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James Wanless

this is where I write

Reflection and philosophy

The course I’ve just started this week in my MA studies is focused primarily on community-building for online learning.  We’ve been posting images that suggest facilitation and community and commenting on them.  The literature reading thus far has been – and I’m admittedly only about half way through it – about philosophy of education and developing reflective practice.  This got me thinking about a journal post.

As always I come at this as an educational lay-person, but one who has been design-focused for well over a decade, led lots of projects and teams, managed web portal communities, and done his fair share of presentations.  As I’ve started to think about the connection between the subject matter of the five courses, it occurs to me that a great deal of the core stuff of education and learning is about philosophy.  Whether you’re doing analysis, development, design, implementation or evaluation, you’re constantly (or should be) thinking about your learners, their differences, how your approach needs to accommodate them, and specific to distance and technology-mediated learning, whether things like the LMS/PLE will be affected by issues at their end, of which you are entirely unaware.

After all, philosophy is really about the examined life.  As we gain life experience, we (hopefully) develop value systems which guide us.  Educational philosophy takes this one step further by examining beliefs and values and applying them to educational issues.  It’s interesting that we look at these issues now, because they are probably germane to almost any course we’ve done so far.  Program planning, for example, covered elements of the ethical and socio-political domains, core aspects of philosophy.  Mind you, in a program which is largely applied and practical, it’s probably difficult to insert philosophy and theory (with the obvious exception of our first course on learning theory) into the curriculum, so I applaud its inclusion at this point.

Reflection is really centred on the time you take to examine what you do.  This could be as granular or broad as you like, so long as you are developing a way to evaluate and question yourself, with an effort to improve.  Connecting philosophy and reflection then, to me, is really just a question of scale.  I liken philosophy to one’s broad roadmap for living and reflection to one’s approach for determining whether or not they’re staying true to it.  Put another way, philosophy will (or should) have an impact on the external you, while reflection will be more personal.

On a personal note

Connecting these thoughts to what I do is an interesting exercise.  As far as my own project management and design practice is concerned, I don’t worry too much about reflection because I’m in analytical mode pretty much 24/7 and probably err on the side of wanting to do too much analysis, even when the project doesn’t always warrant it.  I find I can get frustrated when there is no easy way to collect the data I want on users, for example, or when a marketing imperative says I must get something launched even when I know it shouldn’t be.  If there’s an error in my reflection it’s that it is probably a little more externally than internally focused and I’ll see if that’s a shift I can make a bit over time.

In terms of professional philosophy, it’s pretty easy to liken the end-user of a web site or application to a learner.  Find out who your target is, understand as much as you reasonably can about them and focus your efforts on meeting their needs.  Whether your focus is education or communications, you will always have institutional, political, process or business issues to navigate and they will often force you to make compromises in your work.  Accept them and do the best that you can because energy is often finite and better spent on things you CAN change.

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