Heutagogy: spirals of reflection to empower learners in higher education

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Guelph]On: 04 May 2013, At: 12:58Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Reflective Practice: International andMultidisciplinary PerspectivesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/crep20

    Heutagogy: spirals of reflection toempower learners in higher educationNatalie Canning a & Sue Callan aa The Open University, Department of Education Early Years,Stuart Hall Building, Level 2, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK76AA, UKPublished online: 29 Jan 2010.

    To cite this article: Natalie Canning & Sue Callan (2010): Heutagogy: spirals of reflection toempower learners in higher education, Reflective Practice: International and MultidisciplinaryPerspectives, 11:1, 71-82

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623940903500069

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  • Reflective PracticeVol. 11, No. 1, February 2010, 7182

    ISSN 1462-3943 print/ISSN 1470-1103 online 2010 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14623940903500069http://www.informaworld.com

    Heutagogy: spirals of reflection to empower learners in higher education

    Natalie Canning* and Sue Callan

    The Open University, Department of Education Early Years, Stuart Hall Building, Level 2, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UKTaylor and FrancisCREP_A_450424.sgm(Received 26 May 2009; final version received 20 November 2009)10.1080/14623940903500069Reflective Practice1462-3943 (print)/1470-1103 (online)Original Article2010Taylor & Francis111000000February 2010Miss NatalieCanningn.canning@open.ac.uk

    This paper is informed by narrative research undertaken as part of continuousreflection on our individual practice. It is based on student responses to experienceof study and professional development as part of collaborative reviews anddiscussion forums. This is informal research, based on qualitative approaches. Thepaper considers how students are facilitated to take control of their own learningand engage in reflective practice through a paradigm of heutagogy, which exploresthe processes involved as students start to engage in self-directed study. As courseprogramme leaders it is necessary alongside this that we enable course teams tobecome conscious of the processes of reflection and to be critical of their ownpractice, values and attitudes towards learners. This collaborative paper thereforerepresents a spiral of reflection on our experiences, as we explore theimplementation of theory and practice in terms of reflection on learning andteaching.

    Keywords: heutagogy; spirals of reflection; early years practice; transformativelearning; emotional literacy; foundation degrees

    Introduction

    This paper is informed by research undertaken in three UK Higher Education Institu-tions with students enrolled on foundation degrees in Early Years. These programmescombine academic study and early years practice, providing a vocational route todegree status which focuses upon theory in practice. This informal research, based ona narrative methodology, is designed to consider how students are not only facilitatedto take control of their own learning, but how engaging in collaborative reflectionthrough face-to-face and online discussion forums support professional developmentand identity. Alongside this we are conscious of the role of course teams to supportstudents critical reflection on their own practice values and attitudes. This papertherefore represents a spiral of reflection on our experiences, as we explore the imple-mentation of theory and practice in terms of reflection on learning and teaching.

    Our collaboration began when we met as co-tutors and found that we shared acommitment to reflecting on our own practice, each engaging the other in a sharedconversation which, over the years has evolved into an ongoing dialogue betweencritical friends. We found that our natural shared critical reflection did not translate soeasily to the students we worked with so we wanted to explore ways in which to

    *Corresponding author. Email: n.canning@open.ac.uk

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    support student reflection through courses we were leading. We knew through discus-sion that we had a commitment to:

    facilitate learner autonomy through a progression of concepts of knowledge; find ways to represent and scaffold reflective thinking as students assumes

    personal control over their learning experience; and develop a critical approach to theories of teaching and learning in the design and

    delivery of course programmes in early years practice, as part of a symbioticrelationship to the reflections of our student and colleagues.

    These commitments encompass the following themes which became the focus for ournarrative research with students on foundation degree programmes in early years.These themes form the basis for the subsequent analysis in this paper.

    Exploring teaching and learning strategies to support established practitioners incontinuing professional development and finding freedom to explore andexpress their own voice.

    Learner identity and how this translates into emotional literacy through studentsconsidering their values for engaging with children and articulating how thisimpacts on their practice.

    Examining the transformative power of learning when this is grounded inreflection on experience, responses to experience and seeking action for change.Change, both personal and professional is required if students are to success-fully become leaders of practice.

    Setting the context

    Our research is based upon experience of working with English students in theUnited Kingdom, specifically with students who are supporting the implementationof the Early Years Foundation Stage (DCSF, 2008), the statutory framework foranyone working with children aged 05 years and the National Curriculum inprimary schools within the English regulatory framework. We believe that the broadthemes examined are relevant in an international context as the philosophies andconcepts underpinning international models of work with young children and fami-lies have found common ground in the recognition that practitioners need skills ofreflection, particularly for engaging in dialogue and listening to children, familiesand colleagues. Whilst this is linked specifically to continuous quality improvementin England, other approaches such as Te Whariki in New Zealand (Pound, 2005)and Reggio Emilia in a region of Italy (Rinaldi, 2005) show that reflective practicealso informs community development as it engages with all adults participating innurturing the child. As we detail our own strategies for encouraging reflectivedialogue in a British context, we hope that colleagues will perceive relevance totheir own experience.

    UK legislation such as Every Child Matters (DCSF, 2004), the Common Core ofKnowledge and Skills (DCSF, 2005) and more recently the Functional Map(Childrens Workforce Network, 2009) have been significant drivers for change indeveloping early years practice. Foundation degree programmes provide learningexperiences for students, enabling them to emerge as agents of change, to be effec-tive in their own context but also to be confident in contributing towards a regional

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  • Reflective Practice 73

    and national early years agenda. In addition, course teams are required to recognisethe complex needs of potential students in responding to these forces by developingprogrammes that are flexible, yet maintain academic integrity as well as relevance fora diverse range of early childhood contexts. All participants in this relationship arefaced with the challenge of relentless policy development and change in the sector,which require the ability to respond to and anticipate external forces on personalexperience of practice. The research discussed here captures the emotional process ofthe student in order to explore how individual learning experiences emerge and howthe programme facilitates a sophisticated reflection on reflection, described byAppleby (2009) as meta-reflection.

    This is a significant concept that requires some discussion. Meta-reflection is partof a process of dialogue, listening and inquiry on a continuum that involves feelingand thinking about experiences, exploring ideas and values, critical/creative thinkingin and on action (Schon, 1983, 1987) and reflexivity which consciously informs onesown actions. It may also involve modes of reflection such as writing or creativeexpression through representation. In any event, meta-reflection represents an appre-ciation of contextual knowing a concept that has evolved through the philosophy ofenlightenment, sociology of education and theories of teaching and learning possiblyoriginating with Blooms Taxonomy (1956) now represented by theorists such asBernstein and Solomon (1999) and Schwab (1962, 1978). This is acknowledged byClandinin and Connelly (2000) as part of a contemporary continuum from Deweyswork on the significance of interaction to understanding experience and shapingidentity, in particular the use of narrative and personal stories to generate reflectivethinking also represented in the work of Rogoff (1991).

    It is also important to recognise that this process of reflection on reflectiongenerates a criticality, its purpose is change, through the recognition that individualidentities are culturally formed and may be revealed by standing outside ourselves toexplore with others alternate ways of reasoning and acting. Schwab (1962, p. 5)describes this as enquiry into enquiry. He was troubled by the notion of literal truthsand sought a more fluid process which rests on conceptual innovation, proceedsthrough uncertainty and failure, and eventuates in knowledge which is contingent,dubitable and hard to come by. Our students would recognise this as the learningcurve in transition to becoming reflective practitioners.

    As part of the research students were asked to articulate what was happening tothem in their personal development as a result of their study and how that had ormight influence their practice. As mature student groups, they were asked to besceptical about the process that they were undertaking and identify aspects of emerg-ing heutagogy, i.e. the struggles of engaging with a process to understand their indi-vidual learning needs and how they could develop strategies towards self-directedstudy. At the same time, continuous reflection on the professional practice of ourcourse teams was necessary if responses to the student experience were to be mean-ingful. Course design was centred on the questions: how can there be alignmentbetween the needs of learners, pedagogical values/beliefs of academic staff, HEsector requirements and workforce improvement drivers? More significantly, howmight we use this to inform work with all students in Higher Education in awidening participation context? In particular, how do these dynamics impact on therole of the HE teacher? Maxine Greene (1995), for example, tells us that only thosewho have learned the importance of thinking about their own thinking are in aposition to teach others.

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  • 74 N. Canning and S. Callan

    Towards a paradigm of heutagogy

    As course leaders we encouraged both students and course team tutors to facilitate aspace where reflective thinking, questioning theory and being critical of practice couldtake place to explore students values and attitudes and to develop a process ofstudents engaging with the concept of heutagogy. Hase and Kenyon (2000) defineheutagogy as an opportunity to take responsibility to direct personal learning, result-ing in empowered learners, engaged in knowledge creation and sustainability. Inworking towards this, it was hoped that students would discover their own strategiesfor learning, develop confidence through active participation and begin to share theirknowledge and understanding of key concepts. On this journey, students were encour-aged to explore their emotional and behavioural responses to individual experienceand started with their attitude towards learning. Hase and Kenyon (2000) placeresponsibility of heutagogy with the student where they are able not only to engage ina process of knowledge creation, but also have the opportunity to determine theirlearning experience from the influence of their professional practice. As course lead-ers we realised that we needed to weave capacity for heutagogy into the foundationsof our study programmes so that they promoted knowledge sharing rather thanknowledge hoarding (Wenger, 2002). Through linking this with experiences andreflection on practice new understanding developed between us as colleagues but alsointo the course team tutors we were supporting. Ashton and Elliot (2007) promotelearning as dependent upon a range of life experiences where tutors can only guide theformation of ideas and not force feed the ideas of others. For example, in theresearch the online forums generated a sharing of knowledge and experience frompractice where students were able to engage in self-reflection which triggered otherswithin the learning community to respond and add to the co construction of learningtaking place. In this extract a student reflects on this aspect of the course:

    The most valuable part has been sharing my values and beliefs about practice within acommunity which I know understands the struggles I have had in coming to termswith new concepts. They know how I feel because they have been there too, strugglingwith me and celebrating when it has finally made sense! (Childminder and FdA EarlyYears student)

    Singh (2003) recognises that although flexible heutagogy can encourage the produc-tion and collaborative flow of knowledge, it also appears in distributed formal andinformal networks created through tutors and student learning interactions. Heutagogypromotes the processes and strategies that studen...

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