my “selfie” mantra

ajames2013 Avatar

(written in 2016)

In 2012 Stefan Collini asked the question “What are universities for?”; one seemingly answered in institutional mission statements, although how to espouse it and live it out is the challenging bit. For me, that the question is not necessarily what are universities for, but once we know what they are, can they function as they should? Who and what are we, in our roles as educators and professionals working within them? Will we be able to fulfil this role in the way we desire to or have done in the past? And as we try and work out what the answer might be to that in the face of extraordinary uncertainty and volatility we have another, more granular, curriculum-oriented question too. If we believe that higher education is about the growth of the whole person then how can we support students to develop their metacognitive and personal understanding as part of grappling with their subject.

As I mull over these questions I have come up with a “selfie mantra” that can be applied in whatever way you choose, to questions of learner and personal identity.  I have been pondering how it might be used to help students manifest their graduate attributes and do so in creative and multisensory ways (see the rest of this site for thoughts on that). What follows is a highly condensed version of that thinking – so apologies in advance to anyone looking for a highly theorised dissection of each element.

My mantra – for want of a better word – has four aspects, which are


Now you can very easily argue that these overlap in places or could be joined by any number of things starting with “self”; however they will do for now. (Less is more). While all have been extensive researched and/or written about in some form, I am using them currently as perspectives for developing awareness of ones identity and own learning.

Under self evaluation, which is something of a catch all term, I am thinking of the different ways a student might approach this, and how we can move away from the more familiar written models of retrospection. Engaging Imagination goes into this in plenty of detail so here I would like to offer two different illustrations which refocus consideration of self within a bigger issue. Now we know that reflection is always about something, so this is a nuance of this. One illustration  is Robert Nash’s work on Scholarly Personal Narrative, explained here, which combines intellectual analysis of personal perspective and lived experience with a bigger topic, theme or question. An example I have used this week is how someone living in a certain demographic, in a given geographic region, with a fixed political affiliation might answer the question post-Brexit “What is democracy?”. A second illustration  might be how we explore other complex questions through building, drawing or other means, such as “what is the state of higher education today in [insert relevant country] and what does this mean for me?”. By evaluating personal responses to these kinds of questions and experiences we have the chance to integrate thoughts of identity, values, place, role, knowledge and belief rather than itemise some of these things separately.

Self-efficacy as defined by Bandura and paraphrased crudely here is our perception of our ability to handle ourselves and the events that occur in our lives. For students this is often bound up in perceptions of success or failure, or personal confidence and self belief, or as the old saying goes:

Unpacking the extent to which self-doubt (there’s another one) has played a part in processes and outcomes of learning requires honesty and self-scrutiny (whoa – and another) which peer coaching as part of reflective engagement can support. Similarly building and sharing through LEGO® or other media can evidence concerns, gaps or victories and how they played out.

Self- regulation is a broad term which more specifically should indicate self-regulated learning, or Zimmerman’s work on how students adopt personally initiated ways to learn successfully. There is something faintly clunky and medical about the term (none of the self-pluses are particularly attractive words, however it sums up what is ideal and desirable in an independent learner.

Self-realisation, when you Google it, has all kinds of spiritual connotations attached to the term; while these may be important to an individual my take on it is much more pragmatic – being about individual capability to maximise and achieve potential or become who or what a person intends or desires.

These four aspects are shorthand for

A note on terms: while the “selfie” mantra is something that is easily understood I tend to use the different terms beginning with “self” sparingly to avoid any kind of jargon overload. good for students to know as referents, but better that they understand the spirit of what they mean so they don’t end up wanting to facepalm.

Head in Hands

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