There has been growing interest in supporting and promoting reflection in engineering education. Reflection as a form of thinking is interesting because of its connection to metacognition, its role in learning from experience, and how it provides a site for students to critically question the world around them. While previous research has explored conceptual frameworks for thinking about reflection and has investigated how to support it, there is an absence of scholarship on the lived experience of reflecting. Understanding students’ engagements with reflection and reactions to reflecting would be valuable to those interested in supporting student reflection. Such information could be helpful for designing new reflection activities and or uncovering why a reflection activity is not working.
Against this backdrop, we set out to explore the experiences and perspectives of individuals engaging in reflection and activities that support reflection (e.g., journaling, critical conversations, exam wrappers, muddiest points exercises). To do this, we interviewed undergraduate students about their experiences with activities that were designed to support reflection. In an hour-long interview, we asked each student to share with us stories of previous experiences or engagements they had with reflection in their lives. We also asked students to participate in a card sort with statements representing possible reactions students can have to reflection activities and asked them to think-aloud to further solicit their thoughts. We transcribed these interviews and used constant comparison techniques to identify themes of relevance to the goal of designing to support reflection.
We have been finding that students are comfortable and willing to talk about reflection and their hopes and concerns in relation to reflection. This comfort, in turn, has been leading to rich interviews that are making it possible for us to identify a range of additional insights. For example, we have heard about (1) students engaging in reflection improvisationally by looking at data points such as their calendars or the number of emails in their inbox; and also about (2) students having quite different experiences with reflection in school contexts relative to personal or life contexts. In the paper, we will provide a more comprehensive account of themes arising from the interviews.
As educators design activities to support reflection, they should recognize that students may be more prepared to talk about reflection than had been previously assumed. This work attempts to humanize students’ experiences with reflection to bring to light a cautionary note about making assumptions around students and reflection. The results of this study can be helpful as we continue to integrate reflection to improve engineering education.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.