All the previously mentioned questions helped me to engage with the students in a reflective conversation brought up by a “unique and uncertain situation”. With their answers, I managed to gain confidence, enrich my understanding on the situation and build an atmosphere of trust. As the students had already been in a presentation situation, they knew how it feels to stand in front of an audience and try to manage a situation that didn’t start as planned.
It was very interesting for me to see how their answers helped me re-design the first part of the session. The fact that this “unique” situation helped me to engage with them in a dialogue and turn a passive lecture into a lively discussion was the most valuable experience.
During the session I kept asking myself:
- Do they learn anything from this situation?
- Do I help the students take charge of their own learning?
- Do I challenge their expectations enough so that they reflect on their assumptions?
One of the things I pay particular attention to is the body language. While asking the above questions, I was trying to figure out whether a new meaning occurs through observing the body language of the students.
One of my favorite activities is when all students search Google for a specific term and it turns out that every student gets a different number of results. In this case the whole class tried their luck while searching for “racism” and initially felt happy with the wealth of results at their disposal, and overwhelmed at the same time. All of a sudden these emotions were replaced by frustration and disappointment!
Can you imagine how it feels to be studying about equality, only to realise that there is no equality in the Information provision! The students couldn’t believe their eyes and were flabbergasted. They kept looking at their screens again and again and then at the screens of their peers. One of them asked:
“Why am I getting different results from others? Does this mean that there is no equality?”
I felt my job there was done!
One of the strong points of the PowerPoint presentation is the use of images aiming to help students imagine, think creatively and to also provide a visual aid to more complex points.
I realised that this situation was not entirely unique. When I prepare a session I always think through all the possible “disasters” and try to have alternative plans. The norm is to experience certain technological difficulties. I need to admit though that I wasn’t prepared for this one. It happened so abruptly that even the technician couldn’t find the corresponding log recorded on the computer to identify the error!
ShÖn argues that a “unique and uncertain situation comes to be understood through the attempt to change it, and changed through the attempt to understand it”. (ShÖn, 2009) During the session, I tried to acquire a new meaning with the students in order to change my pattern and to also change a bad day into a successful teaching and learning experience. Would the lesson to be learnt help me change my patterns?
I recall discussions during the SCORE residential course when we tried to identify what makes a good OER (Open Educational Resource). One of the things that struck me was the fact that we don’t need to try to do a perfect job all the time. OER can be imperfect. The judgement stands to whether it fits to our target audience. It just needs to work for us and the situation. I was surprised by this point as I tend to seek perfection in materials I create and obviously this is something I may need to look at a bit closer.
Thinking about this moment retrospectively, I felt that students paused for a moment when I mentioned that there is no perfection! What would that mean for their assignments? Would they acknowledge the fact that there is always space for improvement and it is OK if we don’t write the perfect essay? Would they have understood that the learning process was meant to make us uncomfortable and it is OK to feel so?
Did they feel that I am also learning?
I was also very pleased to see students taking notes and drawing in their note pads the “information Iceberg”. I have recently noticed that PowerPoint presentations don’t encourage students to note down points of significance to them, although I always encourage them to do so.
Despite this “unique” situation I have decided to push my luck a bit; when I met the lecturer of the Sociology group and after I explained my misfortune, I asked her if she could observe my teaching and give me some feedback. As I don’t get the chance of being observed by peers, I saw this occasion as a good opportunity to identify any areas for improvement based not on my assumptions but on the views of an experienced colleague.
The lecturer found the way I turned this situation into a positive learning process very interesting, as well as the way I was paying attention and was listening to the students.
Reflecting in-action helped me be more conscious of the present situation. I feel that the ability to observe oneself while fully participating in the learning and teaching process is an art that can be learnt and mastered. It feels as if I had an extra pair of eyes which were objectively (to the extent that this is possible) observing myself and the class.
I also believe that this was the most fulfilling class-experience I have ever been in. The students were totally engaged, talked and reached new meanings.
Due to the pre-during and post reflection process, my experience as a whole was richer and I feel I learnt a few things that I need to work more on, such as:
- Perfection is just a situation to remind me that there is always room for improvement and indeed, it is really rewarding when after a period of time I can go back to the materials and be able to identify what can be improved.
- I need to explore how I can make other sessions as interesting as this one, without having to go through a similar stressful situation. In other words, what can I do to connect with the learners so effectively?
- This session was exceptionally delivered in the morning, whereas all my sessions ran during evenings. I noticed that students respond differently between these different times. In this case they came fresh and ready to exercise their brains, whereas in all the other occasions the students rush into the sessions at the end of their day with their minds trapped within the complexity of their life.
- What can the learning theories offer to my understanding? For one more time, I realised my urgent need to explore theories but just as I started scratching the surface, I felt overwhelmed by the vast body of knowledge. I don’t know if I should start with early theorists and then explore modern ones so that I can understand the context in which all these theories became important or alternatively start with the ones that interest me. The problem with the latter approach is that all modern and current theorists base their arguments to their predecessors. What would you recommend?
Schon, D. A. (2009). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Aldershot, Ashgate.
Image Credit: The last image above is a link and not an actual file. It was enitled by the artist Anka Zhuravleva as “the volume with clouds” The link appears on deviantART website.