Having in 1975 gained three CSE grade 1 passes and one O level (if taking an O level resit of a CSE grade 2 English), I had the minimum number of passes to study A levels (and one O level). During sixth form Economics 1975-77 I decided that there was an inconsistency between the diagrams of microelectronics and those of Keynesian economics, and I thought the first, which seemed to follow logical diagrammatic rules, should be applied to the second, which made exceptions to these rules. As I produced my own solutions I went on to discover Monetarism, which was more dynamic and which I adopted. The important point was finding a process of learning and an heretical spirit which I have never lost. I also had confidence that I had found my subject.
Being deliberately over-confident entering the Geography exams, I scored A grades in both Economics and Geography (the latter a surprise), which opened the way for University entry. Confidence is important in learning. It also vindicated my decision to drop History, where (unlike Economics) there was no obvious argument connecting facts and therefore little means of memory (I have changed this opinion). Ever since my successes, with a good but not overmuch revising technique, I have never feared exams and have also never believed in doing too much - I do what I can cope with, and try to do those courses well. However at University College North Wales the Economics was mathematical and not diagrammatic, and so I stopped the course.
Approaching Economics, Politics and Sociology examinations at the University of Hull I further developed a revision system of compressing notes down to essentials with reading them into a microphone and letting them play back in headphones while rereading several times. Therefore I did not have to risk certain questions not coming up. I remember having very good recall in the exams, where I got a 2.1 (but just being placed over the requirement in one marginal case and therefore gaining the whole 2.1) and the relevance of this still now is clarity in study skills and successful learning strategies.
Having found a University of Essex American Government course repetitive with accommodation troubles, I carried on back at Hull with an M.Phil research. M.Phil and then Ph.D gave me much more autonomy, and for the first time I was in charge. This was at last thoroughgoing active learning, meaning empwered learning and involvement, not passive receptivity. The tutor advised, but I made all the decisions. An interest in a teenagers in-group in a church, and in a teenagers out-group on the fringes of that church, and then the way one religious ideology is given to the in-group (which ignores more liberal theology in the university), powered the M.Phil which was upgraded to a Ph.D. It became a full-blown examination of the distribution of belief within and between denominations.
The Ph.D was a process of change, and also the difficult activity of co-ordinating a flow of meaning though 98,000 words. Advice that I should see this as a narrative and with some sort of denouement has not been lost, and indeed is a core part of my advice now to student essay writers. Learning is about being a process of change. I also go back to my Junior High school, where the headteacher, a slightly batty but well meaning man, would ask us to "steamroller" our way through a song before refining it. This is exactly my method now. I further advise students to get an idea in their heads of what they want to write, using perhaps some prior reading, and write it out, and edit that, and fit quotes to it. This produces the opportunity of a better and original narrative, to which notes, quotations and references are fitted, rather than trying to write an essay around notes and quotations.
The activity of doing this research was without formal research training (this has since changed) but obviously I learnt the advantages and disadvantages on the job. It was the key resource for my later lecturing in Research Methods at Grimsby College in 1999, and in fact my first lecture was done "AJP Taylor style" (without notes) on the experience of research methods.
The Ph.D became a forerunner to Unitarian Ministry training (1989-90). An heretical group, I managed to find the heretical stance within the ostensibly creedless and Christian-to-Humanist span denomination (the Buddhist Principal resigned soon after I left). Unfortunately as well there was no useful associated social theology University course (I was told to tackle a repeat of PH.D course element in a less complex way!) and so I took on a Diploma on the psychology of learning and teaching. That collapsed along with the ministry training.
Ministry was supposed to be about honesty and creativity. I was always looking for frontiers. What they wanted were people to run existing shows. This is also my philosophy of education, which ideally is about finding new insights and pushing frontiers. Of course much has been done before, and we must investigate "the tradition" but from there should also seek out something new. My teaching is to encourage creative learning.
I also applied Freire's theories of empowerment from education into congregational theology, and I have a liberation theology attidtude towards teaching. I also had my first introduction to psychological theories of learning, with cognitive, humanist and behaviourist theories. The latter has become very important in seeing what is going on within institutions of learning as they find a way to measure what needs to be measured in order to structure a syllabus, create lesson plans, assess what is visible and maintain funding. Whilst learning has much to do with changing the mind, and deep matters of orientation, institutionally it seems stuck with the problem that if there is no reaonably immediate concrete result it never happened.
Progressive theories against this behaviourism were also a part of my PGCE training at Sheffield City Polytechnic (1991-92). This was a school PGCE in order to gain admission (Huddersfield, for FE only, was full) and engaged me with Business Studies. I made the mistake of taking the college practice first, because I was hopeless at school practice and had more interest in the subjects than the kids. Although discipline problems failed my training, I found myself also unable to break down the subject areas simply enough for them. Although I was offered the chance to take the practice again, a £400 fee (as it became a University), advice that it was only qualification for qualification's sake (how this has changed now - the advice would be institutionally to get it!) and a deep unwillingness to teach children ever again, stopped a retake. Only later would I attempt to do a City and Guilds 730 in order to have a teaching qualification and gain further advice on teaching style and communication.
Then I did a subject implied within the Ph.D, an MA in Theological Understanding of Contemporary Society (1996-1998), well after my frustrated period of being stopped from continuing ministry training (1989-90) among Unitarians. Again I was a religious humanist among Christians.
Back in the mid 1980's it became clear I needed a computer, and the Ph.D was produced on an Amstrad 8256 which I later upgraded to a 3.5" disk (though lost the full text). I became self-taught at a moderate level of Mallard Basic, able to rewrite and create graphic user interfaces integrating several programs together. Thus, when I came to using a PC, and came on to the Internet, it was not long before I started to produce my own website. I am self-taught in HTML. I also picked up some elementary qualifications in IT and Text and Word Processing, again seeking the minimum to facilitate teaching and study skills support.
The website is now almost part of my own identity, being a learning resource and an autobiography by presentations. It has my art, my photography, my academic articles, training material, and personal items (see my Option 1 on the development of my Website). It will contain more material probably with a Russian language element in future. It now receives between 60 and 100 hits a week.
So I have been a Monetarist among Keynesians, a postmodern humanist among heretics, and a humanist amongst aspiring Christian theologians and ministers, and managed to fall out of nearly every church/ religion I encountered. I do generally find a critical position beyond the institutional limits of wherever I am. I do not think this is simply pathological, but prefer to think that it is a reflection of liberality and indeed the critical nature of education. It is also the fact that my learning autobiography shows me to be both reflective and theoretical (on Kolb's ideal types, 1984). More recently within teacher training I have seen how progressive theories are subsumed or incorporated within behaviourism - or input in, input out, and measure it all.
My teaching will always be informal and looking for that creative edge. It is probably why I like the approach of my present post, the HE Research Assistant (which is research methods and study skills support). It is the case that I carry out effective learning, picking up where the lecturer's leave off, concerned more with the means than the content (though I have the breadth for the content too). It is interesting, I think, and telling, that this kind of facilitative teaching cannot work with lesson plans, and its progressive method has a far further reaching effect on educational performance than lesson plans' input-output method will achieve. Of course this hardly helps me with the demands of teacher training, locked into lesson planning. I teach every day, but until formal courses are put on, I cannot do teaching practice.
In my view education is about achieving a critical self-awareness. For me, the input-output model is not ultimately satisfying, nor is it good evidence of understanding. Its background philosophy, whatever else follows on, does not guarantee active learning but encourages passivity and regurgitation. We see this now in league tables. That I may have to do this will not stop me teaching for the greater goal. I encourage active learning. I have acquired for myself until now a certain satisfying freedom, through low-cost living and failures and successes, to become that self-critical and critical person that I think education should be about achieving, rather than creating economic units, although I do have to become an economic unit. It is what one of my subjects calls "social control". Teaching, for me, would preferably be to create people who do not take what is said for granted, and it is most satisfying to see a student question what is given; although a great deal of what is called education is in fact a form of training towards being an economic unit of some sort or other.
Kolb, D. A. (et.al) (1984), Organizational Psychology, London: Prentice Hall.