John Harris on the role of the teacher in further and higher education. Reflection is the difference between 20 years' teaching experience and one years' experience repeated 20 times. It is part of a personal development that enables tutors to formulate concepts about effective teaching which are capable of being transferred into positive action in new situations. In quality terms, reflection is an essential element in the cycle of continuous improvement. The central aims of this book are to help the tutor become a reflective practitioner and to find ways of applying reflective practice to student learning.
In essence the book takes a pragmatic approach. Although models of learning are used to underpin the ideas presented, abstract theories are never allowed to take centre stage at the expense of the needs of the practitioner.
On the other hand, the authors do not provide a "how to" checklist and avoid being prescriptive. That would imply a single solution to each issue irrespective of context, rendering reflection on working practices superfluous.
The book is a guide rather than an instruction manual, offering suggestions to tutors that will enable them to seek out effective learning strategies for themselves. The role of tutor as sole source and transmitter of information is being made obsolete by technological developments. Gaining in importance is the crucial part played by the tutor in managing students' autonomous learning. A tutor performs this role by structuring learning to facilitate reflection and ensure that students are provided with appropriate experiences.
The reader is encouraged to consider alternative ways of teaching that involve experiential learning and is given guidance on choosing assessment techniques that complement rather than contradict learning strategies. Similarly, learning aids are explored with a view to extending the possibilities for greater student autonomy. Open and distance learning go furthest in this respect and the authors investigate the implications for the relationship between tutor and students. The promotion of equal opportunities is another aspect of managing learning, and the book offers insight into how this might be achieved through the curriculum and institutional ethos.
In many ways the role as manager of learning is far more challenging to play and the authors consider the personal and interpersonal skills development needed by both tutors and students to tackle reflective practice successfully. The book also covers student counselling, acknowledging that tutor support will often cross academic boundaries.
Evaluation of teaching and learning often provides the trigger for reflection on what can be done to improve the student experience. Ashcroft and Foreman-Peck describe evaluation strategies that form an integral part of the learning process, contributing to the success of a study programme rather than merely reacting to it.
True to the philosophy of reflective practice, Ashcroft and Foreman-Peck urge tutors to go beyond passive absorption of the text by reflecting and acting on their experience of reading. A wide range of "enquiry tasks" complement the text to assist tutors in applying the ideas presented in the book to activities in their own institutions. This interactive approach is reinforced by suggestions at the end of each chapter for entries in "the reflective diary" which encourage readers to question tacit assumptions held about teaching and learning. For those inspired to progress further, there is a chapter on action research showing practitioners how to become agents of change in their own organisations.
The authors address issues in a direct way without being directive. They acknowledge limitations and are open about what can go wrong. The approach is firmly rooted in the practicalities of managing teaching and learning. It will appeal to staff developers and tutors in further and higher education who want to add value to their experience.
John Harris is Director of Human Resources, Stanmore College, Middlesex.