In this extra post, we share with you the Collegiate Commentary from the latest Teaching Matters newsletter: Five strategies from the 2022 Reflective Learning series. In the Collegiate Commentary feature, we ask colleagues from other universities and institutions to provide a commentary on ‘Five things…’, and share their own learning and teaching reflections, resources or outputs on the same topic. In this newsletter, we welcome a commentary from Mark Peace, Professor of Innovation in Education at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“Oh Bloody hell, Mark, not another reflective diary”
It was an exasperated cry of a first-year undergraduate which was … unanticipated, as I revealed to them my ever-so-clever approach to disrupting the stranglehold of sedimented University assessment practices. It was, of course, a well-intentioned attempt, but also one for which every other module leader had reached. This was a moment of prompt, for me, to think more deeply about the atomised, almost fetishised status of reflective practices – and the disservice we do to them when they are relegated to an easy and inauthentic response to assessment variety.
This should not, of course, be read as a critical response to the reflective project (that would be a terribly rude response to the kind invitation to contribute to this digest!). Rather, it is a call to think of reflection not as an assessment practice, but as a fundamentally critical and transformative learning process. It is a platform to break away from a knowledge-transfer metaphor, and to enable more participative approaches. It pushes us to give agency to the student in how they manage their own development, in the concepts and connections that have the most utility in solving the problems they encounter. It erodes boundaries which delegitimise certain knowledges in certain fields. In doing so it enables a more inclusive space, but also one more amenable to the emergence of deep interlinkage, powerful synthesis and novel thinking. Reflective learning isn’t a counterpoint to ‘proper academic practice’. It is proper academic practice, cut free of the habitus and institutional baggage that get in the way – and in doing so, made more available and more impactful on a greater diversity of students.
That these articles pushed against atomisation and ‘assessmentisation’ (it’s a word) of reflective processes therefore made my heart sing. They talk to its value in making learning participative and integrative, enabling connections between disparate aspects of courses, to knowledge beyond their classroom, and through personal priorities, passions and interests. They talked about adventures in unfamiliar places, and the importance of building competence and confidence to take advantage of opportunities and experiences – and they also provoke us to think of embodied reflection, and the value of making and doing.
These are dynamics we’re also exploring at Manchester Met – as part of our ongoing embedding of an institutional view of educational gain based on student agency and authentic experience. We’re leveraging work we’ve previously embedded to move extra-curricular learning into a co-curricular space and embedding reflective cycles and action planning into the core of our approach to personal tutoring. Ultimately, the value of this is a far more holistically connected university experience, one which empowers the learner both to engage more genuinely in academic practice, and to develop the agency and efficacy to tailor it to meet whatever their goals might be.
Mark Peace is a Professor of Innovation in Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he leads in the initiatives and innovation that delivery its education strategy. His practice has explored generative and co-constructive pedagogies, embodied and experiential learning. His work has included the Man Met Rise co-curricular programme, which has engaged more than 27,000 students over three years with measurable impacts across satisfaction, community, achievement and graduate outcomes.