Plato’s Meno

Plato’s Meno One of the first accounts of the troublesome nature of learning outcomes is given in Plato’s Meno.  Plato used a series dramatically constructed dialogues as vignettes to illustrate philosophical points he wished to make. In the Meno Plato describes a conversation between Socrates, Meno (hence the title), a slave boy and Anytus. Meno puts the following problem to Socrates: “Can you tell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught? Or is it not teachable but the result of practice, or is it neither of these, but men possess it by nature or in some other way?” Socrates and Meno proceed by agreeing that whereas they would recognise instances of virtue, as actions or as a quality in a person, it is difficult to know the essence of what it means to be virtuous. So herein lies Meno’s paradox how can we recognise examples of virtuous behaviour while not knowing the entirety, or the common form, of the concept. In other words, how can look for something (a form of knowledge) when we don’t know what it is? The important point is that Meno’s initial question on how we learn virtue inevitably draws us toward a conceptual  examination of the Read More …

Learning Outcomes

Where we find learning outcomes All learning outcomes are descriptive, they are attempts to capture in a series of statements the results and consequences of instruction or experience.For anyone taking on a course of study, particularly a third level course, they are likely to want access to a description of that course and the modules associated with it.  A key part of any such course or module description will be a series of statements that define the purpose and intent of the learning involved – these are known as the “Learning Outcomes”. Learning outcomes can be defined at all levels of course participation: Programme Level Learning Outcomes are statements that describe the range, depth and kind of knowledge and competence expected of a student on completion of an entire programme such as a degree or a diploma. Module Level Learning Outcomes are statements that describe the knowledge and competence expected by the student on completion of a particular module or subject area within a programme. Class Level Learning Outcomes are indications of what is expected to be achieved by the students on completion of a specific class or tutorial session. posted by Leo Casey

Reflection and Practice

What is reflection? Adult educators like to use the term “reflection”. In class you are likely to be invited to “reflect on your own experiences” or, when tasked with an assignment, you are just as likely to be invited to reflect as discuss, debate, argue or critique. I admit that I also like the term and find myself encouraging others and often myself, to reflect on a particular issue or problem. What does it mean to reflect? And how does reflection differ from “thinking about”, “recalling” or just simply “lulling over” a situation? Useful insight comes from the work of Donald Schön (best known for his book The Reflective Practitioner) who discusses the distinction between “reflection-in-action” and reflection-on-action”. My picture from New Year’s Day 2010 Reflection in ActionThis is reflection on-the-run so to speak.  It is a form of self-awareness that is brought into play as we engage expert activities.  For example, a teacher may use reflection-in-action during a class to try out, monitor, evaluate and moderate various instructional strategies.  As Schön puts it: “The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomenon before him, Read More …

Education Cuts Seem to be Inevitable

It seems to be on the cards that there will be cutbacks in education as Ireland struggles to put together a four year budget plan to grapple with the financial debt crisis.I like to talk about learning rather than politics or economy in these posts but it seems that cuts will have to be made – indeed are being made – and these cuts will effect all our learning futures and therefore warrant consideration. As an educator I believe that, after the basic needs such as safety, health and sustenance are met, the primary task of any nation is the provision of education. Education is the means whereby culture and societal practices are developed and reproduced. Once we fail to educate then we fail as a society.Furthermore, as John Dewey pointed out, the provision of open and accessible education is essential for the proper functioning of democracy. When we suppress education we undermine the process of developing new thinking, critical awareness, communicative discourse and creativity. However, I do not believe cutbacks in education can be avoided; particularly if spending on health and social welfare are also going to be curtailed. So here are three ideas where money can be saved Read More …

Learning from Experience: recognition of Prior Experiential Learning

Want to gain admission to a course but your qualifications do not meet the entry requirements? You may be able to use a Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL) process Many people have asked for more information on Recognition of Prior Experiential Learning (RPEL). I have prepared a presentation that explains the process and how it works in National College of Ireland. Comments are welcome. posted by Leo Casey

Viktor Frankl: Man’s Quest for Meaning

If ever you think your life is miserable and you start to get downhearted then I have a book I recommend you read “Man’s Quest for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. Frankl was born in Vienna in 1905 and even before the outbreak of World War 2 was an accomplished academic and psychotherapist.  He was also a Jew and, along with his entire family, was imprisoned in a concentration camp. Man’s Quest for Meaning documents his personal experiences of Auschwitz and other camps.  Only he and his sister survived everyone else who mattered to him: his wife, parents, siblings and friends were killed.  A good summary of his life and work is provided by Dr. C. George Boeree here. After the war, Frankl reestablished his career and produced this remarkable book which soon gained a substantial  readership and acclaim. I remember my reluctance to read the book – I was afraid I would find it depressing, after all, life in a concentration camp what could be uplifting about that?  The opposite was the case, I was genuinely uplifted and this  is is precisely the point that comes through in the text.  If, even in the most forlorn circumstances, in the depths Read More …

Bateson

These days this is my favorite book. I have blogged previously on one of Bateson’s “Metalogues” – look here to review. Bateson’s metalogues are styled as father daughter conversations. Here’s another one I would like to consider – this is a short extract from the opening: Mealaogue: About games and being serious Daughter: Daddy, are these conversations serious?Father: Certainly they are.D: They’re not a sort of game you play with me?F: God forbid … but they are a sort of game we play together.D: Then they’re not serious! Through this conversation Bateson goes on to introduce many ideas about how we “play” together.  The core of this idea is not new – there are always unspoken rules associated with how we communicate. For me, the most useful question is: “What’s going on here?”.  Ask yourself this question when attending meetings, participating in decisions or even writing (as I am now).  Frequently, we interpret a situation at an immediate and shallow level.  Often, what’s really going on can only be appreciated by interpreting what’s being said along with the unspoken rules of the encounter. posted by Leo Casey

Learning and Motivation

Motivation is used as a catchall term to describe how people are moved to act in a certain manner or direction.  In everyday use there is a tendency to conceptualise motivation as mono-dimensional we often seek the motive for why a person acted in a particular way.    Single explanations for people’s actions or goals are often inadequate and misleading.  People tend to justify past-behaviour and will report a retrospective rationale.  However, models of motivation, if they are to be of use, need to provide predictions of future behaviour. The term motivation is used in many different contexts and can mean different things in everyday language. Motivation is often used to describe a level of commitment even energy such as during half time at a football match where a manager gives a team a motivational talk to ‘lift’ the team for the second half.  In such uses of the term motivation is likened to a psychic booster; one could imagine an internal M meter reading either high or low. This meaning of motivation is not limited to physical activity – people might say “coming up to the exam I became really motivated and studied for five hours every day”. It’s Read More …

My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell

I am reading a wonderful book called My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell – I picked up a 1959 first edition in a wonderful second hand bookshop, Trinity Books in Carrick On Shannon.  This is like a beginners guide to Russell by himself and, in it he traces his thinking down through the years.There is a particularly poignant section where Russell reproduces copies of his notes from his teenage years.  He writes (p280): Just before and just after my 16th birthday, I wrote down my beliefs and unbeliefs, using Greek letters and phonetic spelling for the purposes of concealment.What Russell was at pains to conceal at this young age were his doubts about religion and the existence of God.   What troubled him was not necessarily the social consequences but rather, the intellectual consequences.Here is is entry of April 29th 1988: In all things I have made a vow to follow reason, not the instincts inherited partly from my ancestors and gained gradually by selection and partly due to my education.  How absurd it would be to follow these in the questions of right and wrong.  For as I observed before, the inherited part can only be principles leading to the Read More …

Problem Based Learning

     Students from the Post Graduate Diploma and Masters in Learning and Teaching participating in a Problem Based Learning Workshop in the Centre for Research and Innovation in Learning and Teaching at National College of Ireland This year we are running a new course at National College of Ireland – the Post-Graduate Diploma and MA in Learning and Teaching.  I am course director for this course and I present a module on Theories of Learning and Cognition. We have a core of sixteen students with some additional attendees from the PhD course and faculty development.  The students come from a wide variety of backgrounds with one thing in common – a passion and commitment for learning and education. We used an instructional approach know as Problem-Based Learning (PBL) as a means of integrating the three semester one modules on Theories of Learning, Research Methods and Philosophy of Education. PBL was structured around a series of workshops on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays.  My colleague Rachel Doherty from the School of Business organised the students in groups to complete a series of authentic tasks. In the first exercise the group tasks were to compose and present a series of student induction presentations Read More …