Individual Critical Reflection Of Learners Education Essay

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I hope to demonstrate the ability to critically reflect on my involvement with module U21126 and thus gain deeper insight into my work. I aim to identify aspects of the module regarding my personal development and discuss their impact on: my development as a student, ability to carry out research and skills set. I shall attempt to do this through the use of a reflective writing method and employing development tools such as skill matrices.

To reflect effectively I believe it is important to understand why I am using reflection in the first place.

'It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated. And it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively.' (Gibbs, 1988) Cited in (Manchester University, 2010)

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I shall use the reflective writing framework developed by (Aslop and Ryan, 1996) and used by myself to great effect in Module U51085 (Skills for Placement Search). This method involves reflecting by looking: at the future, present and past. (See appendix 1.1). I shall use this method to look at aspects of my development in the past, how they are now in the present and where I would want to be in the future. Such aspects would include: learning style, skill set and my ability with regard to aspects of research e.g. field work competency.

Whilst there are many other types of reflective framework such as: Kolb's Learning cycle (Kolb, 1984), Gibbs Model of reflection (Gibbs, 1988) and the Boud and Walker Model (Boud and Walker, 1991), my preference lies with Alsop and Ryan's method (Aslop and Ryan, 1996) as I have the most experience with it.

Past Reflection

Skills

A skill matrix allows me to create a snapshot of my skills at any given time. Having identified a need for skill development monitoring I produced a matrix of skills I believed relevant and planned to fill them out throughout the module. (Appendix 2.1 (Kneale, 2003)).

I have found the use of skills matrices particularly useful in other modules such as module U51085 (Skills for Placement Search) as a recommended tool for development (University of Glasgow, 2009) (Oxford Brookes University Business School, 2008). The purpose of this matrix is to provide a skill base line, allowing me to identify areas of improvement and areas that I have not been able to improve.

For me, the most significant aspects of appendix 2.1 are that I had identified my strongest areas to be interpersonal and personnel; areas such as practical and geography where comparatively weaker. I knew this might be due to the development opportunities on my work placement and Oxford Brookes Universities use of group work studying. Unlike this, my geography and practical skills demonstrate a lack of development which is probably explained by me being doing less geography at university, presenting fewer chances to conduct geography studies.

Analysing my matrix has shown gaps which most importantly I have realised allowed me to focus my efforts during the course; to improve areas of relative weakness and drawing on my strengths to help achieve these e.g. using interpersonal skills to assist the development of geographical skills.

I identified the next step in my development to be the use of the module resources to improve my weaker areas and attempt to improve on areas I was already strong in. As this was a field work module, I was in a perfect position to exploit the field work to improve my practical and geographical skills.

Learning Style

'The emergence of numerous learning style models over the past 25 years has brought increasing attention to the idea that students learn in diverse ways and that one approach to teaching does not work for every student or even most students.' (Hawk and Shah, 2007)

Hawk and Shah identify that different people learn in different ways, when I began this module I had limited knowledge as to learning styles but through research related to this module my knowledge has grown. I shall discuss this further in the present reflection section.

Research Project

Methods

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For our proposal we used a range of methods including: questionnaires, semantic surveys, urban fabric analysis, pedestrian counts and a field diary. Due to feedback on our proposal outlining that we were taking on too much, we scaled back to using only semantic surveys, questionnaires and pedestrian counts. Choosing methods to use was an easy process as resources such as (Kitchin and Tate, 2000) and (Cloke et al., 2004) highlighted a variety.

Ethical

The issue of ethics pertains to any research that involves the rights of the participant and researcher (Kneale, 2003). Due to the fact that our proposed research methods where mainly observation based there was little ethical concern, however due to the use of questionnaires, permission would be required. We planned to obtain this at the time of asking the questionnaires and did not foresee this as being an issue.

Individual work

I personally find individual work easy to conduct; I can plan in accordance to my knowledge of my ability and preferred style of learning (please see appendix 6.1). I learnt quickly that to contribute individual work was far easier than working on group work components as there where less obstacles to progress. As noted in my skills, I have a strong foundation of independent work skills developed at university with the outcome being the knowledge that my individual work is stronger than that of my group

Group work

As mentioned before in the skills section, my group work is reasonably strong but in the context of a research project it was definitely one of the harder aspects. I was aware that as a group project, any failures in group cohesion would be detrimental to our performance; however my knowledge of how to do this, coupled with the fact that I did not know anyone on the course and was grouped with people I did not know meant that I was not very confident in the group

Project Design and fieldwork

As a geography minor I found the project design challenging, furthermore my group was comprised of geography minors and thus our comparatively limited understanding of geography research was an issue. The use of literature such as (Massey, 2005) and (Lovell, 1998) helped further our understanding but as evidenced by our poor proposal presentation marks, we had not grasped the ideas completely.

Presentation

Our proposal presentation received low marks, for me the most relevant issues where that my group had limited understanding of the topic area to begin but learning arose from the feedback we received. Previously I felt confident in our ability to present effectively, however our performance reveals otherwise. I have learned that we had used to much material from our literature search and needed to keep a stronger focus, with a more concise approach.

Present Reflection

Skills

This module has given me opportunities to develop my skill set with regard to areas such as field work and also a range of personal skills. The extent to which I have taken advantage of these opportunities can be seen in my present skill matrix (appendix 3.1).

In specific, one can appendix 3.1 shows increases in skills such as: research, field work and the geography section. For me, important aspects of this matrix are the increases in skill areas I previously had gaps in. Learning arose in these areas due to a combination of literature searches, detailed research planning, availability and use of field work (Appendices 5.1 and 5.2).

Previously I did not feel skilled in these areas which could be explained by lack of exposure to opportunities e.g. university field work or even modules requiring practical research. Sources like (Kitchin and Tate, 2000) and (Cloke et al., 2004) found during literature searches, produced a great deal of theory that I found very useful when applied to planning research and field work. As a result of this module I now see an increase in my level of skill in the geography, practical and intellectual areas of the skills matrix (appendix 3.1).

My past and present matrices do not differ greatly in the areas of interpersonal and personal skills; this can be attributed to these areas having benefited from aforementioned opportunities from which this module has helped identify issues but not solve them.

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However, I have not sufficiently developed areas such as laboratory work and whilst my geography skills have improved it is not to the extent I had hoped. I feel as if I have perhaps not learned as much from this module as I could have, whilst identifying that whilst factors such as my teamwork, externally, has been strong e.g. on my placement, internally difficulty was found. (appendix 5.3).

This knowledge is essential to me because I have not fulfilled my hopes of becoming a fully competent geographer with skills at level. I need to plan how to improve these skills from this point, as a next step I shall use the future reflection part of this essay to make inroads into my future development.

Learning style

As mentioned earlier, literature searches have shown that (Hawk and Shah, 2007) discuss multiple learning styles such as: 'the Kolb Learning Style Indicator, the Gregorc Style Delineator, the Felder-Silverman Index of Learning Styles, the VARK Questionnaire, and the Dunn and Dunn Productivity Environmental Preference Survey'. I have chosen the VARK questionnaire as a simple yet effective means of demonstrating my learning style. As can be seen in appendix 6.1 my VARK scores can be seen, showing that I use a combination of learning styles, and thus multimodal, leaning toward kinaesthetic and visual (VARK, 2010). The diagram contained in appendix 6.2 represents how to VARK scores are laid out.

Research Project

Methods

Our methods proved less effective than I had hoped, for me important aspects are that questionnaires proved difficult due to issues such as language barriers and issues discussed in appendix 5.5. On the other hand semantic surveys and density counts are easy to administer and be accurate. Learning has arisen from the application of theory to practice, what works on paper is not always so in practiced. Having realised this, we adapted to the situation by switching to informal interviews which we found easier to conduct and generate relevant data.

Ethical

Ethical issues as previously thought where almost nonexistent, however with a shift from questionnaires to informal interviews we had some issues with regard to not using a confidentiality agreement or using an impartial observer as proposed by (Kneale, 2003). However issues such as anonymity where overcome by not taking details; the outcome being a generally ethical study with some oversights.

Individual work

As I thought my ability to produce individual work was easy throughout the course, initially I had felt confident about this area. Having completed the project I have realised that whilst I am strong in this area my ability to use individual work on a group project was limited. Furthermore, situations where I produced work and submitted it to the group for review without their input initially ran the risk of subjecting my group. As an outcome I have attempted to avoid going solo and using the groups input as much as possible.

Group work

I found group work on this module difficult throughout, for me the significant factor was incompatibility of group members. Learning arose from getting to know the group and realising that two members where working together to lead the group leaving others in a difficult bargaining position. I found it very hard to justify to the group ideas as it was generally met with objection and proved a constant issue. The outcome of this i believe is explained through our generally low marks, the inability of the group to implement ideas prevented adaption and bad ideas where protected through bad group dynamics

Project Design, fieldwork and presentation

In the end I found our project design to be a generally off target with our fieldwork not being representative of the aims and objectives. I believe our poor presentation marks where evidence of this as I do not feel we were able to show a solid link between what we wanted to show and the evidence we had collected. Learning arose from our assessment feedback confirming my doubts about our project. Having experienced project design from start to assessment the outcome has been a steep learning curve; especially considering the scale of the project, our limited understanding and the fact that our entire project was to be marked based on a ten minute presentation.

Future Reflection

Skills

I have found through previous reflective work then looking forward and reflecting on where I believe my skills should be is difficult. Obviously one would wish all their skills in any matrix to be at the highest available level, in this case 5 across the board, but I have found that this is generally unrealistic. Thus I have produced a future skills matrix (see appendix 4.1) as a realistic assessment of what I believe is achievable in the near future.

For me, a significant area of this matrix is my interpersonal skills which I aim to perfect, having given all skills under this heading a full score. Initially I questioned my ability to perfect skills such as teamwork but having completed the module I can see how earlier fears relating to teamwork and negotiation (see appendix 5.4) will in fact reinforce my skills as it has given me the chance to test my limits and formulate ways to develop.

I have learned, through literature research, that failings I have noted in my own experience can be tackled with theory such as that of the 'General Group problem solving' model (Turner, 2001). Having learned that such models exist I now feel that further group work, taking into account such theory, is useful to me as a learner because I can apply theory to practice. As a next step, I would seek out opportunities to practice this theory with the aim of improving my skills.

Comparatively, my practical section shows a prediction of only moderate increases in ability, particularly in the 'laboratory analysis' skill. Currently, I base these ideas on the fact that as a final year student with little time left at university, my ability to take advantage of further learning on this course is highly limited. In particular, a complete lack of laboratory work thus far means that at best I feel a slight chance of improvement could arise through literature searches.

Having recognized the limitation of time left at university, not only has my ability to improve been limited to what I have managed thus far but my ability to apply skills I have developed to the remainder of my course is also highly limited. Furthermore, whilst I have identified a general increase across all areas, I fear that this future skill matrix is more short term than long, as in the absence of opportunities to practice geography, should my career be of a non geography nature, skills such as geography and research may suffer whilst interpersonal and personal skills will have chances to improve in any line of work.

Research project

Going forward I will definitely take on board all that I have learned from this module. I have identified in the past and present sections areas of research design and other aspects that I have found difficult and I plan to address these in the future. My only concern is that with such limited time at university left will I have the opportunities to do so? Whilst this essay in itself has significantly assisted my learning by allowing me to review this module the extent to which it will assist me is unclear. The outcome of this is that I feel I need to seek out opportunities to practice research as a next step I could achieve this through education or a career.

Conclusion

I hope I have been able to demonstrate a clear approach to reflecting on this module through the use of this reflective framework and evidence of my development. Overall I can see a clear cut trend of improvement in the majority of areas over this module with regard to my skills, my research competencies and knowledge. The influence of this module has been positive in relation to these areas but I have found the literature searches i conducted around the modules core information to be highly beneficial.

It is disappointing to see that my assessments so far have been below my target grades but as discussed reasons for this have been identified. This however from this I have learned a great deal and furthermore this has added to my motivation with regard to this assignment As discussed I am more confident in my individual work and as such hope this assignment reflects that.

Having planned, conducted and reflected on a research project I am now more confident in my understanding but as I have discussed in my future reflection section, I have now got a base line from which to improve and I have suggested some methods through which to do this.

As a final thought I would say that I have most definitely improved so far but I still have a long way to go, I only hope that I have the chance to do this and that I do not lose the skills I have gained through lack of practice.

Appendix 1

1.1 - Alsop and Ryan's Reflective Framework

(Aslop and Ryan, 1996) Offer this useful metaphor to help understand the reflective process: 

Reflecting by looking forward is like looking at a holiday brochure before we go away. We get ideas about what the location might be like, what we might do and whom we might meet. 

Reflecting by looking at what we are doing now is like looking at ourselves in a pool of water or a mirror; it shows us as we are at that point in time. 

Reflecting by looking back is like looking at a photograph or video when we return from our holiday. It tells us about where we went and what we did and whom we met.

1.2 - Kolb's Learning Cycle

(Kolb, 1984) Cited in (Oxford Brookes University Business School, 2008)Appendix 2

2.1 - Skills Matrix (Module Start)

Geography

1

2

3

4

5

Recognize inter- and intra-subject relationships

X

Understand the conceptual basis of geography

X

Understand methods for geographical investigation and their limitations

X

Recognize the limits of geographical knowledge

X

Intellectual

1

2

3

4

5

Research

X

Reason Critically

X

Create imaginative solutions

X

Synthesize diverse materials

X

Evaluation

X

Reflection

X

Originality

X

Flexible Thinking

X

Analysis

X

Interpersonal

1

2

3

4

5

Negotiation

X

Ethical and professional behaviour

X

Networking

X

Teamwork

X

Oral communication

X

Written communication

X

Empathy

X

Listening

X

Practical

1

2

3

4

5

Field Investigations

X

Computer-based analysis

X

Laboratory analysis

X

Data analysis

X

Manage meetings

X

Devise imaginative research methods

X

Professional presentations

X

Personal

1

2

3

4

5

Self motivation

X

Prioritize Activities

X

Innovation

X

Self-criticism

X

Time planning and management

X

Independent Work

X

Enterprise

X

Adaptability

X

Adapted from (Kneale, 2003)

Appendix 3

3.1 - Skills Matrix (Present day)

Geography

1

2

3

4

5

Recognize inter- and intra-subject relationships

X

Understand the conceptual basis of geography

X

Understand methods for geographical investigation and their limitations

X

Recognize the limits of geographical knowledge

X

Intellectual

1

2

3

4

5

Research

X

Reason Critically

X

Create imaginative solutions

X

Synthesize diverse materials

X

Evaluation

X

Reflection

X

Originality

X

Flexible Thinking

X

Analysis

X

Interpersonal

1

2

3

4

5

Negotiation

X

Ethical and professional behaviour

X

Networking

X

Teamwork

X

Oral communication

X

Written communication

X

Empathy

X

Listening

X

Practical

1

2

3

4

5

Field Investigations

X

Computer-based analysis

X

Laboratory analysis

X

Data analysis

X

Manage meetings

X

Devise imaginative research methods

X

Professional presentations

X

Personal

1

2

3

4

5

Self motivation

X

Prioritize Activities

X

Innovation

X

Self-criticism

X

Time planning and management

X

Independent Work

X

Enterprise

X

Adaptability

X

Adapted from (Kneale, 2003)

Appendix 4

4.1 - Skills Matrix (Future Aim)

Geography

1

2

3

4

5

Recognize inter- and intra-subject relationships

X

Understand the conceptual basis of geography

X

Understand methods for geographical investigation and their limitations

X

Recognize the limits of geographical knowledge

X

Intellectual

1

2

3

4

5

Research

X

Reason Critically

X

Create imaginative solutions

X

Synthesize diverse materials

X

Evaluation

X

Reflection

X

Originality

X

Flexible Thinking

X

Analysis

X

Interpersonal

1

2

3

4

5

Negotiation

X

Ethical and professional behaviour

X

Networking

X

Teamwork

X

Oral communication

X

Written communication

X

Empathy

X

Listening

X

Practical

1

2

3

4

5

Field Investigations

X

Computer-based analysis

X

Laboratory analysis

X

Data analysis

X

Manage meetings

X

Devise imaginative research methods

X

Professional presentations

X

Personal

1

2

3

4

5

Self motivation

X

Prioritize Activities

X

Innovation

X

Self-criticism

X

Time planning and management

X

Independent Work

X

Enterprise

X

Adaptability

X

Adapted from (Kneale, 2003)

Appendix 5

Field Diary Extracts

5.1 - Field Investigations Extract

Having never conducted fieldwork abroad before, it's proving surprisingly trouble free. My literature search has proved very handy so far in outlining what to expect but I guess field work is always going to be about bridging the gap between theory and practice, literature will only help me develop so far it seems.

5.2 - Field Investigations Extract cont.

So far the field trip has gone well and our field work methods have been working pretty well, the pedestrian counts and semantic surveys are very easy to conduct and we have had quite a good time doing them as we have got to see the city and it's nice to just observe the masses. The questionnaires are proving harder to implement that we thought and they kind of turn into an informal interview as you explain the questions so I think I will recommend we switch to informal interviews! It's just annoying that we have already spent money on getting the questionnaires all printed out, but I can definitely see how this trial and error in practice all adds to my skill development

5.3 - Teamwork skills

Working in a team is something I enjoy full stop, but out here in the field its proving vastly more dynamic with so much information to exchange and ideas to work on the negotiation side of this module is seriously taking off. Everyone seems to have a slightly different interpretation on what we are seeing and finding common ground isn't always proving easy, the fact there is an even number in our group makes voting ineffective sometimes. Clear negotiation is proving very important to get points across and changes to the plan approved by the group, I am definitely drawing on my placement skills here but I can see how Adam and Will are using their skills developed in the military to try and control negotiation. Fortunately Adam is particularly receptive to logical thinking and this proves useful as I myself am a logical thinker.

5.4 - Teamwork Skills cont

Contrary to my earlier confidence in our teamwork, as the field trip has progressed I am beginning to question our ability to link our results into our aims and objectives. It seems that there is a rift forming b between what we are able to show with our data and what we intended to show. Despite attempting to explain this on multiple occasions, it appears only I have these concerns. As it is a majority decisions, negotiation is proving fruitless and I fear my teamwork and negotiation is lacking.

5.5 - Questionnaires

Today we began using questionnaires and its not going well, most people are reluctant to even engage in the activity let alone provide relevant answers. A bigger issue however is that when they do fill one in they find it hard to comprehend the meaning of questions and don't give very good answers or require explanation. We tend to end up talking them through and guiding them with explanations which makes it easy to accidently use leading questions.

Appendix 6

Learning Styles

6.1 - VARK Questionnaire Results

(VARK, 2010)

6.2 - VARK Diagram (Hawk and Shah, 2007)