18 January 2006

On being (over) prepared (2)

OK; I did the session. It went "quite well" as we report to our colleagues who bother to enquire. I managed to avoid imposing all my slides on the poor students (the follow-up web page with the presentation material I actually used can be seen here), but the evidence of the closing stages was that they were mainly baffled, if a little intrigued.

We started with two student mini-presentations; these were pre-arranged as part of the overal scheme of work, and consisted of two five-minute presentations; one was on Dewey, and the other on Freire. Both of them provided quite useful links with associated material for the main session, so that was helpful. I followed up the Freire presentation with some more material (which I just happened to have prepared earlier) on "banking education" and his overall project from The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

As we moved on to the main topic, I asked the students about what they had written about as "critical incidents" in adult learning. The first student to volunteer was spot on; she spoke about her decision to return to full-time education, saying something like;
  • "A number of things changed in my life, and that set me thinking about what I was going to do with it. So I decided to get off my butt and get a proper education..."
As I commented, you can't get much of a better definition of "transformative learning" than that! Other students reported on; how studying literature at university was different from doing it at school, a dance module she was taking which she hated because it was so unstructured, and the experience of becoming a mother for the first time. I was able to pose some questions in response to each of these which helped to focus the idea of transformative learning (at least, I thought so).

In introducing the input I made explicit reference to the Kolb learning cycle, pointing out that they had had concrete experiences, the critical incident exercise had helped them to reflect on them, and that we were now moving on to theoretical/abstract conceptualisation of that reflection.

We were now half-an-hour into the class (nominally a two-hour session, or a one-hour lecture followed by a one-hour seminar according to the bureaucrats). The students (10/14) needed prompting to contribute, but they became more forthcoming as we went on, and they found that I was keen to pick up on their ideas and relate them to the taught material. (Until the end.)

So to my presentation. (You can see the PowerPoint material at http://www.dmupce.org.uk/transformative/Transformative_Learning_files/v3_document.htm)
I followed through the eight "mainstream" slides as planned, and introduced some anecdotes and comment as I went along. At "A view of its significance" we had a brief discussion of how some adult education practitioners emphasised this transformation (particularly in term of building self-confidence) at the expense of the actual "stuff" to be learned; this elicited some protest—as indeed it should—from the mature students who had come in to university via "Access" courses (a non-standard route for mature students without the usual entry qualifications). This could have gone further, but on reflection my reaction probably came across as defensive, and thereby alienated those students in some measure. Damn!

There was some protest at the "Mezirow's stages" slide that I was not leaving it there for long enough for them to make notes; I responded by promising that it would appear on the web, but also questioning why they wanted to make notes of the detail. The fact that we fell back to that level of conversation suggests we were back at "transmission" learning, in the terms of this session.

On "Perspective transformation" I raised the issue of the emphasised assertion of values. I enquired whether anyone had done a mini-presentation about Gramsci. One student had! I asked about "organic intellectuals"; she searched her notes and came up with a definition (which was slightly unfocussed), but it did give me the cue to discuss the issue of how current educational policy "creams off" into formal education and the middle classes, those people who might otherwise have become "community leaders". I'm not sure that this meant much to them, and at this point I began to feel that my own awareness of the links between this notion of transformative learning, and a host of other ideas in adult education was beginning to lose them. The relationships make sense to me, and I want the students to pick them up, but I should have been more focused in the direct presentation.

So to the questions posed at the end of the main sequence. There was little spontaneous response. Sometimes you get the feeling that if they do say something, it is chiefly to make you feel that your efforts have not gone unappreciated. It was like that this time; but the student who had made the original brilliant comment on her "critical learning incident" did ask how transformative learning could be anything other than a Good Thing. This was my cue to talk about the less value-laden notion of crisis intervention theory, and how the stages described by Mezirow could go wrong. I did not, for some reason, relate this to my own research.

By this time they had had enough (after about 95 minutes); there were no further responses to my request for questions or discussion points, and so I wound the session up.

From moment to moment, it all went pretty well according to plan. I managed to contain myself about Perry, Belenky and Gilligan (who they? it doesn't matter). But it could have been better, and the "tipping point" at which I lost them was my over-stated assertion about Access courses, and my subsequent defensiveness. The mature students in this group probably identified their Access courses as their occasions of transformative learning, and I managed to undermine and devalue that. Damn! again.

That was not the problem I thought I was going to have. But I did; it was not fatal, and all being well they will find enough material on the web-page to encourage them to explore further, but it could have been better.

Sorry! Didn't mean to write so much, but that is what happens when you start doing disciplined reflection!

1 comment:

Comments welcome, but I am afraid I have had to turn moderation back on, because of inappropriate use. Even so, I shall process them as soon as I can.