Thursday, June 29, 2017

From Librarian to Student: Completing a Maynooth University Adult Education Certificate Course

Thrilled to receive my certificate in Adult and Community Education from Professor Philip Nolan on Saturday 9th November.

Shortly after completing the course I wrote the following reflection.

In May 2017, I completed an MU certificate in Adult and Community Education. The course ran for the academic year for three hours on Monday evenings. In addition there was class on four Saturdays (10-4) bringing the total number of contact hours to 100.
This is a 20-credit course: 180 credits are required for the MU undergraduate degrees offered by the Department of Adult & CommunityEducation (BA in Local History, BA in Community Studies). A maximum of 60 credits can be acquired through completion of MU Department of Adult Education certificate courses.
There were 17 of us in the class, 16 women and one man. Some were already involved in adult/community education, working with organisations such as the National Learning Network (NLN) and Quality and QualificationsIreland (QQI). Others worked in a variety of areas including health & safety, nursing, office administration and homemaker and were keen to be involved in the field of adult education either on a part-time basis or fulltime. A few of the group – myself included had already completed MU degrees, some others had acompleted certificate course – there are a number of them on offer - and hoped to complete the BA in Community Studies or another degree in the future.
The age range was from early twenties to late fifties. At fifty-eight I was the oldest in the class which was a bit disconcerting initially but I soon got over that: everybody was so warm and welcoming. My motivation in doing the course was twofold. I felt I could enhance my skills for my current job as a librarian in Maynooth University. I was also thinking in terms of my retirement which will be in six years time. I’ve had a long and varied library career in Ireland and overseas. I hoped that through doing the course I could work out how to use my current skills in the voluntary sector after retirement and also develop new skills.

Course Content
There were four modules.
Group Work for Adult Education
Philosophy of Adult and Community Education
Psychology and Sociology of Adult and Community Education
Study and Learning Skills are integrated into the above

The course opened with Module 1 (Group Work for Adult Education) in October. Descriptions of the content of the various modules are available in the student handbook for the course (available from the Department of Adult & Community Education). I found the theory of the different stages of group development and facilitation styles and skills particularly useful. There’s a strong practical element to the course and I enjoyed group tasks such as building a tower with newspaper and seeing the roles people assumed either deliberately or unconsciously. After doing the course I have more confidence in trusting the process for example not feeling I have to say something if there is silence in a group. The topic of being able to name issues and to hold the situation was also useful. This, to me, means being able to articulate a thorny issue rather than skirting around it and discuss it in a way that is non-threatening but does actually look at the issue. I have quite a lot of experience of facilitating groups through my work: since doing the course I feel I am a more effective facilitator.

A little into our first semester, we started our second module (Philosophy of Adult Education). I have taught adults (students on librarianship programmes in Sierra Leone and information skills to mature students in both DCU and MU. However, I haven’t had any formal teacher training, excluding a few short courses. I had some familiarity with a group in Sierra Leone, GEL (Generating Empowerment through Learning) who, trained and supported by the Holy Rosary Sisters, ran adult education courses based on the psychosocial methods of Brazilian adult educator Paulo Freire. So, having seen it in practice and written about it and seeing first hand  the impact it was having on adults in Sierra Leone it was great to delve a bit into Freire’s theories. Freire believed that a new method of education was needed for adults which recognised and valued their knowledge and lived experience, rather than the more traditional pedagogy – teacher/lecturer talks, students write notes, students answer questions based on what the lecturer has said, in a three-hour exam session. Freire believed that knowledge is a process of inquiry rather than something static and stressed the importance of inquiry in being truly human. He emphasised the importance of trust, the creative power of people and problem-posing as a path to critical consciousness. The people with GEL looked at real life issues they were experiencing living in Sierra Leone and had a dialogue around topics that were important to the group for example the fact that the society put very little emphasis on the education of female children. They discussed the context (the fact that when a woman marries any money she makes will go to the family she marries into, therefore educating boys was a better investment), they learned the vocabulary around the issue (literacy development) and in this way constructed their own knowledge by using their own experience.
In our first semester we wrote a 1,500 word essay What is your understanding of the Philosophy of Adult Education? This was an interesting experience for me, looking back over my experience of learning down quite a number of years and relating/or not theories of people such as Paulo Freire to my own lived experience. There was tremendous support and guidance from the two educators and the group as a whole through this and the whole process and extensive resources – links to articles, YouTube, Powerpoint Presentations etc – were made available via moodle.

Second Semester
After Christmas we began to prepare for what is called the Practicum. This involves designing a course outline and  planning and facilitating a workshop of no more than 30 minutes, based on the Adult Education principles and group facilitation processes we had covered. My half-hour workshop was on using twitter. I spent more time engaging with the group – asking them questions about how they use social media etc - than I would generally have done in an information literacy session in the Library. However, I wasn’t able to move away as much as I would have liked from traditional PowerPoint presentation and lecturing from the podium. I’m still thinking about how social media skills could be taught in a more interactive way, when a suite of PCs isn’t available and not everyone has a tablet or iPhone.
Monday night sessions continued from 7 to 10, with a coffee break around 8. During this time we covered the psychology of adult and community education (module 3) and the sociology of adult education (module 4). We had a choice of writing a 1,5000 essay on the psychology or the sociology of adult and community education. I opted for the psychology essay. I really enjoyed learning about the different stages of personality development and how they might impact on adult learning and development. I also enjoyed the work we did on multiple intelligences, a concept developed by Howard Gardiner, which identifies seven distinct types of intelligence. While Logical/Mathematical (problem solving) and verbal/linguistic (writing and narrating) are the intelligences our traditional education system values most, there’s also interpersonal (Understanding other people’s emotions), body (movement/dance), musical (interpreting sounds/playing instruments), visual/spatial (able to visualise e.g. a path through a maze), intrapersonal (self-awareness; how you understand your own emotions). I found this all very interesting and I also really liked the KenRobinson material we covered. I was fortunate to actually hear Ken Robinson speak on creativity in Dublin about ten years ago.

I was also very taken with the work of Carol Dweck. Her TED talk on “growth” versus “fixed” mindset is particularly interesting. Her research (with Claudia Mueller) shows that people who believe that talent and intellectual ability can be developed rather than being fixed, do better in most walks of life including education. Praising students for effort rather than results helped develop resilience and a “growth” mindset. If we can create environments that foster a growth mindset, rather than focusing on grades, this will help develop resilience and the capacity to grow in many different situations including adult education.
Our last formal assignment was writing a reflective piece (1,500) on our experience during the year.We had been told about this and our other assignments at the beginning of the course. While I occasionally jotted down some notes after class these were mostly about how I was feeling (tired, hungry etc.) or a comment on something about the session e.g. I like the way Sarah explains very clearly what’s going to happen or I like the way Michelle has a discussion on a topic which draws on our knowledge and experience and then we go on to the theory. While I completed the essay, reflection and reflective journaling is something I will return to.

Final Thoughts
I don’t feel I have done justice to the sheer range and depth of this course. During the year I maintained my very busy fulltime job – as were most of the class – so there is much that I didn’t go into in any depth. I have lots of material that I will return to in the future. Perhaps it’s best to view the course as a starting point. Sometimes on wintry Monday nights I had to force myself to leave the warmth and comfort of home and go to class. But when I got there it was always worth the effort. It didn’t feel like a class really, more like a friendly group getting together to discuss issues of common concern. An interesting feature was the way we reorganised our space into a circle rather than the traditional classroom. Reading and doing essays was a bit challenging in that after a day’s work I rarely wanted to read/write so I depended on weekends for that generally – but not always - spending A few hours on the course.
 Overall it was a great experience and I enjoyed the learning and the group very much. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in becoming a more effective facilitator/educator/practitioner.

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