On finding a place and space to reflect

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently, for those following the Copyright Literacy blog, it’s been a fairly hectic few months. Since starting my new job in April I’ve been to Latvia to speak at a Media Literacy conference in Riga, I’ve been to Southampton Solent to the UCISA Digital Capabilities event. Then I’ve been to pretty much every CILIP conference going (the CILIP Copyright Conference in April, CILIP Wales in Llandudno in May, CILIP Scotland in Dundee in June and the main CILIP Conference in Manchester in July). At pretty much all these events I was speaking about copyright education and the work I’ve been doing with Chris Morrison. And in fact in less than two weeks the road trip continues as we’re off to Wroclaw, Poland to speak at an IFLA joint offsite meeting organised by the Copyright and Legal Matters Advisory Committee and Information Literacy Section Committee. We had an exciting July as we launched version 2.0 of Copyright the Card Game. The content has been updated and amended and the cards have been re-designed with a more professional brand. We even have a colour palette which I am particularly pleased about because I had a lot of input into that.

However, one thing that has become clear to me over the last few months is that I’m not employed as a library and information professional anymore (arguably I wasn’t really at LSE I suppose!) and so I’ve been thinking a lot about my interests and how they might be evolving. I remain interested in copyright, information and digital literacy as it’s such an important part of learning. I can see that not knowing how to find, manage or use information can seriously hamper people’s chances of success. Understanding copyright is not central to all disciplines, but it does impact on many lecturers and teachers when they share content with their students or with colleagues. It also is something that students need to think about not just in creative subjects, as they are increasingly producing content they want to share online.

I’m about to start teaching in early September for real (I’ve dabbled a bit over the last few months), on the Learning, Teaching and Assessment module of the MA in Academic Practice at City, University of London. I’ll be teaching about learning theories, learning environments and approaches to teaching in the first workshop. In preparation I’ve been reading up on educational development and learning theory (it has been a while since I studied this stuff!) I’ve been drawn to the work of Donald Schon, partly because I see him on our reading list, partly because I think reflection is really important, and also because I’ve started to read what he had to say about change.  I remembered how Emma quoted from him in her ANCIL theoretical background report – she used this quote to preface the study:

[O]ur society and all of its institutions are in continuing processes of transformation ….We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations. We must make the capacity for undertaking them integral to ourselves and to our institutions. We must, in other words, become adept at learning.” Donald Schon, 1973.
Schon also wrote about reflective practice, which is hugely influential in educational development. The idea of reflecting in and on action, is something many of us may do as teachers. Reflecting in action is sometimes described as ‘thinking on our feet’ and involves looking to our experiences, our feelings, and attending to the theories that influence us. Through this we can build new understandings to inform our actions in a situation, as it unfolds. However I think the important thing is to ensure we record these experience, observations and feelings soon after they happen, to really benefit from them. This is what Schon called ‘reflecting on action’ where we write up, talk through with a colleague and explore why we did what we did. This is really important to help us develop our own ideas and questions about our practice. I think you can avoid being overly critical when things go wrong, but reflection is so important to help us improve our practice.

Change, transformations and adaptation are a good thing, but they can be hard work, so it is important to reflect on where we are, where we’ve come from and where we are heading. With that in mind I’m working on adapting one of the resources I developed in my copyright education, on creative approaches to learning. It’s a new set of cards, so far there are just three suits, but I am working on a fourth, to make it a nice compliment to the copyright card game. I have cards for learning theories and for learning (or teaching) approaches. I plan to create a set of cards for learning environments (lecture theatres, online learning, flexible classroom), and then perhaps I need discipline and level of students, which is of course where any planning needs to start. I don’t think teaching is a pick and mix approach, but I think that being exposed to a variety of different scenarios and approaches helps teachers come up with some more creative approaches to learning. So many of the lecturers at City I’ve spoken to recently are concerned about student engagement and relying on lectures and expecting students to do further reading is pretty much the bare minimum these days. It’s difficult, because we don’t want to fall into the rhetoric of saying that our learners have changed and need more engaging teaching, as we have further evidence that digital natives do not exist from Kirschner and De Bruyckere. But I think student expectations have changed, with far greater numbers of students coming into higher education, from a wider variety of backgrounds, we can’t afford to be complacent and adopt a sink or swim approach. We owe it to all our students to help them be the very best they can, and that means helping the lecturers be as best they can too. I hope that is what I’m going to do this term!

It really has been quite a period of change and on my days I don’t work for City I’ve started doing some freelance work, including some copyright consultancy for several universities. I am also in the middle of a great project working with Learning on Screen to better understand the needs of the education sector for copyright advice related to audiovisual materials. It’s great to work with friends and Team J’seskimo as we jokingly called ourselves (Lisa Jeskins, Chris and I) have run a survey, two focus groups and are currently in the middle of telephone interviews and analysing the survey data.

And not being a librarian has finally meant I need to start addressing some of my short comings. I am fed up with being dreadful at organising my own information, particularly my paperwork, but generally all my stuff. I’m a bit of a hoarder and I am desperate to change. Having so many things to juggle means I have to be better organised and so I’ve been using some leave to have a house tidy up and clear out. I’m not exactly embracing Marie Kondo principles, but I do keep repeating William Morris’s saying of having ‘nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful’. It’s a slow and painful process, one room at a time, but I do think that to organise my mind, I need to de-clutter and be surrounded by the things I need and love to inspire me (although I don’t need two cats sitting on my desk and paperwork all the time). I’ve also decided to sign up for a mindfulness course. I’m hopeless at switching off. My idea of taking a break recently has involved just having two devices on the go and not looking at Twitter for 15 minutes. However, I realise to think clearly I need to get outside much more and start walking and being in green places, visiting gardens and going on long walks by the sea. A few days down in Dorset earlier in the week showed me that and then I read this article on walking.

I’m looking forward to autumn, I’m sure there will be plenty going on and plenty of challenges along the way. I’ll be making time for reflection, sharing my successes and failures (I love that Thomas Edison quote about not failing but finding 10,000 ways that don’t work!). I’ll hopefully be a bit better organised, and more mindful, but most of all I know I will be learning a lot along the way.

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6 thoughts on “On finding a place and space to reflect

  1. A piece from the heart – I can empathise with a lot of what you say. If you are interested in the connections between teaching and contemplation and the ‘heart’ of HE I’d recommend Arthur Zajonc and Parker Palmer for thought-provoking reading. Maybe we can discuss when you are back next week? RCW

  2. I’ve always found walking a huge help in thinking through life and work and try to get out for a decent (8+ miles) at least once a month. Many philosophers were keen walkers and I loved Heidelberg’s philosophers’ walk.

    • Yes thanks Sue, I think trying to do a walk at least once a month is a really good idea. I’m going to give that a go too! I do a lot of walking but usually to get somewhere rather than just going on a walk for pleasure as I used to. It’s definitely something I should return to doing!

  3. This is a lovely post and one that resonates quite a bit. I’ll be looking at your progress and your readings very carefully too – I’ll email you to explain why 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments Sarah. I have had some nice feedback on what (like a good walk) was a bit of a ramble really! I am currently working on the cards I mentioned in the blog post, still not entirely sure how I’ll use them. And I am off on my Mindfulness course on Sunday which I am very much looking forward to!

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