Lecturers in Youth and Community Work and Placement Supervisors
We developed an online module focused on the development of applied skills for practice in the social professions. (SS5105 - Social Practice and the Social Professions)
We recorded the core content of the module and backed up the key points with live interviews with practitioners from the field initially and then developed discussions with practitioners around core themes. These resulted in two or 3 way conversations among professional about practice, applying theory, reflective practice and delivering services in the voluntary and community sector.
Providing the learner with tools that can heighten awareness of themselves as learners and provide them with a valid way to legitimise older and existing knowledge as well as the assimilation of new knowledge is the key task. The challenge is to create an environment that can enable the participant learner to ‘join the dots’ that exist between their experiences, concepts that construct meaning and the skills required to reapply the knowledge from these experiences to new and unique situations. While critical reflection can provide a learning lens to either allowing students to look back at a situation and understand it in a particular way or deconstruct a situation as it unfolds before us while engaging with it, the capacity to articulate that journey is central to the development route the student will take towards full capacity to integrate the personal, professional and theoretical in a practice environment. The ability to use video debates and discussions to enhance the learning process proved invaluable and a critical addition to the learning process for this online module.
Reflective practice is a signature pedagogy (Schulman) which is central to the education of professional youth and community work practitioners. Good reflective practice is based on the ability to connect the self to learning and experience. This requires learning frameworks that enable students to deconstruct learning and create meaning; we cannot learn from experience unless we have the tools to do so. As teachers in professional education contexts we need to assess how well we facilitate the conversion of knowledge into applied practice. Informed by key frameworks for facilitating the deconstruction of professional learning, this method presents a reflective template designed to enhance the student’s awareness of learning and to progress the knowledge from ‘reflection on action’ to ‘reflection in action’ (Schon). Using this tool, we argue that the internal conversation framework that we proposed can create internal dissonance through engaging with critical analysis that provokes the learner to discuss, debate, validate and challenge their understanding of experiences and the meaning they have constructed around them. We considered this issue in the specific context of working with digital students undertaking an access route into professional practice. However, we found that the successful outcomes of this digital approach could have broader value for professional education.
We referenced collaborative transformation approaches to guide our decisions around the choices of participants and the design of interview questions which focussed on the maximum opportunity for debate and discussion between participants. We also drew on our experience of Reflective Practice (Schon, Dewey, Kolb) and utilised our knowledge and insight of the voluntary sector field and used Schulman's framework on Signature Pedagogies to shape the module.
There were two approaches to the design of the module. Firstly we collected the module content and constructed audio recordings of the theoretical and practical approaches contained in the individual lectures. The second step involved matching visual presentations to match the recorded sessions. This was followed by the development of recorded interviews and debates with fieldwork practitioners which were then divided and used in each session to underline and highlight particular learning points.
This was the first time we had used this type of approach to teaching about practice. It was challenging and rewarding. A key challenge of this module was the lack of face to face interaction with students and we relied on the technological innovation to engage the participants with real people who were discussing their practice in light of the concepts and theories outlined in the module. This gave the students a wider experience of an online programme where they could engage with the discussions and debates between experienced practitioners and immediately link these to concept around practice development and application of theory. The success of this experiment has encouraged us to develop this approach for broader use in our teaching practice and to develop a forum for professionals to become involved in a series of debate about their professions and practice which can have wider application to applied practice teaching. Students found this method extremely relatable to and immediately understandable. The format which combined module content with demonstrable discussions about how theory and skills are applied and can enhance practice, enabled students to engage in an immediate way with the module.
Student feedback was very positive. They were given an opportunity to feedback through the tutorial system, through assignments and written evaluations. Comments included ' the debates were very useful because I could see how theory happens in the workplace' 'the debates make the module easy to understand and to engage with'; 'the voiceover used in the recording was paced very well', 'debates were entertaining and real'. 'I learned a lot about myself and my capacity to reflect from seeing how the professionals articulated their practice'; 'I am clearer now on the professional requirements and routes into the sector' 'This module was thoroughly enjoyable'
Since we were novice in the use of technology in our teaching practice, we approached this with some trepidation. However the positive outcome of the appraoch and the value it had, both for students and ourselves as practitioners would encourage us to use this method in the future and we would encourage colleagues to engage with this very successful format.
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