In the final-year project unit I coordinate (see for details of the large group project), the 160 students write a final reflective analysis essay which is worth 60% of their unit mark. The essay requires students to draw on set readings, and to reflect on the work they did in the semester-long group project. On the graph, it’s strongly “individual/directed.” This complements the highly social practice of the project itself. The individual nature of the assignment allows students to reflect more openly than they might do in a public forum. The learning outcomes with which the assignment is connected include development of the students as reflective practitioners, and articulation of theory (set readings) to practice. Although the project is done as a group, all assessment in the unit is individual, comprising two written pieces: the final reflective analysis (60%), and an early evaluation of the existing product on which the students will work (40%).
- How you could achieve your learning outcomes if the activity were conducted differently?
What if I shifted this reflection from individual to social?
I recently read an article in HERDSA journal, “Reflective practice in the transition phase from university student to novice graduate: implications for teaching reflective practice,” which usefully pointed out that in professional practice, reflection is usually social and conversational: when it comes to reflection, “the methods students were taught, for example written journals, contrasted to the methods used by practitioners, whose use of reflective practice was embedded in their everyday actions and was social and dialogical in nature” (p. 633). The article also noted that professional reflection usually occurs temporally closer to the event than does written reflection, which often takes place temporally distant from events. The authors recommend that students learn both social and written reflection.
- Whether this would be an improvement? If not, why not?
Shifting the final assignment from entirely individual to social could be an improvement in that it would teach students how reflection works in a professional context: how they can make the best use of questions, conversations, and interactions to enhance their professional learning and practice. Students might also enjoy not having a large written assignment waiting for them at the end of a fairly demanding project.
- What technology you would require if you did things differently?
What teaching and learning activities/TEL would best support dialogical, real-time reflective conversations in a way that can be used for assessment? Each student could keep a weekly blog, noting the reflective conversations they’d had in project meetings that week; part of the final assignment could involve engaging productively in commenting on others’ blogs a set number of times (somewhat like ocTEL Tel One Badge activity for week one!). Not a ground-breaking idea TEL-wise, I know, but it could work in taking up Smith and Trede’s observations about academic vs professional reflective practices and competencies. Assessment would remain individual, but would involve social practice. Or students could be put into Google Circles as reflection groups for the duration of the project. It could also work practically, as an assessable item which is not too cumbersome for assessors or too vague for students. It could also be done by having several ‘reflective discussion’ sessions in class time in which students are broken up into small groups and asked to discuss a particular topic, then write up results of the discussion subsequently in blogs.
- At what points of your course are there opportunities to express opinions and instincts?
- At what points do you work with fellow learners?
Because students meet in small groups weekly for the full semester, they have substantial opportunity for discussion with their peers. Each student is a member of two groups: each student works closely with a minimum of ten other students for the full semester. They are also given considerable autonomy to shape the direction of the project. Some students may feel constrained by group dynamics and composition, however.
- At what point do you have to absorb information and how?
Students absorb three weeks of teacher-delivered information at the beginning of the project in the form of live and online lectures. After that, information is absorbed in an ongoing manner as the project evolves.
I’d appreciate hearing from others here about how they’ve used TEL or other assessable learning activities to develop students’ reflective skills in dialogical as well as individual ways.