Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Introducing Myself

Hi there everyone.

I'm setting up this blog for my flexible learning course at Otago Polytechnic. I'm fairly new to blogging but not entirely new. I started a blog for another course last year but got a bit lost with it all. I can inform you with some confidence that it is much easier or perhaps just less scary, the second time around.

Here is my video introduction. This is my first ever so I'm feeling a bit pleased with myself.

Who am I and what do I do?

I'm Jenny. I am a programme coordinator and senior lecturer in the School of Social Services at Otago Polytechnic. I coordinate the National Certificate in Mental Health Support Work and do most of the teaching on this programme. I teach Law and co teach Te Tiriti o Waitangi across the School of Social Services. I also teach Recovery, Empowerment and Strengths models of practice.

I am a Social Worker, registered/ non-practising and a member of Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW).

I am a mother and have raised three exceptional young people who are my greatest source of pride and joy.

I was myself an adult student attending adult college and then university with young children, a husband and part time work in tow. This and other life experiences have informed a passion for social justice and this is clearly represented by the topics I choose to teach. I have a growing passion for teaching adult students and a corresponding interest in education theory.

I love learning new things, spending time with my family, spending time in nature - I particularly love bush walking, kayaking and sailing though my skills in the latter are limited. I love intellectual conversations about interesting topics and I love to read. I read just about anything but well researched historical novels are my favourite.

My Experience With Flexible Learning

Flexible learning is a fairly popular contemporary term that is frequently confused with online learning. In my understanding flexible learning is an approach to teaching and learning that is student centred. As with most education theory there appears to be the typical Rogerian/Piaget verses Rogerian/Vygotskian extremes. In the first approach students are provided with a number of relevant resources but essentially left alone to get on with it, independent learning is the starting point. In the second approach students are supported in a manner and to an extent that matches their characteristics and needs including things like learning styles, literacy levels, ethnic and other cultural needs. Support is gradually withdrawn as students become more skilled at accessing their own learning independently. Independent learning is the desired outcome.

I am adamantly more in favour of the latter approach particularly in the context in which I teach. I believe the Rogerian-Piaget approach is appropriate for more advanced learners but even here it depends on Learner characteristics and needs. Scholar's of Carl Rogers will be aware that he developed his student centred theories teaching in Universities in the states from the 1930's through to the 1960s. His students would have been predominately white, male and middle class so clearly he taught in a historical context where a more supportive approach to flexible learning was less neccessary than I believe it is today.

My first semi conscious experience of the benefits of flexible learning without being able to name it as such occurred at High School where I scored A+s in take home projects and Es in classroom assessments and tests. I remember one teacher in particular who found me most confusing. Unfortunately I ultimately failed to achieve in this dictatorial and controlled learning environment which valued the ability to retain and regurgitate so called facts.

My second experience of flexible learning occurred at University. As mentioned above, I was an adult student attending with young children in tow. I attended lectures and tutorials as and when I could but found particularly as my skills and confidence grew that my free time was much better spent reading and taking my own notes. I very much valued the flexible learning environment that University provided and as with projects at secondary school creating my own approach to learning and being able to go at my own pace significantly enhanced my ability to achieve at high levels.

My third experience of flexible learning also occurred at University through course content. Human development theories covered in education and psychology papers along with post structuralist and postmodern theories in social work culminated in an eclectic framework for social work practice. My framework includes multiple models from different perspectives because I am of the very firm opinion that one size and shape will most definately not fit all. This theoretical perspective grounded in the multiple realities of post modernism transfers comfortably to my teaching philosophy. I do believe that flexible teaching requires first and formost a recognition that people start from different places, need to be supported in different ways and most importantly, that people have different learning styles that should be accomodated in a flexible learning environment.

Learnings styles as a theoretical construct are on there own considered somewhat controversial. A close review of the critical literature reveals however that it is learning style assessment tools rather than learning styles that are being negatively critiqued. Learning style assessment tools are primarily criticized because they lack a theoretical base and tend in some views towards being sensationalist or because they prove troublesome to measure consistently and therefore are not empirically sound. The more cynical among us might suggest that they in fact make self diagnosis more accessible and free and that attempting to measure human behaviour empirically is just wacky anyway!

I am clearly an avid supporter of Learning styles and there relationship with flexible learning. I am particularly partial to our home grown VARK. As of yet I have not found any critcisms of this model although the VAK models from which it was derived do come in for a fair bit of slaughtering. I first learnt about VARK learning styles many years ago and they have provided me with a great deal of insight into my own learning, those of my children and my students.

On a personal level I do a VARK test once a year and consistently score highest in reader/writer with high scores in Audio and kinesethetic and a low score in visual. Recently Flemings research lead to a new learning mode which he calls Multimodal Type 2. My more recent scores alternate between this and the original. Flemmings Multimodal Type 2 has not so much given me more insight but rather consolidated what I knew about my learning style and in particular my learning needs. Being able to go at my own pace which is a lot slower than most people, is particularly important.

My son is reader/writer dominant, my middle daughter is audio/ kinesethetic dominant and my youngest daughter is visual dominant. Knowing this has enabled very different (flexible) approaches in homework and extra curricula support through out the years. All three are well rounded high achievers and I definately consider that this has had a lot to do with responding appropriately to their learning styles and needs.

Finally my fourth experience with flexible learning occurs in my current setting as a teacher at Otago Polytechnic. My students in the Mental Health course tend to range in age from approximately 20 through to 60. They tend to be 50/50 male and female. They come from a range of different social, economic, health and ethnic cultures. Their previous educational experience can range from a lack of basic literacy through to holding graduate degrees. My students typically work in mental health support roles and attend polytechnic one day per week in order to complete a full-time unit standard based course. Students in my course have typically been very upset when I have suggested going online for some aspects.

The course is flexible in that it allows adult students to work and study and in that it caters to industry demands. It is flexible in that I respond within any one day to a range of learning styles. It is flexible in that I have recognised different support needs and in response give students the option of engaging in independent learning or attending a tutorial at the end of each session (these often involve one on one support for those who need it). I access additional support as required for students and have from time to time offered some student's the option of oral assessments. I have also offered students the option of developing their own assessments. A few were very enthusiastic but most found this too difficult and it caused more stress than it was worth though I haven't entirely given up on this. I do provide a range of assessment tasks and allow for some creativity within this but are somewhat limited by unit standard and external moderation requirements. There is significant scope for more flexibility in my course and in the other courses I teach.

My Reason for Doing The Course and What I Aim to Achieve

I am doing the course because it's compulsory - Sorry guys but that is the truth of the matter. However, that does not mean I'm not pleased to be here and excited by what I might get out of it. I love learning. Gaining new knowledge and skills is always exciting and empowering for me and for those I am then able to pass them on to.

I do believe that their is significant scope for my course to be hugely more flexible and significantly more sustainable through adding on line learning options.

Though I have said that my students tend to be anti online learning, I believe that they are only expressing the same fear and anxiety that I have expressed and that by pandering to those concerns I am meeting my own needs over theirs. I am also ultimately disempowering them and me both in terms of not introducing the learning tool that is the internet and by not ensuring that they graduate with a skill which is fundemental to contempoary life.

I have learnt enough about online teaching to know that it will greatly aid my ability to cater to my students different learning styles and needs. I will be able to provide audio clips for those who struggle with literacy and quizzes and reading links for reader/writers. Those who learn at a much slower pace than I am able to cater to in class will be able to access the course material on line and work their way through material and activities at their own pace. Those who are audio based can engage in online discussion or elluminate sessions. I do think the scope for enhancing learning opportunities is huge and very exciting. The trick is to ensure that the teaching is indeed flexible and that it doesn't simply become the same old inflexible learning online. To me that means providing different paths towards the same end and not expecting that all students will follow the same path. For example I have heard many lecturers become concerned that not many students engage in online discussion tasks, I hear lecturers discussing various carrots, trying to figure out how to engage students. To me it seems very obvious that in any group you will only have a portion of discussion based or audio/oral learners. It would be useful to get these students engaged in discussion based learning but it occurs to me that it would be futile and really inflexible to try and make others learn in this way.

So what I aim to achieve is a more flexible and sustainable course. I'll talk about sustainability another time.

Pick the audio/oral learner. Yep I score almost as high in this area as I do in reader/writer. This is a perfect forum for me. I can natter away to my hearts content without bothering anyone, get it all out of my system, order my thoughts, figure out what I think and it doesn't matter if any one reads it or not. It's great. Kinda theraputic and a wonderful luxury really.

I have no questions or comments re orientation

Hope that's okay. I think I've said enough!


  1. Hi Jen, I went looking for you today but couldn't find your office. (thought I knew but I don't). Needed to get the list of social media workshop blogs off you (seeing as you managed to get them all!) No worries, I found Felicity instead - another must-complete-tasker...

    check your Google Reader for an update from Socially Constructed Media (or click that link if you haven't subscribed to it yet). In it is a review of last Tuesday night, as well as what to bring next Tuesday.

  2. Great to see the video in here now, with a wad of text to go with it. You are doing lots more than you need to. But if you're having fun, I am glad you're doing it. Just wanted to remind you that 6 hours per week should be max.. but I can understand if this stuff grabs you...


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