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Accessibility and e-learning
(These notes have been prepared and considered as part of the Open University postgraduate module on e-learning H810: Accessible Online Learning – supporting disabled students as past of their MA in Open and Distance Education)
Accessible examinations and assessments
- Are the particular assessments or examinations are core to the course?
- What adjustments are permissible within particular assessments or examinations without compromise to academic, or other prescribed, standards, such as competences required by professional bodies?
- Is the successful achievement of the highest grades and awards, based on performance in examinations and other assessments, equally attainable by disabled students?
These three questions are universal.
Offered in a table, as part of a questionnaire they should be answered by a variety of people up and down the chain of command – from assessors and tutors, through courseware designers to subject matters and the dean of faculty.
I gave this some thought in four different contexts:
- teaching swimming coaches as the Amateur Swimming Association’s Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 Teaching Aquatics levels;
- admissions policy at a collegiate university such as Oxford
- for corporate Learning & Development departments via their e-learning provider
- for a learning institutions in the creative industries and media.
I’d ask various further questions:
- What kind of adjustments should we reasonably be expected to make to accommodate students with disabilities?
- What does our research say about the attraction of certain courses or the problems that have been encountered. What have we addressed and fixed? Where do the current problems lie?
- Do we meet the criteria of the DDA? If so, is this enough? Is the bar too low? How much do we wish to achieve?
- Are we communicating policy at all stages from advertising courses, faculties and colleges – to the assessment process and examinations, the results experted and how these will be achieved?
- (Oxford) Are we or should we proactively seek to attract students with disabilities ?
- Should we seek to attain a certain % in the student population of students with representative disabilities?
- Are there colleges or faculties or individual champions which have a vision that is either more for or against such accommodation?
- What student bodies exist, university funded or student organised, around support for disabled students?
Putting content online, or simply the universal digitization of resources, immediately creates opportunities for students with disabilities who can then apply technology to enhance or adjust the may the content is communicated, shared or discussed in keeping with their needs, expectations, experiences and ambitions. Improving opportunities has to be a two way process, working with the students who have or have not found ways around or through barriers whilst seeking to offer, suggest and provide services, whether software, assistive technologies or other interventions (assistants, scribes, parking, physical access to building, facilities).
In relation to disabled students who needs to know what? After an audit of awareness who then needs to improve their knowledge and awareness?
If there is a blank requirement for basic awareness, at what levels and to what degree can further training be provided to that understanding is fully integrated horizontally and vertically.
- Do we need ethical and moral guidance?
- Should the university vision or mission statement be adjusted?
- Where are we taking legal advice from? Is the legal position fully understood by those who need to know?
A student using Dragon speech software in an exam for the first time was revealing:
- He had been using it for two months previous to the exam (like learning the piano, I would have got far further along the learning curve so that as I suer I felt I could make the technology sing – for some the right pen or pencil is crucial to exam preparation.)
- Allowing for the idiosyncracies of the programme
- Started the exam much the same as anyone else – with fear and trepidation
‘My exam results proved that although I may not be able to express myself with the technical aptitude of most people my age and intelligence using this equipment I was at least able to demonstrate that I had been working and learning’.
Making adjustments to or accommodating students for different exams will be tricky. Various questions have to be answered:
- Is the assessment or examination is core to the course?
- What adjustments are permissible without compromise to academic, or other prescribed standards or competencies?
- Are the highest grades and awards, based on performance in examinations and other assessments, equally attainable by disabled students?
It strikes me that greater transparency and collaboration is necessary. This would be beneficial, but is also apt in the modern paradigm of e-learning. See it as an opportunity to review course content in a different way.
Excellent, broad, clear communication is required. Faculties need to go out of their way to be sure students have understood when they apply for the course and as the course plays out.
Assessment strategies should be:
- properly designed and kept under review
- rigorous, consistent and at an appropriate level
- effective measures of student attainment
- able to guarantee the validity, equity and reliability of assessments.
On the basis the QAA standards have already been followed, further improvements to satisfy a range or disabilities ought to be possible. Broadening the reach would be recommended across visual, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairments.
Assessment is a pedagogical tool
These milestones, these hurdles are key to embedding learning and to starting the process of making it stick. Repetition of testing on the same subject improves the chances of it being remembered – a test in the real world, applied to a problem or task that is repeated is similar to an assessment, and as in the real world, repeated assessments, like a challenge, need to be different each time in scope, scale, context and outcomes.
The examination is one thing, marking is another. It isn’t simply guidelines on how the exam will be set and assessed, but the desires of the student, their goals and the expectations and ambitions of their peer group, college, profession and family.
Learning from the way in which the Paralympics take place – an ulimate test, I wonder if students with disabilities might also achieve a classification related to their disability. In this way, if, for example, awarded a 2.2 a letter or code might be affixed to it.
Fairness is debatable and it would have to be transparent, which in turn expects comment and criticism so therefore requires both the mechanisms and people to respond and to take action. This is therefore an additional cost, technically to provide the means of transparency, feedback and communication, but also in recruiting, retaining and supervising full-time or part-time personnel to undertake these tasks.
It strikes me that an institution or department, through an individual champion and with some credible followers, need to embrace accessibility and then follow through on a case by case basis, writing up and sharing experiences so that knowledge can be shared and where found barriers removed, reduced or circumvented. As a swimming club, proximity of special needs schools, practitioners and a flexible pool operator means that we have many disabled swimmers with a variety of needs. The club has become a regional hub for best practice. The lessons learnt, the expertise and the development of helpers, assistant teachers and coaches all contribute to the knowledge pool. Similar hubs are required within organisations – educational institutions or companies, if the diversity of possibilities for people with disabilities are to be met.
If only it were as simple as considering dietary needs in a restaurant, whether vegetarian or vegan, or allergies to certain foods.
Pointless second guessing the detail if once in a blue moon someone appears on a course or module with one of these disabilities.
Again from sport, and following on from insights from the Paralympics:
I wonder if there would be value in a log book and portfolio, more than just a blog and e-portfolio, but a detailed transferable record, including medical record, exam attainment, accommodations made in the past (successful and failures) … meeting certain criteria so at various times a students progress can be monitored and where assessments take place a judgement taken accordingly. In swimming athletes keep a log-book of training and test sets, as well as galas and land training … as times achieved over various distances swimming different strokes are constantly monitored it matters that they include periods of ill health and absence, even physical growth or weight gain.
- What, in their words, are the advantages of e-learning to the student with a disability? (mymindbursts.com)
- Access to learning for students with disabilities (mymindbursts.com)
- Ofqual: schools abusing ‘extra time’ rules in GCSEs (telegraph.co.uk)
- How about designing a user interface based on the teachings of Maria Montessori? (mymindbursts.com)
- Alums with disabilities cite campus pros and cons (futurity.org)
- Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success, says Michael Gove (schoolsimprovement.net)
Some thoughts on accessibility for disabled students in Higher Education
“All education is about empowerment, whomsoever the learner might be”. Tennant (2009:154)
I find myself looking for a single sentence, phrase or word to sum up what is required to improve access to higher education for disabled students – a good deal is applicable to all students (I was researching Stephen Hawking‘s career out of interest).
It is the value of the personal touch, one human being, the knowledgeable educator reaching out to another who has a genuine desire to learn – tutors who are natural educators, in the vocational sense – not watching the time or doing it for the money while their heart is in research. i.e. one person can make a difference.
Who in other words is the inspiration to the student?
I too found I was building up a long list of ‘true to all students’ which I found refreshing and touching, especially the desire to belong, to make friends, even to find love – while dressing up and getting drunk.
And to be independent of parents – or in one delightfully intriguing case from their twin!
The division between able-bodied and disabled, between the Olympics and Paralympics, is a compromise. How far and in how many ways can a cohort of students be split?
Mature students form a different group.
By subject, by gender, by socio-economic background, by UK resident or foreign student? By exam grades, by type and degree of disability? By the football team they support, the college or residential hall they stay in? And when you get down to the person how are they and their many moods and responses categorised?
The point made repeatedly on the platform of the LibDem Conference on disability and access – people want to be treated like people, that’s all.
People are messy, none of us want to be a label. There can be a culture of doing things by the book, institutionally, by department or because of the jobsworth mentality of an individual. Hopefully social networks and the ease of reporting frankly on conditions will increasingly allow people to make choices about where they apply to study, and how – not mentioned as the case studies are not current (2004), e-learning and blended learning can increase flexibility and aid accommodation of people with a plethora of barriers before them.
Delays in funding are unforgiveable – more stories need to be brought to public notice so that politicians, departments and people are named and shamed. And not mentioned, but those families with the money can, as well as applying for funding, cover shortfalls, give additional allowances, fund a car or a flat.
How do you train staff in relation to disabled students?
Why do ‘teachers’ in Tertiary education think they don’t need a qualification to teach? This would cover some of the ground. In sport we are taught to coach what a person can do – taking the time to find out what a person is capable of takes … time, which is money, which anyone with an eye on payment by the hour the hours they have in a week is unlikely to give. It can ultimately only be done on a one to one basis. This comes down to the nature of the tutor, lecturer or ‘educator’ and their motivations – do they want to be thought of in their lifetime as the one who made a difference, who inspired a young person to achieve or do x or y, or think about things in a certain way?
Time is an interesting consideration – the goal and how it is achieved rather than the time required needs to be the consideration.
If more time helps get a person through or beyond a barrier, then time, more of it, or making more of it, is the answer. As above, time lost can now be recovered with e-learning or blended learning. Even a commute can, for some, be a chance to catch up on reading … even to take part in an asynchronous forum such as this.
To accommodate training and competition schedules young athletes such as Tom Daily take three years to study for their A’ Levels rather than two.
Might anyone, for a variety of reasons, take four or five years to complete an undergraduate degree – and benefit, as they mature, from having more time to get their heads around it. Life is disruptive in varying amounts for everyone.
It is a compromise, but there is a reason why the Paralympics are run separately, indeed, if this part of the Olympic Movement grows even more it may perhaps have to be split again simply to better accommodate to variety and range of disabilities. By bringing, for example, wheelchair users together you are better able to provide for them – the specially commissioned multiple wheelchair access train from Paris to Stratford International has to be an example. An entire university, built as if on an Olympic Village format, deigned above all else to give access to people overcoming a variety of disabilities would, like the Olympics themselves, probably have to draw on students from an international, even a global pool. How about, in collegiate universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, a college is financed to meet specific, or a set range of impairments? Are there not economies of scale, could services across the board not be better, or are we once again segregating people with disabilities rather than making efforts to bring down barriers of access to the mainstream?
Life is an obstacle course.
It isn’t even the case that the person over the line first wins. If access adjusts as many of the obstacles to a height or level of challenge that is equal to all would we not have everyone crossing the line at the same time. In educational terms, certainly at tertiary level, if only those with similar levels of attainment, and this includes people with a variety of disabilities, then the test has been an intellectual one. Playing devil’s advocate might it not be equally valid to put barriers in the way of the able bodied? Examination papers in a tiny font, a power-cut so all papers have to be read and written up in the dark, the dominant arm tied behind the back … alternatively, an assessment system that is designed to elucidate what the student knows, however they can express this, so more viva voces, more applied and modular assignments as part of the submission …
Thoughts on access from the conference floor – Liberal Democrats 2012
“I learned JAWS, the screen reading program that I use. I learned to communicate with my professors to advocate for my own self, talking about what I need when they use the three bad words, which are: “this, there and that”. For example, if they’re talking about a bell curve “it goes up like this in the middle and then it goes down like that”. That doesn’t help me”.
Sounds like a CPD on writing and presenting for Radio would go down well.
Cal – deaf – assistive technology in a US School.
So for the lack of an available interpreter or several interpreters, instead I use Assistive Technology. There is a person off-site who uses a headset and the teacher has a lapel microphone and when the teacher speaks, the person off-site can hear the teacher’s voice through their headset and type into their off-site computer. And that information goes through an Internet connection to my laptop in the classroom. And I read the captions on the laptop while the teacher is lecturing in real time.
Stephen Hawking has a motor neurone disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years since diagnosis in his early 20s. He is now almost entirely paralysed and communicates through a speech generating device.
The important influence of teachers and parents.
Stephen Hawking has named his secondary school mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta as an inspiration, and originally wanted to study the subject at university. However, Hawking’s father wanted him to apply to University College, Oxford, which his father had attended. As University College did not have a mathematics fellow at that time, they did not accept applications from students who wished to study that discipline. Therefore, Hawking applied to study natural sciences with an emphasis in physics. University College accepted Hawking, and he gained a scholarship.
Christine – Juvenile Chronic Arthritis –
Slow to take up DDA, delay in getting kit. Mature student. Kit only does so much, no transcription software for digital recordings of lectures.
Dave – Extreme stress and abxiety disorder
Geoffrey – Maths PhD Student with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a condition that impairs the functioning of nerve cells gradually over time. It eventually leads to a loss of ability to move, though the brain is unaffected –
John – Cerebral Palsy
John identifies the support of his parents and professional assistants as having been vital in his success. He credits his parents for encouraging him to become as independent as possible, and instilling a pro-active attitude to life.
SKILL – student experiences
Laura – Brain Tumour age Five
The shift from living at home to semi-independence away from home in a hall of residence, or greater independence in a student digs, requires considerable adjustment. Far better if the transition from school and home to university is a gradual, or at least a stepwise progression – something those who attend sixth form college find marginally easier, but for those who have been at boarding school find easier still. Otherwise, some kind of compromise needs to be accommodated, or recommended, the simplest one to live at home at first – or, which some can do, home comes to the campus.
Simon – Cerebral Palsy
Courage, self-belief and compromise. Like all of us? Common to all students completing a degree and seeking employment.
Kirsten – Blind
Who are we to advise on the suitability of a course? Significant distances to placements with no compromises.
Acceptance for what I am rather than prejudiced with the label ‘blind’.
Inadequate testing – CRB forms not available in Braille, assessments couldn’t be read by the Screen Reader.
Emmanuel – Dyslexia
Sense of independence at Sixth Form College
Stuart – Wheelchair user after neurological illness
Adaptable with regard to my disability – working with what he could do, rather than trying to overcome a barrier unnecessarily. Disabilities and life experience a lesson to young students.
Laura – Profoundly Deaf
DSA for note taker Friends, travel opportunities, lip-reading different languages.
- Space requirements according to the disability or use of a wheelchair.
- Socialising, nightclubs, flashing lights, layout and signage.
- Feeling left out – the asthmatic and cigarette smoke.
- A week can seem like a really long time sometimes, especially if in that particular week existence as you have known it for the past 19 years changes as completely as is humanly possible.
- Expectations about splints and stories of injury rather than genetic disorder – humans looking for things in common.
- Embarrassment and disappointment when trying to initiate a social get together.
- A learning process on both sides when it comes to lectures – is that good enough?
- Tiresome visits to the GP for simple things
- A Dictaphone serves many purposes – for lecture notes, but also recording other stuff and having a laugh. Yes, like all people, a disabled person has a sense of fun and mischief too.
- A wheelchair user having to climb onto a washing machine to read the instructions.
- Making friends. ‘It’s nice to know that people are ready to help when my usual attempts at total independence fail’. Texting to meet up if she gets lost. Sarah Butler.
- Just ask
- Three weeks in and adjustments still being made to bed, bathroom and bathroom door to create easier access.
- Don’t be patronising -lectures who need training or to gain some emotional intelligence in how they behave with other people.
- Week 4 and no note taker in place for a tutorial so a fellow student stepped in.
- This reminds me a bit of pushing my four year-old brother in his pram. Said one student to her.
- It would, both needed to have a laugh about it.
- Personal assistants aren’t around all the time so friends need to help. This in relation to moving into a student home.
- I was so nervous but it turns out I really had nothing to worry about. Academically it’s going fine and socially it’s just going even better. Visual Impaired Student, Sarah Butler.
- Bored with a lecture – like any student. Lumping herself in with the 70% who are likely to fail, hasn’t found a suitable way to revise as writing and typing are out – so understands the need to work with the content but hasn’t received help with ideas on what she might do instead.
- Makes too much socializing the excuse for possibly doing not so well in an exam rather than the disability.
- Required a friend to take the initiative to ask about the risks to an asthmatic of smoke machines at a choir concert.
- Some people just thought I’d come as Superman and then I had to go and explain the subtle difference between coming as Superman and coming as Christopher Reeve, to which some people again just laughed hysterically and some people just looked shocked and didn’t know what to say and went quiet. But I thought it was a great idea and very funny and I had a good laugh.
A quadriplegic with three full-time carers, one in her flat, the other two next door – them depending on her for further training after the initial inductions with her mother in the first two weeks.
- Straight out to a fancy dress party – then to the shops.
- Not used to having to remain alert for such long periods
- Being young and wanting to fit in as much as possible
- I feel I’ve been an outsider for quite long enough and it’s time for a change.
- Thinking about … men.
- Getting up at 6.45 to be ready for the first lecture of three at 9.30.
Introduced to scan and read technology – rather than during the second week of a course couldn’t this be done ahead of the new term?
Catering for every kind of student includes the selection of music played
I don’t know how much help tutors/lecturers are supposed ro give – this in relation to quantities of new terms in sociology.
Aware of the challenges, the risk to her health, even to her personality – but feels the degree will get her out of a more dull future otherwise.
- Falling in love
- Forthright advice applicable to anyone.
Baillrigg Lancaster University
- Personal flaws quite distinct from the disability such as expecting too much from a situation.
- Wants idependence, but my need parental involvement.
- I want people who don’t have such problems to be less intimidated by people like me and learn to appreciate them as normal.
- Importance of catering for different needs and interests – not everyone is a drinker.
- Important I would have thought to have a very large and diverse incoming cohort, or good mixing between year groups, and a way for students with similar interests and outlooks to find each other.
- A frenetic desire to get stuck into sll kinds of things, not just course work, but sports, activities and church groups.
- Aspergers and Tourrettes – so he wants to learn BSL and Mandarin of course.
- I did my first load of washing today which was a success, but the dryers were rubbish so I have wet clothes hanging on shelves and doors in my room.
- Got laptop, scanner, dictaphone.
- Ranges within Aspergers, in terms of response to emotions, or not. ability to communicate, or not.
- Cross correlation insight between need for facial expressions in BSL and meanings of the four tones in Mandarin.
- We do not suffer, which implies pain – fed up of media talking about people who ‘suffer’ from Aspergers or Tourettes.
I don’t wanna be an inpsiration.
Interesting insight into ignorant, well meaning churchgoers who blamed Jesus for giving him a cold and would pray to make him hearing if he had been deaf. Shows who responses are so strongly influenced by context and experience.
Seeking independence from parents and finding ample respect from fellow students.
A 1.5 hour trip from Coventry to Warwick Uni, two buses and a guide dog. Youngest person ever to get a guide dog at 15.
DSA and assessments in August for a late September start. Netbook, scanner, JAWS, dictaphone. Also a helper as well as a request for a GPS device. NONE of the kit turned up in time, still none a week later. Nor her maintenance allowance, although everyone else has theirs. Still nothing by the end of October. End up being leant a zuni laptop that was too heavy to take into lectures or transport.
- Very helpful with introductions, 3rd Year Student Support and lecturer support. Given advice about the dog too.
- Don’t assume she requires lecture notes on PPT enlarged, actually reduced as she has tunnel vision. In 12pt can only see two or three words at a time.
- Note takers and helpers funded by DSA. Three in all.
- Individual induction to the library.
TWINS – CONGENITAL MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY
- Wanting to be independent of each other!
INDEPENDENT LIVING AND A PA 24/7
What DSA does or does not cover. Does not cover the PA costs. Inadequacy of being handed a mobile phone and told to call a nurse across campus should he require to go to the toilet – but he can’t even use a mobile phone that easily.
- Several agencies to approach.
- Package must include becoming an active participant at university.
Attitudes, finance and poor or inadequate advice. Cara an excellent ice-breaker for someone living at home not on ca
DSA includes ink cartridges and a taxi if it is raining or to get home later.
The irony is that potentially the most support and understanding of the issues will come from a parent – but like all young people growing up, they want Independence and are prepared to make sacrifices. However, their ability to manage their needs, costs, people, access, work load, mobility, socialising, kit and so on, is, as for anyone, in part down to that person’s personality and resilience – can they manage people, are they thick skinned, do they have a sense of humour …
The Paralympic Categories
Paralympics categories explained
Guardian on the classifications
California State University (CSU) (undated) ‘From Where I Sit’ Video Series [online], http://teachingcommons.cdl.edu/access/materials/fwis.shtml (last accessed 23 September 2012).
BBC Radio 4 (2004) Disabled Student Diaries [online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ radio4/ youandyours/ transcripts_studentdiaries.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Tennant, M (2009) chapter 10 in Contemporary Theories of Learning – Lifelong learning as a technology of self.
Ouch (2009) Disabled Student Diaries 2009 [online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ fact/ disabled_student_diaries_2009.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Ouch (2010a) Disabled Student Diaries update: Charlotte [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ charlotte_s_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Ouch (2010b) Disabled Student Diaries update: Lee [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ lee_s_student_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Ouch (2010c) Disabled Student Diaries update: Andrea [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ andrea_s_student_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Can blogs and blogging support students in distance learning?
The more I read, the more I research, the more I listen and the more I gush to others about blogging, the more I feel that it is like …‘trying to flog a dead horse to make it pull a load’.
Not the act of blogging, but the actions required to convert people.
People (students) don’t see there value; to read a few well written, apposite blogs, fine. A person that in this environment has something to offering pertaining to their course. Or for entertainment. (Stephen Fry’s Tweats form a micro-blog after all), micro only in the sense that you are restricted by character count per entry. If these parameters are like a letter-box then Stephen Fry is posting plenty himself and garnering a gargantuan response).
I have infront of me ‘Exploring students’ understand of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education’. It was a conference item at ALT-C 2007: Beyond Control: Association Technologies Conference, 4-6 September, Nottingham, UK.
One of its Six authors is Grainne Conole, an OU senior academic, a blogging practioner and evangelical online chatter-box and good-egg. She wants us all to blog, and understands the magic of a comment … she likes to make new friends and understands the reciprocal nature of reading and leaving salient comments. It’s T.L.C. online.
I just clicked away and posted this in her blog:
I’m faced with the dilemma of having to split my professional, student and personal approaches to blogging. This three way split has me locking down one diary and ‘friends’ gathered over a decade and tripping over the other two selves, starting afresh with contacts and what I blog wearing my professional hat. I am certain such possible conflicts of interest occur for anyone working in online media communications – broadcasting on behalf of your employer; indeed, my contacts in senior PR and Media roles of various organisations have the weakest of online profiles, even though two of them are published authors.
On the other hand just as I really got going in Facebook to connect with my brother and his family in South Africa and organise my mother’s 80th, I find that living away from home during the week I come online to have some sense of what my own family are up to – just a shame our dog doesn’t blog, ‘stick chasing across the South Downs’ would do it.
Currently reading your 2007 paper ‘Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education’. Are Learning Designers (and those who work with them) ‘flogging a dead horse?’ The analogy I’m about to use in my OU student blog is that I am starting to feel like a Tuba player at a football match – no one is interested, they’re watching the game. Maybe if I could network with the other instrument players in the crowd we could have a jam-session. As another paper on blogging discovered ‘birds of a feather flock together’, we do this and find kindred spirits. The problem in OU student blogging platforms is that we are overly pigoen-holed, not just by course, but by module and tutor group (and sub-groups within these).
I liken the Internet to a digital ocean; currently blogging as an OU student is like blogging in fish tank, in a warehouse full of fish tanks. And every so often someone kindly comes along and divides us up even more, creating barriers, rather than opportunities. Please can we just all be tipped into the same ocean?
I then went off to Facebook, via my external blog My Mind Bursts.
I only sat down to transfer notes from a pad … and am yet to transcribe a single word of it.
I was going to say, anything short of writing directly into ‘the white box’ that you are presented with on your chosen blog platform or platforms snacks of something else: a repository, a writer’s journal, a student’s e-portfolio that they leave open … keep forgetting in the lecture hall, that they photocopy and leave on benches outside the refrecatory.
Reading ‘Everything is miscellaneous’ David Weinberger I find a like mind a) the idea of miscellany, that each page, each asset, whether ostensibly part of something (like this) is like an autumn leave scattered on the forest floor. These leaves never compost down and those that are tagged stay on the top of the pile, those that people find or are guided too most often, stay on the top of the pile … and did it not long ago reach the stage where the leaves on the forest floor are so deep that they have buried the trees?
I put a slightly inept first draft phrase into Yammer the OU Personnel ‘Twitter-like’ feed about dandelions and pomegranates. I’ve used the dandelion metaphor many times, the pomegranate too, but had never put them together.
My thinking was this, if the seed is this blog entry, or a Tweat or even a message in Facebook i.e. an idea, thought, asset or message, a seed if you were scattered to the wind to find its own fortune then developing social media for an institution, whilst the asset, these words, are still a seed, they are coming from a pomegranate, not a dandelion. The reason being that understandably if you are expressing the views of others, collectively or individually, you cannot just hold you thoughts up to the wind and blow. The opening of the pomegranate is, as it were, the necessary processes and procedures. This analogy falls apart though if you have an image of Jamie Oliver holding a pomegranate half in one hand while smashing it with a wooden rolling pin with the other … the OU are not smashing me on the head to extract words like nasla mucus. Rather, at first at least, they will be extracted by me using tweezers.
All this and my 16 pages of notes on blogging handwritten into a Shorthand Pad remain unused.
To overcome my reluctance to write up what I feel I have already expressed I realise I could just photograph my notepad … in fact, I’ll do this and just see how folk manage with my handwriting.
Reflection in Higher Education (Moon, 2005)
I woke early with some neat idea that related Moon (2005) on reflection in H.E. to effort and some student being upset about wanting all her ‘effort’ to count … it hadn’t.
I sketched a mini-knowledge map thingey, made coffee, then … well, 90 minutes later I have read all forum entries and nudged two tasks forward, as well as reading all ‘fringe’ forums and followed a long-standing promise to comment on fellow students’ blogs (some, not all) and I’ve done this. So I have at least mentioned what I had on my mind when I stirred into consciousness.
I have the following to work with:
- Tutor Guided
- Course Guided
As playing with toys is more fun than work I may do one of several things:
Doodle on my Mind Map (its on cartridge paper in a sketch pad so it invites embellishment)
Stick it on or in Compendium (which would be like using a chain-saw to prune back the stunted lavender at the front of the house)
or have a go with …
Thanks for that Lesley. It took me less than 20 seconds to pick this out of our week one forum.
Oh the joys of playing in the OU sandpit.
Moon, J (2004), ‘Using reflective learning to improve the impact of short courses and workshops’, Journal Of Continuing Education In The Health Professions, 24, 1, pp. 4-11, CINAHL, EBSCOhost.
Reflection in Higher Education
Reflection is ‘cognitive housekeeping.’ Moon (2005). OU Student Jane Barret (2010) doubts that Moon supplies evidence, feels that ‘critical thinking’ is a better term and that Moon (and others) are trying to make something abstract concrete. I prefer to think of reflection in an academic setting as ‘guided consideration and compartmentalisation of the material you’re working with.’
Reflection in the context of studying requires the student to hold a mirror up to their student-selves. Efforts to get things straight in your head, to generate your own take on the topic being studied may go awry on take one, shape up in take two, and, one would hope, comes together by take three. Reflection on this process helps establish the final thoughts. In the OU context where is take one and take two? Some of it is undertaken in the forum, some of it in the blog. Either way, feedback, comment and critique as well as marking is the way to pass through these cognitive stages. Nothing obliges one to reflect more than success or failure, a hearty slap on the back, or a slap across the face. You do well, you want to do better; you do badly, you want to put it right. You reflect on this and find a better way forward. Wherein lies the importance, in e-learning, of comment and collaboration, using what the Internet affords, those around you whose different take and experience can add colour and understanding to your efforts.
Reflection is like making a buerre blanc, which is made by reducing white wine vinegar with stock, a shallot and then carefully adding cubes of unsalted butter. In other words, reflection is at first a gathering in of the correct resources and then a reduction of these resources.
Drawing on what Dewey says, that reflection is ‘a kind of thinking that consists in turning a subject over in the mind and giving it serious thought’ makes me think of composting. You put all kinds of bits and pieces in that over time, reduces down to plant food and fibre, or in the case of reflection, a sentence or two that sum up your thinking.
Dewey defined reflective thought as ‘active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends’ (Dewey 1933: 118)
Both of these ideas imply a ‘deep approach’ to learning, wherein lies the value of reflection. You take the experience of reading and interacting with others, and draw some tentative conclusions; you achieve more than simply itemising what others have already expressed ‘surface learning’.
Reflection is a process that both reduces and gathers in. The end result ought to be something potent and memorable.
Barret, J c2.4 Reflection and learning (2) my views. OU. (Accessed 28 SEPT 2010)
Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf (accessed 25 Sept 2010).
Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc (accessed 28 Sept 2010).
Moon, JA (2006), Learning Journals : A Handbook For Reflective Practice And Professional Development, London: Routledge, eBook Collection (EBSCOhost)
Reflection on Learning
Guide for busy academics. No.4 Notes. Learning through reflection.
Jenny Moon, University of Exeter – the guide. Upright.
Jonathan Vernon, my thoughts – my reflection(s), in italics and (parenthesies) as if I don’t quite mean it. Or do I? These thoughts just pop into my head. They bubble up from nowhere. (Reflection or an unfortunate chemical condition called myelination.)
PDP can involve many forms of reflection and reflective learning.
A mysterious activity … or capacity? (or indulgence)
‘it lies somewhere around the notion of learning.’ (What on earth is meant by that?)
(Plenty of people reflect, it is apparent in those people who listen during meetings. When they have something to say it is because they have taken on board various ideas and are then able to summarise and offer their own thoughts. They don’t need to write it down, all they have to do is sit forward and concentrate on what is being said, rather than thinking about what they would like to say.)
Generally reflection is a means of working on what we know already and it generates new knowledge.
(I disagree. Why reflect on something you know already? Surely not giving it a second thought applies when you understand something, better when you can act intuitively. On the contrary, the time to reflect is when you don’t understand, or your thinking has been changed and you need think twice?)
Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome.
(I disagree. Reflection can be a form of indulgence, a pastime, an entertainment. Indeed, does this author not start out by calling it a ‘mysterious activity … or capacity?’ Nothing they have thus said convinces me that they know otherwise.)
It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.
(Two words worry me here, ‘relatively’ and ‘largely’ suggest to me someone who doesn’t know, who is hedging their bets and has no evidence to support what they are saying.)
Reflection has a role in:
• academic and non-academic learning
• self development
• critical review
• considering our own processes of mental functioning
• emancipation and empowerment and so on.
(And here it is tag on, cover-all, phrase ‘and so on’ that worries me. A list. An open list. Why not just say ‘reflection has a role in everything.’)
Perhaps it should be called ‘reflectivism’ this obsession with navel gazing.
(It will work for some, not for others. And just because someone reflects a great deal, does not mean they find any deeper truth as a result, or as a result are then capable of deciding a way out of this intellectual impasse and turn thoughts into actions.)
There is a close relationship between reflection and emotion or feelings and many would suggest that the use of reflection in academic contexts provides an appropriate channel for exploration or expression of this human function.
(This is just poor English or Jenny has been listening to too much of ‘Just a minute … trying somewhat awkwardly to avoid using the same word twice.)
Self-awareness and control of emotions is an important factor in academic performance and PDP provides opportunities for emotional engagement with subject learning.
(Perhaps I’ll buy into this based on what I have read on ‘How to study’ in Richard Northridge’s OU book of 1990)
What’s more effective than reflection? Debate.
(And if open, formal debate in the style of a debating society is not feasible, then at least engaged discussion in a tutorial-like setting is required. This makes information stick, this transforms they way you think, changes behaviour and builds knowledge. Reflection doesn’t have teeth, it lacks the emotional edge of tussle with colleagues, fellow students, subject matter experts and senior tutors.)
Reflection compared to debate, is the difference between tea and scones and a bun-fight. Which are you going to remember?
Reflection is tame, learning should be a wild tiger.
• being reflective slows down learning, because it requires time for a learner to reprocess ideas.
(It can cause learning to grind to a halt. If all you are doing is traveling across the same ground. Reflection as a dog chasing its tail, not even that, reflection as a dog chewing its own tail.)
• material on which we reflect is relatively complicated or unstructured material. It challenges learners and when they are challenged, they gain greater abilities in dealing with difficult material of learning.
(We agree on this. But I don’t believe that reflection engenders challenge. Nor do I think, should students share their ‘reflection’ that this should be challenged unless the tutor or moderator wishes to or is trained to act as a kind of therapist who helps the reflective process along, by turning old thoughts into new ones, then seeking and agreeing a way forward.)
I don’t feel challenged by this ‘guide,’ only irritated. Irritation does not foster reflection or debate.
There are many vehicles for reflective learning in the curriculum:
• learning journals, logs etc
• the use of portfolios
• reflection on work experiences
• reflection on placement experiences beyond the deliberate curriculum
• in the context of peer and self assessment
• in the context of careers work, counseling or student or personal development work.
(How about reflection without ever writing it down, or recording it? Just person to person, not talking to yourself in a mirror, or talking to yourself at all, but by speaking with a friend, or colleague, or mentor, or ‘significant other.’)
There are some things to think about when asking students to reflect.
(i.e. before you reflect, reflect and before you get students to reflect, reflect. Indeed, why not stop and think again, think twice, think trice.)
‘You think too much.’
If labels stick, this one stuck. Time to move on, or not. Perhaps I’ll reflect on it.
Perhaps I just did?
Northridge, Andrew (1990) The Good Study Guide. Open University.
The Higher Education Academy
Guide for Busy Academics No.4
Learning through reflection
Resources for Reflection
(18 September – 1 October)
Unit 2 (part 2): Reflection and learning
Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (2009) ‘Completed RLOs – study skills’ (online), Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Available from: http://www.rlo-cetl.ac.uk/whatwedo/rlos/completedrlos.php#studyskills (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).
Crème, P. (2005) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 287–96. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930500063850 (JV accessed 25 SEPT 2010).
Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf (JV accessed 26 SEPT 2010).
Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc (JV accessed 27 SEPT 2010).
Smith, C. and Haynes, R. (2005) ‘Reflective writing RLO’, London Metroplitan University. Available from: http://intralibrary.rlo-cetl.ac.uk:8080/intralibrary/open_virtual_file_path/i1026n24186t/reflective_writing/reflective_writing.html (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).
Smith, M. (1996) ‘Reflection: what constitutes reflection – and what significance does it have for educators? The contributions of Dewey, Schön, and Boud et al. assessed’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-reflect.htm (JV accessed 26 SEPT 2010).
Chen, H.L., Cannon, D., Gabrio, J., Leifer, L., Toye, G. and Bailey, T. (2005) ‘Using wikis and weblogs to support reflective learning in an introductory engineering design course’ [online], paper presented at the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Research & Innovation in Engineering Education. Available from: http://riee.stevens.edu/fileadmin/riee/pdf/ASEE2005_Paper_Wikis_and_Weblogs.pdf (accessed 25 May 2010).
ERIC Digests, http://www.ericdigests.org/ (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter a keyword search for ‘reflection’.
Lister, S. (n.d.) Do it Yourself Reflection, http://www.educause.edu/blog/slister/DoityourselfReflection/165694 (accessed 25 May 2010).
Making Practice-Based Learning Work (n.d.), Reflection, http://www.practicebasedlearning.org/resources/reflection/intro.htm (accessed 25 May 2010).
Reiss, D. (n.d.) Donna Reiss’ Active Learning Online Resources, http://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/ (accessed 23 June 2009). See also a sample reflective hypertext essay at http://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/refhypertext.htm(accessed 25 May 2010).
Richards, C. (2005) ‘Activity-reflection e-portfolios: an approach to the problem of effectively integrating ICTs in teaching and learning’ (online), Teaching and Learning Forum, Curtin University of Technology. Available from: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/richards.html (accessed 25 May 2010).
Sierra, K. (n.d.) Karina’s Writing Portfolio Wiki, http://cooper.pbwiki.com/Karina (accessed 25 May 2010).
Smith, M.K. (1996/2007) ‘David A. Kolb on experiential learning’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm (accessed 30 SEPT 2010).
Trafford, P. (2005) ‘Mobile blogs, personal reflections and learning environments’ (online), Ariadne no. 44 (July). Available from: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue44/trafford/intro.html (accessed 25 May 2010).
University of Denver (n.d.) DU Portfolio Community, https://portfolio.du.edu/pc/index (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter ‘reflection’ in the keyword search box for examples of student reflection.
University of Warwick (2004) Recording, Summarizing & Reflecting, http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/elearning/tools/blogbuilder/recordreflect/ (accessed 25 May 2010).