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Pedagogic Identities in Higher Ed~ An Australian perspective

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Finances are really crunching for some psychology students so this Tutor:Mentor wants to contribute more! I have uploaded one of my assignments for Higher Ed teaching and learning development~ Comparing Pedagogic Identities. The paper provides a focus on critical reflection and discipline based learning theories, such as for psychology.

Understanding where your tutors, TAs, lecturers etc stand with regard to pedagogy is critical for you as a learner. Knowledge is power and you are in a much better position to feedback needs and expectations when you are informed as to the current literature on the topic of pedagogic identity.

Hope you find it helpful~

Comparing Pedagogic Identities

Pedagogy relates to the inter-relationships between educator, learner and knowledge production due to these relationships. Life long learning (LLL) pedagogy development in Australia is largely unknown. In recent years, the emergence of pedagogy in higher education as an increasingly professionalised endeavor has been observed by a number of writers. Educational niches for adult/high education in the UK and USA lack links and multi-disciplinary collaboration is rare. It appears that work-related curriculums have contributed to the segmentation of knowledge ‘spheres’ (Zuckas & Maclom, 2000). The lack of continuity may be remedied by the identification of pedagogical identities and their consequences for learning futures.

Two pedagogic identities are compared and contrasted here using Zukas and Malcolm’s (2000) analytical framework to demonstrate the value of each for life long learning and addressing the needs of learning futures. The first, critical reflection theory can be defined as the process of thinking back on or considering prior knowledge in order to judge if new knowledge can be accommodated in the present situation (Atherton, 2003). The second identity to be discussed is that of discipline-based learning, which recognises that teaching and learning needs to be different in different disciplines (Kemis & Smith, 2006). Methods of teaching pedagogy change, and in a learning society such as exists in a 21st century global village, the pace of social and technological change is rapid. Each of the pedagogic identities presented here informs teaching and learning practices for continuous education required for life-long learning.

The first criterion Zukas and Malcom use to filter a pedagogic identity is that of differentiating the learning theory as being an individual or social process. Critical Reflection is an approach that is highly valued in adult education. The identity appears to focus on the individual more so than the social, however the social sphere is not completely separated from the individual during critical reflection.  As assumptions and presuppositions are deliberated upon by an individual, a transformative learning experience cannot occur without acknowledging that the individual is embedded within a culture; that the individual cannot ever be truly separate from social influences and as an influencer of that social sphere (Mezirow, 1990).

As noted by Hutchins (1970) learning is not something that occurs in isolation for the individual, in fact in Ancient Greece, “It was the aim of the society…The Athenian was educated by culture” (cited in Atherton, 2003). As is the case of the practice of critical reflection, in that the learner is not simply encouraged to just think about what they are learning, but to engage in discourse with others to challenge their interpretations and to share further insights (Smith, 2001). Coaching and peer mentoring are two examples of reflective practice, indicating the non-individualistic aspect of the approach (Kettle & Sellars, 1996). In contrast to critical reflection, DBL does not focus on the learner questioning their prior understandings.

However, discipline based learning (DBL) is a social pedagogic identity, as responsibility for communication of literature, theories and models occurs throughout the academic institution (Grafstein, 2002). And to understand and to grow within a discipline it is critical that the learner be conversing with those outside of their discipline as well (Kemmis & Smith, 2006). In this latter regard, DBL is quite similar to that of critical reflection, in that the wider environment of the learner needs to be acknowledged and reflected upon to enable continuous learning. However, whereas critical reflection is focused on external socio-cultural environment, DBL looks to other disciplines, to inform its practices.  Further, DBL seeks,

For the most regularly taught topics in one’s subject areas, the most useful forms of           representations of those ideas, the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples,     explanations, and demonstrations – in a word, ways of representing and formulating the      subject that make it comprehensible for others (Schulman, 1986, in Kemmis & Smith, 2006).

As such, the DBL approach requires social interaction to enable the challenging of ideas and ongoing discourse which result in effective representation and formulation of a subject.

Turning now to the second criterion of Zukas and Malcom, discussion will be as to whether each identity sees learning as being disciplinary or pedagogic. For both critical reflection and DBL, learning is viewed as being disciplinary. Schon (1996) initiated the use of reflective practice as a method for honing skills, competencies and understandings of a specific discipline.

The social setting in which critical reflection takes place consists of a set of unique and complex factors, as well as opportunities and constraints (Ferraro, 2000). Thus, the purpose of critical reflection is to focus the attention on a specific domain of inquiry, rather than broadening the lens for a bird’s eye view. As critical reflection is reflection on practice (Mezirow, 1990), it stands to reason that it will be discipline specific, as it is the discipline (content) that the learner practices.

More so than critical reflection theory, DBL encourages the broadening of curriculum to make links with other disciplines to provide appreciation of cross-disciplinary nature of learning. The focus on “threshold concepts” (major principles; Cousins, 2006) is cultivated in relationship with other disciplines to provide less-is-more transformative points within the curriculum. So whilst the emphasis for DBL is not pedagogy, the focus on discipline content is a view that casts it eye over subjects that will inform conceptualisation of threshold concepts.

The third criterion of Zukas and Malcom is whether learning is learner-centred or “rightness”-centred. Both critical reflection and DBL identities are learner focused pedagogies. Reflective activities aid the learner in learning and developing their own understanding of a subject. Learners may be encouraged to keep a journal of lectures, tutorial and other readings as well as describing learning activities, experiences and issues that link to what is being studied (UniSA, 2010). In this way a learner can see how they have been thinking about a topic. Together with continuous feedback from educator and peers a learner can be encouraged to apply new knowledge, analyse their practice strategies and to collaborate on ways to refine their application of learnt knowledge (Swanson & Kayler, 2008).

With regards to DBL, the focus on the learner is evident in the principle of, “different contexts, different learners” (Kemmis & Smith, 2006). The learning goal is to engage students in the different ways of knowing that are available within the discipline and the values that are upheld within the profession. The educator seeks not what the student knows, but what, “terms shape a student’s knowledge’ (Cousins, 2005, p. 5). Another goal is for the learner to be able to reveal hidden links between concepts. During this process the educator has the responsibility of being patient as the learner navigates confusion (a liminal state). Unlike critical reflection, there is a much greater risk of mimicry within the DBL approach, as the educator that does not attend to support of learners through confusion will likely find students resorting to plagiarism rather than demonstrating understanding. This is less likely to occur within critical reflection as only the learner is privy to what they currently know and understand, though when linking experience to unfamiliar theory there is more opportunity to regurgitate what another has said.

Finally, the fourth criterion of Zukas and Malcom is the determination of a pedagogical identity being more product or process orientated. Clearly, both critical reflection and DBL are process focused. The goal of the learner in critical reflection is to identify prior knowledge, current ways of thinking, problem-solving and decision-making; all cognitive processes (Mezirow, 1990; Weddecker, 2009). The critically reflective pedagogy aims to develop within students a new way of thinking about themselves and their place in the world with regards to learning. Schon’s (1996) double-loop learning explanation of reflective practice requires that the learner question the lens and ways of framing that are being used to communicate new knowledge Further, reflection in action or “thinking on one’s feet” (Ferraro, 2000) is an excellent example of critical reflection as a process, it is happening in the moment; a connection between experience, feeling and drawing on prior knowledge of theories.

Similarly, DBL is a process orientated pedagogy. An over-riding concern for educators is how to engage learners in active learning. Meyer and Land (2005) especially advocate that the state of confusion for a learner is a critical process which they term a “liminal space” (p. 22). For it is within this liminal state of being that the learner is able to swing between prior and emerging conceptualisation. It is a transitional space where the learner is able to work through gaps in knowledge, lack of confidence at applying concepts and testing their competency in practice (Cousins, 2006). In this sense, DBL is more of a praxis process whereas critical reflection is more of a cognitive process.


In conclusion, this module has guided my exposure to a diversity of learning and pedagogic theories that will enable me to collaborate, learn, share and develop as a professional educator as well as student in a multiliterate society. Being able to recognise and effectively practice appropriate pedagogic development is critical to my professional practices to be an effective educator/researcher.

Critical Reflection

The experience of learning about pedagogical identities as separate entities as well as a set of life long learning methods has indeed been a challenge. The similarities across the pedagogies appear to be more hidden than the differences! When I first started in the subject I did not fully appreciate the importance of nomenclature to the field of pedagogy. Using a matrix of columns and rows to take notes from my readings helped me immensely to be able to break apart and reconstruct my understanding of pedagogical identity whilst incorporating new knowledge. This assignment has given me the opportunity to practice new understandings, albeit to a limited degree, given the scope of the assessment.

Consideration of the ways in which educators and learners engage with each other and knowledge, should be professionalized within higher education (Canning, 2007). A better understanding of the power relationships, different teaching methods across pedagogies as well as within a specific discipline and engendering a sense of a learning community, is critical to life long learning experiences. Critical reflection is my favorite pedagogy as it enables me to be in the moment (Schon, 1996) as well as to put time aside to consider where I stand on issues and how I interpret new material. I also enjoy the building and bouncing that collaborative critical reflection can enable. And I am able to put new learning into a better perspective when I can question wider socio-cultural values and practices and how they inform my current understandings.

Alternatively, discipline based learning is of interest to me as I do work within a specific discipline, that being psychology. Cultivating an appreciation for pedagogical practices that are particular to the field I work in (Online Tutor:Mentor) means that I can better support and empower students to conceptualise threshold concepts by helping them to navigate their liminal states (Meyer & Land, 2005). This is critical in psychology, which has a field of practice which emphasises multi-disciplinary practices and collaborative professional development. I think that I enjoyed learning about these two pedagogic identities particularly because they are process orientated and focus on the learner; two factors I found severely lacking as an undergraduate.

It is critical that learners are able to engage with their peers to develop appreciation and understanding of a topic whilst challenging their own assumptions. Unfortunately I was not able to participate in the A2 forum following the first assessment. However, it is of note that little discussion continued in the forum when learners were given the choice to continue sharing; perhaps because the ongoing discussions were not part of second phase of assessment or that learners were now participating also in another forum. I have been hobbled in my learning efforts in this respect; I suggest future curriculum discussions consider placing the required number of days absent allowable in the “Essential Information” section, so that future students are not penalised on presumption (Biggs, 2001). This would more readily reflect a learner-centred approach which is focused on learning, not grades. Joining other groups on the web to have my thinking challenged and to share my insights was a boon, when it occurred.

I will definitely continue reading and developing myself with regards to pedagogical identities. I am looking forward to assignment 3 as we are given the opportunity, not only for ongoing collaboration, but to explore how and why we conceptualise the identities as we do.


Atherton J. S. (2003). Learning and Teaching: Critical reflection. Retrieved August 28, 2010, from

Biggs, J. (2001). The reflective institution: Assuring and enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. Higher Education, 41(3), 221-238.

Canning, J. (2007). Pedagogy as a discipline: emergence, sustainability and professionalisation. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(3), 393-403.

Cousin, G. (2006). An introduction to threshold concepts. Planet, 17 (December), 4-5.

Ferraro, J. M. (2000). Reflective practice and professional development.  August 11, 2010 from

Grafstein, A. (2002). A discipline-based approach to information literacy. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28(4), 197-204.

Kettle B., & Sellars, N. (1996). The development of student teachers practical theory of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 12(1), 1-24.

Kemmis, R. B., & Smith, E. (2006). Discipline specific pedagogy. August 11, 2010 from

Merzirow, J. et al. (1990) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49 (3), 373−388.

Schon, D.A. (1996). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching, Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.

Smith, M. K. (2001). Donald Schön: Learning, reflection and change. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education [Online]. Retrieved August 15, 2010 from

Swanson, K. W. & Kayler, M. K. (2008). Co-constructing a learner-centered curriculum in teacher professional development. Retrieved August 28, 2010,

UniSA (2010) Journal writing. Retrieved August 28, 2010,  0journal

Zukas, M., & Malcolm, J. (2000). Pedagogies for lifelong learning: Building bridges or building walls? Working papers of the Global Colloquium on Supporting Lifelong Learning. August 11, 2010 from

Was it a boring read? In what ways or not?!

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