In this work-in-progress paper, we describe the use of reflection to enhance student leadership competencies in two different bioengineering courses at the University of Washington. Leadership is an essential professional skill for bioengineering students. However, leadership is not taught explicitly in many programs for a variety of reasons, including the challenge of defining leadership in concrete terms and the lack of buy-in by both instructors and students. Our aim is to make teaching leadership to undergraduates more manageable by providing educators with leadership-focused exercises that leverage a teaching tool whose importance is becoming increasingly recognized in engineering education: reflection [1, 2].
Reflection is often used to promote cognitive development  – e.g., immediately after an exam, students articulate what they did that helped them do well on the exam and what they could do differently to improve their performance on a future exam. The innovation of our work is that we explore the effectiveness of reflection in promoting development of professional skills – specifically, to help bioengineering undergraduates improve their understanding of and capacity for leadership.
To facilitate reflection on leadership, students in the two featured courses are introduced to the “leadership competencies” identified by Seemiller  including ethics, analysis, conflict negotiation, communication, providing/receiving feedback, problem solving, decision making, and listening. Promoting familiarity with these leadership competencies is intended to provide students with a vocabulary to articulate their leadership abilities, and a lens with which to reflect on their past experiences.
The reflection activities are being implemented in two bioengineering seminar courses with different learning objectives and student populations. The Bioengineering Honors Seminar is a leadership-focused discussion-based seminar comprised of senior bioengineering majors in the departmental honors program at the University of Washington and includes a team service project. The collegium seminar, Bioengineering: Advancing Human Health, is for first-year students and provides exposure to different research areas in bioengineering through guest speakers and a team project in which students research and lead a class discussion on a biomedical innovation of their choosing. The reflection exercises (to be described in detail in the extended abstract), such as the Letter to Future Self, include both course-specific and general activities that can be modified to be suitable for any bioengineering course.
Assessment in both courses will include student self-report data obtained by quantitative survey examining 1) how reflection (and the class as a whole) contributed to identification and development of their individual leadership competencies, and 2) the impact of reflection on the students’ ability to utilize and refine their individual leadership strengths in their team projects. We anticipate that the reflective activities themselves will yield qualitative data regarding self-reported student development of particular competencies. In addition, students in the Bioengineering Honors Seminar will evaluate how their perception of leadership was affected by reflection. Student feedback will be obtained through surveys immediately following reflection activities and end-of-course evaluations.
In conclusion, in this work in progress, we describe reflection activities implemented in two bioengineering courses and assess their impact on enhancing student leadership competencies.
1. Ambrose, S. A. (2013). Undergraduate engineering curriculum: The ultimate design challenge. The Bridge: Linking Engineering and Society, 43(2).
2. Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
3. Kaplan, M., Silver, N., LaVaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D. (Eds.). (2013). Using Metacognition and Reflection to Improve Student Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
4. Seemiller, C. (2014). The Student Leadership Competencies Guidebook: Designing Intentional Leadership Learning and Development. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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