Reflecting on Practice

In my February blog entry on what makes a good teacher, I mentioned the concept of the “reflective practitioner” brought to prominence by Donald Schon in his 1983 book, The Reflective Practitioner, How Professionals Think in Action. The concepts behind this book are summarized well here.

This is the time of year when reflective practice comes into play. Many instructors have completed their courses for the year and now have time to reflect on what went well and what needs improving. Over the summer they can plan to make changes and seek new ideas for enhancing what they do.

One particularly interesting concept in relation to reflective practice is that of double loop learning. In single loop learning you basically plan to do something, do it, reflect on how it went and correct anything you see wrong. However, you continue with the same basic approach in the future. In double loop learning you reflect not only on what you do, but your process of planning, doing and reflection. You are open to completely changing your basic approach. This applies to both individuals and organizations.

A good example of this was covered in a recent issue of Faculty Focus (a useful resource for all instructors). The article is titled, “It’s Time to Face What Isn’t Working in Our Courses and Find Out Why”. It refers to a case in which a professor believed he had a problem with his students and discovered it was actually his approach to the assignment that was at fault. The full story can be found here:

Van Auken, P. (2013). Maybe it’s both of us: Engagement and learningTeaching Sociology, 4 (2), 207-215.

A difficulty in the reflective process is that when looking for new ideas or solutions to problems instructors may go on gut instinct or seek magic bullet technologies instead of investigating learning science or collective experience. There are a few sources for an instructor who wishes to take advantage of past knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in education.

In terms of research, one key resource is ERIC, the Education Resources Information Center. This is an online digital library of education research and information sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Since every practitioner does not have the time to read and distill research, there are a number of web sites that provide research-backed practice guidelines for various disciplines, including education. The National Center on Universal Design for Learning guidelines web site is a good example of this. Here is one example of a research-backed guideline on the use of multi media.

When you think you are unwell you might call a doctor. Likewise, if you think your course is ailing it is a good idea to consult a professional instructional designer. Instructional designers have extensive knowledge of design guidelines, processes and learning research. They can help shortcut the process of improving your practice.  Here is a short video created by a professional instructional designer demonstrating how a course was changed in collaboration with an instructor who was open to double loop learning.