Encouraging critical practice in curriculum delivery

One of the challenges we are often faced with as educational developers is supporting academics to engage as critical agents in the design of delivery right from the start of their teaching careers. The study by Daniela Jaklová Střihavková approaches the issue from the perspective of Social Work, and describes an intervention by the author to support students in developing an early appreciation of key concepts in Social Work and in particular how to relate their learning to Social Work practice and problems, as well as developing specific academic skills for essay writing. Students were first years drawn from Czech and Slovak backgrounds, and taught in Czech.

Early career academics (ECAs) are often teaching or supporting assessment at crucial stages for students; in seminars and in learning situations which fundamentally inform students’ conceptual understandings and their abilities to apply knowledge and concepts to real work scenarios. Seminars are crucial environments in which this conceptualisation and structuring of knowledge takes place, however ECAs are supporting students within the constraints of an existing curriculum and content provided by others. The author sought to address this and accommodate the diverse learning and experience backgrounds of students in her intervention. Her approach involved students receiving a Social Work case study which they then worked with in groups as a problem-solving exercise. The task emphasised reflection, active learning, peer and group-based activity, and a scaffolded problem-solving process to encourage discussion, sharing and negotiating solutions to the challenges posed by the case study. In this way students had to engage in a process of authentic exploration of concepts, application to real world problems and to co-construct their solution.

The author discusses the impact of the intervention on the basis of both qualitative and quantitative data drawn form the lecturer, students and student performance. Students felt the approach of using problem solving to respond to the case study helped their understanding their academic skills in writing essays and strengthened their understanding of concepts and the links to practice.

The chapter presents a simple action research cycle around an intervention and its impact with data drawn from participants and quantitative data. Having adopted a focus on the intervention itself the chapter lacks a more detailed critical examination of what is going on from a pedagogic perspective. Having established parameters of reflection and active problem-based learning in groups it would have been invaluable to draw conclusions on the value of this as a learning technique.

The chapter offers a resource to stimulate reflection by ECAs on action research as a learning tool for them to adopt as they engage as critical professionals in delivery and support of students’ learning. It provides an opportunity too for ECAs to explore and critique ways in which students can benefit from authentic tasks, from real world problem-solving activities, and from a more active-student centred approach to learning. In this way, the chapter encourages educational developers and ECAs to engage pro-actively in adopting critical action-orientated and reflective approaches to developing their learning as educators focused around the learning needs of students from the outset, as pro-active agents in designing the learning process.

Ruth Pilkington, Visiting Professor University of Ulster, freelance educational consultant

Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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