2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Tips & Tricks for Successful Implementation of Reflection Activities in Engineering Education

Presented at Tips of the Trade: Best Practices, Expanded Advice, and Strategies for Implementable Course Improvement

Engineering educators are introduced to an array of active learning approaches that pique their interest and spark excitement about the possible outcomes for their students. After initial exposure to new activities, contextual questions naturally arise for educators, and a clear understanding of the essential features for successfully implementing a teaching strategy become necessary. Reflection activities represent one approach for active learning that educators reasonably have questions about before adopting the approach. In our work, we have documented over 100 reflection activities facilitated by engineering educators from diverse types of institutions and shared those activities for public use in the form of a field guide. The field guide includes an overview of each activity, steps to recreate the activity, and tips and inspiration as shared by each educator who offered their specific activity for the field guide. These “tips and tricks” were very often derived from years of experience using the activity. Collectively, these activities and their associated tips provide a set of guiding ideas for implementing reflection activities in engineering education settings.

In this paper, we present themes that were derived from over 250 individual tips in our field guide for reflection in engineering education. These activities come from many different contexts, have varying depth, time allocations, and other features that make the activities unique, yet the tips yielded similar themes for success. For this paper, we completed a qualitative analysis to identify themes across all of the tips. We subsequently counted each instance of each theme to identify the most commonly shared tips for implementing reflection activities in engineering education. The dominant themes include: (1) preparation in advance of and/or debrief after the reflection activity, (2) communicating with students as a group or individually about their responses, (3) careful and intentional design of reflection activities, and (4) establishing value in reflection itself. Other themes included: being flexible as an educator, timing, grading, and leveraging peer interactions.

The tips and tricks for reflection celebrate the many successes these educators have experienced with the activities, while bringing attention to some of the unintended consequences for implementing reflection. By highlighting these successes and some of the tensions associated with reflection, we anticipate that readers will be well informed to make their own decisions as educators. Our goal in sharing these thematic findings is to call out the important considerations for implementing reflection in engineering as identified by over 110 educators. These “tricks of the trade” will help new and experienced faculty make decisions about how to design and implement reflection activities in their own pedagogy.

The core findings of our proposed paper are likely to be of interest to engineering educators who wish to implement reflection activities in their classrooms and interactions with students. Those educators, and in turn their students, will benefit from the experience of many educators and the positive outcomes they have experienced when using reflection activities.

  1. Dr. Lauren D Thomas University of Washington
  2. Mania Orand Human Centered Design and Engineering [biography]
  3. Dr. Jennifer A Turns University of Washington [biography]
  4. Dr. Cynthia J. Atman University of Washington [biography]
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