‘Becoming’ critically reflective practitioners: academics' and students' reflections on the issues involved

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Unam - Centro De Nano Ciencias]On: 20 December 2014, At: 06:12Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Human Resource DevelopmentInternationalPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rhrd20

    Becoming critically reflectivepractitioners: academics' and students'reflections on the issues involvedAileen Corley a & Elaine Eades ba Faculty of Business and Law Management School , LiverpoolJohn Moores University , John Foster Building 98 Mount Pleasant,Liverpool, UKb University of Liverpool Management School , LiverpoolUniversity , Chatham Building Chatham Street, Liverpool, UKPublished online: 07 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Aileen Corley & Elaine Eades (2004) Becoming critically reflectivepractitioners: academics' and students' reflections on the issues involved, Human ResourceDevelopment International, 7:1, 137-144, DOI: 10.1080/13678860310001630647

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13678860310001630647

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Becoming critically reflective practitioners:academics and students reflections on the issuesinvolved

    Aileen CorleyLiverpool John Moores University

    Elaine EadesLiverpool University

    Introduction

    Learning is a core concept within HRD and the ability to understand and enhanceindividual and organizational learning is key to effective HRD practice. Critically

    reflecting on practice is a central feature of effective learning and many authors (Kolb

    1984; Reynolds 1998; Schon 1983) have argued that reflection on practice is anessential skill for managers and professionals. But how do practitioners become

    reflective practitioners? This perspective on practice paper provides some insights

    into the processes involved and the interventions that can be used to enhancereflective skills. The paper will be of interest to readers who are concerned with

    operationalizing the concept of reflective practice. This includes academics and HRD

    professionals who have responsibility for designing and implementing learninginitiatives and practitioners who are expected to practise reflective skills and

    continuous professional development (CPD).

    The authors of this article are responsible for the design and delivery ofpostgraduate programmes. Two postgraduate programmes provided the case studies

    for this research and further detail is provided below. A stated aim of the programmes

    was to develop the students as critically reflective practitioners. This paper reports onthe emerging outcomes of an action research project, which explores how students

    and academics can become critically reflective practitioners. The paper also reports

    on planned future research and discusses the applicability of the research to the HRDprofession.

    Theories of reflective learning

    It is generally accepted that the purpose of management development and educationis to develop critically reflective practitioners. However, achieving this purpose can be

    problematic (Corley 2002; Craft 1997; King 1995). Within management learning

    the models of experiential learning have held and currently hold a dominant position(Pavlica et al. 1998; Reynolds 1998) and the ideas of Kolb (1984) and Schon (1983)have been elevated above all available alternatives. Reynolds (1998) argued that there

    are qualitative differences between reflection and critical reflection and describesreflection, as exemplified by experiential learning theories, as focusing on the

    HRDI 7:1 (2004), pp. 137144

    Human Resource Development InternationalISSN 1367-8868 print/ISSN 1469-8374 online 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd

    http://www.tandf.co.uk/journalsDOI: 10.1080/13678860310001630647

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  • immediate, presenting details of a task or problem. Reynolds (1998) argued that themeaning and significance of experiential learning theory has been limited by the

    individualized perspective that the theory promotes and he outlined four

    characteristics of critical reflection: it is concerned with questioning assumptions;the focus is social rather than individual; it pays particular attention to the analysis of

    power relations; and it is concerned with emancipation. Reynolds argues that:

    The aim of management education. . .should not be to fit people into institutions as theycurrently exist, but to encourage them in questioning and confronting the social andpolitical forces which provide the context of their work, and in questioning claims of(common sense) or (the way things should be done).

    (Reynolds 1998: 198)

    The above statement complemented our views regarding the aim of management

    education and the ideas of Reynolds provided additional insights into what reflective

    learning could be. For us, Reynolds view of the critically reflective practitionerextended the ideas of Kolb and Schon by making the social and political aspect of

    questioning current practice explicit.We believed that the ability to question taken-for-

    granted assumptions was central to effective learning, especially at postgraduate level.But could we share these insights and expectations with the students? This questioning

    of practice acted as a catalyst for the action research reported in this article.

    Sharing insights and expectations of postgraduate study

    A social constructionist perspective has informed this action research into how

    academics and students develop shared understandings. Attempting to make implicit

    knowledge explicit has been a central feature of the research and plannedinterventions integrating individual and group learning activities, with a focus on

    conversations for understanding and conversations for action (Pavlica et al. 1998)have impacted on student learning and the process of becoming a critically reflectivepractitioner. We have been influenced by the idea of the manager as practical author

    and the argument that:

    Learning can be considered as a process of argumentation in which thinking, reflecting,experiencing and action are different aspects of the same process. It is practicalargumentation with oneself and in collaboration with others that actually forms the basisof learning.

    (Pavlica et al. 1998: 145)

    The concept of a community of practice where individuals learn to become members

    of that community (Lave and Wenger 1991) through a process of socialization,

    developing shared understandings of practice, also provided useful theoretical insightsinto howHRM and HRD practitioners become critically reflective practitioners. It is

    recognized that within HRM andHRD educational programmes several communities

    of practice can be identified: the programme team, the employing organization andprofessional organizations. Stakeholder analysis (Simmons 2003) has provided further

    Perspectives on Practice

    138

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  • refinements of the issues involved within different communities. However, for thispaper the key issue is how each community has developed through the socialization

    process, including language, implicit and explicit knowledge and worldviews (Eades

    and Iles 2003). The key challenge for this action research was: how do we transfer ortranslate knowledge across communities if each community has become socialized?

    Making explicit and codifying (putting in written form) the aims and objectives of the

    educational programmes was a starting point, but it was not enough.Making implicit knowledge explicit is difficult and some would argue impossible

    (Polanyi 1967). However, Spender (1996) views implicit/tacit knowledge as that

    which has not yet been articulated. Articulating and codifying knowledge canfacilitate the development of a shared language. But having a shared language does

    not guarantee shared understanding, and enabling individuals to contextualize this

    language to their own circumstances takes time. Planned interventions, which focuson how individuals learn to become critically collective practitioners, facilitate this

    process and enable their development as critically reflective practitioners,

    Within the case-study programmes these ideas have been utilized to develop aseries of planned interventions. The interventions have focused on products arising

    from work, such as work-based assessment, marking criteria, academic feedback and

    students reflections. Further detail is provided below.

    The case studies

    The two postgraduate programmes involved were the MA in Personnel &

    Development (P&D) and the MSc in Human Resource Development (HRD)delivered at Liverpool JohnMoores University in the UK. TheMA P&D is a part-time

    programme and takes two and a half years to complete. Entrants to the programme

    hold a business degree or other relevant qualification and work as personnel ordevelopment practitioners. Participative learning methods are used on the programme

    and students work in action learning sets to complete their dissertation. The majority

    of the assessment is work-based, applying theory to practice.The MSc HRD was designed to offer a vehicle for the continuing professional

    development ofHRD practitioners. The programme is a top up masters and entrants

    to the programme hold a postgraduate diploma and have relevant experience atmanagement level. These senior practitioners attend part time and normally take a year

    to achieve the masters qualification. Participative learning methods are also used on

    this programme and studentswork in action learning sets to complete their dissertation.All the assessment is work based, applying theory to work problems or issues.

    The data and methods used

    Data have been generated throughout the duration of the programmes, focusingon individuals reflections and articulations as they experience the postgraduate

    programme. An inductive approach to generation and analysis of data has

    provided insights into the relationship between HRM and HRD professionaleducation and HRM and HRD professional work, and, in particular, the expected

    Corley and Endes: Becoming critically reflective practitioners

    139

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  • and realized added value. Ongoing analysis and reflection on these data haveprovided insight into the relationship between academics and students, and in

    particular how academics need to be prepared to question, and have questioned,

    their academic practice if they are to support students ability to question theirown work practice.

    The data analysis was informed by the concepts previously discussed, and a

    series of interventions evolved aimed at facilitating the development of criticallyreflective practitioners. We believed that, in order to support the development

    of critically reflective practitioners, we needed to explore and attempt to make

    our own implicit knowledge of postgraduate-level work explicit, and inparticular postgraduate-level work within the context of the HRM and HRD

    programmes. An action research approach was utilized and a series of

    interventions evolved, involving cycles of planning, acting, observing andreflection. The interventions were planned and evaluated within the framework

    of module and programme review and were introduced throughout the

    programmes, commencing with interview and evaluated at periodic timesduring the programme cycle. The final stage of reflection utilized academics

    and students reflections to inform future planning and this has led to

    continuous improvement and innovation in teaching, learning and assessmentprocesses within the programme.

    The interventions

    The following interventions have evolved during the course of this research, andthese will be further refined as the programme team continues to model the

    critically reflective practitioner concept and share their evolving understandings

    with new cohorts of students. Taken in isolation, each intervention may seemunremarkable. In fact, many of the interventions may be present on other

    educational and work-based programmes. However, the distinct difference with

    these interventions was the integration across the HRM and HRD programmes,and the integration during the programme. The critically reflective practitioner

    concept was introduced at interview and reinforced continuously during the

    programme. The ability to reflect on and improve practice by undertakingresearch and by applying theory to practice was evident within all modules and

    the team continuously reflected on how they could make implicit knowledge

    explicit.

    . At interview the demands of postgraduate study were explained and the potentialto complete research into practice were explored. In particular, the potential toaccess data to satisfy the requirements of a masters level dissertation was

    discussed.

    . During induction, descriptors of postgraduate-level learning and other keyconcepts were explored utilizing group discussion. This activity opened a debate

    on the contested nature of knowledge, and began the process of students

    developing their understanding of independent learning and the criticallyreflective practitioner.

    Perspectives on Practice

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  • . Students were involved in...

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