Reflecting on Values

If nothing else, the impact of COVID19 is going to make people think about how they teach. Now’s a good time to think about how we work to the UK Professional Standards Framework

By now you will have read and no doubt commented on our 10 Simple Rules for an Online Pivot, after all it’s been preprinted for over a week, and time moves fast these days.

You have now sought out my blog for more of my intelligent wisdom on all things pivoting.

Sadly, my coauthors are not here to edit me down or cover for my ineptitude, so you’re stuck with me today.

Something we gently hinted at in our 10 Simple Rules, but didn’t have the time or indeed the energy to go into detail on, was the idea that monitoring and evaluation of courses was going to be exceptionally challenging over the next academic year. I think this also feeds into what we mean by ‘evidence’ in higher education, which is a conversation I have with my mentees for the Advance HE Fellowship Accreditation Scheme a lot.

Absolutely everyone teaching through this experience should be able to go for one of the Advance HE Fellowship levels after this. Associate Fellow, Fellow, Senior Fellow or Principal Fellow. The four different roles aren’t so much a progression up the ranks, but rather a reflection on the different ways you can teach. At R(D)SVS for example we’ve gone big on getting people to Associate Fellow level, particularly our clinical staff including vet nurses, and lab and teaching techs. The scheme is flexible, and allows our staff to get recognition for example as to how they manage their learning environment (you ever tried to manage 20 UGs in a cow shed?), even if their teaching role doesn’t include aspects like assessment and QA. Fellows are likely lecturers, Senior Fellows are supporting others to teach, and Principal Fellows supporting the sector and the development of their colleagues. 

As clinicians and STEMM practitioners, my mentees often take a narrow view of evidence, in that it has to be somehow quantifiable and testable. Perhaps we’ve spent too much time teaching null hypotheses. When my mentees are writing their reflective accounts of practice, I often spend time asking them to broaden their definition of evidence of teaching. It can be, I assure them, your  reading of free text comments in course evaluation questionnaires, your student feedback, even your feelings of how the course went.

The reflective aspect of Advance HE Fellowship follows the UK Professional Standards Framework. In the reflective part, you often focus on the Values of the framework, which are:

  • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunities for learners
  • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice

You demonstrate these across all areas of activity that are relevant to you, and with the core knowledge you have. People going at different levels of the award will use them differently, but I often find that people struggle to identify how they use the values. Well today I taught my first pivoted class. I think this one probably counts as ‘non emergency pivoting’ as we had a bit of time to think about it. I thought it would be useful for folks to see an example of reflection here for teaching. You can see where I highlight how the values affected my choices, and how I use ‘evidence’ in this context. 

This class was an SCQF Level 11 tutorial on data literacy skills, and was the first time I had taught this material as I was new to the course this year. It is very similar to an on-campus course I teach at SCQF Level 8 and an online MSc I teach at SCQF Level 11. In addition, this teaching is being split across two staff members, so needs to be consistent. I teach this kind of material quite differently on campus and online, so it was challenging to receive a new tutorial set with limitations on what I can change and how I can influence the classroom. I know from both other courses that this subject is sometimes challenging and frustrating for students, partly because students are often at very different stages with these skills, and being able to check with each individual where they’re at is a key part of the teaching. I have seen this in course feedback, and challenges in teaching data literacy is often discussed in the literature (Kross & Gau, V3). In my preparation I found myself wondering how many students would be learning with only one screen, and so balancing the computer task at hand with the handout and e-learning software. Having had several one-to-one interactions with students during this period, I’d noticed that workspaces were often not ideal, in bedrooms, or in shared workspaces with family (V1). I decided to mirror the handout on the e-learning software presentation, and when screen-sharing I would share a small window to ensure detail was preserved when viewing on a small screen (sharing my large monitor for example would result on very small text if viewing on a laptop screen, I had discovered this during a run through with a colleague, V2, V3). During the session I was keen to manage expectations and model the practice I wanted to see, for example I highlighted to the students that this was not ‘typical’ teaching and I would appreciate their feedback on what worked and didn’t work, and I told students that as I was broadcasting my mic a lot during the session, they may hear some background noise as I was working in a shared space. I wanted to ensure that reasonable levels of background noise, such as pets or children engaging with the students, was not something to be worried about during the session. There is a lot of debate at present regarding what a good learning environment looks like, and I have seen people take stricter approaches to effective working environments (V4), however in my previous experience with teaching this topic, particularly with online learners, it was more important for me to create a relaxed and welcoming environment, particularly for these students who are having difficulties learning online. In future I might want to re-evaluate this approach, particularly as some students may find their working style evolves with more experience at distance learning, and I will continue to monitor the informal feedback from classes and colleagues’ experiences to make that decision. 

I hope that example of a worked reflection, mapped to the values, will be useful for anyone worked towards Advance HE fellowship. What I did leave out was a feeling of intense sadness after I was finished. I felt homesick for my campus, my home, in a way I wasn’t expecting. What’s coming up is going to be hard for all of us – but if this is the push you need to finally recognise the active choices you make when you teach, well I’ll count that as a win.