Being on both sides of the mirror, I see both the student and instructor points of view. I must say, both sides are limiting. I was very excited about this semester. I had taught this class before and I just needed a bit of “tweaking” to make it just right. Wow, was I wrong. I didn’t realize that a change in two assignments would change the whole dynamic of the course. It was good intentions, but they were not as successful as I had hoped.
First, individual teaching demonstrations. This is a good thing! We encourage groups and teams in the program, but we need to continue to work on individual accountability. With a group project, strong students are able to steer their peers in the right direction. Without that influence, many students struggle. I found that this semester. Was it just easier to revert to old habits? Perhaps that’s one lesson learned. It’s a powerful lesson and one we need to continue to investigate. Theory to practice.
Another interesting component was the blogs. I did not want to be rigid with the assignment and gave more freedom in my class than other classes. (Was this a surprise, especially with my dissertation research??) Even though it was worth a (small) grade, it was often neglected or brushed aside with minimal content. That does reaffirm research that has been done. I find this interesting phenomenon. If we, as instructors, give so much weight/guidance/push, are students just doing it for the grade? Are they really learning something or are we just forcing a fake activity of reflection? Or, if we leave it so that it’s open and less rigid, do students not do it because it’s not required? What’s the answer? How do we get students to reflect meaningfully on their learning? Perhaps we can only lead the horse to water, but can’t make them drink? (Just a saying, please, students, do not be offended here!)
I’ve been on both sides. There was a time when I did not want to reflect for a course and I did it because it was a required activity. However, in the process, I learned something. Is that the answer? Would I have learned as much if I did not keep a reflective journal? Perhaps; perhaps not. To me, it had nothing to do with the content of the writing; it was the simple act of just doing it! There were no requirements as to the length or topic. It just had to be done! I ending up really getting into the writing of it. I reflected on all sorts of things that had in some way had to do with the class, but in many ways did not. Only at the end could I bring it all together. Perhaps other students saw no value in the assignment. What makes it work for some and not for others?
One thing I do know is that reflection can be multi-faceted. There is public reflection and private reflection and close-knit reflection. I have a much more difficult time with public reflection. I learn more about myself when I am able to write my personal thoughts and feelings to a few, select readers that give me honest and appropriate feedback. I have to trust that these readers can give me something valuable in return. Perhaps one answer is to block blogs to select groups of readers – just a few small blogging buddies that students feel comfortable sharing instead of the entire program of students. ?? I don’t know. Feedback anyone? Suggestions? Personal reflection works, too, but often I have a hard time making sense of it all alone.
As I finish out my contract at VCU, I can’t help but reflect on my time here. As Bill has said, I’ve transformed. I need my own Educating Wendy movie! I think part of reflection is what you’ve learned. I’ve learned too many things to list here, but I do have a few “nuggets of goodness”:
- I’ve learned that just as you’re finishing something, you’re really just starting something new.
- We don’t get “do-overs” in life, but we can learn from our mistakes.
- It’s okay to change courses in life. Education opens up even more possibilities.
- Be open to diversity, new ways of thinking, and get out of your comfort zone.
- Surround yourself with people that know more than you and ask A LOT of questions.
- Do the right thing, even if it’s hard.
- Growing pains means you’re growing. It may be uncomfortable, but eventually it’s worth it.
Thank you all for a great semester. M.Ed.’s, I hope to follow all of your progress in the program! Nurses, best of luck to all of you! Thank you all for teaching me more than I was able to teach you.