Reflections from February Seminar

The connection between philosophy and theories of education

Obviously I am only just starting to read about and look into this – and I hope to be adding more thoughts as I try to work through some of Lindsay’s references etc. Having watched the suggested video, I feel able to pick out these forms of teaching and learning from my HE experiences (both as a tutor and student). That is one of the reasons i am doing this course, is to try to become more aware of what i’m doing – as all of my teaching is based on experience, intuition and responses (towards or against) how I have been taught by others. This reaches its limit and i’ve begun to want to know what i’m actually doing, and what others are doing, what the students are doing, etc!

Bloom’s Taxonomy feels familiar to the language used in the UAL assessment matrix, with the value on analysis and reflection, and aiming for creative synthesis as an ideal. I’m always suggesting that students need to be more aware, analytical, critical and reflective of their own work, but perhaps with little useful guidance on how to start doing this.

Patricia Cross’s Lifelong Learning is a phrase I hear a lot in the department at Camberwell. Having just read a little bit on it, I am able to understand it a bit better (although its pretty much what I thought it was). This I think seems to me to be a subtle, logical and appropriate way of viewing education, fitting to a learner’s experience, age and needs and able to be continued/pursued at any stage. The idea that learning stops after a particular time (as a student) is actually quite strange, but this is built-in to my experience and understanding of the education ‘system’ – you enter it then it spits you out then you are an adult existing in ‘the real world’ (a phrase I particularly hate). Considering learning as a lifelong activity is something I find joyful and positive and necessary. The idea that it needs to be set in a ‘learning society’ is perhaps problematic as i’ve accidentally perhaps intimated above – I think we do live in a learning society with a wealth of educational opportunities available (physical, also through the internet in the form of instructional videos, or language apps that are more experiential and perhaps more akin to using ‘Visual Aids’ or even ‘The Three R’s’ in a gradual experience and testing that builds up. Actually a lot of these are combined and used across apps, internet instructional courses etc, as McPheeters suggests) but I also think that there is a kind of resistance or reluctance to see this as part of one’s experience in society, that learning stops when you leave school or HE. So perhaps attitudes need to be changed. I also see this in my teaching practice preparing students to leave the university. We are encouraging (ie forcing) them to complete their ‘progression plans’ and getting them to think about what they want to do. I don’t know if that is particularly helpful, it feels like box-ticking. I feel like a careers advisor, and is it perhaps reinforcing this idea of learning coming to an end? Should I be encouraging them to continue learning? I certainly feel that I wanted to learn more when I left University, I was very disgruntled with my learning experience and I felt that I could learn much more after I graduated (and I did), through experience, apprenticeships of a sort, inquisitive speculative practice-as-research, dialogue with peers and experts. Certainly having an artistic practice or following a creative path you are learning all the time. The state must come into this to provide a learning society or to highlight/improve this. Institutions are linked to the state in terms of the overall assessment or monitoring of services, although they are independent businesses, so the state is controlling the outcomes or aims of the institutions. Tutors may have some agency within this framework, but that can be restricting.

Gardner’s ‘Multiple Intelligences’ is something i’m keen to look into further. I’ve also heard about this from my Mum who’s been a secondary/SEN teacher for years, but also from other mainstream sources. I think this feels useful and logical to me, and possibly brings up ideas of inclusivity in meeting the needs of different types of learners. Whether the university framework allows for this is another matter. Can we really meet those needs effectively, when teaching in certain ways? This suggests a tailored approach and is that possible with current teaching budgets/staff to student ratios/contact time? It can be, through tutorials that are responsive/reactive – but then is the tutorial the best way to teach certain people? I tend to do a lot of tutorials in the third year – its about 80% tutorials. I enjoy these and think I have some strengths here, but why is this the norm? Why is this regarded as the sort of baseline teaching model or activity? IS is particularly effective? We assume so, and perhaps we are putting the responsibility for learning outcomes on the student (unfairly) – we dispense advice (as in ‘Dialogue’ model), this does not feel so progressive.

I’m also really intrigued by Pressey’s ‘Testing Machine’! and haven’t had time to explore/further research yet. Analogues with online learning perhaps? Sounds mad. Will update.

So moving on from this, i’ve addressed perhaps some moral questions about the philosophy of education, but to try to be more specific:

The aims/guiding ideals should definitely not be linked to students’ employment/earning prospects, as it is in the current evaluation system/framework. In my opinion, education is a sharing of knowledge, an opportunity to learn together, to discover things as a collaborative act between learners and teachers. I would go so far as to say that this distinction should not necessarily be drawn even – can we learn together? Yes tutors have ‘expertise’ but the cultural knowledge/embeddedness of my own students in particular is so valuable to me as a learner – i learn a lot from their cultural references and circumstances, personal backgrounds/ideas/values that I am definitely learning as i teach, and i feel I prefer models that allow us to discover things as a group – to uncover ideas and share knowledge – in a group tutorial or seminar perhaps – where everyone has something to contribute and ideas coalesce out of the ether…so perhaps the right of the student is to be guided and given direction/feedback, but to set the bounds of their own learning aims/outcomes. To be an active participant and contributor to peers’ learning and students’ learning. Thinking about this actually makes me feel a bit misty-eyed about certain aspects of my teaching practice. I absolutely love it when discussing projects/work/ideas with a group of third year illustration students. There is such a wealth of knowledge, genuine weirdness, generosity, friction, ego, cultural perspectives, optimism, confidence, arrogance, resistance etc in the room that all combines in a way to move forward a students’ work or to provide help, or to argue something or corroborate, or to come up with something completely new. It is this i want to explore and harness and somehow work with. Some amorphous energy that can be utilised by everyone. I think teaching models need to move towards this, towards feeding this energy and getting something out of it – throughout HE and also as a society.

Evaluating learning or education should perhaps be about places reached that have not been hitherto dreamed of or expected – so perhaps how unexpected the outcome is! I don’t know, that’s very abstract and vague. Where you were at A and where you got to at B. Or maybe you never get to B! Should it even be evaluated at all? What is the purpose? I suppose evaluation is valuable in seeing the effectiveness of something – but in terms of assessment – is it even appropriate? It only serves as a shortcut for people to assess the educational status or achievements of someone. Why gradations of learning ‘success.? This is coming from definitely an art practice-based course so maybe not applicable to other educational realms. But does learning have to be valued in a best/worst kind of scale? Can everyone not just learn as much as they want/can in the ways which suit them? Rather than a baseline level or expected outcome.

Critical thinking is something that would be present for both learner and teacher in the examples above that resonate with me – i think i have chosen models which require or allow for this, rather than passivity on the student’s behalf. This obviously leads to indoctrination when there is no critical thinking and the student is encouraged to view the teacher as expert or vessel-filler. Even apprenticeship models don’t perhaps encourage or require critical thinking, this is learning by rote, or accepted wisdom. Critical thinking i suppose is a check or positive barrier or slowing down or interrogation of what has been suggested/taught and what you have done. The models i have highlighted I think require it of all parties – lifelong learning and the multiple intelligences idea require teachers to assess learner’s situations, and also require that of the learner themselves. It is also integrated into evaluation/reflection of Bloom’s Taxonomy.