Online Reflective Practice group: Baselining notes #2

Digital Competence in Online Reflective Practice

What does competence look like in online reflective practice? An interesting source of data to draw upon in answering this question would be the learning contracts that my own PG Cert students agreed on in September, when they were introduced to the series of reflective online tasks they would be required to complete. Each group was asked to note down what learning outcomes they were hoping to achieve by completing a series of online reading and reflection tasks; i.e. what competence would look like. Figures 3-7 show a small selection of the responses submitted (Figure 7 is of poor visual quality so the text has been included below the figure):

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7: 1) Demonstrate understanding and analysis of given resources and communicate effectively 2) Critical and reflective response to given resources 3) Engage with peers to stimulate dialogue and provide constructive criticism

The responses given can be synthesised into four broad indicators of competence in online reflective practice:

1. Clarity
2. Rigorous critical analysis
3. Focus on action
4. Stimulation of dialogue

However, these learning outcomes were composed by the students at the outset of the course; before they had set up their blogs and developed a full appreciation of what was involved in working in this way. Once they became immersed in completing the tasks, they began to identify further challenges. According to the number of requests for help received, the top four technical challenges that arose were:

1) Setting up privacy options (controlling access
2) Finding, accessing and subscribing to one other’s blogs (often compounded by [1])
3) Uploading media and attaching files to posts
4) Managing information (e.g. categorising posts on different topics)

The technical challenges of navigating privacy options can be compounded by the affective challenges of open reflection. The following concerns were typical among participants on the PG Cert course, particularly in the early stages:

“I don’t want my line manager reading about my struggles and frustrations.” (group discussion, September 2011)
“I don’t mind sharing [my blog] with other teachers on the PG Cert, but I don’t want my students to know that I’m studying for a teaching qualification.” (tutorial, November 2011)
“I thought I’d made [my blog] visible only to my learning group, but when I google my name, my blog still comes up… help!” (e-mail, December 2011)

Although less common, variations of the following were also noted, particularly during the extended feedback discussions that took place eleven weeks into the course:

“At first I wanted to keep everything protected but then I realised how hard it was for my learning group to find and read my posts. I guess I also felt that [what I was writing] didn’t reflect badly on me.” (peer feedback discussion, December 2011)
“ Mine’s completely open; I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” (peer feedback discussion, December 2011)
“I’m quite proud of my blog.” (tutorial, January 2011)

Assuming that people are generally more vocal about their anxieties than about matters that are of no concern to them, we can at least conclude that some newcomers to online reflective practice identify a desire to be competent in controlling access to their reflective outputs. While this concern is common among a particular group of professional learners, it is uncertain whether this is a concern generally shared by full-time students new to reflecting online (we intend to investigate this in February 2012 through a survey of all myblog.arts users). The desire to maintain a face of authority and competence appears to be a major factor in the choices professional practitioners make when starting to engage in online reflection.

While many newcomers to the practice of online reflection are concerned with effective control of access, it seems that, as practitioners become more accustomed to reflecting online, restricting access often becomes less of a concern. Clearly these concerns need to be addressed in the first instance in order for people to engage in online reflection and subsequently become competent at it. It is anticipated that the DIAL project will help us to understand more about how these challenges can best be met.
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