PGCE - Professional Practice Modules - Contextualising Theory in Practice.

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Atila Mustafa


Professional Practice Modules

Contextualising Theory in Practice (CED 305)

Monday 5th April 2004

Shirley Hughes

My teaching practice is taking place at Exeter College of Further Education and the Mansion House Adult Education Centre in Totnes. The first part of my Exeter College placement has me teaching in a workshop environment troubleshooting student's computers. This is done on an individual basis where I spend anything from a minute to an hour teaching students how to use software. For the second part of this placement I deliver Unit 10 - Understanding Video Technology to the second year BTEC group. These are mainly classroom sessions that consist of individual and group based research projects and presentations.

My Adult Education placement is very different in the sense that it requires a lot of preparation and delivery. Here I teach two nights a week: the Wednesday night course is Building Web Sites Using Dreamweaver; the Thursday night course is Digital Video Editing. Because this is the first term I have taught these subjects I allow myself a few days to prepare a lesson plan in advance and double check that I know how to achieve the outcomes that I am about to teach. This is rather different at Exeter College for I am very familiar with the software used and so rely on my existing knowledge base when put on the spot with a question.

Within all the courses that I teach I bring a lot of my previous knowledge and experience that I gained working as either a technician or video editor. It feels good being able to support learners with sound knowledge that I feel comfortable providing.


I tend to encourage group work within my teaching practice whenever I get the chance to do so. This is certainly the case at Exeter College where I advise students to work together in the hope that they will be able to inspire and guide each other through their work. For the BTEC group undertaking Unit 10 I insist that they work together to achieve the outcomes that I set them. I do this mainly because I am aware that the majority of the group is not up to scratch with video technology, so by placing them in groups - where at least one student is more knowledgeable - then they should stand a better chance of passing the assignments. Another valid reason for promoting groupwork in this setting is that I am not always at hand to provide help. So if a group of students work together then hopefully amongst themselves they could solve any potential problems that arise. This is not always the case though, especially with regards to the Dreamweaver course that I teach. The software itself is very solitary and in my opinion does not really allow for group work opportunities. My adult students do sometimes lean over to their colleagues for help but generally the design process is very individual. However, the Video Editing course is very different. In these sessions by using group work I feel that I have managed to encourage discussion, dialogue, learning and promote a certain positive dynamic within the class. Here my students have bonded and some do make contact out of class for the purpose of help with video editing.

As my development of group work methods continued I looked to various sources for theoretical models and practical considerations and ideas. One particular text, which I have found very useful and interpreted in order to inform and develop my practice further, is a chapter on learning within a group context in Transforming Learning: Individual and Global Change (Askew & Carnell, 1999). This piece highlights the interpersonal dimension of the group context and addresses questions such as:

How can a group context help individual learning?

How do relationships in the group affect learning?

How can we foster learning in the group?

(Askew & Carnell, 1999, p39)

Askew and Carnell stress the value of the collaborative group with the...

"potential for support, challenge and feedback;

for learners to co-operate and collaborate."

(Askew & Carnell, 1999, p40)

...preferable to competitive group work where individuals achieve 'success' at the expense of others. They also cite a number of authors who have challenged the...

"...premise that competition is the dominant explanation for

evolution and instead proposed co-operation as a better explanation."

(Askew & Carnell, 1999, p41)

This distinction between competitive and collaborative group work resonated with my own experiences as a student and reminded me of particular experiences in which competitive group work has created tensions within the larger group.

Other recollections of working as a group - for instance in the context of a theatre production - took on a more collaborative aspect. As I recall my experiences I begin to see this as being what lead to the groups positive attitude and successful outcome of the work we were undertaking. On reflection I find that some of the key points related to the importance of defining clear roles and responsibilities for individuals within the group. This in particular relates to work where a specific task is undertaken. A second point that came to mind was the idea of consensus and the way this could serve as a firm foundation for any group activities.

During my teaching practice at Exeter College a variety of group based work was used for research projects, presentations and task related exercises. Due to assessment requirements a student can only be assessed individually by the evidence they provide. So the end product that the group produces must be backed up with either a journal or production log to show individual progress within the set task. So I encourage autonomy within groups and spend time working with them using my own experience and experimenting with a variety of theoretical considerations to encourage participation and a group dynamic which could lead to an enriched learning experience. I found that encouraging groups to work toward consensus when focusing on various tasks stimulated involvement and helped to foster an atmosphere of joint responsibility within the groups.
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I believe that developing ways of working in groups can be an aid to our learning and enable completion of various tasks more effectively. The skills involved in contributing toward and maintaining a working dynamic within a group situation has further implications, as Carnell and Askew discuss. Whilst learning to work effectively in collaborative groups is an aid to the learning process in specific circumstances, a further dimension suggests the value of co-operation in an 'evolutionary' aspect....

"Co-operation, in this analysis, is not only important

so that students achieve more highly, it is vital if ...

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