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a) Evaluate how to maintain effective communication with your tutor.
As this is a self-study course, the answer to this question is a little complex. Although there is an actual physical tutor to mark assignments and give feedback, a vital part of gaining a good grade on my assignments is to demonstrate my independent work ability with minimal guidance from my tutor1. Lessons are delivered via the online website, so in a sense the most important skill set necessary is to read, re-read, search the internet to understand any terms which aren’t clear, and then re-read again. There are two tutors on my course. I sent a note of introduction, stating who I am and giving a brief synopsis of why I am studying this course. Although I am sure that I will have study related questions to ask later, and possibly requests for more information regarding assignment feedback, I think that at the moment our communication falls within the bounds of regular courtesy. As the course progresses I think checking my messages regularly, respecting and listening to my tutors feedback, sending a note of acknowledgement on receipt of any messages, and perhaps if appropriate sending a note if I think there will be an unusual amount of delay in finishing the modules, are about as far as the bounds of the course allows for communication.
b) Evaluate how technological tools will help you study.
The first thing to establish here is what technological tools are both available and relevant to me as a distance learner. Essentially the only tools I will be using are my computer and the internet. My computer will be for collating information in my ePortfolio, writing essays, and accessing the internet. I have divided my ePorfolio into four sections: coursework, reflective notes, research, and self-assessment activities. The necessary ICT skills here are: word processing, scanning and printing, drawing charts and diagrams. I completed a course in word processing and data analysis so I am relatively competent at this. However I have also been refreshing my knowledge via the Microsoft Office ‘Help, Training and Tutorials’ page2, particularly for drawing diagrams, an area I haven’t had much use for recently. Remembering to organise and file relevant information and tasks into the appropriate folders, and ensuring that at the end of each unit I have created a comprehensive review of my study methods and what I have learnt are the most essential components here. In completing this course the internet is my greatest tool, and can be broken down into many sub-categories. Below is a basic system diagram of how I am accessing the internet to complete my course assignments:
To help me research and study, I can go online and use: electronic books, journals, articles, videos, podcasts, and publications from governments and respected counselling organisations. I will go into greater detail later, on exactly which websites I am utilising. However as a brief example: Exploring counselling skills with an emphasis on ICT.
I did a basic search for “counselling resources” online. I discovered a website run by a qualified, practicing, experienced, counsellor in the UK.3 This website provided me with general information, a PDF ebook on training to be a counsellor,4 and links videos providing online lessons on counselling skills and concepts.5 I returned to my original search and followed a link to resources offered by a UK university for its students doing a comparable course.6 This gave me a list of books and journals that undergraduates would be using to explore counselling skills.7 I looked at the recommended books on amazon and ordered sample content of those available as ebooks
. I then did web searches on the various authors, and contributors to chapters, to both check their credentials and see if they offered any resources on their practice / university / personal website. I went back to the recommended reading list and looked at the recommended journals and found links to them, eg. British Journal of Psychology.8 I returned to my original search and started investigating counselling organisations and their publications including: UKCP,9 BPS,10 the BACP,11 and the CPCAB12 I went to the UN,13 and EU,14 websites to check their publications regarding counselling. Finally I checked the PubMed15 website to find more links to relevant journals. I noted all of these links for use when researching other more specific aspects of counselling.
c) Evaluate how performing a SWOT analysis can help you study. I was unfamiliar with the idea of SWOT analysis before beginning this unit so initially I did some background research on the concept16 and looked at a summary of Authur Humphrey’s, the inventor of SWOT, main principles and conclusions.17 I then searched the internet for ideas on exactly how to identify my own particular strengths and weaknesses. I found mindtools18 particularly helpful because it gave me ideas to consider as I looked at each section. I also performed a personality test19, to see the strengths and weaknesses of my particular personality type. This was less useful, because it was more to do with me personally than with my ability to study, although it gave me several things to consider. I created this chart:
At first glance I actually found it quite demoralising – the weaknesses and threats seemed to be considerably more extensive than the strengths and opportunities. However as I analysed it more closely, I quickly realised this was unfounded. I think although I certainly need to consider the threats and weaknesses, they have a lot less weight in comparison to the strengths and opportunities section. So far as I can see my weaknesses are things I can compensate for and take into account as I study. These are my thoughts and solutions for each of them:
1) Limited prior experience of the subject being studied:
This is only a temporary problem. I am doing a great deal of background research for this assignment’s part two, and looking into books which might supplement my knowledge. I think I will feel caught up in the near future.
2) Sometimes overly perfectionist (i.e. I can struggle to remember that “done” is better than “perfect”): I am setting myself time limits on how long I can edit and re-edit my work. I am consciously writing things that I know may well be deleted or completely revised later, simply to make sure I have a base to work from.
3) Can become over-involved in studying to the point that other areas of my life suffer: I have compiled a detailed schedule for myself, to ensure that I can maintain a balance in my life. I have made sure to keep time free, in particular the weekends when my children are not in school, and to allow time to keep up with my domestic responsibilities.
4) Not having a classroom of other students to bounce idea around with may limit potential: I have been investigating groups of other trainee counsellors and mature students. I have also made sure to check-in on the Oxford College forum20 so I have the potential of meeting other people. I also found the process of self-assessment useful in countering this weakness, I give more detailed thoughts on that later in this report.
5) Sudden loss of enthusiasm – if I overload myself with unrealistic goals I tend to want to quit: In part this is covered by my solution for weakness 6), however I have also been carefully breaking down each unit and each assignment so it is in bite size, manageable chunks. If I can focus on simply completing each section within each unit, without getting overwhelmed by the whole, and in particular with the word count, I can complete everything without any panic.
The threats I identified are largely out of my control. I am estimating that it will take me four to six weeks to complete each unit to the best of my ability. This leaves me with a minimum of six weeks free at the end of the two year time limit. I think that this should be enough to compensate for any slowing down in my pace due to unforeseen circumstances.
Listing my strengths and investigating my opportunities was a very positive experience for me. Knowing that I am good at research, experienced in distance study, and that I also have access to a university library has made me feel a lot more confident of my abilities. However acknowledging my weaknesses and proactively coming up with plans to counter them has been the most helpful part of the exercise.
d) Evaluate the practice of Reflective Writing.
Reflective Writing is the process used to:
Consider what you originally thought and what you have learnt. Analyse its implications and outcomes. Consider what you could do differently, what more you could learn, how what you have learnt will affect you. It is a vital skill for learners at any level, and considered a necessary practise for health professionals at all levels. When you write reflectively you use a unique mixture of both academic analytical skills and apply them to your own personal situation. It was a concept I was previously unfamiliar with. I looked at the general theory behind it on several university websites, I found the Exeter University guide particularly helpful21, and then more specifically at the Faculty of Public Health website and how it is used by health professionals.22 Throughout this course it is a good way to look at the learning outcomes of each unit. To assess what you originally believed, what you have learnt, and how you can put things into practice.
It is also a useful way to keep track of things you think deserve further consideration. So for instance when I was researching SWOT, I came across an interesting theory by Athur Humphrey saying that that the level of people’s work and the effort they put into it is strongly related to reward23. Later on as I was researching what makes effective learners, I came across a scientific study by behaviour economist Dan Ariely that proved this same theory24. Although this information seems interesting, I decided it was not actually directly relevant to what I was being asked to evaluate. It was however something to note and consider in my reflective writing as something that might possibly be relevant later on and something I could learn from.
e) Evaluate the practice of Self-Assessment
Self assessment, is one of the most important and vital skills in this course. One aspect of it is reflective writing, (detailed previously) but there are several other components. When I do the self-assessment activities in the units I am provided with a baseline of my current knowledge. When I look up the answers at the end of the text this gives me feedback on how much I know, and also helps me to identify what I should be researching to improve my current knowledge level. This is a basic diagram of how I am using the self assessment activities:
Essentially, once I know the level of my own knowledge, I can see what I need to work on. A large part of self-assessment seems to be organisation and understanding. The Black Box Report25 on self assessment in British schools noted that the main barrier to student self assessment, is being unsure of exactly what you should be achieving. If you can establish that you have a platform from which to work. Through my SWOT assessment, I established my own personal areas I need to work on. Through the subject specific learning objectives, and self-assessment activities I can establish what I know and what I need to learn. As knowledge is cumulative, organisation is key here – writing up my reflections, with particular reference to the learning objectives of each unit, and collating them in my ePortfolio to provide a body of reference specific to my needs and learning preferences.
f) Consider the Principles of an ePortfolio.
ePortfolios are widely used, and an integral component of many online courses. The promotion of ePortfolios is also an EU policy26 as a way of “valuing and celebrating the achievements of the individual.27” From under graduate to doctoral study28 in counselling ePortfolios are now prevalent. The Inter/National Coalition for Electronic Portfolio Research29 says they are a way for students to both generate and document learning. “It’s important… to think of an ePortfolio as both a product -a digital collection of artefacts- and as a process – of reflecting on those artefacts and what they represent.30” There are three main goals when creating an ePortfolio. Firstly, mapping my progress as a student, to clearly set out my research, plans, essays, and self reflection. Doing this allows me to not only clearly see my progress, but to critically assess and reflect on what I have learnt.
Secondly, my ePortfolio allows me to document my own personal growth, goals, and achievements; to be able to look at what I have done, how I have viewed challenges and worked through them, and perhaps use those methods again in the future. One of the most important pre-requisites to being a counsellor is empathy; having a clear view of myself, the challenges I have gone through, and my reactions as I went through them is a relevant way of helping me remember and being able to relate. Thirdly my ePortfolio provides a body of information that I can use to help me format a CV – both by showing what learning goals I have achieved and how I have achieved then, and by providing evidence of continuous learning. At a later date it can also provide me with the basis for constructing a professional website.
Task 2. Collate Web Resources Relevant to Counselling Studies, and Reflect on What Has Been Learnt.
As detailed in section b) I have evaluated counselling resources based on their credibility, i.e whether they are peer reviewed, produced by a national or worldwide organisation, and the qualifications of the author. I have only included resources that meet these guidelines fully or in part. I concentrated my web searches on these websites (in alphabetical order): Bielefeld Academic Search Engine – BASE.31 BASE is a search engine for academic related articles, and journals. A lot of resources related to counselling studies can be found there. British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – BACP.32 The BACP is a professional organisation for counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK. It sets guidelines for good practice and has various resources and information booklets for counsellors and psychotherapists. It has recently become the first government accredited register for counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK. CogPrints33 – is an online archive of journals and articles with a large psychology section. It is run by Southampton University UK. Columbia University Academic Commons34 gives access to a large number of articles and research papers including many related to counselling psychology.
Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body – CPCAB.35 The CPCAB provides standards for counsellors and psychotherapists. It also has a large amount of reference information, including videos on counselling practice. European Union – EU.36 The EU sets standards and makes laws for the whole of Europe. They have a database with a large number of reports, many concerning counselling and it’s implementation. Falmouth University Library*3738 – has a large selection of articles and journals related to counselling and psychology. FreeMedicalJournals39 – a website providing access to journals and their articles that have passed their embargo period. Google Scholar40 – a search engine for scholarly articles and journals. PubMed41 – is a website run by The United States National Library of Medicine. It gives access to journals, articles, and reports concerning health. RELATE42 – is the UK based organisation specifically set up to provide counselling for couples. It has a wide range of publications relating to this.
This website will be particularly useful when studying the ‘Relationship Counselling’ unit. Science Direct (the replacement for the now retired SCIRUS)43 Science Direct is a website that allows you to search for science related articles and journals. The Directory of Open Access Journals – DOAJ.44 The DOAJ is a search engine for journals and articles, many related to counselling and psychology and it’s worldwide implementation. UK Council for Psychotherapy – UKCP45 The UKCP brings together counselling psychotherapists with a broad range of specialisations throughout the UK. It is nationally recognised and accredited. It has a range of free publications for counsellors. UN university46 – has a large collection of research, articles and publications including many regarding mental health. United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF.47 UNICEF deals with the rights of children and mothers throughout the world. They have a large database of reports concerning the physical and mental wellbeing of children and young people. This website will be particularly useful when studying the ‘Child Counselling’ unit. United Nations –UN.48 The UN sets world standards for human rights and health care.
They have a large database of articles and reports making recommendations for international well being, including a significant number regarding psychological health. This is a fairly extensive list of resources, and many of the websites listed gives access to reports and articles which number in the tens of thousands. I have listed only those website which have a very good search procedure – this means that when I look for information I can cut down on as many generalisations as possible and find articles that specifically deal with the topics in each unit. My preference is to first search for articles in well regarded journals, and then to move onto lesser known or new reports and findings. So for example to find information on Counselling Studies I went to the Falmouth Library Database and checked for the three main journals related to counselling in Europe: The European Journal of Counselling Psychology, Counselling Psychology Review, and Counselling Psychology Quarterly.
I then searched within these publications for articles on Counselling Studies and Therapeutic Person Centred Counselling in particular. I read the BACP and UKCP guidelines and policy for counsellors and for their training. I made notes and considered what I had learnt. Before I began my research I made some brief notes on what I thought Counselling Studies consists of: A practical study of people and their needs in times of crisis, and how a counsellor can best help them; combined with a minimal but still significant grasp of counselling theory and philosophy. Having conducted independent research on this I think my ideas were accurate though necessarily very basic. Counselling Studies is such a huge subject it is difficult to sum up briefly all the necessary qualities a counsellor needs – the prerequisite role of empathy and the difference between empathy and sympathy, the need for acceptance rather than advice, could fill up several pages alone. However I think that I have a basic idea of who a counsellor should be and very much look forward to learning in greater detail how to be that person.
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