The will to learn

I had an unexpectedly good time at the Ped-RIO pilot workshop in Birmingham on 20 March. The purpose of this session was to introduce an impact assessment resource for teacher CPD that had been developed by Plymouth University for the HEA. This project is one of the outcomes of the 2012 report on Impact of Teaching Development Programmes (Parsons et al. 2012) that I looked at for my RRW2 assignment.

viewercrescents On the way to Edgbaston I stopped off to view the eclipse through the viewer I’d knocked up on the train by stabbing some pencil-holes in a sheet of paper. It was such a lovely experience gathering random people together on the canal path and watching the little holes go from circular to crescent-shaped and hearing the birds singing. I felt deeply connected to the people around me, united in awe and wonder at those little shadows and our sudden collective awareness of our insignificance in the universe. The Japanese have a word for this awareness and its associated emotional response: Yugen.

…so I arrived at Winterbourne House already in a very good mood, to find the impact assessment resource the Plymouth team have developed is actually a resource to support institutions in designing their own evaluation measures. I really like this approach; it assumes nothing about the focus or purpose of the evaluation, who it is for, or its format, and explicitly directs the user into identifying and developing these for themselves. In this sense it is pedagogical.

While working my way through The New Significance of Learning, my imagination has been captured by Hogan’s four relationships of teaching; the teacher’s relationship with their subject, their students, their colleagues/employers and the public, and their relationship with themselves. The first time he presented this particular lens on teaching practice, I immediately recognised (and scrawled in the margin) a link with the tri-partite UK Professional Standards Framework of knowledge, skills (areas of activity) and values. Satisfyingly, Hogan himself makes this connection explicit in the penultimate chapter. Framing teaching as a set of relationships make more sense to me than the PSF, because they present teaching in an ontological sense rather than an epistemological one; less about the ‘having’ of knowledge, skills and values, than about how these are embodied in who and how we are.

I am reminded of my old MA tutor Jack Whitehead and his request that we consider our ‘living theories’, and the educational influences in (rather than on) our teaching. The resulting discussion is documented in the comment thread of my very first blog post back in 2008, and yet again I feel immensely grateful to my former self for starting out on this learning journey in a way that I can revisit who I used to be and how I used to think, and see what has changed (and why), and what hasn’t. As a longitudinal study of my learning over time in response to different contexts and stimuli, the blogs provide a fine example of how complex, random, chaotic, dependent on interpretation, perpetually fluctuating and generally unpredictable this process can be. In my posts I respond to various courses, events or sources, often asking myself similar questions to those suggested in the Plymouth evaluation resource; what I was hoping to achieve in attending/reading this; how the experience compared to my expectations, what I took away from it; what I will do as a result of it, etc., and in that sense they constitute an evaluation of impact that – I feel – captures the buoyancy of Hogan’s four relationships.

However, it is clear to me that my blog posts are only partial responses that are often highly dependent on the context in the moment of writing, and are increasingly (as I become more conscious of everything being connected) triggered by something other than the event or source itself. Take this post for example; I intended to write about the workshop several days earlier, but didn’t – and then I finished Hogan’s book and was confronted afresh with the connection between his four relationships and our existing means of assessing CPD based on knowledge, skills and values. So my response to the workshop is not a measure of its impact in isolation, but a product of coincidence and my own agency, among many, many other factors.

This example highlights the challenge of reconciliating the impact assessment agenda with the philosophical question of education and ‘effectiveness’. Learning is (arguably) not a closed system, and the more an individual opens themselves up to it through their own initiative, the more they are likely to learn, and the greatest ‘impact’ is likely to be observed. It is therefore short-sighted at least, and probably erroneous, to attribute ‘impact’ to the programme of development itself; we need to look around and far beyond such programmes to examine receptiveness, responsiveness, self-direction and the will to learn.

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