Hold on tight we're in for a bumpy ride..

Author/Producer Sarah Weatherhead
Published in Autumn 2008 newsletter
Date Published 24 November 2008
Pages 3


Sarah weatherhead form the University of Wolverhampton looks at technology-enabled models of ITE that support action learning


A shift is taking place in ITE (Initial Teaching Education) environments from classroom teaching and learning to asynchronous web-based and web-supported learning environments. The absorption of the educational content is slowly integrating a ‘technology-enabled model’ within a teacher-to-student model. Through giving the trainees opportunities to explore the experiential learning experience (Kolb, 1984) using technology, they can develop themselves as reflective classroom practitioners and provide evidence for the TDA Standards Q7a, Q7b and Q9 to achieve the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).

Personal professional development Q7(a)Q7(b)Q9 Reflect on and improve their practice, and take responsibility for identifying and meeting their developing professional needs. Identify priorities for their early professional development in the context of induction. Act upon advice and feedback and be open to coaching and mentoring.

I have been considering for some time the effectiveness of Technology Support Learning, web-based activities, such as PebblePAD as a medium for learning to support and complement the learning of trainees on the three year BEd course at Wolverhampton University. The course is designed to integrate a range of ‘action learning’ components and strategies alongside a range of blended learning activities. The choice to implement this TSL (Technology-Supported Learning) was to consider whether the ’PebblePAD’ activities would assist students to make the link between a theoretical conceptual base of ‘Reflective Practice’ and their own school based experience as deep-surface learners.

The Government’s e-Learning strategy (DfES 2003) notes that DfES had set the expectation that by spring 2008 every learner should have a personalised on-line learning space. With this in mind, in September 2007, as part of a Pathway project (ILE - Institute for Learning Enhancement at Wolverhampton University) ‘Embedding portfolios at Level One’, a group of Bachelor of Education (BEd) trainees (2007/08) were invited to create their own ‘digital space’. I wanted to explore the ways in which this learning experience of using webfolios and ‘asynchronous on-line discussions’ could be improved. These activities were designed to encourage whole group discussion and for those trainees who found speaking in larger groups difficult, they could take advantage of the organisational element of the ‘collaborative learning’ tasks which lend themselves to ‘asynchronous on-line discussions’. See Fig (1) Personal Development Planning (PDP) is defined as, “…a structured reflective process which gives individuals greater insight into their own development with opportunities to explore what is valuable to learners’ personal, professional and academic development” Cottrell (2003). It is through these PDP activities that reflection is taking place. Schön (1993) pioneered work in reflective practice and the notion of ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’ is becoming more familiar to the trainees. The outcome was a range of ‘heart-rending’ responses sharing their thoughts at critical times of the year and thus was the start of a ‘reflective community’ which is ongoing as they continue to provide and receive peer support. See Fig (2)

Extracts from trainees’ webfolios

A Year One trainee (2007/2008) stated that:

“WOLF (Wolverhampton On-Line Framework) and PebblePAD have been a positive experience through enabling me to keep in contact with peers and share thoughts and ideas and consolidate learning through shared views and reflecting on experiences.”

Through discussions with the trainees, we knew they welcomed tutors contributing to this on-going process of reflective thinking.

“It would be good to use it as a live forum – for example whilst on teaching practice – speak with other trainees while it is fresh in your mind – Also anonymity may encourage more realistic, honest, kinda open comments on the forum. Lecturers can look in on forums to give any advice” (Trainee, 2006/2007).

In response to this comment, a ‘collaborative blog’ was set up for the trainees to ‘converse’ online with each other with the tutor being the ‘e-moderator’, Fig (3).

Trainees “liked having the time and option to think before responding”.

This new ‘tool’ for encouraging reflection proved to be a success and there was evidence of quality reflective thinking. The trainees responded well to an environment where they were given the opportunity to engage in activities and develop themselves as learners. A group of Year Two trainees (2008/2009) who recognised the benefits whilst they were Level 1 trainees (2007/2008) are now part of an ‘e-Admin team’ involved in a ‘collaborative blog’ discussing current issues and imparting valuable information as trainees who have travelled down a similar road, see Fig (4).

The current Year One trainees feel able to share their thoughts anonymously and the responses from the ‘Admin team’ have been welcomed, see Fig (5).

Anonymous said... I was so scared when I started, I was so worried about not making any friends and being the strange one on the course but now I am loving every moment. Although, I do find I am still very quiet when in big groups, but i suppose my confidence will return soon, here’s hoping (Year 1 ~ 2008/2009) Admin said... Hi everyone! I am also a 2nd year student doing Early Primary. Having just looked at the comments so far I must say it does sound very familiar to me last year. So if you have any questions at all just shout! With regards to the assessments being a daunting activity, I know there probably seems a lot of work to do but it’s a case of using your time wisely and that old chestnut of 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail' Also, if you are not sure-just ask! (Year 2 2008/2009)

The tutor is an ‘e-observer’ during these asynchronous discussions. These ‘blogs’ are to facilitate reflection on a variety of learning and professional issues to enable the trainees to meet the challenges of Higher Education in more effective ways. Opportunities throughout the year will be provided to continue this valuable communication and exchange of thinking in a ‘secure’ reflective community. One admin trainee asked,

“…is it possible to have a copy of the Year One Early Years and Primary timetables so we can see when they're going into school for visits, placement etc so we can timetable our support ...” (2008/2009).

To complement their own reflective practice, some trainees produced podcasts to capture their thoughts, after attachment and at the end of the ‘academic year’. This is empowering the trainees to take responsibility for their own professional development as they develop into ‘natural’ reflective practitioners. The choice of format used to capture these thoughts synchronised with their preferred ‘style’ whether it be visual or auditory,(Fig 6).

The use of podcasts for capturing their reflective thoughts then developed into discussions such as

“….yeah, that would be good to have the English Glossary on Podcast to listen to…” which then led to a mini-project of a podcasting team, (2007/2008) to create and edit subject knowledge focused Podcasts to aid their revision prior to the end of year exam (Fig 7).

Learning that happens throughout the modules cannot be a spectator sport where students just listen to the lecture, expecting information to be imparted. It is vital that the trainees have the opportunity to talk about writing, reflecting on their experience and what they are learning. The expectation is that these students are able to move from the ’culture of learning’ in their previous educational environment to the culture expected of them in higher education.

The experiential learning process may be frustrating but trainees have voiced that they have learnt far more through being given these opportunities. PebblePAD could be seen as a technology-enabled pedagogical approach that encourages trainees to engage in collaborative learning. The preconception that something might be lost in the face to face delivery overlooks that fact that this extends and projects learning opportunities across time and it supports experiential learning that are not always feasible in a face to face lecture room. The challenge now is to take those trainees further forward in their reflective thinking through these on-line activities

Through my own reflection as an ‘e-tutor’, I realise that meeting the needs of the trainees is a challenge for all involved in nurturing the learning of those in ITE. So I endeavour to continue to communicate with the trainees in various ways; by facilitating online tasks to match the ever-increasing ICT capability and providing learning situations that combine blended learning with personal development.

We continue to search for practical solutions to our questions: ”How can I continue to incorporate worthwhile activities in the e-learning environment to extend, enhance and supplement students’ thinking as reflective practitioners, as part of their PDP? How can the learning experience of using ‘asynchronous on-line discussions’ be improved to make the ‘bumpy ride’ for these trainees, more comfortable, achievable and yet memorable?

“It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may be quickly 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, 1998).


Cottrell, Stella (2003) Skills For Success, Palgrave Macmillan

DfES, (2003) Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy.

Gibbs, G. (1998) Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and Learning methods, Oxford Further Education Oxford Polytechnic

Miles M, B., & Huberman A.M. (1984) Qualitative data analysis: A sourcebook of new methods. Beverly Hill, CA: Sage.

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development London: Prentice Hall

Schön, D (1993). The Reflective Practitioner. London; Temple Smith.