Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Reflective practice: Self disclosure warts and all

Martin Trevor, School of Design
Jennie Bickmore-Brand, Office of Teaching and Learning
Curtin University of Technology


After spending twenty years as a practising designer in Perth and Sydney, I for family reasons decided to make a career change to lecturing at a University. My dabbling in the past as a very occasional casual or one off lecturer had given me enough of an insight to believe that this was the next career for me.

However within weeks of beginning as a lecturer it was evident from the outcomes I was observing from my student's projects that I was not effectively getting the important core issues of my lecturers and tutorials over to them. Often I was left mystified when a unit I felt was well planned and executed gave poor results and others that were poorly planned and executed gave an unexpected good result (though the later did not occur so regularly).

Overall measuring instruments such as the SEEQ evaluation seemed also reflect the above. However I found the SEEQ evaluation results difficult to interpret and provide me with specific information that I could understand. Furthermore I was still left with no idea as to how I could best improve my teaching.

If I was going to take on a new career as a university lecture, then pride and satisfaction in my teaching ability was going to be very important. While attending many valuable teaching and learning seminars was important and very informative, it was obviously going to be a process of learning that was going to take many years. Some how this length of time had to be shortened. I felt that if I was able to find out where my teaching was effective and more importantly where it wasn't then I would at least be able to 'cut to the chase' and make changes where they were needed. To do this I had to gain a clear picture of where I currently stood in regard to my teaching ability, which would enable me to know where to begin. Dr Jennie Bickmore-Brand from the Office of Teaching and Learning suggested that monitoring my teaching by observation was worthwhile point to begin. This method could also provide me with some immediate suggestions as to how I could improve my teaching practice.

This process of evaluation has undoubtedly helped my transition form industry to teaching at a university. Documenting this process will I'm sure enable others to decide whether it is something that they might like to try for themselves

My teaching and concerns

While I feel very confident concerning my practical and theoretical knowledge of design, I am very much a learner in respect to my knowledge of how best to teach it. The approach I had used all through my career for communicating with clients, fellow designers and staff had always worked well. However these groups of people were most often aware or in tune with the subject matter I was discussing. A class of design students often of diverse maturity and culture was quite a different experience. I had a large task ahead of me if I was to optimise my effectiveness as an educator specialising in the field of Design.

The first steps

Like many new academics I was looking for information and help to improve my teaching effectiveness, which at Curtin probably means attending Center for Educational Advancement reflective teaching practice seminars. These provide a useful and very interesting opportunity to listening to the experts, relate concerns with other lectures and as another useful by product, network around the university. It was at one of these sessions that I came into contact with a researcher from the Office of Teaching and Learning: Dr Jennie Bickmore-Brand. Jennie is currently investigating the overseas student's experience and outcomes while studying at the university.

Since Jennie required overseas students to interview concerning her research (which I had) and I could benefit from an educator evaluating my teaching a 'deal' that was struck. In return for evaluating my teaching Jennie would gain access to one or two of my classes, which had a high international student content and therefore provide subjects for her research.

The methods used to evaluate my teaching

Jennie suggested that a valuable evaluation process could include overviewing my Unit Outlines and Project Briefs, observe my teaching and interview my students concerning their experience of my class.

For the student interviews a particular class (or unit) was chosen which would also suit Jennie's requirements, however other classes were chosen for observing my teaching performance. In all two classes were observed. First-year 'Design Culture' which took the form of a discussion/tutorial and another, 'Design Workshop' taking the form of a lecture that included a tutorial for giving feedback to students for the previous weeks project work.

The observation process took the form of Jennie sitting quietly to the rear of the class taking notes and asking specific question of particular students at the conclusion of a 'segment' in the class. During a break in the classes feedback of my performance was then given by Jennie while it was still fresh in my mind.

The group chosen for individually interviewing students was a third year 'Design Specialism' class of eighteen. Each student was interviewed individually for and hour at a time and notes taken. Confidentiality was observed.

Feedback and suggestions for making improvements to my teaching

The first observation: a first-year class for the 'design culture' unit - discussion/tutorial.

My preparation: A teaching plan (which I later mislaid)

The aim of this class:
To examine what a particular sub-culture means to them and how it has influenced popular design. I began by illustrating example of sub-cultures and then ask them to create a 'mind map' of their sub-culture. Finally creating a matrix of all the sub-cultured identified in the class. Discussion followed while I acted as a facilitator.

My impression of the class:
The purpose of the class was not made clear.
This particular class was not put in context with the previous class.
Some comments or instructions given to students throughout the class were inconsistent (when they were divided into smaller groups) and may have lead to confusion.
A suggestion was that these comments and instructions could have been relayed to the whole class.
I had not clearly articulated the tutorial tasks. In particular, two students who were questioned by the observer, had no idea what they were supposed to be doing.

My reaction to being observed:
I felt that I was unable to relax and let the class 'flow' and the session did not appear to work well.
When Jennie left early the class seemed to work like a dream!
The observations and comments from Jennie were very useful.

The second observation: a first-year class for the 'design workshop' unit - Lecture/project feedback tutorial.

My preparation:
For this class I made a particular effort to devise a lesson plan and incorporate strategies to overcome the failings of the previously observed class.

Using projected overheads the purpose of the class and its relation to the previous class were outlined. At the conclusion to the class the major points were reviewed and the tasks that they were to be performed during the following week outlined. A short brief of what they could expect for the next class also given.

The aim of this class:
The project feedback tutorial session was concerned primarily with constructive criticism of the work accomplished so far. Students pinned their diagrammatic work up and verbally articulated their ideas. Fellow students then gave critical feedback. My role in this situation was to act as facilitator however I would sum up many of the important point raised and add others of my own.

My impression of the class:
I felt the students were understanding and acting upon the information and instructions that I had given them in class, overall it appeared to work well. As I was well prepared I felt as comfortable as I could be while being observed. The observations and comments were very useful.

The findings of the observer:
Jennie felt that I accomplished the tutorial very well, in particular allowing the students to comment rather than giving my own personal comments too soon. Some students were also interviewed after the class, in particular a group of international students, who fortunately indicated that they understood the class.

The individual student interviews:

For me this aspect was the most interesting part of the evaluation process as I was particularly curious to gain an indication of how students viewed my teaching and role as a lecturer.

Usually at the conclusion of a project or a unit I would ask the students to reflect on the highs and the lows, a kind of debriefing. While there would usually be some interesting and useful comments I was never sure whether all the students were comfortable when it came to completely opening up. The confidential interview process provided an opportunity to lift the lids on the students and find out what they were really thinking.

The findings of the interviews:
The results of these interviews revealed many surprises, not all to do with my teaching, of which a few are listed below:

From an international student perspective:
They were uncomfortable when asked to critically analyse each other's work in public.
The realisation that the course was not what they had believed it to be.
Feeling that they had not learnt anything new (students upgrading form diploma to degree).

Project outcomes and assessment:
Students required more detailed feedback.
Pressure from the lecture to conform to his idea of what is or isn't good design rather than exploring their own.
Students felt they were assessed only on the final presentation and not the development work that went into the whole project.
Unfair assessment.
Unfairly harsh criticism of a particular student's work.

The lecturing staff at the School of Design:
The same lecturers appearing to teaching every unit (they would like to see new faces).

The School of Design itself:
The front office doesn't look like that of a School of Design.

Martin Trevor's technique:
Approachable.
Respected for knowledge of design and practical experience.
Appeared to be disorganised.
Difficult to get a hold of, always to busy with work or PhD.

What have I put into action since these interviews?
Of the issues in the above list concerning the effectiveness of my teaching, some I have begun attending to:

Appears to be disorganised (I actually felt I was very organised!):
Devising detailed 'lesson plans'.
Using prepared material such as overhead transparencies to illustrate the purpose of the class and how it relates to the previous session. Points of interest and finally encapsulating the important points of the class.
Making the students aware that the free flowing discussion (which on most occasions I facilitated rather than lead) was not due to a lack of planning for the lesson but an essential part of the learning process.

Other issues are for the moment proving more difficult to deal with such as:
International students' criticising each other's work in public.
Giving students more tutorial feedback (the length of tutorial sessions is however fixed).

Beyond this evaluation of my teaching:
The immediate goal is to implement teaching strategies to resolve as many of the issues as possible by seeking out experts and attending seminars. In the longer term I would like to once again be evaluated to assess the progress for my teaching.

Please cite as: Trevor, M. and Bickmore-Brand, J. (1999). Reflective practice: Self disclosure warts and all. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 447-450. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/trevor.html


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