Context

This footprint describes the learning environment of a 2-year part-time PGCE from the perspective of one participant’s learning experience on the course. The participant’s job at the time was to teach learning technologies to the staff of a Higher Education College. She taught one-to-one, and groups, both large and small. The course cohort (20 people) met face-to-face for a full day on Fridays every two weeks for the first year, and then every week on Fridays for half a day in the second year. The face-to-face course consisted of lectures about theory and government policy, e.g. inclusion, and group discussion.


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Students were required to organise their own teaching experience, supported by a mentor, and this teaching was observed 3 times a year, twice by the mentor and once by a subject specialist. The mentor’s role was to answer questions and help to prepare teaching sessions. A Moodle site was used minimally to support the course, mostly as a repository for lecture notes and presentations. Few additional resources were provided, but some of the lecturers started discussion forums, although these were not used a lot.

This cohort’s experience as a whole was influenced by a bid won by the participant to test the use of mobile phones for learning (Molenet - £60,000). The participant persuaded the lecturers to use mobile phones for communication on the course. Each student was given a mobile phone (an iphone or HTC Windows phone) for the duration of the course; the lecturers and interested lecturers were given mobile phones and mini laptops to be used for teaching on the course. All these were returned at the end of the course.

The phones provided free internet and free txt messaging. They were used by the lecturers to send out messages about timetable and room changes. Lecturers who used the mobile phones, stopped using Moodle for this purpose and one lecturer (who was about to retire) commented on how much he had enjoyed using a mobile phone during the course.

The students used the phones to discuss assignments and also to record their own teaching sessions whilst being observed and then to replay the video when discussing the teaching session with their observer. At the end of the project the majority of course participants bought a smart phone, saying that they had become used to using the technology in everyday life and to support their learning. (The project also involved a group of primary school trainee teachers – essential skills literacy and numeracy level 1 and 2, but they were a separate group and not involved in this PGCE course).

The footprint describes the participant’s experience of learning on this part-time PGCE course, but this was influenced by the mobile phone project.

General

The footprint reveals that this course was experienced as both ‘prescribed’ and ‘sweetly’ to ‘sharply’ emergent. At no point was the course experienced as ‘chaotic’ or ‘on the ‘edge of chaos’. The influence of the mobile phone project in opening up the learning environment (introduced into the course by this participant), is clearly evident.

Specifics

Participant experience of the creative tension between openness and structure

The course was experienced as relatively traditional and standards driven (‘prescribed’). Expectations were very clear, it was very structured and there was little risk of failure. Had the participant not introduced the mobile phone project it would have been experienced as even more conservative and traditional. There was a very narrow path definition. Students were expected to follow the path set, e.g. once the lecturers had decided to support the mobile phone project, all students had to participate. They were not allowed to opt out.

However, a number of aspects of the course structure were experienced as ‘sweetly’ emergent. Two of the lecturers favoured group discussion over didactic teaching and encouraged the interpretation of concepts and co-creation of knowledge, through activities such as role-play and workshops. The focus on group discussion led to unpredictable, unexpected and emergent learning. This was increased by the mobile phone project.

The course was also experienced as disruptive in the second year, due to a change in the student group (the cohort was joined by a group of hairdressers), a new lecturer whose style of teaching was didactic and inflexible, and the fact that the mobile phone project ended with students and staff returning their devices.

Participant experience of the interactive environment

All the factors in this cluster were experienced as ‘sweetly’ or ‘sharply’ emergent. The student group was diverse with students coming from widely different backgrounds(sports coach, sales director, hairdresser), although this made some group activities more difficult, e.g. when trying to determine criteria for observation of teaching sessions. The course was more experiential than theoretical (and made more so by the mobile phone project), engaging and co-evolving, since students observed each other’s teaching and changed their own teaching as a result. The course was adaptive in that lecturers did collect feedback from the students but this was only used to inform changes for the next cohort.

This participant experienced high levels of trust between students on this course, but acknowledged that this was influenced by her work on the mobile phone project, which had involved interviewing all the students and lecturers. Lecturers remarked that the level of trust in her group was higher than for other groups, group discussion was better and in the words of the participant ‘the students had an invisible connection to each other’ through the mobile phones.

Participant experience of presence and writing

The students only met once at week at most, so there was plenty of personal space for solitude and contemplation, but because of this and the fact that the student group was a closed group there were limited opportunities for casual encounters and networking, although the participant did speak to her mentor and work colleagues, and observe specialists teaching. These people were outside the student group. Choice of media and modes was also fairly limited, but informal learning did happen, particularly through the use of mobile phones.

Participant experience of agency

The course design required compliance with prescribed outcomes and working within broader agendas. There was limited opportunity for negotiation or autonomy. Opportunities for self-organisation and creative, innovative engagement were higher, largely through the addition of the mobile phone project to the course. Despite the ‘prescribed’ nature of much of the course design, the participant felt the course had a positive effect on her identity. Before the start of the course she didn't realise that she could be a good teacher, or that the mobile phone project would have such a big impact on this. Her self-confidence grew and the course increased her awareness of her own capabilities.

Comment

This case study is an interesting example of how even within a recognisably prescribed, standards driven course, a student with initiative can take control of her learning to manage and influence the learning environment such that much of her learning was ‘sweetly’ emergent. The use of mobile phones for communication had the effect of ‘opening’ the learning environment, increasing student/student and student/lecturer interaction, as well as increasing student retention. In discussing the scoring of this footprint with the participant, she commented that the value of the discussion had been in the recognition of the positive effect that the course had on her identity.