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Research - The Reflective Practitioner in Physics Teaching: observations, considerations and musings

Goodness it has been quite a while since the last post. There was the holidays of course and then a bit of annual leave so I could "spring clean" the house and help my daughter with some painting and decorating. At work again to tie up loose ends from last semester and start getting ready for the next. Into the mix was thrown a two day L&T conference, a day doing physics with students at summer school and some time working on a paper about Inquiry Orientated Learning (still to do the final polish). I also submitted the OLT Fellowship interim report on time, signed by the VC no less! I had a meeting with my evaluator and a trip to the dentist, neither of which were painful. So what next?

I am going to wrap up this phase of my Fellowship by launching the Work It Out (WIO) website http://www.workitoutts.com later this week. Part of the launch will be devoted to pulling out the threads of research that are woven through everything I have been doing over the past 6m. Being a reflective practitioner means that at some stage you start thinking about what is going on around you, on several different levels. So let me give you some of that thinking...

The work of a university academic has three components, teaching, research and service.

Teaching
The work of the academic is to create a learning environment for their students that exposes them to most of the aspects of their chosen discipline over the period of their undergraduate degree. Often a great deal of thought goes into the development of each activity and engagement with the students. This background thinking is not often made explicit to the students so they are left wondering why they have to do certain pieces of assessment and things like labs. Academics themselves may not consider their deliberations about pedagogy, content and the physical constraints of the learning environment to be important, as they are focused on the outcome and putting it into practice.  This is however is an interesting area of research. What do academics think about during their deliberations and how do they optimise parameters to produce an effective learning environment for their students and themselves?

The four videos on the WIO website are a start in answering this question. They show a lecturer and their tutors discussing the background thinking behind the use of textbooks, diagrams, formula and lab sessions. The videos are intended for students to view, almost as though they are eavesdropping on the conversation about these hitherto hidden depths of thinking.

Also the videos are intended for academics to watch, as a starting point for discussion about the topic in question (diagrams, formula, labs, textbooks) or they could be used in a wider context to initiate thought about other areas, "If we were to make similar videos of ___________ what is the underlying thinking we are trying to make apparent?" Fill in the blank with the topic you wish to think about.

Research in this area is therefore a conversation about learning and teaching, about making background thinking apparent not only so students can understand why they are doing things, but also so academics and their tutors can examine their own motivations and understandings.

It has taken me a whole 6m of thinking and doing to get here and it has been an interesting journey along the path from novice to Fellow. I am not there yet and I am sure there will be a few more adventures along the way.

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