Further thinking – behaviour change and improving L&T

This post is an attempt to synthesize and reflect more upon two posts from yesterday. One from me trying to explain an early form of a framework for improving L&T based on findings from psychology behavior change research. The second from Markus that expands on the potential psychological foundations for this thinking by mentioning:

  • The recommendations section of a UK National Health Service (NHS) document outlining some generic principles for initiatives to support attitude and behaviour change.
  • The concept of salutogensis, at least as a cliff hanger for a subsequent post.

The following is my attempt to summarise and make some initial connections between this work and ideas around improving learning and teaching.

What behaviour change programs need to do

The NHS document is said to highlight the need for “interventions and programmes aimed at changing behaviour” to:

  • Be based on a sound knowledge of community needs and should build upon the existing skills and resources within a community.
    To me, for improving and learning and teaching this speaks of a need for empathy-driven innovation and for a focus on what the teacher does.
  • Equip practitioners with the necessary competencies and skills to support behaviour change, using evidence-based tools.
    My understanding is that “practitioners” refer to the people helping the change, not the actual teachers. Interesting.
  • Evaluate all interventions.
    Something not really being done around L&T within universities.

These are derived somewhat from the principles for interventions presented. It is again the importance placed on understanding the community as the foundation for change that resonates for me. You have to start with knowledge of the community and their strengths, perceptions etc.

Salutogensis

The following is based on a quick reading of this paper.

Focus on origins of health, rather than causes of disease

Interesting thought, salutogensis arose from an attempt to understand why women who survived concentration camps in the Second World War, had the capability for good health.

Is there a connection hear with L&T?

I would perhaps characterise the current focus in Australian universities on changes driven by the need to respond to government as attempts to prevent disease, rather than encourage health. …tentative and tenuous.

The human is at the heart

Discussions this morning lead to some reflection on metaphor – an area in which my wife has done work. The idea is that the metaphors we use to describe complex concepts reveal how we think about those concepts, it informs our decisions.

Increasingly, some colleagues and I are seeing evidence of senior management holding a machine metaphor when it comes to learning and teaching. The academic staff involved in learning and teaching are seen as machines, as inter-changeable machines. You can take that machine from there, and place it over there and it will do the same job. It doesn’t matter which machine, they all do the same thing.

It is this metaphor which enables the adoption of techo-rational approaches to improving learning and teaching such as the idea that every academic should have a graduate certificate. The metaphor here is that if you add a new widget to the machine it will perform the task with greater efficiency or with greater effectiveness.

The trouble is that people aren’t machines. They don’t passively accept the addition of a widget. There’s no direct causal link between addition of a widget and changes in behaviour.

Lundstrom and Eriksson (2006) see health promotion as

three phases, the first one that recognizes the background (the determinants), the second one that sets an objective (to lead an active productive life), and the third one is the activity (the enabling process) where the determinants are used to reach the objective in a dialectic relationship between people, the setting and the enablers.

As a “dialectic relationship” it is an on-going dialog, the person doesn’t take it unquestioningly. They go on to say

At the heart there is the human being seen as an active participating subject, respected in her full human rights.

Something that is increasingly missing in L&T within universities.

The salutogenesis framework

A framework might be possible by drawing on the salutogenic focus on three aspects

  1. Focus on problem solving/finding solutions.
  2. Identifying GRRs that help people move in the right direction.
    GRR = General Resistance Resources – biological, material and pyschosocial factors that help people see their lives as consistent, structured and understandable. A person with these resources has a better chance of dealing with challenges.
  3. Identify the SOC – the pervasive sense that enables this move.
    The SOC is the ability to use the GRRs. The GRRs create life experiences that promote a strong SOC. (This is somewhat confusing but the message I’m getting from the paper.) The SOC is the capabaility to perceived you can manage in any situation. It is flexible and not focused on a specific set of strategies.

Will have to wait for Markus’ explanation to make this understandable to me.

There are, however, some positive resonances with this ideas and my current thoughts, will have to see how that plays out.

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