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Triggers, emotional mediators and reflective action in hospitality pedagogy

Authors:
  • Independant
  • Hotel and Tourism Management Institute and Queen Margaret University
Conference Paper

Triggers, emotional mediators and reflective action in hospitality pedagogy

Abstract

Transformative-learning theorists suggest that 'triggers' experienced in the classroom or in the rest of life can stimulate more reflective thinking. They further suggest that the emotional impacts of triggers or 'disorienting dilemmas', as they are also called, might nullify any impact on reflective process. That is, there may be relationships between some or all of triggers, emotions and thinking; and if there are, emotions could either mediate the influence of triggers on thinking processes or act to disrupt the influence entirely. In this paper, a quantitative examination is reported of the existence of these interlinkages in transformative-learning theory. Such a study has not been attempted before and potentially it has especial relevance in hospitality education with its mix of practical, theoretical and internship elements. Data for the study were obtained in a survey of hospitality students from 33 different countries. It is shown that among those studying hospitality: emotions do mediate the impact of disorienting dilemmas on reflective action; also triggering incidents do influence forms of thinking directly.
Triggers, emotional mediators and reflective action in hospitality pedagogy
Martin Jost and Russ Rimmer
HTMi Switzerland Queen Margaret University Scotland
and HTMi Switzerland
martin.jost@htmi.ch russell.rimmer@gmail.com
Hotel and Tourism Management Institute Switzerland
Hotel Campus Marientalweg 3, 6174 Sörenberg, Luzern, Switzerland
Abstract
Transformative-learning theorists suggest that ‘triggers’ experienced in the
classroom or in the rest of life can stimulate more reflective thinking. They
further suggest that the emotional impacts of triggers or ‘disorienting
dilemmas’, as they are also called, might nullify any impact on reflective
process. That is, there may be relationships between some or all of triggers,
emotions and thinking; and if there are, emotions could either mediate the
influence of triggers on thinking processes or act to disrupt the influence
entirely. In this paper, a quantitative examination is reported of the existence
of these interlinkages in transformative-learning theory. Such a study has not
been attempted before and potentially it has especial relevance in hospitality
education with its mix of practical, theoretical and internship elements. Data
for the study were obtained in a survey of hospitality students from 33
different countries. It is shown that among those studying hospitality:
emotions do mediate the impact of disorienting dilemmas on reflective action;
also triggering incidents do influence forms of thinking directly.
Keywords: hospitality management education; transformative learning; triggering change;
emotional mediators; forms of reflection.
Theme: Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Hospitality Management Education
1
Introduction
Transformative learning (TL) is: ‘the epistemology of how adults learn to think for
themselves rather than act upon the assimilated beliefs, values, feelings and judgements of
others’ (Mezirow 2003: 1). An individual becomes a transformative learner once he or she
reflects critically on previous learning to decide if what had been learned previously ‘is
justified under present circumstances’ (Mezirow 1990, 5). At the heart of TL is the premise
that forms of thinking such as critical reflection (examining the current relevance of prior
learning and assumptions) can be induced, attenuated or intensified by important events,
known as triggers or disorienting dilemmas. These occur across the whole of life’s
experiences as well as within educational programmes (Taylor and Cranton 2012; Mezirow
1978a, b).
There is debate about whether one form of learning is transformative, while another form is
not (Newman 2012a; Cranton 2006). Moreover, the existence is debated of teaching that can
be labelled as ‘transformative’, as distinct from what is recognised matter-of-factly as ‘good’
teaching (Newman 2012a). Nevertheless, there is acceptance of the blending of cognitive
psychology and critical theory to formulate a new theory of adult education (Newman
2012b). As examples, the notion of ‘disorienting dilemma’ has its genesis in the cognitive
elements of TL; the notion of ‘meaning perspective’ has its origins in the combination of
cognitive and critical thinking (Newman 2015; 2012b). Further, there is broad agreement on
what the outcomes associated with the process of transformative learning are, such as
different forms of thinking, greater openness, deeper self-awareness, changed world view and
changed behaviour (Stuckey et al. 2013). Since the dialogue between Dirkx and Mezirow, a
role is recognised for emotions in the transformative-learning process (Dirkx, et al. 2006).
Further, TL is understood to draw on Habermasian learning domains, with an emphasis on the
2
critical domain, where learning combines cultural analysis with self-reflection (Newman
2012b). In other terms, Cranton (2006, 13) describes this as ‘a process of critically
questioning ourselves and the social systems within which we live’.
It is not the intention in this paper to contribute to theoretical debates in TL. Rather the
intention is to examine the functional relationships between what are generally agreed to be
‘central’ constructs in TL, namely triggering events, emotions and forms of thinking. We
investigate three objectives: (I) whether linkages between triggers and forms of thinking can
be detected; (II) whether triggers impact directly on forms of thinking; and (III) whether
impact is mediated by emotions associated with triggers. TL theorising about functional
linkages is outlined in the next section.
There is a view that triggers may be unique to individuals, their psychologies, and the
educational environment, so making their identification difficult. Further, because of
individual variations in emotional responses to events, triggers may differentially affect
reflection. (Hoggan and Cranton 2015; Kitchenham 2008; Dirkx, et al. 2006; Cranton 2000).
Also, the same trigger might stimulate different thinking across those experiencing it (Jester
& Hoggan 2009). If these views are born out, then the case for drawing practical implications
from TL is weakened. Therefore the current investigation is important as potentially
providing conclusions to underpin pedagogic recommendations. Alternatively, the conclusion
might be reached that at our research site TL has no professional relevance for educators. The
either/or nature of potential conclusions is exemplified by Bamber and Hankin (2011, 190)
who present ‘evidence of the complexity of identifying transformative learning’.
Mainly qualitative, constructivist approaches are applied in TL research (Taylor and Cranton
3
2012; Merriam and Kim 2012; Newman 2012a). As Merriam and Kim (2012, 56) write this
‘is not surprising, given that, as with any new area of investigation, the characteristics and
nature of the phenomenon need to be uncovered and described before we can assess the
distribution of the phenomenon or test causal relationships’. However, TL has been
researched for about 40 years and Newman (2012a, 37) wrote that qualitative investigations
over this period ‘prove nothing’, while Taylor and Cranton (2012, 12) concluded ‘much of
the research is redundant’. Further, Cranton and Taylor (2012, 12 and 16) wanted ‘a more
unified theory’ and ‘newer perspectives’ to underpin less constructivist research. Within TL,
Schwartz (2013, 92) argued for the use of ‘quantitative method[s] to understand the
relationship[s] among variables’. In the current research project a post-positivist methodology
is adopted (Jost 2016) to structure ‘a valid quantitative survey’ and ‘focus on the essential
constructs (e.g., critical reflection, dialogue, role of emotions, whole person learning)
associated with fostering TL, providing opportunities to more effectively isolate new insights
and challenges’ (Taylor and Laros 2014, 144).
To support his contention of proving nothing, Newman (2012a, 40) cited the use of self-
assessments by King (2009) (and by implication, those who also applied her instrument) as
being ‘subjective’ and having ‘no guaranteed validity’. Before Newman’s criticism,
Hodgkinson et al. (2009, 342) stated self-reporting instruments are frequently ‘miss-
specified’ and ‘underlying factor structures and scale inter-correlations’ are unclear and
undetermined. Earlier still, Taylor (1997, 43) suggested that ‘a quantitative approach could
lead to greater reliability in the identification of the various components (such as critical
reflection, perspective transformation, etc.) of transformative learning’ and in Taylor (2000,
322) he recognised that quantitative research ‘offers the potential for greater generalisability
and the opportunity to see the relationship of transformative learning and other important
4
variables’. The methods that underpin the current research seek information from respondents
that go beyond self-affirmations of experiencing Mezirow’s transformative stages and take up
the call to resolve and analyse factor structures and scale inter-correlations.
For this purpose, the current quantitative study applies principal components analysis (PCA),
and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to extract factors underpinning each of triggers,
emotions and thinking, using responses to a purpose-built instrument. Then structural
equation models (SEMs) were used to assess functional relationships between these
expressions of central TL variables. That is, our approach is holistic, bringing quantitative,
statistical tools to bear on a survey instrument (Jost 2011).
The research is based in hospitality education as data were gathered from international
students taking qualifications in hospitality management. Moreover, international study is of
immediate relevance as travelling abroad to obtain qualifications has expanded rapidly and by
2020 about eight million students will study abroad (Altbach 2007). Such students have
experienced change before their courses of learning began, in the sense of leaving their
homes and familiar environments to live and study elsewhere. International study is well-
established in hospitality with, for example, the tradition of travelling to Switzerland or other
nations with respected programmes to obtain qualifications in hospitality areas. Data for the
current study were gathered in Switzerland and are summarised in the third section of the
paper, where the quantitative investigation of TL relationships is reported. Finally, the results
are compared with theory and conclusions are drawn.
5
Literature Review
The intentions in transformative learning (TL) are to: encourage critical reflection on
underlying assumptions individuals use to make meaning of their experiences; and
understand how learners come to review assumptions and change them if appropriate
(Cranton 2006). In 1978, Mezirow postulated a transformative process, where the potential
outcomes are different forms of thinking and consequent changes in behaviour. Yet: ‘Many
questions remain unanswered or are inadequately understood’ (Mezirow & Taylor, 2009, xii).
The initiating step in TL is a disorienting dilemma or triggering event that disconfirms current
meaning-making schemes and induces cognitive tension. Even at this point issues arise. The
definition of ‘trigger’ is not agreed (Dirkx 1998). Little is known about how triggers, within
or outside the classroom, influence:
habitual action (that is, non-contemplative application of knowledge)
understanding (using knowledge within the frame in which it was acquired)
reflection (initial exploration of knowledge, questioning its meaning and rigour)
critical reflection (examining prior learning and assumptions for current relevance)
(Lim 2011; Kember et al. 2000; Mezirow 1990)
Further, reports that an event occurred are not enough to decide the event was a catalyst for
transformation from non-reflective action (habitual action and understanding) to reflective
action (reflection and critical reflection); rather ‘it is the way a person perceives, understands,
and otherwise constructs their experience from an external event that determines whether or
not it becomes a trigger for them’ (Jester and Hoggan 2009: 192).
To address these issues, Jost (2016) examined triggers at a Swiss Hospitality Institution (SHI)
offering UK degrees, where during a semester: the equivalent of a UK academic year is
6
completed; students run and manage their live-in accommodation; and they organise and run
over 40 events. This means students at SHI study intensively and have many other demands
on their time. To construct an instrument, Jost interviewed colleagues on what might be
disorienting for SHI students and drew on earlier questionnaire-based research. Earlier
research did not involve hospitality education, and did not estimate functional relationships in
TL as reported in the introduction to this article. Jost (2016) framed 26 Likert scale items on
experiences while at SHI, covering academic study, industry internships, extracurricular
events, personal injury or illness, parental circumstances, bereavement and cultural
influences. The inclusion of life events was based on earlier TL research (for example, King
2000). In addition to this, based on consultation with colleagues, influences specific to SHI
(Jost (2011) were included in his instrument as potentially disorienting.
Such triggers may engender emotional responses, with positive feelings promoting cognition
and potentially nullifying the effect of negative emotions in educational settings (Fredrickson
1998). After debate with Dirkx, Mezirow acknowledged that emotions have major roles in the
transformative process (Kitchenham 2008; Dirkx, et al. 2006). On one hand, these may
obscure the influence of disorienting dilemmas on learning and reflection, because emotions
may act as mediators between triggering incidents and forms of thinking (Kitchenham 2008;
Dirkx, et al. 2006). On the other hand, theorists doubt whether the effects of triggers can be
measured because emotional responses vary substantially between individuals (Hoggan and
Cranton 2015; Cranton 2000). Another aspect debated by TL theorists is the possibility of
feedback from thinking to emotions (Jost 2016). This is not pursued in the current paper, due
to the complexity of such an investigation and limits on paper length, however see Jost
(2016).
7
Rather, via the three objectives, we report on the linkages in Figure 1. In so doing, light is
shed on whether impacts of triggers on forms of thinking can be detected quantitatively and
whether that impact might be mediated by emotions. For this purpose, emotions were
measured using the instrument of Pekrun et al. (2011); and forms of thinking were measured
following Kember et al. (2000), as was done also by Lim (2011). Both were applied by the
developers in higher-educational settings and examples of items from the instruments are
given below. Jost (2016) applied his instrument at both the beginning and the end of a
semester of study.
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
Figure 1 Direct and indirect influences of triggers on thinking
Method
The lavaan package (Rosseel 2015) was used to analyse data gathered from 333 SHI
students. Jost (2016) established that measurement models for triggers, emotions and forms
of thinking were reliable, valid, demonstrated measurement invariance consistent with TL
theory and, consistent with best practice, met benchmarks for absolute, incremental,
parsimony adjusted and non-centrality fit indices (Marsh, Hau, and Wen 2004; Tanaka 1993).
It is therefore feasible to assess the objectives by constructing SEMs using SHI data.
8
The outcomes of the measurement analyses performed by Jost (2016) are shown in Table 1.
Of the 26 trigger items in his survey, 10 remained after PCA and CFA on responses at the
second administration. In the table, the latent-triggering factor Failure loads onto statements
related to: academic failure; failure when performing duties (associated with running the
student accommodation, for example housekeeping and kitchen duties); employment,
promotion and pay (in the senses of industry placement relative to previous internships or
jobs held before studying at SHI); and failure when organising social gatherings and
meetings. The other latent-trigger factor, Parents and personal, concerns parental
circumstances and bereavement. In the SHI environment, PCA and CFA were also used to
explore emotional reactions and thinking processes. For each, similar factors identified in
earlier research re-emerged at SHI (Pekrun et al. 2011; Kember et al. 2000). Note that latent
emotional constructs are not strictly the negatives of each other. For example, the loading of
positive emotions onto the enjoyment item is not matched by a loading of the negative factor
onto an exact antonym (such as boredom).
The structure identified by Kember et al. (2000) is re-produced at SHI, with one exception. In
the SHI measurement models, those involving habitual action explained little of the average
variance and fell below the benchmark for composite reliability, indicating lack of construct
validity. Overall, measurement modelling supported two triggering constructs, two emotion-
related constructs and three latent forms of thinking (excluding habitual action). These were
used in SEMs to investigate direct and indirect effects.
Results
The majority of students in the SHI sample are female (57.1%), reflecting the student
9
population. Over 90% were aged from 18 to 25. While 33 separate nationalities are
represented in the sample, the largest proportions of students are from mainland China
(18.0%); other Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand and
Vietnam (34.2%); Eastern Europe including Russia (18.6%); and India and Sri Lanka
(13.5%). The students were studying at all levels from Certificate (22.2%) to Masters
(6.6%), with those studying at Diploma, Higher Diploma, and Degree accounting for 21.0%,
14.7% and 20.4% of the sample. Another 13.0% were on postgraduate certificates or
diplomas and 3.0% were undertaking in-house management-trainee programmes.
TL construct Latent-factor name Loadings onto
Triggers Failure Academic failure
Failure in duties
Failure related to a job opportunity
Promotion failure
Failure to obtain a pay rise
Failure in planning a meeting or social gathering
Parents and personal Parental divorce or separation
Bereavement
Change of parent’s employment
Change of parents’ financial position
Emotions Positive Enjoyment
Hope
Pride
Negative Anger
Anxiety
Shame
Hopelessness
Forms of thinking Understanding Needed to understand concepts
Needed to understand content to pass
Understanding needed to perform practical tasks
Needed to think about taught material
Reflection Sometimes question the ways others did things
Thought over my methods and considered alternatives
Often reflected on actions to improve my approach
Re-appraised my experience to learn and improve
Critical reflection Have changed the way I look at myself
My firmly held ideas were challenged
Changed my normal way of doing things
Discovered faults in my previous ways of thinking
Table 1 TL constructs at SHI
10
A summary of functional relationships is provided in Table 2. The diagrams in each row are
miniature versions of Figure 1, modified to reflect SEM results, with the arrows in each
representing coefficients that are significantly different to zero at 5% or better. Coefficient
signs are indicated by ‘+’ or ‘-’. Also, the SEMs underpinning the diagrams meet benchmarks
for good fit (Hu and Bentler 1999; Jost 2016). Detailed SEM results are available from the
first author.
To understand how to interpret Table 2, consider the first row for failure, positive emotions
and non-reflective understanding. Together the arrows on the indirect pathway from failure to
understanding indicate that failure is mediated by emotion. The lack of an arrow directly from
failure onto understanding indicates no evidence of a direct triggering effect. The signs on the
arrows tell us that if failure is more intensively experienced then positive emotions are
deflated more (as the sign is negative), which in turn translates to less intensive use of non-
reflective understanding (as the sign is positive). No other combination of trigger and
emotional construct affects understanding. Looking down the column of diagrams:
Only failure depresses positive emotions (see Rows 1 to 3); while failure (Rows 4 to
6) and parents and personal (Rows 10 to 12) increase negative affective state;
Positive emotions heighten reliance on all three thinking processes (Rows 1 to 3, 7 to
9); while negative emotions reduce reliance on reflection (Rows 5 and 11);
The triggering constructs directly and positively affect critical reflection (Rows 3, 9
and 12);
Failure has both direct and indirect effects on critical reflection (Row 3); and
Reflection is negatively affected by each triggering construct (Rows 2, 5, 8 and 11)
with one (Row 11) being a direct effect.
11
Trigger
Emotion
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
+
-
Thinking Direct &/or indirect effects
1 Failure Positive Understandin
gIndirect
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
+
Reflection
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
+
+
Critical reflection
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
Understanding
Triggering construct
12
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
-
Reflection
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
Critical reflection
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
Understanding
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
+
Reflection
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
+
Critical reflection
13
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
Understanding
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
-
Reflection
Triggering construct
Emotion construct
Thinking construct
+
Critical reflection
Table 2 Estimated TL relationships
How these results illuminate the objectives is taken up next.
Discussion and concluding remarks
Considering Objectives (II) and (III) first, there is evidence in Table 2 that triggers can impact
thinking processes directly and also indirectly via emotions. That is, the quantitative approach
of gathering data in a survey and subjecting the data to structural equation modelling can
detect TL relationships previously not measured, indicating positive outcomes on the second
and third objectives.
14
One direct relationship is that parents-and-personal triggers affect critical reflection
independently of negative emotions (Row 12 of Table 2). That is, in a quantitative study it is
possible to unambiguously measure the impact of a disorienting dilemma on thinking
process. There is additional evidence of unambiguous effects, as in three cases, emotions
fully mediated the impacts of triggers on thinking. Thus, although emotions are involved,
unique measurements of triggering impacts are possible. Moreover, these arose for each
triggering construct, as per Rows 1, 2, 5 and 11 of Table 2. Taken together, these results
indicate quantitative measurement of the impacts of triggers is possible, so providing a
positive response to Objective (I).
When the failure construct, positive emotions and critical reflection are considered, direct and
indirect effects are significantly different to zero with the former having a positive effect, the
latter influence being negative, and the net effect being negative also. In terms of effect sizes
(Cohen 1998), the immediate impacts of the trigger on emotions and the form of thinking are
small; whereas the linkage from positive emotions to critical reflection has medium effect.
Thus, emotional turmoil experienced because of failure translates to a negative effect on
critical reflection that is not outweighed by the direct inducement to reflect critically.
However, the net effect would be difficult to observe externally, as again in Cohen’s terms it
is small, suggesting the caveat that observers, such as academic staff, might not sense or be
able to disentangle effects of some triggers. In this sense, there is partial support for the view
that it may not be possible to observe all triggering effects, although our modelling has
revealed the possibility of influences to which educators can respond.
Given our results, the role of lecturing staff and institutional management is then to provide
means of modifying the negative linkage between failure and positive emotions in Rows 1 to
15
3 of Table 2 and the tendency for both triggering constructs to raise negative affective state.
The TL literature provides guidance, in the form of: establishing student and staff awareness
of contexts within and outside the classroom; providing holistic orientation to encompass
learning experiences and affective responses to them; and establishing authentic relationships
in which there are open, honest and supportive communications involving educators and
learners. These findings and recommendations for action are of profound relevance to H&T
educators, who not only prepare graduates for demanding service-sector roles, but before
students graduate provide guidance as they seek, experience and react to industry internships.
Internships potentially present dilemmas that can span a semester or more. There is mounting
evidence that internships can affect student commitment to working in the industry (see for
example Wan et al. 2014). Further, the survey designed for this research can be used as a
means for educators and learners to evaluate activities. This would seem to have special
relevance in hospitality education, where there is a fusion of practical and theoretical studies,
with the effectiveness of the mix being a subject of vigorous debate. Thus, from the
perspective of curriculum development, it may be possible with the survey to assess
effectiveness of learning strategies – in terms of realising TL outcomes – across the spectrum
of modules in hospitality degrees.
While positive responses have been obtained to theoretical concerns, questions remain. For
example, this paper has not addressed the issue of feedback from thinking process to affective
state, although for an analysis with SHI data see Jost (2016). A question that arises
specifically from this SHI study concerns maturity and when critical reflection is embedded
in adult thinking. Mezirow (1990) thought this most likely once adults reach their thirties.
However, critical reflection was detected among SHI students, most of whom are 25 or
younger. This may occur because SHI students mature in the context of leaving their familiar
16
environments, and in most cases different cultures, to make the journey to study intensively
in Switzerland. That is, SHI students share a disorienting dilemma; one not shared with
individuals studying hospitality in their home cultures and communities. Alternatively, self-
selection may account for an unusually high incidence of reflective action among
international students. That is, those who decide to study abroad already practice forms of
reflective thinking and an implication is that international students may have different
approaches to dealing with triggers that are experienced by students everywhere.
Returning to our overall aim, we have responded to the call for quantitative evidence and our
results are based on a valid and reliable means of doing so. Therefore, quantitative enquiries
could be undertaken elsewhere to study triggers, transformation, the effects in different
educational settings and the implications for educators. Our results also suggest complexity,
as triggers differentially influence emotions and reflective action. Nevertheless this
quantitative research explores territory for which TL theorists sought maps. In particular, the
current research includes: cultural diversity among students (considered important by Stuckey
et al. 2014); an exploration of functional relationships (Schwartz 2013; Merriam and Kim
2012); and a focus on elemental constructs such as disorienting dilemmas, emotions and
forms of thinking (Taylor and Laros 2014). The focus on elemental constructs and functional
relationships shed light also on Mezirow’s 10 steps. In particular, experience of dilemmas is
established (Step 1), which sparks self-examination and emotional responses (Step 2), with
reflection on or critical assessment of assumptions (Step 3). While it may seem modest to
elucidate only three of 10 steps (even though it has not been done before), Stone and Duffy
(2015) point out that experience of the steps is not always sequential or linear and not all of
the 10 stages might be experienced. Jost (2016) takes the elucidation further. He quantifies
the sharing of experience with important social actors (Step 4) and he studies the impact of
17
feedback from forms of reflection to affective state, which is important to the process of
changing behaviours in Mezirow’s Steps 6 to 10.
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