Virtually Pen Green



In the latest instalment of our presenters' posts, Kat Clark and Sandra Mole are recalling how the learning environment had changed for their adult learners when the pandemic started back in 2020 and what they have learned about their students' thoughts, needs and feelings, as well as the role of the tutors as enablers and supporters.
The ‘Pen Green Experience’ is rooted in critical pedagogy and experiential learning, tutors focus on honouring the life and practice experiences that students bring and the dialogical relationships formed. The Pen Green Research, Training and Development Base is located within an integrated centre - home also to a Maintained Nursery School and Children’s Centre. Since 1998 the Base has offered higher education courses to over 2500 students from all over the globe. Tutors themselves are able to spend time in practice and have developed a unique approach to adult learning. Studies are timetabled into block weeks, ensuring busy professionals can immerse themselves in the learning environment, taking a break from the daily challenges of practice, and often home life. During the study week refreshments and meals are provided, this symbolises our care for the needs of students. We feel very strongly that nourishment supports creativity and that by feeding students we are showing how much we value them and the extent to which we believe in them. We know that working in such an intense way builds a strong community of learners, optimising learning and offering social connections that remain long after studies are complete.
The global pandemic COVID-19 in 2020 brought with it exceptional challenges to education globally. Adaptations to be able to teach virtually were expected almost immediately, educators everywhere needed to facilitate learning experiences in an unfamiliar virtual world with little or no previous training. Research was conducted to gather feedback to capture how the recreation of the ‘Pen Green Experience’ online felt for a group of mature, female, higher education students.
The authors spent time reflecting on the principles that underpin the practice of working with adult learners; the essential elements of social constructivism, the critical nature of highly effective andragogical practice; the importance of practice wisdom and life experiences; the benefits of reflecting on, and gaining academic recognition for, work already being undertaken. We see education as a form of social justice - all our work is underpinned by the philosophies of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educationalist who asserted that we all bring something to the learning experience.
We are aware that our students are voluntary learners, and they may simply disappear from learning experiences that do not satisfy them. Tutors were particularly drawn to interactivity and presence believing interaction is what brings effectiveness to virtual learning. It was fascinating to read stories where women were expressing a sense of self-confidence and comfort. Some attributed this to being in their own homes, others to reduced pressures of balancing working and family lives. We wondered if some of these feelings were due to adapting, and surviving. Their internal adaptive capabilities appeared to enable them to successfully accommodate their new environment, and interact with the external environment (Vygotsky, 1978). Once students adapted they were able to be their true self (Winnicott, 1960), and deeper connections began to emerge between us all - ‘support has extended to my personal life too, not just help with my assignment. Whenever we talk there’s always interest in how I’m doing and if life is ok; I feel like you genuinely care how I am as a person, not just as a student in your class’.
We recognised that student experiences that attend to social, emotional and academic needs could lead to internalising an altered sense of self. We are suggesting this might be ‘andragogical isomorphism’, whereby students and tutors also see, hear and feel - attention, aspiration, attunement and being part of academia. Paired with their pedagogical experiences there is critical internalisation in their sense of being both educated and an educator. It became clear tutor’s roles were not to engineer connections, but to carve out the space and time which enabled students to reflect, and seek out their own strategies to adapt to new relationships in learning environments; regardless of this being in a live or virtual classroom.




Kat Clark and Sandra Mole of Pen Green Research, Development and Training Base will present their research at BECERA Conference 2021, Symposium 1, Tuesday 16th February | 12.30 – 2.00pm



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