Hogan 1988: The picture gets bigger

Hogan, P. (1988) Communicative Competence and Cultural Emancipation: reviewing the rationale for educational studies in teacher education. Oxford Review of Education, 14 (2)

In RRW1 we looked at truth and knowledge; what is truth? What does it mean to know? What is is possible to know? Quite big-picture stuff. In RRW2 it feels like we’re honing in much more closely on education, teaching and teacher education, but also exposing even more of the whole landscape (of human life and thought). Perhaps this is because the RRW1 readings were relatively general and/or abstract, whereas the immediate relevance of the RRW2 readings is obvious.

A friend asked me earlier how my studying was going. I told him I was reading a piece which was quite short but heavy-going in places, and I wasn’t sure I really understood everything the author was getting at. This is the earlier of two articles we’ve been given by Padraig Hogan, which I expected to be somewhat dated by now. Fortunately – and unfortunately – it isn’t. The reason I found it hard to digest in places was because – like many things we’ve read for RRW2 – it argues against a technological and bureaucratic approach to teacher education, and in favour of something more emancipatory. Writings on these less definable aspects of pedagogy often seem esoteric, but I suppose one has to keep trying (to write and to read about them), lest they become completely overshadowed by those aspects which are more easily described and measured.

Oh, hang on. That’s already happened, hasn’t it.

In this paper, Hogan poses the question ‘what is the purpose of the educational enterprise?’, and presents a range of possible answers, for example the Platonic view of instilling positive, established values; the Socratic communicative questioning of values; and the Marxist intention to disrupt institutions of power. Hogan never says so explicitly, but his alignment with Socrates’ ideology seems clear. He acknowledges that as a global debate this is probably futile, but argues for the importance of discovering and exposing our ‘personal ideological underworlds’, particularly where we have responsibility for educating teachers.

The other half of Hogan’s argument in this paper – and I’m not sure if the connection between the two is obvious – is around the rift between theory and practice in teacher education. This is very relevant to me in my position as course leader of our internal HEA-accredited teaching qualification at UAL. Hogan cites Stones (1983) in highlighting three sources of the rift; (1) theory-focused curricula, (2) didactic teaching methods, and (3) the professional/student split identity caused by the nature of the relationship between colleges and training providers.

I immediately recognised these as three features of my own course which either have been, or are very much in flux. The didactic teaching (2) was probably the first to go out of the window. By the time I joined UAL the course was already very participatory, and the didactic elements reduced even further when I took over (I felt like I didn’t have much to say). The balance is shifting around these days as I try new things and figure out what the participants need.

The theory focus (1) is something that has really changed this year when I moved to what I’ve called a flexible stratified curriculum. I don’t even know if there’s a widely-accepted term for this, but I got the idea from CCK11, one of the very early MOOCs run by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier in 2011. The idea is that you provide a range of different types of sources on a topic and your students pick one and create a response that relates it to themselves or their own context. The activity could be made even more practice-focused by starting with the question ‘what does [inclusivity/open practice/assessment] mean to you?’ – this is how I generally kick off the online seminars I do to introduce each topic, but fewer than half of the cohort attend these. Hogan favours microteaching, interaction analysis and self-evaluation as an ideal basis for a practice-focused curriculum. We use situated peer observation rather than microteaching as most of our course participants teach in very specific physical environments (metal workshops, lighting studios, etc), but it is a central element of the course. It could be even more central, and I am in the process of proposing various changes that will make it more so; allowing more time for the observations themselves and setting aside specific workshops to reflect on the outcomes.

ElementaryKidHoldingOutAppleOn to (3), which is the really interesting issue; the dual identity of participants. In their colleges our teachers are professionals, but in their dealings with CLTAD they are students again. They have to submit work, wait for grades and feedback (sometimes disputing them too), provide their own refreshments, and essentially become one of the ‘many’ in a one-to-many communicative event. Unfortunately – in my naiveté – I was partially responsible for a significant shift in this direction when we revalidated the course three years ago. In a general economy drive we removed the very plush travel-food-and-accommodation-provided residential route, we stopped providing lunch and coffee, and we disaggregated the whole course into modules and made applicants select what route they wanted to take through the programme. We thought all this would mean participants would take more responsibility for their own learning, be more engaged, and less demanding. It didn’t. It made them feel confused, stressed and cynical. It also meant the programme was no longer feasible to complete in a year and a nightmare to administer with all the different options. Communication between the course team and the colleges has not been as frequent or reciprocal as it could have been – Hogan emphasises that this is an essential element in forestalling the ‘pervasive and disempowering effects of large educational bureaucracies’. We are taking steps in the right direction; running introductory workshops in the colleges and building relationships with our college-based colleagues, but it will take time and it is one of the things that falls by the wayside when you are very understaffed and fighting to stay afloat.

An aggravating factor with the ‘dual identity’ issue is the actual separation in electronic identity that is forced on all our course participants. Our systems do not allow for student-staff to have a single identity; when they enrol on a course they get a new e-mail address and a new username and password. Yes, they can arrange for their student e-mail to be forwarded to their staff account, but they still have to log in separately to the virtual learning environment, the e-library, the e-portfolio system, the blog server, etc. This would be hard enough to maintain even if all the passwords didn’t expire every 90 days. The whole situation is ridiculous. I myself have fallen foul of it already, being enrolled on our Early Career Researcher training and having had to call the password reset helpline twice, even before the course has begun.

This has ended up being quite a long post, and I wasn’t expecting it to be… in summary, I’ve realised through this and the last few readings that I have been guilty of adapting to a bureaucratic milieu, privileging control and predicability in my curriculum design, using technology for illusory efficiency gains and treating professionals as students. On a positive note, my course is very participatory and praxis-focused, and I have clear ideas for what might be done to make it even more so (and address some of the points above). I also work in an absolutely fantastic institution which is less bureaucratic than most and has a collective open mind. And I have finally learned how to spell bureaucratic!



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