Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Teaching with Emotional Intelligence

Based on a rave review at the HEA conference, I felt I ought to read Alan Mortiboys book: Teaching with Emotional Intelligence: A Step-by-Step Guide. I'll be upfront and say that I don't honestly feel that I gained a lot from the experience, but there is some good stuff in there (in amongst the touch-feely psychobabble), certainly enough for me to want to blog about it.

Mortiboys approach is based on the theory of transactional analysis (TA), an integrative approach to the theory of psychology and psychotherapy containing elements of psychoanalytic, humanist and cognitive approaches (yes, there's a lot of that sort of stuff in this book). TA was developed by psychiatrist Eric Berne during the late 1950s. So what the heck is TA? Essentially, that we all have internal models of parents, children and adults, and we play these roles with one another in our relationships. We even do it with ourselves, in internal conversations. According to the theory, there are:
  • two forms of parent we can play: the nurturing parent and the controlling (or critical) parent,
  • three types of child: the natural child, the little professor and the adaptive child,
  • and the adult.
TA sets guidelines which attempt to guide how interactions between these different roles (inherent in all of us), can be managed. Mortiboys uses educational examples to suggest how this might work in practical situations (and the inter-relationships are not always the obvious ones - wouldn't be much of a theory if that were the case - except that usually, we should all strive for adult behaviour). Although you may have figured out that I have reservations, I'm not being facetious about the whole thing, so here are the good points.

There are some good practical suggestions to emerge, for instance, some ways to structure icebreaker activities (which I agree are so important in successful e-learning) around getting students to identify and write or talk about what they are good at. There are also good reasons provided to attempt to increase the flow of information about yourself to and from students, which fits will with my planned use of Twitter and Seesmic next academic year. There are other valuable ideas to which I want to tease out in subsequent blog posts so they don't all merge into one streamofconciousness.

Unfortunately, this useful advice is couched in TA jargon, which always seems to come back to "stroking" students (stop sniggering at the back). Right from the introduction, Mortiboys presumes that emotional intelligence (and E.Q.) exists as a concrete entity, rather than merely being a theory or a philosophy. While the practical advice is welcome, the endless checklists become wearisome, and even I didn't want to see another bulleted list by the time I was half way through. Mortiboys can't seem to escape his "controlling parent" - does he really believe that the colour of the paper handouts are produced on has a major impact on learning? (Paper? Handouts? How quaint!) Eventually, he describes seven "intelligences":
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-kinaesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
so that "you can prevent your learners from feeling excluded". Even if this nonsense were true, it wouldn't help me with a group of 180 students, as Dylan William as pointed out regarding learning styles:
...research on learning styles is completely fruitless - loads of stuff on learning styles and students doing VAK inventories - it’s all a waste of time. Partly because it’s impossible to actually cater for the individual needs, and secondly it’s not even a good idea.
I set out on this review trying to be positive, and I'm not sure I have achieved that. For that reason, I want to come back to some of the good points in this book in subsequent posts. In the meantime, I guess it's up to you to read the book and make up your own mind.