Sunday, 13 May 2007

What have I got out of this?

I always remember an old family friend recommending, when I must have been about 5 that it would be an excellent idea to start writing a diary. He said I would find it very illuminating and entertaining when I was older. I remember thinking - "older?" such a long time to go before then. I tried, so many times to get it going but there were two things that meant it was never going to work out...

I could not be motivated by some kind of entertainment or insight I would be giving myself way in the future.

I was aware of my audience - the old me. And it meant that everything I wrote sounded trite and false. "Dear diary....ugh"

This blog is the first time I've really written something close enough to be called a diary for any sustainable amount of time. And I suppose it's because I can see that there's a purpose, but also of course to a certain extent because it's assessed.

To begin with I wrote it without seriously considering anyone would read it. Then a couple of people did read it and I was suddenley faced with a simliar dilemma. and I began to think much harder about what I said. But not worrying too much, and just saying, well, to hell with it, if it's rubbish, no one's obliged to read it is a nice feeling. It's a decision you rarely have to think about when you write a private, paper-based journal.

But have I really got something out of it?

Well, I think not just this reflective bit, but the whole experience of having reflection legitimised has given me the confidence to question. I was told by someone at the start of this job that I was not there to "ask questions" I was there to just get on and do. Well, now I know that it doesn't matter what job you're in, or what role you do, asking questions is at the core of it all. It's at the core of development.

It's helped me recognise the importance of the "process" of reflection. For all Kolb's cycle's shortcomings, "feeding" between reflection and practice is essential. And it's been my sticking point throughout my studies and my career so far. I've recognised the importance of the feeding between the two but I'm only now starting to actually see how to really "do" it. To try a little thing based on an idea, to not give up immediately, to try it again, doesn't need to be big. Smaller is better. To "JUST DO IT", not THINK TOO MUCH. I've often, in the past found myself reading and reading and reading - whenever I have a problem, my first reaction is "information, get me information!". And I'm scurrying to google or the library. Partly because "doing" it is scary, "reading" about what to do is not. Now, I feel more confident about experimenting. Knowing that it's really important. THat you need to do it and even if it fails, that by giving myself time to reflect I can turn the epxerience into something valuable. I'm trying, not always succeeding, but I am trying to do. And then "think" about how that worked and try again. And try not to be a perfectionist, recognise that if it didn't work perfectly, it doesn't mean it didn't work. And actually it will be useful to understand how I got to this point and what it was that made it possible to recognise the importance of this because this is the kind of attitude I need to encourage in staff when they are trying to get to grip with learning technologies. Helping staff move around the cycle in a meaningful way.

I also see the importance of dialogue, the perspective's of others in reflection. We are not isolated thinkers and do-ers. Dialogue is crucial to understanding in the field of education (I make a point of saying in this field, because my brother has mentioned how working in maths and programming, too much discussion with colleagues, can be extremely detrimental, that sharing with others leads to stagnation). I have a colleague who has been commenting on this blog. Having gotten over the embarrassment of having someone read my highly unstructured, casual and therefore somehow "unprofessional" thoughts, his comments have been incredibly valuable. There aren't many, they're very short, but they offered focus, when sometimes it's easy to get off topic, and at other times alternative routes.

I am now thinking how good it would be to have access to my colleagues' journals - I am going to see if I can read the one colleague I know who's also blogging. How valuable it would be to read what they have to say, think about how they experiences related to mine, share ideas. I think it would be great to use blogs for peer-supported reflection after the course is over. Perhaps a better way to share and discuss than using a discussion forum!

What I've also come to recognise is the importance of separating content from delivery - how much more semantic web I can get than that! people can give feedback and offer criticism in different ways. Often, there's some emotion involved. That emotion can get my back up. The emotion stops me listening to the content. For example I really don't like complaining and moaning. But now I see that regardless of the tone of delivery of the information may be, the actual content is always going to be extremely valid. It will still tell you something about the person or the situation. Finding a way to turn off my personal reaction, or at the very least understand that my reaction to the content is being coloured, is essential in order to become, I think, what it means to be a professional, reflective, critical thinker. This also frees ME, to be critical, however I am still struggling with getting the balance right with this.

I am highly critical of myself and people who are close to me. Highly critical. But when it comes to working with people, trusting them, sometimes total strangers, I am surprisingly uncritical. I like to think the best of people. It means that as soon as I make a mistake, I instantly panic and adopt an alternative approach, before I can really be sure it really didn't work, and at the same time, if a large plan, run by someone else (in a position of authority I think...), doesn't seem to be working, I adopt an "I'm sure it's going to work out OK in the end" approach. Maybe because at the end of the day, how much control do I have over it after all. A kind of, if I can't do anything about it, there's no point thinking about alternatives.

Here's an interesting exert:
Pragmatists (such as William James) recommend optimism as a successful strategy, and recent psychological research has confirmed its value. But optimism comes at a price: optimists are less accurate in their assessments and expectations than are pessimists. Thus optimism 'proves itself to be good in the way of belief', and by pragmatic standards should count as true; but that makes the accuracy costs of optimism invisible (the problem is only exacerbated by Rorty's recommendation that pragmatists stop speaking of truth altogether). The problem prevents pragmatists from offering a Darwinian explanation of why pessimism survives, and also blocks any pragmatist account of the well-documented and highly successful exploratory behavior of many animal species.

What I do know is that for me, being critical means having practical experience first. So, I realise that in general, in the past, I have not been very critical of Learning Technologies. I've been an enthusiast. But then I suddenley realised that I'm highly critical of page-turner e-learning. It's not something that the uni do any of, but certainly something that I have experienced working in an insurance company where loads of info has to be communicated and assessed very quickly. Well, I hated those experiences - and I'm highlyh critical of them. It actually lead me into research on embodied, outdoor learning. Same goes for everything else. I shouldn't be promoting any kind of tool unless I have tried it myself. And especially because this seems to be the best way to turn on my critical radar. And this is a rule that I'm going to try and follow in the future.

So, I have started to use discussion forums, to support staff, not only in learning but also in discussions about other departmental issues, and I need to get much more involved in them myself, for my own learning, to support others, to get much deeper insight into what works, what doesn't.

My reflection has not only made me mindful about how I think, and how I do, but also about the theory and practice and thinking processes of others. Now, almost whatever I'm doing, I'm trying to think about their perspective. Understand where they're coming from. I used to do this a bit, in my training, in order to communicate effectively, but now I find myself doing it more and more in every part of my job. Not just the people I'm training but all my colleagues.

Well, this blog is still just the front end of my reflection if you like. I rarely actually reflect ON this blog. Just like the students in the Virtual Classroom, I'm reflecting and then "writing up" on here. Still very casual but definitely some filtering has already taken place.

Top five places where I generate thought crumbs - not neccessary in order:
1. At conferences and of other places where I'm meant to be focussing on what someone else is saying
2. In the shower
2. In bed just before I go to sleep (I've got a notepad on the bedside table)
3. In the car (lots of writing on arms or trying to twitter - not easy)
4. Standing in the kitchen having breakfast
5. On holiday

When I'm not "thinking" at all, that seems to be the place when all the crumbs come together. The only other time that I can FORCE it all to come together is when I am writing an essay and it HAS to be coherent. That makes some kind of cheescake base of the crumbs - all watertight and stuck together. But when I'm on holiday, I don't know if there's a metaphor that can describe it - the crumbs aren't crumbs anymore, they reincarnate (wow, religious metaphor to describe my thinking...oh well if that's all I can come up with at short notice..), they sort of become part of me - they're not crumbs out there on bits of paper, random thoughts, they become integrated with a whole set of existing beliefs, and when I talk about them now, it's not with hums and hahs and you knows it's just, or in pieces, they are part of a much bigger idea. Shame my job description doesn't include "long periods of rest and relaxation!"

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