Why I don’t like Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle in reflective practice

Reflective practice

Reflective practice is a core tenet of many professions. From nursing to teaching – reflective practice is an aspect of qualification, a requirement of professional bodies and an accepted aspect of practice. Reflective practice requires an individual to engage in conscious thought about an experience, event or practice. Such thinking should be critical; considering both what has worked and what has not. The aim of such reflective thinking is to identify what went well so that you can keep doing it – and what hasn’t worked well so you can change it. In short, reflection should be a useful tool for future action. Reflection also requires some form of expression – from writing in a personal diary or keeping notes on your practice to having a conversation with peers or writing a formal essay. Reflection needs communicating – even if it is only for your own use.

Three stages of reflection for reflective practice:
1 - have an experience
2 - think about an experience
3 - put learning into practice

While there are many different academic models of reflection, they usually revolve around three core components: an experience, thinking about an experience and then putting that learning into practice. Popular models include Kolb, Gibbs, Schön, Rolfe et al., ERA and Brookfield. As a learning developer, I see these models used frequently in student work. There is, however, one model I see more than any: Gibbs‘ Reflective Cycle – and I’m sick of it.


Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Before I start the critique, I should first say that Gibbs’ model has its uses. The rigid structure serves some students well, setting out how their essays should look. Instead of fretting over planning, this is largely set out in Gibbs’ model.

Another advantage is that it annexes descriptions into a single section. While this can cause other problems, it at least contextualises the role of description in the rest of the piece – it is a small aspect. I also like how Gibbs’ refers to feelings as a distinct aspect. Feelings are often overlooked and their prominence in the Reflective Cycle is helpful at framing reflection as different from normal discursive academic writing.

Describe what happened briefly. Feelings - Describe feelings/emotional response. Evaluation - What was good/bad about response. Analysis - How do you make sense of it? (use research). Conclusions - General conclusions. Specific conclusions - Action Plan What would you do next time?
Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (Image from University of Hull, 2021)

Criticisms of Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Having given Gibbs some form of an introduction, this section briefly lists the issues:

  1. The Reflective Cycle is boring – The six-stage model leaves little breathing room for interpretation or expansion. It produces essays that are samey.
  2. The Reflective Cycle determines paragraphs – Most implementations of Gibbs’ model force students into a single paragraph per stage of the model. This doesn’t scale well as essay lengths increase, leading to too much description and feelings. It also does not provide much freedom on how different elements of a reflection are structured.
  3. The Reflective Cycle can lead to superficial reflections – This is because Gibbs does not require the writer to challenge values or assumptions associated with any of their actions in the experience.
  4. The Reflective Cycle fails to draw connections – Without linking the experience being reflected upon to other events, there is a missed opportunity to demonstrate depth.
  5. The Reflective Cycle focuses too much on the reflector – While reflection is a highly individualistic thing, most approaches to it consider there are others. However, Gibbs fails to move beyond analysis of self. This can make reflections self-serving as opposed to individually useful (and sometimes that means challenging!).
  6. The Reflective Cycle fails to pose probing questions – While deep, probing questions certainly can be associated with some of the aspects of Gibbs’ model, as presented in overview, these are lost. This, again, leads to superficial reflections.
  7. The Reflective Cycle fails to engage critical thinking – While the model has components of evaluation and analysis, these are simply defined. Evaluation and analysis should present an opportunity for critical thinking – but this is largely absent.
  8. The Reflective Cycle fails to contextualise – The distinct sections for description and feelings are set towards the front of an essay. This can makes it difficult to links between different aspects of evaluation and analysis with elements of description.
  9. The Reflective Cycle confuses novices – So many students struggle to differentiate the evaluation and analysis. This can lead to mixed up sections. I also don’t know if the analysis and evaluation are the right way round. Sometimes I’m in favour of swopping – and others in favour of the status quo.

These points demonstrate many of the weaknesses associated with Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle. I often find simpler models more effective as they give more freedom and space for tailoring to the task required.

Other options

When considering Gibbs, it is also useful to consider that other models are available. My favourites right now are:

Rofle

Rolfe et al’s (2001) framework focuses on three questions:

  • What?
  • So what?
  • Now what?

While this may seem simpler than Gibbs, I feel it allows more flexibility and adaptation. The three questions lead writers to consider a combination of description, links to theory and actions to take forward.

Brookfield

Brookfield’s (2005) four lenses encourage reflectors to consider an event from multiple perspectives

  • Lens of their own autobiography as teachers and learners
  • Lens of students’ eyes
  • Lens of colleagues experiences
  • Lens of educational literature

This directly addresses one of the critiques of Gibbs – that there is no consideration of others in depth.

LEGO Serious Play starter kit for research & teaching

LEGO Serious Play was an essential aspect of my research method, getting participants to ‘build’ their answer, not just talk it through. I’ve also used it as a teaching facilitation tool to support critical and divergent thinking. LEGO is one of my most favourite research and teaching methods, as you can let people work through answers with the use of LEGO, and then capture the salient points when they share their build. It not only saves a lot of data processing for the researcher, but it is a lot more fun for participants. For teaching, it supports different forms of thinking and really gets ALL students involved. While LEGO Serious Play is a distinct facilitation approach and you can get trained to use it, there are also some helpful books to get you started. I recommend Blair and Rillo’s SERIOUSWORK as a good place to start.

To use LEGO for any aspect of research or teaching, you first need to buy some! This blog highlights the choices I made to build my budget LEGO Serious Play kit.

LEGO Serious Play sets are awesome! But expensive. There is a range of sets available on the official LEGO shop, but they were beyond my budget as a self-funded doctoral student. I had to improvise. This article will introduce the sets I purchased and how I think they worked for research and teaching use.

My haul

The LEGO sets I purchased for my LEGO Serious Play kit

LEGO classic

LEGO Classic sets are a brilliant way to bulk out your LEGO Serious Play kit. You get a lot of brick for your money, and the variety of colours is fantastic. I’m so jealous of children today – LEGO had about five colours when I was a child. I already had a Large Creative Brick Box (10698) – so bought a couple more to serve as the baseline of my LEGO Serious Play kit. The plastic storage boxes they come in are also the perfect place to keep the LEGO stored away between uses. In addition to these larger sets, I also bought a couple more classic sets, one featuring lots of windows and doors (11004) – the other featuring lots of wheels (11014).

The available sets vary over time, but I have found they usually have a classic set on offer with extra wheels and another with windows and doors. These are useful additions to any LEGO Serious Play kit so I’d advise investing in such sets. Windows and doors are not only useful in a literal sense, but they work well for metaphors. Wheels work well for movement, vehicles and more. I’ve also seen a set with extra roof tiles which I think could be useful. It’ll certainly be part of my next LEGO purchase.

Interesting bricks

Next up I wanted to add a set with some different/interesting bricks. To be honest, any set would do for this – but I wanted to avoid anything licenced. I felt items like a Star Wars brick or a Spiderman Minifigure would not serve as universal references, so wanted to avoid them. I think Minecraft LEGO sets are particularly useful as they have lots of transparent tiles and colourful bricks. At the time I purchased my kit, LEGO was celebrating its 60 year anniversary and had launched some special Building Bigger Thinking sets. I purchased World Fun (10403), which contained some useful pieces like a treasure chest, eyes, columns, helicopter and a couple of Minifigures. I also chose Ocean’s Bottom (10404) which has more eyes, wings, wheels and transparent bricks.

All these LEGO classic sets built the bulk of my LEGO Serious Play kit. This gave me lots of standard bricks, including windows, doors, wheels and more. The next pieces I used to build my collection were all a matter of choice. For example, baseplates can be useful for a lot of LEGO Serious Play kits – but they were not something I needed for my particular research. As such, I decided to forego them. If you need to facilitate collaborative builds then baseplates are the perfect way to bring this together.

Pick a Brick

To top off my LEGO Serious Play kit, I wanted to choose a few additional bricks. To help with this, I used the Pick a Brick station at a LEGO store. I focused on extra eyes, small tile pieces and anything else small. This would allow participants to build intricate/small/detailed models – should they wish.

Minifigures

Minifigures can be a bit of a divisive topic when considering their use in LEGO Serious Play. They can lead participants to focus on people (which may not be a bad thing) when they’re building their answers. For my research, I felt participants would benefit from Minifigures. Libraries are inherently social spaces – and people are part of that. I didn’t want participants wasting time in my research sessions ‘building people’ – so Minifigures it was!

Again, I felt the best place to get these was through a LEGO shop. There are build-a-Minifigure stations in LEGO shops allowing you to build three custom figures per pack. Four packs (12 figures) covered my needs.

Preparing the LEGO

The worst thing you can do is walk into your first LEGO Serious Play research or teaching session with a load of new boxes of LEGO. It’s worth spending some time unboxing and unbagging it to ensure it is ready to use. I also spent time assembling a few elements to make them ready for use. For example, adding tyres to wheels, putting wheels on axels, putting panes in windows and adding doors to their frames. While participants are free to switch things around, it does mean the bricks are ready for use without needing to combine these pieces.

From the unboxing photo below, you can see there was a lot of plastic bags to ditch. I also wanted to find a way to layout the LEGO without getting it everywhere – so I used the cardboard box lids from printer paper boxes. It worked really well to stop LEGO falling all over the floor during my research sessions.

Ready to go!

With all the LEGO purchased, unpacked and ready to go, I was able to start using it for teaching and research purposes. I still keep the LEGO stored in the big yellow boxes that came with the larger sets. I also bring a load of those empty box lids to pour LEGO out and stop it from getting everywhere.

LEGO works as a wonderful research and educational tool. I took this snap from one of the first sessions I facilitated three years ago. I can’t wait to share some more of my reflections on this.

LEGO, the LEGO logo, and the Minifigure are trademarks and copyrights of the LEGO Group. ©2021 The LEGO Group.

Using LEGO as a teaching aid for academic writing at university

This post will introduce my approach to using LEGO to teach academic writing. I conduct a lot of personal appointments with foundation and undergraduate students. For some students, ordering their ideas and structuring them is a real challenge. This problem tends to stem from:

  • not knowing where to start,
  • a sense of being overwhelmed,
  • the volume of information they consult,
  • the volume of information they feel *needs* including in their assignment.

Further, it is not just a case of ordering ideas, but structuring them that can be problematic. I feel that a lot of the poorly structured essays that I see are failing at the paragraph level. This is a real issue for a lot of students, especially those with less writing experience, those who have taken a break from education, or those who have no experience of essay-style examination. The latter is particularly an issue for international students from countries with different approaches to higher education assessment, often focusing on examinations above coursework essays.

This post will detail how I’ve used LEGO to discuss some of these issues with students, and use it to help them outline their approach to academic writing. This starts with a student I saw a couple of weeks ago. I was struggling to communicate the structural elements of an essay to them. The student had lots of ideas, but simply did not know where to start and all the approaches in study skill books were simply not working for them. Instead of just rephrasing, I tried a different approach, running downstairs to grab my tub of LEGO. I think LEGO bricks are an excellent way to visualise some elements of academic writing and decided this was the perfect time to give it a go. I think this metaphor for academic writing structure can really help students struggling to structure their ideas – or more appropriately, to help students who are overwhelmed with their own ideas and sorting them out.

Let me know what you think by commenting below, or getting in touch via @LeeFallin. You can also find out which LEGO sets I’ve used to build my teaching and research kit.

Using LEGO as a metaphor for academic writing

When planning your essay, it can be really daunting. You end up with ideas all over the place:

LEGO bricks spread all over a table in no order

You need to order these ideas into groups. The act of doing this enables you to identify the major aspects of your essay. As expected, some ideas will be discarded at this phrase too (see the pile to the right side). It is still worth keeping a record of these as they may be useful at a later stage (who would EVER throw a LEGO brick in a bin!?!?!):

LEGO bricks grouped into piles of the same colour. Some to the right are discarded.

Once you have grouped all of your ideas like this, they form the basis of your overall argument. Each brick group is an aspect of this, forming one of the micro-arguments that lead your reader to the conclusion in your overall argument. These micro-arguments (brick groups) may by represented in an individual paragraph, or across a group of paragraphs. This process is not easy. At this idea stage, some of your groups will end up too large and you will need to break them up across two or more paragraphs. When this is the case, it is hard to distinguish which paragraph an idea belongs in. In reality, you are more likely to come across this problem later in writing when you have an oversized paragraph that you need to break up:

A pile of yellow LEGO bricks of subtlety different shades

When all the elements of your points, arguments or ideas are grouped into their individual paragraphs, they need further structuring:

A pile of brown bricks come together into a block

A solid paragraph should have a good structure. I recommend TEAL as a good starting point:

  • Topic – A brief introduction to what the paragraph is about. What is your point?
  • Evidence – Academic evidence, reflections, your own research/data
  • Analysis – The ‘so what’? Persuade the reader that your conclusion is the correct one
  • Link – Link this paragraph to the next – or to your overall argument.

(Indeed – this stage may be the *best* starting point for some students, but the route described so far is excellent for those who struggle to structure all their ideas in the planning phase)

TEAL is a good way to structure all those ideas into a coherent paragraph:

An assembled block of brown bricks

LEGO bricks are an excellent metaphor for how you need to link all these elements together. The bumps and they way they interlock with bricks above makes this point clear. Everything with a paragraph must coherently link together and make sense:

Photo of lego blocks - demonstrates the

Once you have your individual paragraphs, they need to be assembled in the right order. This is often done as you go along, but as you being to edit, you may realise they need re-ordering. It isn’t just the structure that may change, and as you edit, some smaller points may need removing as you further refine your ideas (and try to get under your word count):

A long block of assembled bricks. Colours are striped in groups to represent paragraphs.

All of these elements together can help you rule your own writing:

LEGO monarch with crown

Taking this into practice

To put this into practice, I often recommend students grab a stack of post-it notes or use a mindmap to get all of their ideas on the table. The principles above serve as a great framework from which to interpret all these ideas. Working from the ideation phase, grouping/sorting and refining the order and breaking it into paragraphs. If all else fails, literally using the LEGO bricks works well too. Small post-it notes can be used to adhere ideas to the bricks in a way that doesn’t require cleaning them afterwards. This works perfectly with Duplo too.

The model above is designed to help students identify their main points, group their ideas under these main points, and then divide those points into interlinked paragraphs. As the bricks represent, these all need ‘clicking together’ to form a stable essay (or stable LEGO model!). This may seem a little obvious for advanced writers, but it is certainly worth trying with those new to academic essay writing. As above, please let me know what you think! I should also note a quick thank you to my colleague Sue Watling. She indicated this approach was interesting when I mentioned it in conversation, so I figured it was worth expanding on my blog.


LEGO, the LEGO logo, and the Minifigure are trademarks and copyrights of the LEGO Group. ©2021 The LEGO Group.

‘Normal’ or ‘New normal’ —Reflections on getting back into in-person teaching

Written on a train on a phone – so forgive any typos. I’ll tidy up later!

Since 18th March last year (2020), all of my teaching has been online. Obviously, this was the right thing to do. Society closed. We didn’t really know much about the novel coronavirus first identified in 2019, we didn’t know much about transmission and vaccines were still a dream. The situation also developed rapidly. The government told us not to be worried about the virus, that it was of little concern. Two weeks later, we were in lockdown. For everyone in higher education, this led to a monumental pivot online. Like every university, Hull responded and followed governmental guidelines.

When the lockdown hit, I felt lucky to be based in the Skills Team at the University of Hull. As a team, we all had experience of teaching online. We also had the software, the tools and training to deliver a good online experience. Nothing needed to be procured. No training was needed. We just picked up and got on with things. I’m not saying that the switch to online teaching wasn’t challenging — but we had somewhat of a head start.

As the pandemic evolved over summer 2020 and cases plummeted, we were able to open our library — the Brynmor Jones. This was done with an abundance of caution, following all safety guidance and with a lot of risk assessing. We were one of the first HE libraries to re-open, recognising not all of our students had access to the technology or connection they required to be successful at home. The library formed an important part of social and cultural capital for some students — helping provide what they may not readily have. While open, as a library we also focused on safety, still delivering our support digitally. This meant that our service points were not staffed in the same way and we focused on self-help, live chat and query management. The library was primarily open for socially-distanced study.

While the library was open, teaching and appointments we’re still off the agenda. At the point of initial opening, we still kept these online. This doesn’t mean I’ve been working from home all this time. As soon as the Library re-opened last year, I was in the occasional day, usually once a week. I figured that if our frontline staff were in – I should show face too. I eased myself in. By January 2021, I committed to three days a week.

For most of the year, while I was on campus, my students weren’t. All classes will still online. In May 2021, we were able to offer face-to-face appointments again. It was strange (but lovely!) to see students again. I felt connected to my work again. It reminded me why I love my job — I’d missed that interaction more than I realised. While appointments slowly ticked over, class-based teaching, workshops and lectures face-to-face were still some time away. At this point, it meant that while none of us stopped teaching, many lecturers hadn’t ‘lectured’ or taught on campus for over a year. That’s a long time!

My timeline now lands on last week. The 6th September. My first on-campus teaching for over a year and a half.

I was a bit nervous. Not going to lie.

Was teaching in a room like ‘riding a bike?’. That is to say — can I easily pick it up again despite all this time away? As I walked over to the Cohen building, the nerves melted away to make rookie excitement. I was so excited I took a selfie to make the occasion – but decided to do this outside the building so the students didn’t think I was odd before I even started teaching them.

Yup! Me stood outside Cohen.

A quick photo later, I found myself stood in a room much larger than needed to facilitate some social distancing, I looked over a sea of faces (well… 25 faces), and I began to teach.

Thankfully. It was like riding a bike. I just fell back into that comfortable space at the front.

It struck me how odd it was being able to move and use body language again. It was surreal! I didn’t realise how limiting a webcam could be until I was freed from those constraints. I could gesture. I could easily point to my slide visuals. I wasn’t trapped behind a screen. Teaching in-person went beyond this freedom. It was easier — and I hope — better!

I was in the middle of explaining a model of criticality, and my students looked puzzled. I’d not explained it effectively. I’d lost some of the room. Immediately — I was able to change track and reframe my explanation. I could see the metaphorical lightbulbs switch on. They’d understood what I said. I’d explained better. I have missed that more than anything with online teaching. The tendency for students to not turn on webcams removes this valuable tool from educators. We can’t see how our students are doing. This, more than anything, I had missed.

It isn’t just about understanding or not. There are other visual queues to respond too. There were some clear points at which I could see students were a bit overwhelmed, worried or even frightened of the expectations ahead. However, in seeing this, I was also able to reassure them that we would support them to get there. They have a wall to climb, but we’ll help them build a ladder.

My final reflection focuses on energy. I’m well used to being on campus with my regular three days now part of my schedule. I had previously found it a tiring transition when I first adjusted from vegetating at home to being in the office. But I was past that. At least the main hit. Teaching, however, did exhaust me more than I expected. It takes a lot of physical energy. Standing, gesturing, thinking, watching, projecting my voice — as much as I loved my first session, I was sure tired after!!!

My advice to anyone easing back into campus is to be prepared. Getting out of the home for working is tiring. It’s an even bigger hit when you throw in some lectures.

The development of university teachers vs. the learning developer

Today I had the pleasure of starting my Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP). As a learning developer, my journey is atypical to the peers on my course. This article serves as my first reflection about this. Our first reading was Kugel’s (2006) How professors develop as teachers. Kugel discusses a typical development pathway for lecturers — moving from an understanding of how to teach students towards an understanding of how to support their learning. In this, there are six stages, each characterised by the changing focus as lecturers develop their practice:

The transition from teaching to learning

This model was interesting. Kugel discussed how new teachers tend to focus on themselves as they begin to teach. They move towards solidifying their own discipline knowledge before starting to take into account students. These initial changes focus on teaching. The understanding of students develops, acknowledging them as receptive, then active learners. These later stages begin to focus on learning above teaching. Finally there is an understanding of learners as independent — with the core role of the teaching being to support students to teach themselves.

While I can see much in this model, it’s an interesting reflection for me as a learning developer.

The primary role of a learning developer is to help learners achieve that end goal — independence. While there are many nuances to this, ultimately learning developers are aim to work with students to help them develop their own autonomy and self-sufficiency. So… do learning developers really jump to the final stage of Kugel’s model?

Perhaps. At least at first. As a new practitioner starting in the learning development field 9 years ago, I feel I started from day 1 as a practitioner supporting this goal. Perhaps somewhat light in the tools I had at my disposal – but a focus on independent learning all the same. What I didn’t realise was that learning development itself had an underlying literature I needed to understand. As such, I perhaps worked backwards through some of Kugel’s model. I had to back-step and develop myself and my disciplinary knowledge to ultimately make me better at supporting that learning.

That backwards learning was important. It made me appreciate the diverse ways in which most academic tasks can be achieved. Without this understanding, there can be a focus on promoting your practices — or at least a narrow range. Inclusive higher education practices should never aim to reproduce yourself. More importantly, it required me to understand what teaching means, and how in reality, it wasn’t really that important in most learning development encounters. Indeed, it wasn’t even something I did that much. That brings me to my last reflection on this paper.

This final reflection relates to ‘teaching’ itself. The paper focused on teaching alone. However, as educations, we have more tools than teaching alone. As learning developers we are coaches. We are mentors. We are cheerleaders – and yes! Sometimes teachers. Yet, teaching isn’t everything. It is just part of the story.

Learning development and student narratives – Professor Shân Wareing

Professor Shân Wareing delivered an incredibly relevant and interesting keynote today at the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) Conference. Here are my notes (in mindmap format) from this session, which include elements of the discussion and wider definitions:

See link below for accessible, linear download

Exploring possibilities for the ‘critical’ in Learning Development practice & theory; critical academic literacies?

Gordon Asher delivered a very thought-provoking session this afternoon at the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education ALDinHE Conference. Here are my notes (in mindmap format) from this session, with the caveat, that they are but a small representation of what was a VERY deep discussion.

Session mindmap:

See below link for linear, accessible Microsoft Word version
Mind map of Gordon’s session

Broader conceptual framework:

Critical academic literacies are linked to critical university studies, critical/powerful literacies, popular education, critical pedagogy and academic literacies.
Critical academic literacies and the association with other related concepts/frameworks.

What is Learning Development Scholarship?

This post forms a personal reflection of a session I attended at the Association of Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) Conference 2019.

On day one of the ALDinHE Conference, I attended the Research Funding & Scholarship of Learning Development session led by Dr Maria Kukhareva & Dr Carina Buckley. This was a really interesting, interactive session, structured around the following question:

‘What is scholarship?’

This led to a rather expansive view of scholarship, not only accounting for peer-review publications, but also wider scholarly activity such as review, conference involvement and so on. However, this led to the eventual question of:

‘What is learning development scholarship?’

This question is not as easy as it seems. Scholarly activity can be pinned down and defined. Yes – there are different interpretations, but it is easy to find something that generally applies to most people. How learning development contributes to the wider scholarship of learning and teaching in higher education is however a bigger question. There must be something distinctive about it that makes it stand out against the scholarship of language learning, education and other fields.

What does learning development contribute? What is unique about learning development research?
Boyer’s model of scholarship (1990)

What makes learning development scholarship distinctive?

The real challenge of defining the distinctiveness of learning development scholarship perhaps lies with the difficulty of defining learning development. Our practices are incredibly diverse and sometimes disparate. If practice is so varied, can the scholarship be coherent enough to be classed as distinctive? While I struggle to answer this one, I ‘feel’ there is something distinctive about learning development. This is not so distinctive as to pry away from the disciplinary foundations of education as a discipline (psychology, history, sociology and philosophy), but I believe it is distinctive enough to carve out it’s own corner in the higher education literature.

This *feeling* I have regarding the distinctiveness of learning development has roots in my practice. This is because I *feel* my practice and approach is distinctive in comparison to traditional lectureship. This is because I am supporting the development of attributes, competencies, skills, approaches and so on – just not the development of disciplinary knowledge. This does not mean I have no knowledge base and convey no knowledge, just that such knowledge is of ‘being a student’, learning, writing and so on.

So – back to the question at hand. What does make learning development distinctive. We were encouraged to approach this question creatively, and this is the model the group I was part of ended up creating:

A conceptual model answering the question. The paragraphs below explain this in detail.

In the above photograph, you can see some of our core ideas. One of my primary contributions was the ‘lens’, as I feel learning development has a different view and approach to scholarship than other areas. In short, it is distinctive. There IS a learning development way of looking at things, even if we can’t exactly define it. I also built the pile of rubble and labelled it as ‘What is learning development?’. I promise you that the answer to that question is under those bricks. It just isn’t uncovered yet. Interestingly, I paired ‘lens’ with ‘reflection’. I think this was to highlight the reflective nature of our practice (or at least the development of it).

We also had knowledge, philosophy, inquiry, evidence and discipline(s) also on the table. These are all ideas long associated with scholarship. Once again, we had an interesting debate about what learning development brings to the table. The one we were really unsure about was ‘Mastery’. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, and this is the reason I picked it up. I think it is perhaps better related to scholarship with ‘status’ – a term another table has picked up.

I added the term ‘validity‘, because any research and scholarship must be ‘valid’ – but I think we can take this further as it links back to the question.

What makes learning development as a distinct approach a valid contribution to the wider higher education literature?

Reflection on what learning development is

This does not answer the big question. The closest thing we have to this are the ALDinHE values:

  1. Working alongside students to make sense of and get the most out of HE learning 
  2. Making HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnershipworking and collaboration
  3. Adopting and sharing effective LD practice with the HE community  
  4. Commitment to scholarly approach and research related to LD
  5. Critical self-reflection, on-going learning and a commitment to professional development 

Beyond these values, we did have a nod to practice on our model.

On the model, you can see a precarious bridge from one table to another. To fall of this bridge is to plummet between the tables. This kinda represented the journey students are on, with each step of this bridge further and further apart. While the definition of learning development is buried on our model, one thing is clear. We exist to fight anyone who would push a student off the bridge. We exist to help them over it – not to lead them, but to give them the abilities they need to take themselves over it.

You will see this bridge is hidden behind a wall. Sometimes the way ahead is unknown. It is difficult. It is hidden. We often tear that wall down to help students see where they need to go – and enable them to get there.

References

Boyer, E. L. (1990), Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. [PDF], Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Learning development: Supporting students to be mindful

Since my initial introduction to mindfulness through Ruby Wax’s (2016) A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, I’ve been meaning to reflect on mindfulness in the context of learning development. I didn’t quite get around to it. However, the publication of Cottrell’s (2018) Mindfulness for studentsfinally pushed this back onto my agenda and here I am blogging today.

Cottrell describes mindfulness as ‘being fully present in the moment’. This is framed as a pathway to greater self-acceptance and self-awareness.  Mindfulness is a hot topic at the moment. There are dozens of books on mindfulness (see: Waterstones) and even the NHS has pages on Mindfulness to promote wellbeing. Is this study-focused volume of use, or is it jumping on the bandwagon?

BrainA quick answer here – a bandwagon it may be, but there is a reason behind it. While it is cliche to say, ‘modern life’ is hectic and full of distractions. This is highly problematic when it comes to learning, especially in the self-directed learning context of higher education. Technology, social media and other student activities are all in constant competition with the need to study. While any form of study supports the long-term goals behind graduation, instant gratification is difficult to avoid. Here is where mindfulness may come in.

Mindfulness is often seen as an antidote to anxiety and stress, but more importantly, it can help with a number of common student woes such as problems concentrating, issues with maintaining attention or coping with difficult situations. I think learning developers often witness these issues and address them by supporting students to manage their own learning and time, to become self-directed learners and by encouraging the use of self-reflection. While certain aspects of mindfulness may come into these activities, they are often framed under the guise of study skills. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but there may be benefits to explicitly acknowledging mindfulness and encouraging its use.

Mindfulness in learning development

This needs to be applied carefully. Learning Developers are not life coaches or therapists – but we are there to help with learning and study. While we won’t be leading students through meditation, there are certainly some aspects of learning where mindfulness can be applied.

Here are a few possibilities that come to mind:

  1. Increased awareness of learning pitfalls. Helping students reflect on their own study practices can help them identify common distractions, lapses of attention and forms of procrastination.
  2. Develop a mindful approach to study. The ultimate goal is to help students develop a positive and enjoyable attitude, often gained through increasing their self-awareness of how they see study.
  3. Embed self-care into study. Students cannot be effective in their learning if they are stressed, tired or not looking after themselves. Good habits and time management are essential here.
  4. Contextualising feedback. Helping students look beyond immediate reactions to tutor feedback and helping them reflect on learning points and future applications.
  5. Utilise as a coping mechanism for stress and revision. While it won’t work for all students, there are applications for mindfulness in the support of exam readiness and stress busting.

I don’t think anything on this list falls outside of learning development. For this reason, I think there may be space to bring in the concept of mindfulness into our work. This may even have some advantages. A lot of the above is currently badged under self-reflection, but this is occasionally seen negatively by students. Sometimes self-reflection is an area they are assessed on, and so it is too closely associated with assignments. Sometimes it is because students hail from disciplines not traditionally associated with reflection and so it is seen as an unnecessary skill. Perhaps ‘mindfulness’ will be an easier approach to stomach? Yes – self-reflection is an element of this, but at least it isn’t the leading idea. Maybe mindfulness has some element of being on-trend?

There does, of course, have to be a distinct boundary in our use of mindfulness. Mindfulness can be (and is more traditionally) applied to wider aspects of life that study alone. While these are outside of the learning developer remit for most, the points above show there is certainly a lot of stuff that we can pick up.

Stacked Pebbles. Kinda Zen


References

Cottrell, S. (2018) Mindfulness for Students. Red Globe Press.

Wax, R. (2016) A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled. Penguin Life.

 

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