Is This a Meaningful Learning Experience? Interactive Critical Self-inquiry as Investigation

Nov. 01, 2012

Source:  Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 8, No. 3, November 2012, 261–273
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper documents a self-study on the authors' actions-in-practice in a peer mentoring project. The investigation involved an iterative process to improve their knowledge as teacher educators, reflective practitioners, and researchers.

Data sets included: video-stimulated reflections; audiotaped reflexive dialogue; individual and shared reflective writings.


The data analysis provided evidence of tensions. The authors identified incidences of four competing tensions (telling/growth; action/intent; safety/challenge; collegiality/criticality) and develop an awareness of the paradoxes. The interactive reflections helped to illustrate how, when these tensions are mismanaged, meaningful learning is hindered. Specifically this self-study allowed for increased knowledge of why and when tensions present in a learning environment.
The authors have learned from the processes of reflective dialogue and writing that this new tension occurs when too much emphasis is placed on the affective domain of collegiality to the detriment of authentic or effective critical reflections. Addressing this tension does not suggest that peers proceed regardless of feelings but rather with regard to building new knowledge that can reshape professional identities through genuinely collaborating.

The intertwined social natures of learning and professional identities are recognized through the interpretive analysis of the reflective writing. The interpretive analysis made the authors aware of the metaphors emerging. The metaphor findings indicate why the tensions presented themselves in the way they did. Theories based on scaffolding learning, flow, unconditional positive regard and critical analytical thinking, all have embedded tensions. Teacher educators’ practice is informed by multiple learning theories. Articulating and debating such theories with regard to how they contribute differentially creates meaningful learning experiences.


In this article, the authors have presented their analysis of competing pedagogical tensions that were overlooked and consequently led to a less than meaningful learning experience. Recognizing and appreciating the tensions and their impacts required reflecting on their individual actions through dialogue and shared writing. The author's use of metaphors also helped them to investigate what they were each thinking and feeling. By becoming more adept at identifying, critically questioning and reflecting together on how and why tensions/ contradictions presented, they became far clearer about what constitutes a meaningful learning experience.

As a result of examining the nuances in their (inter)actions, the authors were able to identify a new tension: collegiality and criticality. The authors would argue teacher educators need to be able to name the tensions and the inbuilt paradoxes that accompany them if a meaningful learning experience is to be facilitated and new knowledge created.
The authors' aim was to be explicit about our data, analysis, and interpretations. Within self-study, this level of transparency is required as it will be the readers who will look at the findings and assess the trustworthiness of the qualitative data, recalibrations, and analytical interpretations. The significance of critical self-enquiry rests on how the findings might contribute to improving teacher education, addressing larger questions of relevance to others in the field.

The authors conclude that the conditions, which are necessary for them to create meaningful learning experiences' require: recognizing the interplay of multiple tensions, and remaining attentive to the nuances associated with each tension’s paradoxes. It also requires being cognizant of the theories another enacts and articulating what is theoretically guiding your actions. Importantly accepting and encouraging cognitive dissonance.

Updated: Jan. 16, 2017