well and things that I would do differently at the end of each course I teach. I got into the habit of doing this when I ran the physics Olympiad program – I called a staff meeting to debrief after the students went home and we would discuss the program and draw up a summary. We would consider education, administrative and pastoral care issues. I still include pastoral care as one of the main things that I think about for any course.

With the GTTP (Graduate Teacher Training Program) I run an evaluation survey at the end of each program, write a summary of the results and include my own reflections on how the course went, how any new activities or other changes worked, etc. I also include my own responses to the students’ feedback and my lists of what to keep and what to change. This then goes back to the GTTP students as a final example of reflective practice.

On a shorter time scale, I look for opportunities to get feedback and discuss teaching and learning processes with colleagues and students. For example, in my GTTP program this semester I have a military trainer who is also a past high school teacher. We talk about the sessions afterwards, and compare notes on what was happening at different points, how different students are engaging or not, and discuss some of the theoretical differences between military training and university education (behaviourism vs constructivism). I’ve generally been very lucky in my teaching to be able to find people who are informed and insightful that I can have this sort of discussion with.

Most of the literature that I read now is discipline specific education research, so doesn’t so much inform my teaching on a theoretical level as on a practical level. Although I am working on a project with a colleague at the moment looking at emotional aspects of learning, so I’ve been looking at that literature a bit lately. As a physicist I do find a lot of the more sociological end of education research a bit fluffy and turgid, and relying too heavily on authority rather than evidence.

The biggest difficulty with all of this of course is finding time. It’s all very well to promote reflective practice, but when teaching loads are such that you find yourself struggling to just be prepared for the next class, and you get a couple of months notice at most that you’ll be teaching a new course in the next semester, and performance reviews will have you out the door if you don’t have 3+ HDR students and a grant, then there is little or no motivation to engage in reflective practice on one’s teaching. I have watched several of my colleagues being made redundant in the last 12 months including every academic in the learning and teaching group except me, people who were excellent, reflective teachers. And more (8) are set to follow in the next 3 months, as the purge at UNSW Canberra continues. In one school there is a stated policy of no education focussed positions… what is the message there? So in all conscience, should we really be promoting reflective practice to beginning teachers when it is actually a liability to take the time to think instead of doing the job as fast as possible and then ticking off the KPIs to ensure your contract is renewed or that you aren’t made redundant? Especially when the only measures of teaching quality that the university has described are trivial 4 question student experience surveys (the move from CATEI to myExperience has massively reduced the quantity and quality of feedback we can gather) and the number of courses turned into MOOCs. We have David Gonski as a chancellor. I would dearly love to hear what he thinks are appropriate measures of teaching quality!

Oh, and I’m doing this at home in my own time (unpaid) because the FULT MOOC is open for such a short time that it is impossible for me to find enough hours in the (paid) working week to do it. I think this is what “flexible” must really mean – we wont pay you to do it, so you have to do it in your own time.


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