Developing reflective practice in relation to source critique and evaluation in a level 1 course in Art/Humanities
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1 April 2015
Learning how to approach and to make sense of primary materials is one of the key skills to which introductory courses in Arts/Humanities aim for their students to acquire. Many students find it challenging, at least initially, to develop a critical distance to what they read or see, let alone beginning to use primary evidence in a reflective way in their assignments. My role is to a) facilitate students’ engagement with the existing resources which already belong to the Learning Design of the course that I teach, and b) to further assist them with practicing the skills of critical approach and evaluation of texts and images from their course materials.
This is an example of a way how I try to facilitate students' engagement with the approach and analysis of texts and images, with a special concern for students who seem to be encountering difficulties/be unfamiliar with developing a critical distance from the sources they are required to evaluate. Students who face such difficulties may express a judgemental attitudes towards the sources or images they are to comment on and evaluate, likes or dislikes, and may sometimes simply ‘ignore’ the primary material- or largely doing so- preferring to base their discussion on secondary literature instead. Students sometimes choose to comment on aspects of the sources selectively when they feel they could apply something of what they had read and understood in the course resources and which ‘fits’ the sources they have to approach. There can also be a tendency to ‘by-pass’ or not to use concepts and terms which students have not understood in order to turn them into a usable resource that they could transfer onto their attempts at source critique and evaluation.
Points (a) and (b) as outlined above under ‘narrator’.
1. Creating a ‘safe’ space usually in a face-to-face and/or a telephone tutorial inviting them to reflect on their own attitudes towards the sources, and the way they understand and go about source critique and evaluation.
2. Reflecting back to them some of the points they raised. Examples of such comments are given above under ‘situation’.
3. Inviting them to observe patterns in their attitudes of thinking about/responding to sources which may or may not be of a genre that they are used to dealing with in their everyday and/or professional life.
4. Sometimes I invite them to offer examples of primary sources in the area where they live and work, and we draw links between familiarity with/being used to a concept and the ‘ease’ or willingness to work with it.
5. Once we get these ‘psychological’ aspects of learning worked out, to some extent, we then begin to engage with the sources afresh, often with the aid of other group members who have more familiarity and willingness with those type of sources. And that would eventually lead us to move onto the specific advice offered in the course materials.
It does not always work but it has worked for a good number of students who managed to see the purpose of engaging with the sources rather than sticking with the views of ‘experts’/teachers by mainly/only engaging with the secondary literature.
It has enabled students to reflect on their own patterns of learning, and this has on occasion been mentioned by them in their reflective reviews which forms part of the assessment requirements in the course.
This part of leaning design usually relates to what I do with students in the first half of the course – in the very beginning- and which I then I follow up on in my feedback on later assignments as well where relevant. It is not for everyone but can help a good number of students to engage with disciplines and views (through text or image) which may be unfamiliar and therefore inaccessible territory to them.