THE POWER OF UNCERTAINTY IN INNOVATIVE EDUCATION
This paper explores the teaching of reflective learning with business practitioners and the experiences of a lecturing team adopting a ‘pedagogy of risk’ (Barnett, 2007p.133). The paper examines how the development of reflective skills challenges power relationships between students, teachers and institutions. The traditional role of an educator is often the authority figure but being prepared to relinquish dominant ownership of knowledge supports deeper student learning.
Relevant in the literature is the classical concept of practical wisdom ‘phronesis’ and a capability to find the right answer in unknown contexts (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2006; Shotter, 2006). Uncertainty demands a shift in mindset to embrace ambiguity and an ability to interpret and apply knowledge in the intangible and sometimes conflicting realities of organisational practice. The principle of reflection involves a willingness to question, interrogate and challenge (Holden & Griggs, 2011). It is not enough to unconsciously absorb and replicate theoretical knowledge. This educational process can lead to what Meyer & Land (2005) describe as learner disorientation.
This on-going, longitudinal case study utilises lecturers’ self-reflection, narratives and student feedback from a purposive sample of postgraduate business students enrolled on a professionally accredited programme. Data is analysed following the introduction of a novel assessment of reflective writing.
Challenging traditional pedagogies and releasing power from lecturer to student can result in mutual benefit for sharing the excitement of discovery learning. Yet this is not teaching abdication but an opening of the lecturers’ framing of knowledge to guide learners. The reassurance offered by outcome certainty and traditional assessment artefacts is potentially limiting. Although uncertainty is perceived negatively, the force of this condition may engender deeper learning through critical reflection. But this is a disturbing process especially for international students.
Critical reflection is a life-long learning skill necessary for business practitioners in times of environmental uncertainty. Educators need to have the confidence to distribute power and foster ‘phronesis’ in learners. The contribution of this paper is that uncertainty may enhance the accelerated learning of reflective skills.
Barnett, R. (2007). A Will to Learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Maidenhead: The Society for Research in Higher Education & OU Press.
Holden, R. & Griggs, V. (2011). Teaching the politics of HRD: A journey in critical curriculum development, The International Journal of Management Education, 9 (2).
Meyer, J. & Land, R (2005). ‘Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): Epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning’. Higher Education, 49:373-388.
Shotter, J. (2006). Understanding process from within: An argument for ‘withness’ thinking’, Organization Studies, 27 (4): 585-604.
Weick, K. & Sutcliffe, K. (2006). ‘Mindfulness and the quality of organizational attention’, Organization Science, 17: 514-524.