ePortfolios: for whom and wherefore 

April 12, 2015

(unformed thoughts...) I’m exploring a student e-portfolio solution. I probably didn’t need to install an instance of Moodle (2.5.9) and one of Mahara (1.10.2) to know it’s a match made in heaven. It’s been fun patching the two systems together (also linked up Moodle to Google Drive to test the outputs there too – plain and simple) but then I began to wonder. ..Who’s it for? Whose version of heaven does it represent?

Mahara Test Environment

Mahara Test Environment

The very notion of an ‘e-portfolio‘ might produce obstacles rather than opportunities. The word ‘portfolio‘ means various things in different context to a variety of audiences. A portfolio might refer to a physical (or virtual) briefcase, it might refer to a financial portfolio as a collection of stocks, shares and asset notifications; or it could also mean an artist’s portfolio as a collection of works in progress or final outputs; or again it can still have other meanings, to a portfolio as a body of responsibilities or projects currently held by someone in the workplace. Why then does the vast majority scholarly literature on e-portfolios in a university context represents a uniform interpretation – an assemblage of reflections and representational artefacts?

I am afraid I’m going to bang an old drum, that of the need for learning to consider the foundational aspects of epistemological beliefs. There is an ongoing debate as to the extent to which the portfolio is owned by the students (the majority view) or the institution. Where a portfolio is independent of any formal assessment processes it is fairly easy to define the portfolio in terms that students take full control of its structure and output (within whatever restrictions the technology imposes). However, if there is any relationship between the representational space and formal assessment processes the ownership (of process if not products) is at east shared. This changes the way we advocate the use of a portfolio. If student and tutor have a shared perception of learning as a personal reflective journey that the tutor can encourage but remove themselves from the process of meta-cognitive growth we hope students might experience.

There is also an important cultural dimension to our expectation that students will want to record and reflect in a portfolio context. I don’t mean ‘cultural’ with respect to international students, as important as that is, but I confess I am ignorant as to the existence of a diurnal recording tradition outside the occidental world. If there is no historical context for writing ones daily occurrences, experiences and reflections, it is a ‘big ask’ to expect students to engage in such a process from ‘scratch’. There is a global tradition of thoughts and observations and of travel writings and so perhaps a more suitable metaphor for the majority of learners to grasp onto would be the learning journey (re: journal).

Surely we want our graduates to have ‘basic’ digital literacy skills but isn’t a template driven portfolio solution really short-changing them? Shouldn’t they leave University with the ability to set-up a digital presence on the web for themselves, to select a service that suits their particular context be it LinkedIn for the ‘career driven’ or Academia.edu for the apprenticed faculty. Would not a WordPress solution suit most for a public facing self-representation. Shouldn’t institutions be getting out of the way of learners and rather than seeking to curate learning outputs,  instead enabling learners to take digital-flight.

Advertisements

Is Higher Education lacking its affective dimension?

March 31, 2015
Affective Domain March 2015

Affective Domain March 2015

Whilst the majority of writings and reflection concerning the use of taxonomies of educational objectives remain focused around the cognitive domain, typified by Bloom (1984), there is a growing attention being paid to the affective domain, particularly in professional education. Bloom’s now famous research project which resulted in Book 2 of the ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: the affective domain’ led by Krathwohl, which has been much neglected, applied scantily (and often erroneously) to practice (Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1999).

Often described in terms of feelings or emotions I think it more useful to regard the affective as being a question of degree of acceptance or rejection of values, of the evolution of value structures. It is certainly true that having one’s values challenged can result in emotional disturbance (Mezirow, 2000) but I think there is a danger to using language that describes the domain in terms of emotions, not least because it scares off academics!

In my interpretation of the affective domain, illustrated above as a circular representation, I have retained Krathwohl’s five divisions but choose to use active verbs rather than the passive. So receiving becomes to receive, responding becomes to respond, valuing becomes to value, organization becomes to organize, and the final division originally entitled characterization becomes to internalize.

Original Atkinson Descriptor Sample Verbs
Receiving To Receive Ability to learn from others Sense, experience, concentrate, attend, perceive
Responding To Respond Ability to participate responsibly , respectively as appropriate to the context Perform, contribute, satisfy, cite
Valuing To Value Ability to associate personal and collective values with contextual experiences and express value judgements Justify, seek, respect, persuade
Organization To Organize Ability to structure, prioritize and reconcile personal and others’ value systems Clarify, reconcile, integrate
Characterization To Internalize Ability to articulate one’s own values and belief systems and operate consistently within them Conclude, internalize, resolve, embody

The reason I think it helpful to think about values rather than emotions is that clearly most of higher and professional education, is concerned by changing not just how much or what students know, or even how they know and apply that knowledge, but with how they ‘feel’ about knowing. At its simplest we seek to instil a love of learning and a passion for the subject. In professional education we also seek to instil our professional values into the learning process. Whilst it is clearly very difficult to evaluate the emotional impact that learning has on students there are ways of providing formative assessment to support affective developments.

For those in the Academy who are seeking to merely perpetuate their academic DNA in their students, the latters’ changes in values may not mean a great deal to them. For those of us who teach in order to make the next generation better than we are, better able to adapt to the ever-changing world that they face outside of the Academy, then having an interest in our students affective development is extremely important.

I have argued elsewhere that the relative weighting given in learning design to the domains depends largely on the subject and the context of learning. Clearly there will be foundational modules in a degree programme in which knowledge domain learning will be dominant. I would expect much that is done in an undergraduate degree to be concerned with the cognitive domain, clearly an ability to analyse, evaluate, synopsise and synthesise represent the higher-order skills we expect from graduates on graduation. I have also argued elsewhere that psychomotor skills are also worthy of being part of higher education. But it occurs to me that much of the learning opportunity offered in our current universities neglect and equally important set of skills.

Almost all employers agree that they want to attract applicants who share their values. These oft cited idealized values are in fact widely held; the ability to work well with others, to be an effective communicator, to be an effective listener, to work independently, to take the initiative. It seems unrealistic to expect students to necessarily acquire such skills without being guided through the learning process and taught to identify their own development. And it is fair to say that certainly in the United Kingdom sector a huge amount has been added to the curriculum, with employability strategies and planning personal development (PDP) initiatives, that students do not wont for opportunities.

But I maintain that we should ingrain in our students the values we expect them to demonstrate through the disciplines themselves, not bolt them on and relieve the academics from their repsonsability. To my mind it makes sense to write intended learning outcomes to encapsulate a range of affective outcomes and align learning and teaching activities to rehearse those skills with our students.

Why not include alongside an intellectual skills outcome (cognitive) that states “by the end of this module you will be able to critique at least three different perspectives on (whatever the subject is)” another outcome, this time an affective one that says “by the end of this module you will be able to reconcile two contrasting, and contentious, perspectives on (whatever the subject is)”. There is nothing touchy-feely about the second outcome but it focuses on the students value structures, supporting their ability to structure and reconcile personal value systems in contrast to those held by others. Critiquing sounds very higher education, but to be able ‘to reconcile’ is a much needed skill in the workplace.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd edition). Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1999). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Book 2/Affective Domain (2nd edition). Longman Pub Group.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation : critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Adaptation of Dave’s Psychomotor Domain

December 7, 2014

I have received some interesting feedback and critique of my circular representation of Ravindra H. Dave’s psychomotor domain of educational objectives. I have been asked why I have chosen to use the circular design, to alternative verbs and to expand the definition of psychomotor activity.

Firstly the representation of the domain as a circle, which I have done across four domains elsewhere, I believe serves to make the subcategories more fluid. It contains the proto-verbs at the centre, next circle contains active verbs which also represent teaching and learning activity and the outer circle contains the nature of evidence (or assessment forms) that might demonstrate the active verbs. Using the circle one also has an inherently clock-face like visual which makes the dialling-up from the basic to more sophisticated concepts as you travel around clockwise. Maybe its most powerful function is to encourage lateral thinking on the part of learning designers, encouraging them to explore learning and teaching activities as assessment or evidence examples at the same time.

Psychomotor Domain - Taxonomy Circle - after Dave (1969/71)

Psychomotor Domain – Taxonomy Circle – after Dave (1969/71)

Secondly, I have chosen to use active verbs to describe the subcategories of the domain and so there is a clear change from:

Dave’s Original  Atkinson’s Adaptation  Descriptor
Imitation Imitate ability to copy, replicate the actions of others following observations.
 Manipulation  Manipulate ability to repeat or reproduce actions to prescribed standard from memory or instructions.
Precision  Perfect ability to perform actions with expertise and without interventions and the ability to demonstrate and explain actions to others.
Articulation  Articulate ability to adapt existing psychomotor skills in a non-standard way, in different contexts, using alternative tools and instruments to satisfy need.
 Naturalisation  Embody ability to perform actions in an automatic, intuitive or unconscious way appropriate to the context.

This is to articulate more clearly the need to describe learning outcomes as things that the students will actually ‘do’ in line with the principles of constructively aligned learning and teaching design.

The third, more less obvious change, is that I have chosen to expand the definition of psychomotor activity to incorporate a wider range of physical activities that perhaps Dave had not envisaged, particularly those involved with the manipulation of computer software, laboratory and fieldwork equipment and a range of technical equipment. I felt this was necessary because I have seen so many University courses make light of the skills developed in acquiring such expertise, as though such skills are incidental, when clearly it is the primary outcome valued by most students and employers.

For example, the specifics of the volume of water flowing through the Mississippi delta in November (Knowledge) will prove less useful than the ability to master the GIS and computational software used to document those specifics (Psychomotor).

I believe that the majority of what in the UK further and higher context is described as ‘transferable skills’ fall into the psychomotor domain and are worthy of careful attention.


POISE Project: an institutional response to epistemological beliefs

November 4, 2014

(Extracted from a Draft Working Paper)

In the belief that student success in learning requires an awareness of one’s own epistemological belief structures one recent project, the POISE project, sought to acknowledge and reinforce the diverse cultural contexts in which learning occurs. It aimed to provide a toolkit to enable a consistent, supportive and transformative orientation to study, as a core provision for ALL students across ALL programmes of study. POISE was an institutional-wide change initiative, in partnership with the Higher Education Academy Change Initiative that reflects the global nature of the professional education BPP University offers to its undergraduate and postgraduate students in Business, Law and Health.

The original aim of POISE was to facilitate engagement with a POISE ‘toolkit’ by each student, and each member of faculty, in order that they “hear their own voice”. In doing so they become aware of their own unique epistemological belief structure and therefore of the uniqueness of others’ equally valid perspectives. This is vital for a higher education institution to actively demonstrate interest in individuals as learners and that such interest is fundamental to facilitating successful educational experiences. Each individual voice is as valid as anybody else’s and when heard students will be able to shape the delivery of teaching and learning activities. This happens because faculty become increasingly aware of diverse perspectives and students ability and willingness for greater engagement with fellow students’ unique frameworks. Given this loftly ambition the project team, a mixture of faculty and students, began identifying the themes in the epistemological literature and linking these to those areas of student ‘need’ of which we were already aware. We felt it was essential to develop a framework for student and faculty engagement based on the literature in order that future materials or issues would be contextualised. We were seeking to avoid the development of diverse and disconnected resources. The aim was to produce a ‘framework’ that would allow opportunities to engage in a ‘dialogue about beliefs’.

The notion of binaries presents an opportunity to engage in a ‘dialogue about beliefs’. We suggest that it is appropriate to establish the beliefs about learning that underpin a student’s (or faculty member’s) approach to learning and teaching, rather than to identify a ‘problem’ and tackle it with an intervention in isolation. For example, if it is believed that a student is not fully aware, or in tune with, the institutions guidance on plagiarism, it would be useful to introduce this dimension of academic practice by first exploring the question of whether knowledge is based on authority or reason. Without a fundamental understanding that the western academic tradition expects students to develop their own reasoning skills and to acknowledge pre-existing authority in a particular way, one cannot effectively explore the detailed nature of academic referencing, citations and intellectual ownership. Based around five dominant themes in the epistemological literature it was decided that we would use POISE (as an aide memoir or pneumonic) and follow a similar pattern, this resulted in the following matrix:

Binary concept Belief statements (after (Schommer, 1990)) Scholarship roots Pneumonic
Quick or not at all Learning is quick or not all (Quick Learning) (Schoenfeld, 1983) Pace
Authority or Reason Knowledge is handed down by authority (Omniscient Authority) (Perry, 1968) Ownership
Innate or Acquired The ability to learn is innate rather than acquired (Innate Ability) (Dweck & Leggett, 1988) Innateness
Simple or Complex Knowledge is simple rather than complex (Simple Knowledge) (Perry, 1968) Simplicity
Certain or Tentative Knowledge is certain rather than tentative (Certain Knowledge) (Perry, 1968) Exactness

After a sequence of internal workshops, complemented by thought-provoking events arranged by the Higher Education Academy as part of the HEA Internationalisation Change Programme, the team began to generate an expansive and highly ambitious ‘cradle to grave’ approach which required production of comprehensive learning support resources. However at an internal design workshop in January 2013 we determined that our enthusiasm to support the student experience in every way possible, although laudable, had created unrealistic expectations for our initiative. We determined that we needed to regain our focus on the original project aims concentrating on creating a solid foundation from which to build effective resources which relate to specific parts of the student experience (i.e. those concerning learning transitions, successful integration into learning communities and improvement of the effectiveness of student learning environments). Through further staff and student focus groups these ideas were developed and refined. It was determined that the original framework grounded in the literature was inaccessible to students, and perhaps the majority of faculty, and so the five dimensions of epistemological belief were re-cast as ‘open questions’

Pneumonic Binary concept POISE Questions Scholarship roots
Pace Quick or not at all Is hard work enough? (Schoenfeld, 1983)
Ownership Authority or Reason Who has the answers? (Perry, 1968)
Innateness Innate or Acquired Who is responsible for my learning? (Dweck & Leggett, 1988)
Simplicity Simple or Complex Is there a simple answer? (Perry, 1968)
Exactness Certain or Tentative Is there always a right answer? (Perry, 1968)

 

The project also benefited from external feedback given by other higher education institutions during the HEA Internationalisation Change Programme and at the HEA sponsored workshop held by Newman University College in February 2013 entitled “Developing Culturally Capable Staff”. This feedback related to the foundation, but also the proposed framework, and delivery of POISE. We concluded that pneumonic designed to recall Pace, Ownership, Innateness, Simplicity and Exactness also served as a project title making POISE about producing effective resources built on the following foundation:

  • PERSONAL – focussed on the individual;
  • ORIENTATION – not ‘cradle to grave’ solutions;
  • To the INTERNATIONAL – we define this as everyone’s context rather than a question of nationality;
  • STUDENT EXPERIENCE – focussed primarily on their learning and awareness of the self as learner.

The original concept had aimed at facilitation of the dialogue between the individual personal student and student. That these questions should frame staff development effort for all tutors in order that they would benefit from a greater personal insight into their own epistemological belief and be better to support the transition from naïve to sophisticated belief systems held by students. The internal School structure of the institution prevented against such an approach and the project resorted to developing a standalone web-based resource. The five themes have emerged as a series of five web pages, each containing a dialogue between two different perspectives, which explore each of the binary opposites outlined above. Each short video (less than three minutes) introduces the broad concept through opposing dialogue.

As part of the project many excellent ‘talking heads’ resources were considered and indeed a search on YouTube reveals dozens of international students talking about their experiences. Our original intention had been to add to this body of shareable testimonies and commentaries with similar live videos of individuals talking. However as the project developed it became clear that the most powerful evidence was not an individuals statements but what emerged in dialogue with others, and so a series of short vignettes of two or more students discussing their learning was deemed more appropriate. Understandably some of the participants in our developmental workshops were concerned that their honest declarations would be judged by others negatively and early attempts to have individuals act out previously heard dialogues were unconvincing. We also identified that all of us, every one of us, will make a ‘judgement’ on seeing and hearing someone speak. We bring all our own personal histories and assumptions to bear. So we wanted to find a way of sharing these valuable insights, short snippets of students’ conversations about the POISE questions, without the person watching ‘jumping to conclusions’. We sought to avoid a tendency to say “ah, yes, Japanese students would say that“, or “thats what British students always say about maths.“ So we decided to use cartoons. The voices are not as natural as one would like, but they are ‘neutral’. It is obvious that they are not ‘real people’, but the dialogue is. The words spoken are students words. In our workshops we have found that students and faculty watching the videos laugh a little at the ‘digital;’ voices on the first clip but soon acclimatize and start to listen to the actual dialogue. The dialogue between students has been only lightly edited and a transcript is therefore available for each video. This also means that as the technology improves we can always redo the cartoons for more and more natural voices.

It was anticipated that this would illuminate some well-documented (but evolving) cultural differences in expectations of study at higher levels and provide the student with a comprehensive personal ‘audit’ which they would use as the basis for discussion with their tutorial support. Faculty, having also engaged with the resource would be enabled with a common frame of reference and be encouraged to explore the similarities and differences in epistemological approaches of their approach with students, highlighting the impact this might have on learning practices. Faculty, the majority of whom are also Personal Tutors, would consequently be exposed to a greater range of supported and documented perspectives, moving beyond the anecdotal ‘challenges posed by International Students’ to a greater, and transparent, acknowledgement of the richness of learning and teaching opportunities contained within these different epistemological perspectives. It was also intended that existing institutional coaching and mentoring skills development for faculty would be used to support staff engagement with the POISE change initiative.

 

Bibliography

Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95(2), 256–273. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.95.2.256

Perry, W. G. (1968). Patterns of Development in Thought and Values of Students in a Liberal Arts College: A Validation of a Scheme. Final Report. Office of Education (DHEW), Washington, DC. Bureau of Research.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (1983). Beyond the Purely Cognitive: Belief Systems, Social Cognitions, and Metacognitions As Driving Forces in Intellectual Performance*. Cognitive Science, 7(4), 329–363. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0704_3

Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(3), 498–504. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.82.3.498

 


Starting with Epistemological Foundations

November 3, 2014

(Extracted for a Draft Working paper)

Distributed institutions face an increasing challenge to be able to afford, or deliver efficiently, the central services to meet diverse student needs. Changing contexts, notably the move towards the notion of the lifelong learner, means changing support structures and given the limitations of costs it becomes clear that foundations matter (Field, Gallacher, & Ingram, 2009).

Any review undertaken to inform the student support strategies identified a need for epistemological orientation in learning and teaching activities and assessment practices. The most common language used terms such as ‘orientation’ or ‘induction’ and the focus has tended to be on the ‘first-year experience’ (Nelson, Quinn, Marrington, & Clarke, 2012). Also highlighted were the range of excellent opportunities for greater international and culturally diverse insights to be contributed by staff and students from different backgrounds into the curriculum (Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003). This need for enhancement was particularly relevant to the stages of pre-arrival support, pre-sessional support and induction within the Student Life-cycle.

Effective induction, orientation and retention require an appropriate epistemological foundation for all students a number of ways:

  • To enable students to achieve a more effective transition regarding pedagogical methodology from previous educational experiences to their experiences in UK higher education;
  • To facilitate the more effective integration of students into relevant learning communities;
  • To develop faculty awareness, skills and teaching strategies by the more effective application of epistemological orientations (evidenced notably as ‘cultural sensitivity’) into their teaching practice which will thereby develop the effectiveness of student learning environments.

A focus on epistemological orientation in the contemporary context of UK higher education must surely be to regard all students as ‘international students’, in that they are operating within a global context regardless of their discipline, nationality or status, and increasingly diverse nature of students necessarily should also force us to consider all students as ‘transitional students’.

Interest in how students learn is extended in the field of meta-cognitive research into student awareness and motivation for how they learn, the notion of ‘epistemological beliefs’. Research in this area is based in part on the assumption that students have discernible beliefs about the nature of knowledge and that these assumptions, or conceptions, affect their performance in learning activities. Schommer developed a questionnaire used to establish epistemological beliefs amongst college students in the United States and this instrument has been used in other studies to justify a number of cultural differences (Schommer, 1990, 1993). The question as to whether the instrument developed by Schommer is contextually specific, in other words whether it can be used outside of the context for which it was developed, is itself the subject of research (Clarebout, Elen, Luyten, & Bamps, 2001), however a review of epistemological beliefs instruments, drawing on the work of Bennett (M. J. Bennett, 1986), Magolda (Magolda, 1992) Schommer (Schommer, 1990, 1993), Schoenfeld (Schoenfeld, 1983), Dweck (Dweck & Leggett, 1988) and Perry (Perry, 1968) suggested there are fundamental questions students can and should be asked to establish their beliefs about learning. For example, Dweck explores the need for individuals to identify themselves as being and “entity” theorist or and “incremental” theorist, where in the first instance one believes that intelligence is largely fixed and cannot be changed through effort and incremental theorist believes they can increase their intelligence through effort (Dweck & Leggett, 1988) which lends itself to the fairly straightforward question; “Who is responsible for my learning?”.

The empirical date to support correlations between student success and epistemological beliefs is contested. In their review of epistemological beliefs survey instruments and their theoretical underpinnings, Hofer and Pintrich conclude that there is little consensus amongst researchers about the construction of epistemological belief and their relationships with other factors impacting on student attitude and approaches (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). They express a particular concern with the conflagration of very different concepts in a single survey instrument, particularly the mixing of questions related to intelligence and to learning. In this early evaluation of the field they have already identified the difficulties of ambiguous language and assumptions being made by researchers about the clarity of underlying constructs. Schommer positions her own work as an attempt to diversify the dimensional aspects of earlier work by Perry who she argues produced a unique dimensional and fixed notion of personal epistemological development (Perry, 1968; Schommer, 1990). Schommer attempted to create more complex matrices of interdependent values recognising that beliefs may develop along different dimensions at different rates. She proposes five epistemological dimensions the first three of which relate to knowledge itself, namely structure, certainty, and source and to others which relate to the acquisition of knowledge, namely control and speed. For each of these dimensions Schommer proposes subsets of questions, 63 in all, creating a complex array of questions.

Recent attempts to explore the relationship between epistemological beliefs and meta-cognition, particularly the issue of how and why in epistemological beliefs have an impact on learning have explored the COPES model (Bromme, Pieschl, & Stahl, 2010). The COPES model conceptualise as epistemological beliefs as “internal conditions of learning” suggesting that beliefs are part of an internal self-regulation system (Greene & Azevedo, 2007). This system provides an internal conceptual framework about the nature of what is to be learnt and how such learning occurs. The justification for the study of epistemological beliefs and meta-cognition, and their relationship to self-regulated learning, is important if one accepts the premise that beliefs both scaffold and constrain the learners’ assumptions about both learning content and context. Epistemological beliefs can be seen as a lens through which the learner perceives the substance to be learnt as well as the landscape in which learning is to take place. The system the student puts in place to cope is represented by the notion of ‘self-regulated learning’ (Winne, 2005) .

Within educational psychology framework consisting of four identifiable and interrelated dimensions of belief provides a useful exploratory framework for epistemological beliefs (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). The first two-dimensions, or binary juxtaposition, explores the nature of knowledge through the concept of certainty and structure. Certainty of knowledge is concerned with perceptions of the stability of knowledge and the strength of supporting evidence and structure, or simplicity, of knowledge seeks to define the complexity or connectedness of knowledge. The second binary juxtaposition is concerned with the nature of knowing, rather than knowledge itself, and contrast the justification of knowledge and the source of knowledge. Justification of knowledge is concerned with the process by which individuals evaluate and validate knowledge claims and the source of knowledge is concerned with notions of place and origin, where knowledge resides. There remains a debate as to the extent to which these dimensions are universal or whether there are domain or subject differences (Buehl & Alexander, 2001).

A core principle emerging from the educational psychology literature is that learners’ epistemological beliefs develop over time as a result of educational processes from the ‘naïve’ towards the ‘sophisticated’ (Bromme et al., 2010). A naïve epistemological framework would be one in which an individual sees knowledge as fixed and canonical, a collection of certain facts whose source is guaranteed by the authority the person declaring the knowledge. A sophisticated perspective might be described as one in which any knowledge claim is regarded as dependent on context and which is continuously challenged and re-evaluated through a process of social interaction. Whilst a naïve view might suggest that knowledge is unchanging whereas a sophisticated view defines knowledge as uncertain and continuously reconstructed. It is worth noting perhaps that the very language itself describing these two different epistemological beliefs could be regarded as pejorative since the term naïve and sophisticated carry significance in the English-language. Convinced, as I am that a profound shift in focus in our institutional support mechanisms for effective learning requires an engagement with the epistemological belief foundations of learners, perhaps a bigger problem is that such educational language, of psychology and meta-cognition, indeed of epistemology, is alien to the majority of teaching faculty and certainly beyond many students. What solutions present themselves?

 

Bibliography

Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(2), 179–196. doi:10.1016/0147-1767(86)90005-2

Bromme, R., Pieschl, S., & Stahl, E. (2010). Epistemological beliefs are standards for adaptive learning: a functional theory about epistemological beliefs and metacognition. Metacognition and Learning, 5(1), 7–26. doi:10.1007/s11409-009-9053-5

Buehl, M. M., & Alexander, P. A. (2001). Beliefs About Academic Knowledge. Educational Psychology Review, 13(4), 385–418. doi:10.1023/A:1011917914756

Clarebout, G., Elen, J., Luyten, L., & Bamps, H. (2001). Assessing Epistemological Beliefs: Schommer’s Questionnaire Revisited. Educational Research and Evaluation, 7(1), 53–77. doi:10.1076/edre.7.1.53.6927

Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95(2), 256–273. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.95.2.256

Field, J., Gallacher, J., & Ingram, R. (Eds.). (2009). Researching Transitions in Lifelong Learning. London ; New York: Routledge.

Greene, J. A., & Azevedo, R. (2007). A Theoretical Review of Winne and Hadwin’s Model of Self-Regulated Learning: New Perspectives and Directions. Review of Educational Research, 77(3), 334–372.

Hammer, M. R., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 421–443. doi:10.1016/S0147-1767(03)00032-4

Hofer, B. K., & Pintrich, P. R. (1997). The Development of Epistemological Theories: Beliefs about Knowledge and Knowing and Their Relation to Learning. Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 88–140. doi:10.2307/1170620

Magolda, M. B. B. (1992). Knowing and Reasoning in College: Gender-related Patterns in Student’s Intellectual Development. John Wiley & Sons.

Nelson, K. J., Quinn, C., Marrington, A., & Clarke, J. A. (2012). Good practice for enhancing the engagement and success of commencing students. Higher Education, 63(1), 83–96. doi:10.1007/s10734-011-9426-y

Perry, W. G. (1968). Patterns of Development in Thought and Values of Students in a Liberal Arts College: A Validation of a Scheme. Final Report. Office of Education (DHEW), Washington, DC. Bureau of Research.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (1983). Beyond the Purely Cognitive: Belief Systems, Social Cognitions, and Metacognitions As Driving Forces in Intellectual Performance*. Cognitive Science, 7(4), 329–363. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0704_3

Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(3), 498–504. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.82.3.498

Schommer, M. (1993). Epistemological development and academic performance among secondary students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(3), 406–411. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.85.3.406

Winne, P. H. (2005). A Perspective on State-of-the-art Research on Self-regulated Learning. Instructional Science, 33(5-6), 559–565. doi:10.1007/s11251-005-1280-9

 


The research basis on which institutions respond to the case for learning support

November 1, 2014

(extracts from a draft Working Paper)

Following a review of institutional websites in October 2014 it is clear that the vast majority of UK higher education institutions have explicit policy statements relating to the provision of personal tutoring (80%) with the remainder stating such support in more obtuse references or in delegated documents at faculty or departmental level. Whilst the overwhelming preference is to use the term ‘personal tutors’ other refinements such as ‘personal academic tutors’ are also used alongside aligned roles such as ‘year tutor’ and ‘Dean of students’. Approximately 50% UK HEIs on their public webpages reference the use of personal development planning (PDP) alongside personal tutor support. At least 75% provide detailed web support for students defining the role of personal tutors alongside a range of other support services. It is noticeable that this is an active area of policy development with over 80% of policy statements having been updated in 2013 or 2014. The preference for over 90% of institutions is for a fairly traditional blend of personal guidance usually under the guise of:

  • Academic guidance
  • Academic support
  • Career planning
  • Pastoral support

This closely follows the benchmarking documents issued by Watts in 1999, when arguably there was more homogeneity in provision, who following an analysis of the role of personal advisers in post-compulsory education, stated the purpose of effective provision was:

  • Providing ongoing support in an established relationship;
  • Providing ongoing support in an established relationship;
  • Providing holistic guidance incorporating both academic and personal information advice and guidance;
  • Referrals to other support specialists;
  • Personal advocacy in the form of references and representation.

(Watts, 1999)

Higher Education Academy, in its work on widening participation, outlined a similar set of benchmarks with increasingly diverse communities in mind. The resulting recommendations suggest that personal tutoring comprises:

  • To provide of a stable point of contact within the University;
  • To provide guidance on higher education processes and procedures and expectations;
  • To provide academic feedback and development aimed at orientation of new students to academic demands;
  • personal welfare support;
  • To provide referral to sources of further information;
  • To build the institutional relationship and the sense of belonging.

(Thomas, 2006)

This ‘model’ of personal tutorial support was born at a time when institutions were largely ‘campus-based’ and many of them ‘residential campus-based’ with the vast majority of students living-in halls. It also originates in a highly selective environment when significantly less than the current target of 50% of school leavers attending further or higher education. The reality of plurality in provision surely require equally diverse responses. Ultimately institutions may need to relinquish ownership of its custodial relationship with the students and instead replace it with a system that empowers students to search for relevant support. The increasing diversity of the student body, drawn from all sections of society, regions, countries, nationality, and ages as well differing modes of study from online participation and distance study, to workplace and off-campus programs, surely questions the models of support but have stood scrutiny for so long. Given there is nearly universal agreement of the need for students to have access to ‘learning support’ this is the logical place to begin to assess provision.

Theoretical Models of Learning Support

The role of the personal tutor, under what name and guise, has been the subject of extensive writings although relatively little empirical research, with some subject or domain specific exceptions (Burk & Bender, 2005; Powell & Mason, 2013; Symonds, Lawson, & Robinson, 2007). Research focuses on cohort studies and deal primarily with subject skills specific support. There has been little research linking motivational and psychological factors with the operation of tutor support. Burke and Bender (2005) found that despite the formal support mechanisms in place students frequently relied on themselves and their informal peer networks. They also noted a gender difference with female students going outside the institution more frequently than their male counterparts. Studies addressing the needs of a particular demographic are frequently too generic to be of value in policy planning although some large international comparison studies to provide useful insights. Whilst the importance of student support services as a measure of institutional attractiveness alongside its academic, teaching and research profile is highlighted by studies (Kelo & Rogers, 2010) the actually uptake of services contradicts this assertion.

Studies relating to student support mechanisms have tended to focus on the question of retention and progress. One notable theoretical position by Vincent Tinto, described as Interactionalist Theory, is concerned with the early departure of students from colleges and universities. This work focuses primarily on the fear of failure by students and the failure of the institution to create a sense of community of belonging (Tinto, 1993). This work has been influential particularly in the US in influencing morals of student support but its emphasis has been on a traditional campus community despite that one empirical study could find only a single institution supported only 5 of Tinto’s original 13 propositions (Berger & Braxton, 1998).

More recent attempts by Ormond Simpson to develop theory of learner support in the context of distance learning is invaluable in basing its conclusion in the fields of learning and motivational psychology. Summoning Dweck’s self theory and Anderson’s advocacy for proactive support, Simpson suggests that there is a noticeable institutional benefit in the retention of students through development of alternative models of learning skills development and support. We should exercise caution however since Anderson suggests that remediation (intervention to support failing study skills) risk demotivating learners over time (Clifton & Anderson, 2002) and there is evidence that even learners who are made familiar with their personal learning style may not find any correlation with their motivation for learning (Jelfs, Richardson, & Price, 2009). There is broad agreement that study skills alone are insufficient and that motivation proves critical, with notable US research with school leavers identifying that students who receive self efficacy training have a higher retention rate than those receiving learning skills alone (Barrios, 1997).

Anderson and Clifton have advocated a “strengths approach” in researching the importance of self-esteem in the learning process. The premise is that individuals do best when they focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses and therefore focusing on those weaknesses may not be a particularly effective way of improving success. Rather they suggest that the identification and support for existing strengths, and understanding the means to transfer those skills for effective study, proves long-term gains. Anderson and Clifton identify some 30 strengths which can be explored in a face-to-face programme of encounters over number will of weeks (Clifton & Anderson, 2002) however Boniwell has suggested a nine-point approach for the relevant member of staff to use with individual students. This 9 point approach follows:

  1. Emphasising positive dimensional is during initial contact.
  2. Focusing on existing strengths and competencies.
  3. Identifying past success and achievement.
  4. Encourage “positive affect”, building on hope and aspiration.
  5. Identify underlying values, goals and motivations.
  6. Exploring personal stories, the rating one’s own life story.
  7. Identifying resources and support.
  8. Validating effort rather than achievement.
  9. Finally: exploring uncertainties and lack of skills.

(Boniwell, 2003 cited in Simpson, 2008)

Whilst Boniwell suggest some means to facilitate these conversations between staff and students should be enabled by institutions, the reality is many faculty would find such empathic discussions difficult.

Work by Vansteenkiste resulting in a “self-determination theory” identified that students performed best when they felt autonomous in their study choices (Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006), whilst evidence from the Open University UK that students who have a choice of study material and participate three options have the maximum student retention (Tresman, 2002). Most programmes of study however have been designed with deadlines, fixed content and rigid assessment processes make such findings difficult to implement in most institutions. Other theoretical models that explore notions of students self-identity include “achievement goal theory” in which one of three goals identifies students self orientation namely 1) mastery goals – to reach genuine competence, 2) performance goals – to demonstrate competence to others, 3) performance avoidance goals – to ensure avoiding perception of inadequacies (Skaalvik, 1997). Other researchers have concluded that there are complex social motivational factors involved and that there are reasons to pursue strategies that support performance goals as well as mastery goals (Harackiewicz, Barron, Pintrich, Elliot, & Thrash, 2002).

Vansteenkiste and colleagues carried out empirical studies that have shown that intrinsic goal framing (relative to extrinsic goal framing and no-goal framing) produces deeper engagement in learning activities. These orientations also ensure better conceptual learning and higher persistence at learning activities (Vansteenkiste et al., 2006). Within certain highly competitive disciplines and understanding of student motivation within this theoretical construct might prove valuable. Similarly work by Pajares also argues that self-belief and self-comprehension are important determinates in study success but such conceptions are frequently faulty (Pajares, 1996). Empirical studies examined students awareness of their own relative competence or incompetence and identified that whilst 60% of students had a realistic expectation of their own competence 20% had excessively unrealistic of their competence and 20% a negatively soft judgement regarding their competence (Pajares, 2004 cited in Simpson, 2008).

Study skills have become associated with an add-on provision based on an historical assumption that students enter university already equipped with the appropriate skills in order to undertake higher learning (N. Bennett, Dunne, & Carre, 2000). In an environment in which study skills are framed as remedial provision for students who arrive without the assumed skills, notably international students and ‘non-traditional’ students, are immediately disadvantaged (Cottrell, 2001). Most UK universities provide, usually provided by specialist study support centres situated within learning and teaching centres or within library services, opportunities for students to undertake writing enhancement programmes and individual tuition. Ursula Wingate argues that separating study skills from subject content and the process of learning is ineffective and that study skills should be more fully integrated within modules and programmes (Wingate, 2006). There is an argument to suggest that a full range of literacies should be integrated into the learning experience so bad in the knowledge driven world universities can prepare individuals to be ‘fully literate’.

“…literacy can be taken from a wealth of dimensions other than reading and writing ability or numeracy: media literacy, active citizenship empowerment, financial literacy, basic technological skills, social and values (ethical) literacy, intercultural dialogue aptitude, health literacy, to mention just some.” (Carneiro & Gordon, 2013, p. 476)

Unless as institutions we opt to educate to the syllabus without ambition we must surely consider the ways in which plural literacies in our disciplines should be framed. I have elsewhere argued that effectively designed learning outcomes using a full range of educational objective taxonomies should enable all the full range of higher education skills, a full range of literacies, to be acquired within modules and programmes if appropriately designed (Atkinson, 2013).

Bibliography

 

Atkinson, S. P. (2013). Taxonomy Circles: Visualizing the possibilities of intended learning outcomes. London: BPP University College.

Barrios, A. A. (1997). The Magic of the Mind (MOM) Program for Decreasing School Dropout. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED405436

Bennett, N., Dunne, E., & Carre, C. (Eds.). (2000). Skills Development in Higher Education and Employment. Buckingham England ; Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

Berger, J. B., & Braxton, J. M. (1998). Revising Tinto’s Interactionalist Theory of Student Departure through Theory Elaboration: Examining the Role of Organizational Attributes in the Persistence Process. Research in Higher Education, 39(2), 103–119.

Boniwell, I. (2003). Student retention and positive psychology. Presented at the Open University Student Retention Conference.

Burk, D. T., & Bender, D. J. (2005). Use and Perceived Effectiveness of Student Support Services in a First-Year Dental Student Population. Journal of Dental Education, 69(10), 1148–1160.

Carneiro, R., & Gordon, J. (2013). Warranting our Future: literacy and literacies. European Journal of Education, 48(4), 476–497. doi:10.1111/ejed.12055

Clifton, D. O., & Anderson, E. “Chip.” (2002). StrengthsQuest: Discover and Develop Your Strengths in Academics, Career, and Beyond (First Printing edition.). Washington, D.C.: The Gallup Organization.

Cottrell, D. S. (2001). Teaching Study Skills and Supporting Learning (First edition. Paperback edition.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harackiewicz, J. M., Barron, K. E., Pintrich, P. R., Elliot, A. J., & Thrash, T. M. (2002). Revision of achievement goal theory: Necessary and illuminating. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(3), 638–645. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.94.3.638

Jelfs, A., Richardson, J. T. E., & Price, L. (2009). Student and tutor perceptions of effective tutoring in distance education. Distance Education, 30(3), 419–441. doi:10.1080/01587910903236551

Kelo, M., & Rogers, T. (2010). International student support in European higher education needs, solutions and challenges. Bonn: Lemmens.

Pajares, F. (1996). Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Academic Settings. Review of Educational Research, 66(4), 543–578. doi:10.3102/00346543066004543

Pajares, F. (2004). Self-efficacy theory: Implications and applications for classroom practice. Presented at the International Conference on Motivation “Cognition, Motivation and Effect,” Lisbon, Portugal.

Powell, C. B., & Mason, D. S. (2013). Effectiveness of Podcasts Delivered on Mobile Devices as a Support for Student Learning During General Chemistry Laboratories. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 22(2), 148–170. doi:10.1007/s10956-012-9383-y

Simpson, O. (2008). Motivating learners in open and distance learning: do we need a new theory of learner support? Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 23(3), 159–170. doi:10.1080/02680510802419979

Skaalvik, E. M. (1997). Self-enhancing and self-defeating ego orientation: Relations with task and avoidance orientation, achievement, self-perceptions, and anxiety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 71–81. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.89.1.71

Symonds, R. J., Lawson, D. A., & Robinson, C. L. (2007). The effectiveness of support for students with non-traditional mathematics backgrounds. Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications, 26(3), 134–144. doi:10.1093/teamat/hrm009

Thomas, L. (2006). Widening participation and the increased need for personal tutoring. In L. Thomas & P. Hixenbaugh (Eds.), Personal tutoring in Higher Education (pp. 21–31). Trentham books. Retrieved from http://repository.edgehill.ac.uk/62/

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press.

Tresman, S. (2002). Towards a Strategy for Improved Student Retention in Programmes of Open, Distance Education: A Case Study From the Open University UK. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/75

Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Goal Contents in Self-Determination Theory: Another Look at the Quality of Academic Motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41(1), 19–31. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4101_4

Watts, A. G. (1999). Watts, A.G.: “The Economic and Social Benefits of Career Guidance”. , No. 63, 1999. Educational and Vocational Guidance Bulletin, 63, 12–19.

Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with “study skills.” Teaching in Higher Education, 11(4), 457–469. doi:10.1080/13562510600874268

 


Changing Student Demand for Tutorial Support

October 28, 2014

(Extracted from a draft working paper)

One might expect this diversity in provision in Higher Education to be reflected in the personal tutoring support provided however there is remarkably little difference in the way in which support for students is organised and delivered. It suggest that there is value in unshackling support systems from existing language and historical practices.

There are variations in the terminology used according to country, nature of the institution, and indeed discipline. Mentoring and ‘pastoral care’ appears to be the preferred term in nursing and medicine where is academic ‘tutor’ takes preference in humanities disciplines. Much of the UK literature insists on contrasting institutional tutoring systems against the benchmark of the ‘Oxbridge model’. Since the concept of a personal tutor was introduced into higher education clearly students are less homogeneous body than they might once had deemed to be.

Recent figures from the Santander group suggest that more than 22% of students choose to remain living in the family home with 66% citing cost as the main reason (Marsh, 2014). Another recent survey of 1000 students by Education Phase puts the figure of those at home at 23%, and suggests that on average students travelled 91 miles between home and University to attend studies (Arnett, 2014). This suggests that the idea of the non-residential commuter institution is becoming more common with a consequence of increased ‘blended-learning’ delivery.

An NUS report in October 2013 also suggested that 2% of students had sought counselling services in the previous year but 20% of students consider themselves to have a mental health issue with 13% having had suicidal thoughts. 92% of respondents in the NUS survey suggested they had experienced ‘mental distress’ with the main causes cited as coursework related (65%), exams (54%) and financial difficulties (47%). Over 25% of those surveyed had not shared their concerns with anyone and only 10% accessing the services provided by their institution (Froio, 2013).

Another significant emerging trends is for students to be working as an increased proportion of their time alongside study. A survey of 2128 students found 45% having a part-time job and 13% in full-time employment, much of which continues during term time as well as vacations. Most cite the need to earn money although it is interesting that 53% suggest that students identify their future employment prospects as a prime motivation (Gil, 2014). Universities typically suggest a limit between 10 and 15 hours of part-time work a week during term time some institutions attempt to prohibit students from working at all. Other restrictions on work face the increasing proportion of international students (UKCISA, 2013).

In 2012 – 13 the gender split of the HEI student population was 56.2% female and 43.8% male. But even a glance at the data begins to suggest the need for different models of support. The gender balance for part-time students were 60.5% female and 39.5% male, for full-time and sandwich students the split was 54.5% female and 45.5% male. We might expect there to be significant differences in the support provided for part-time students and that this might also address gender differences. For non-EU domiciled students, often referred to as ‘international’ students, the overall gender gap is less significant 49.2% female and 50.8% male. However if we look at other undergraduate study (other than towards achievement of a degree) there are interesting variations, female students make up 65.3% of those studying part-time as opposed to 34.7 of male students. Even before we explore the differences in age and domestic circumstance it is clear that there will be differences in the needs of students at different levels. Add to that complexity we might also include the 598,000 students who are studying wholly overseas but either registered at UK HEI or working towards an award given by a UK HEI in 2012-13 (www.hesa.ac.uk).

Clearly our HEIs represent incredibly diverse communities of learning and existing mechanisms for socialization and support are challenged by this heterogeneous student body. The ‘ideal’ of the Oxbridge College Tutor has persisted and much effort and resource is committed to try and replicate it regardless of contextual realities. What are the alternative approaches

Bibliography

Arnett, G. (2014, August 18). Students travel an average of 91 miles from home to attend university. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/aug/18/students-travel-average-91-miles-home-university

Froio, N. (2013, October 10). Number of university students seeking counselling rises 33%. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/oct/10/university-students-seeking-counselling-mental-health-uk

Gil, N. (2014, August 11). One in seven students work full-time while they study. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/11/students-work-part-time-employability

Marsh, S. (2014, August 26). Rise of the live-at-home student commuter. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/26/rise-live-at-home-student-commuter

UKCISA. (2013, August 23). UKCISA – Working during your studies. Retrieved October 26, 2014, from http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/International-Students/Study-work–more/Working-during-your-studies/


%d bloggers like this: