Reflections on teaching and learning reflection

by Dr. Sue Pieper, Coordinator of Assessment

Cartoon drawing of male student reading a book and thinking about himself reading the bookI recently read A Life in Bits and Bytes: A Portrait of a College Student and Her Life With Digital Media. The article portrayed a college student who, like many of her generation, is immersed in digital media. Katie Davis interviewed Anna, the student, asking her about the use of digital media in her life, her goals for using various digital media, and what opportunities and drawbacks she experienced from her daily media use.

Anna’s most striking observation came near the end of the interviews. She told Davis that while she appreciated being constantly connected to information and friends through her computer and her phone, at the end of the day she felt like she’d been “everywhere and nowhere.” Davis concluded that Anna’s portrait “highlights the need for and value of nurturing youth’s reflective practices and providing them with spaces for sustained reflection and authentic connection.” Others agree, including David M. Levy in No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship (.pdf). In our current world of more-faster-better, he asks, “Where does one get the time to look and to think?” More specifically, how can you, as a college instructor, give your students time and space to think?

We might be able to solve this dilemma by using the same technology that created the dilemma in the first place. For college instructors, this can mean using technology to encourage reflection. Tools such as blogs (.pdf), wikis (.pdf), digital storytelling (.pdf), podcasting (.pdf), and even microblogs (.pdf), such as Twitter (.pdf), allow students to reflect as individuals and as part of a larger learning community.

The blog, a personal online journal that is shared on the Web, has become an increasingly popular tool for promoting student reflection. Blogs provide a venue where students (and instructors) can reflect on and write about course concepts, post their thoughts and any related links and media, and receive feedback and commentary from each other. Most course management systems have a blog tool that can be used by instructors and students. Alternatively, a number of free blogging services are available, including Blogger (part of Google), Movable Type, and WordPress, among many others.

Drawing of Asian student reading blog on laptopHow can blogs be used to promote reflection? A recent study (.pdf) by Shih-Hsien Yang described the use of blogs among student teachers training to teach English as a Foreign Language in Taiwan. Students in two classes were required to post their thoughts on a blog following each class meeting as well as to voluntarily respond to their peers’ messages. The instructors teaching the classes commented on their students’ postings and asked questions to challenge their thinking. The authors found that all students were reflective in their comments and some went beyond description to demonstrate critical thinking about their teaching and learning experiences. They also found that all students considered the blog a useful tool for reflecting and communicating with each other.

No matter which technology tools and strategies you use to promote and support reflection in your class, it’s important to remember that reflection is most effective when it is thoughtfully designed and integrated into course activities and assignments. Jan Harrington and Ron Oliver illustrated effective design for reflection in their article Designing for Reflection in Online Courses (.pdf). In one example, the authors incorporated a reflective journal in a Graduate Certificate in Online Learning course. Students in the course were asked to play the role of a college instructor and redesign a unit that they were currently teaching face-to-face for online delivery. They were also asked refer to the pertinent literature and to keep a journal of their thoughts about the differences between face-to-face and online delivery, including the strengths and weaknesses of each delivery mode. Finally, students were asked to submit a plan for an online unit, their edited journal, and a short article from an instructor’s perspective on the process of redesigning a face-to-face course for online delivery. The reflective journal became an integral part of the students’ course redesign task—not just an add-on to the assignment.

Can college instructors provide students with time to think? Levy concluded his article by calling for those of us in higher education to lead the way. By carefully designing for reflection and choosing tools and strategies that support reflective practices in your classes, you can do just that.

What are you doing to promote reflection in your own classes? Which tools and strategies have been most successful? Please share your ideas in the comments.

4 Responses

  1. Dr. Pieper, I enjoyed your post. I look back on my graduate studies and realize how important reflection has been in my program. As I leave NAU and begin applying the skills I have learned I will remember this post in my learning and teaching.
    As an older student I find joy in the aha moments of learning. Working with reflection was one of those moments. I find that the use of reflection is a useful tool outside of the classroom for resolving problems, self-assessment and setting new goals. I guess learning is learning where ever it happens to occur.

  2. Dennis, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. You made my day! I’d been thinking about writing about this topic for some time, and reading the portrait of Anna gave me the motivation to do it. I agree that reflection is critical for students not only when they are in school, but throughout their lives. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    Sue

  3. Great post. I agree that we can use a bit more “why did I do that?” thought in classrooms.

    What I love about your post is that you are modeling what I wish teachers also would do in writing: reflect on their profession. Good job!

    I have two examples of teacher who routinely reflect on the profession of teaching. Here they are:

    http://lisahistory.net/wordpress

    http://freshmancomp.com/

    Thanks for sharing. See you in a couple weeks!

  4. Todd, we like LIsa Lane’s work too.

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