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Instructor Reflection Toolkit

“Sometimes, you have to look back in order to understand the things that lie ahead.” - Yvonne Woon

This toolkit is available for instructors looking for their students to engage in meaningful reflection of experiences. Resources may be used as-is or adapted for different teaching contexts.

About

Welcome to the Faculty of Engineering Reflection Toolkit!  

If you are an instructor looking to facilitate critical reflection in the classroom this toolkit is for you.  Before you move on, you might want to take a second and ask yourself: 

  • Why am I on this site? 
  • What/who brought me here?  
  • What do I want to take away from this site? 
  • How will I know I have gotten what I needed? 
    Source: Reflection. (2020, November 11). The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved April 20, 2021from https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection

Whether you are hoping to learn more about the importance of reflection, identify different reflection models and frameworks, locate reflection assignment templates, or begin to better assess student reflections, you will find it in this toolkit! 

This site will be constantly evolving so please take a moment to reflect by sharing your feedback with us to help us make this a valuable experience 

"Reflecting, or exploring the meaning of experiences and the consequences of the meanings for future action, has always been essential in the development of expertise. Reflection and the promotion of reflective techniques are becoming more important in engineering education because of the expanding need for diverse, adaptive, broad-thinking, and nimble engineering experts who can respond to the ever-increasing challenges that society faces" (Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education, n.d.). 

What is Reflection?  

Reflection is the conscious examination of past experiences in order to examine what was learned. When done well, reflective practice allows the students the opportunity to think about what they learned through the choices they made, their actions, and their success and failures during the experience. According to Dewey (1966), “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” Through active consideration and evaluation of their learning and professional practices, students uncover the meaning of the experience and thereby construct new knowledge. The goal of reflective practice is to inform present and future projects through decisions, actions, attitudes, and the understanding of oneself. Reflection assignments allow students to express their thoughts and opinions about their learning instead of simply summarizing content and events. Engineering education should provide students with “opportunities for reflection to connect thinking and doing” (Ambrose, 2013) in order to support deeper learning.  

Reflective Writing Video

Here is a short video that brilliantly explains the importance of Reflective Writing.

Video: 
Sources:
Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. The Free Press.
Ambrose, S. A. (2013). Undergraduate engineering curriculum: The ultimate design challenge. The Bridge43(2), 16-23
CPREE. (n.d.) What is Reflection? Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE). http://cpree.uw.edu/what-is-reflection/
 
Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE) – website with resources on what reflection is, links to reflection field guides from American universities, and conference papers on reflection in Engineering. 

Why assign reflections?

"We had the experience but missed the meaning." - T.S. Eliot (1944) 

Engineering students are provided with many opportunities for rich experiences to learn by doing through hands-on, minds-on activities that include labs, collaborative building and design projects. These experiential learning pedagogies have proven to be very successful in inviting students to apply their content knowledge and unique skillset in authentic ways. However, Ambrose (2013, p.1) points out that, “…yes, students learn by doing, but only when they have time to reflect- the two go hand in hand. Why, then, don’t engineering curricula provide constant structured opportunities and time to ensure continual reflection takes place?”  

 Students in engineering reflect informally quite often. They revise their design project after receiving feedback from their end-user. They will rework their lab experiment when the results are not what they expect. However, in the absence of formal reflection, students can misinterpret their experiences and act on these misinterpretations (Turns et al., 2014). This misinterpretation often impairs their learning later in the curriculum. Rather than leaping from one experience to the next, reflection asks students to pause to grapple with the complexities and ambiguities of an authentic experience.  

Through intentional, structured reflection, students reconcile theory and practice and develop a plan for implementing new knowledge into their next experience. The process of reflection supports students to make sense of an experience as they develop the metacognitive skills required for deeper, life-long learning (Ash & Clayton, 2009). Through structured, well-designed reflection assignments, students develop important employability skills like problem-solving, higher order reasoning, integrative thinking, goal clarification openness to new ideas, ability to adopt new perspectives and systemic thinking (Ash & Clayton, 2009, p.27). Reflection and the promotion of reflective techniques are becoming more important in engineering education because of the expanding need for diverse, adaptive, broad-thinking, and nimble engineering experts who can respond to the ever-increasing challenges that society faces. Through the process of structured reflection, students build well-articulated skills and competencies that demonstrate their development into professional Engineers.

Sources:
Eliot, T.S. (1944) Four Quartets. Faber and Faber
Ambrose, S. A. (2013). Undergraduate engineering curriculum: The ultimate design challenge. The Bridge, 43(2), 16-23
Turns, J. A., Sattler, B., Yasuhara, K., Borgford-Parnell, J. L., & Atman, C. J. (2014). Integrating reflection into engineering education. [Paper Presentation]. 121st ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis. https://depts.washington.edu/cpreeuw/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Integrating-Reflection-ASEE-2014.pdf
Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.

Reflection as Assessment

It is important to recognize that reflection can be a very personal and vulnerable experience for students. Please be patient and constructive when working with students that are early in exercising reflective thinking.

Well-crafted reflection assignments are aligned to one or more intended learning outcomes within your course. This way, the learning outcomes, the experience, and the reflection assignment will be constructively aligned, and students will not feel as though the reflection assignment is an unrelated task. Reflection assignments that are designed around clearly stated learning outcomes lead to assessment. Formal reflection assignments are an effective way to measure if students meet the course's intended learning outcomes. “The learning objectives thus become both the road map that guides the design of the reflection activities and the basis for determining whether the intended destination has been reached and adequately expressed in the products of reflection” (Ash and Clayton, 2009). By aligning the reflection with the course learning outcomes, students will not feel as though the assignment is separate or in addition to their already heavy Engineering course load. We suggest that reflections be part of the formal assessment strategy and integrated into the course curriculum. In the case of students that are new to reflection, we suggest the first assignments be small in weighting such that students can receive feedback on their submissions and recognize what is expected of them. As students become more experienced in effective reflection, they will be better equipped for assignments that are heavier in weight.

Through critical reflection, students examine and articulate their learning through an experience. Critical reflections are not a simple retelling of what happened, a summary of events, or an update on their project. The ability to reflect upon an experience to discover what was learned is often a new skill that must be developed and scaffoldedStudents need substantial feedback and scaffolding to be successful when they are new to this kind of expression. Share with students that you are not looking for the “right” answer here but, rather, for what the learning means to them. Through timely feedback, instructors can address student misconceptions about both the reflection assignment and their analysis of the experience and let students know when they are on the right track. To best focus student attention on their learning and provide timely and constructive feedback, rubrics are strongly recommended.

Source:
Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.
Thomas, L. D., Orand, M., Shroyer, K. E., Turns, J. A., Atman, C. Tips & Tricks for Successful Implementation of Reflective Activities in Engineering Education. [Paper Presentation]. 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans. https://www.asee.org/public/conferences/64/papers/17117/view

 

Assessing Reflections

For more information on how to write well-defined learning outcomes, please reach out to the MacPherson Institute (mi@mcmaster.ca) or visit some of the following websites. 

Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario: https://heqco.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/heqco.LOAhandbook_Eng_2015.pdf  

University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/planning-courses/course-design/writing-learning-outcomes  

University of Toronto Centre for Teaching Excellence and Innovation: https://teaching.utoronto.ca/teaching-support/course-design/developing-learning-outcomes/characteristics-of-good-learning-outcomes/ 

If you are planning to assign reflection in your course, the chances are that you are looking to assess these reflections and give them a grade. Reflection activities are not always graded, but when they are, it can be helpful to use a rubric. Before you choose a rubric, it is important to think about what type of reflection activity you have asked your students to do and what you want them to get out of the activity.

Rubrics

Below you will find examples of rubrics that may help you when assessing student reflections. Remember that you can always modify a rubric to fit your specific class context.

The following rubric is from Brock University’s Experiential Education Guidebook (link).

 

The University of Edinburgh also provides two useful rubrics referred to as Analytical Rubrics.

 Example 1 - Standard Rubric:

 

Example 2 - Different Criteria Rubric:

 

Assessing reflection without a rubric:

Not everyone wants to use a rubric when grading reflection activities. For examples of how to grade reflections holistically, check out the University of Edinburgh's website on assessing reflections (link). The University of Edinburgh’s table comes from Jennifer A. Moon’s book A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning. This is a highly recommended source, and you can access the book through the McMaster website here.

Models & Frameworks

In this section, we introduce a few reflection frameworks that you can draw upon. These frameworks align with our aim to promote reflection in our Engineering Capstone courses and the courses within the PIVOT Curriculum (PIVOT website). We also provide our own framework (The PIVOT Reflection Model) that has been used in the Engineering Capstone courses and the courses within the PIVOT curriculum. 

 

The McMaster Engineering Reflection Model represents the framework used for Engineering Pivot course reflections and capstone courses, is adapted to integrate elements of the What? So What? Now What? Framework with Ryan’s and Ash & Clayton’s models. From Ryan’s model, we refined the What? component to direct student focus to a critical incident of the experience to center their thinking on one important incident rather than on considering the entire experience. From Ash and Clayton’s model, we focus attention on the importance of aligning reflection assignments to learning outcomes by identifying the appropriate domain. Through this alignment, we can best assess students’ achievement of the intended outcomes.  

Sources:
Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions a User's Guide. Palgrave.
Borton, T. (1970). Reach, touch, and teach (pp. 75-91). New York Mcgraw-Hill.
Driscoll, J. (1994). Reflective practice for practice. Senior Nurse14(1), 47-50.
Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.
Ryan, M. (2013). The pedagogical balancing act: Teaching reflection in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education18(2), 144-155.

Each model of reflection closely follows the cycle of Experiential Learning as conceptualized by David Kolb (1984). Through thoughtfully crafted prompts, structured reflection assignments walk students through each component of the cycle. Reflection assignments are intended to support students to think through and articulate the process of applying theory to practice and generating meaning from what they learned from this experience. In this way, students have the experience AND don’t miss the meaning.

Sources:
Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

A straightforward framework, and the basis for reflection assignments in Engineering PIVOT courses (see PIVOT Reflection Model). First developed by Borton (1970) and built upon by Driscoll (1994) and Rolfe (2001), this framework is easy to use and adapt to your own course.

 

What? (What Happened?)

Students describe what happened and how they felt during this part of the experience.

So What? (Why is this important? Why does it matter?)

Students delve deeper into finding the meaning of the experience by examining why this experience matters. Students grapple with what may have been unexpected, unpleasant or misunderstood. As well, students may explore the importance of applying theory to practice successfully and what this means for their understanding of the situation.

Now What? (How will students apply their learning to a future experience?)

Students create a plan for experimenting or applying this new knowledge in the future.

Sources:
Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions a User's Guide. Palgrave.
Borton, T. (1970). Reach, touch, and teach (pp. 75-91). New York Mcgraw-Hill.
Driscoll, J. (1994). Reflective practice for practice. Senior Nurse14(1), 47-50.

Gibbs (1988) outlines six steps in the reflective cycle, encouraging students to work through the process (whether it was a good or challenging experience) from describing an event to developing a plan for applying their learning to future experiences.

Gibb’s Reflective Cycle. (2020, November 11). The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection/reflectors-toolkit/reflecting-on-experie...

  • Description of the experience
  • Feelings and thoughts about the experience
  • Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
  • Analysis to make sense of the situation
  • Conclusion about what students learned and what they could have done differently
  • Action plan for how students would deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes they might find appropriate

This information was adapted from The University of Edinburgh – Reflection Toolkit website. For more information, please see the following link: https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection/reflectors-toolkit/reflecting-on-experience/gibbs-reflective-cycle

Sources:
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. Birmingham: SCED.
Gibb’s Reflective Cycle. (2020, November, 11). The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved April 20, 2021, from https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection/reflectors-toolkit/reflecting-on-experie...

Ash and Clayton's DEAL Model (2009) provides three steps that help align the experience with learning outcomes for the course. Like most reflection models, it encourages students to look ahead at how they may apply what they have learned to similar experiences in the future.

  • Description of the experience in an objective and detailed manner
  • Examination of the experience in light of learning goals/objectives
  • Articulation of Learning, including goals for future action

The DEAL model suggests identifying the domain(s) that best support the learning objective of the course or component upon which to focus reflection assignments.

Sources:
Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.

Ryan's 4 Rs Model (2013) (adapted from Bain et.al. 2002) provides a reflection model that supports students as they learn how to reflect through well formulated prompts designed to guide students’ thinking through each step. The focus of each level is on leading students toward a deeper understanding of their experience and applying their learning in the future.

  • Reporting and Responding: Report what happened by identifying one impactful/critical incident. Students form personal opinions around their experience in an emotional response.
  • Relating: Relate incident to skills, professional experience or discipline knowledge. Students make connections between prior knowledge/skill and the new experience.
  • Reasoning: Reflection moves towards an intellectually rigorous analysis using literature. Students connect relevant scholarly work/theories to practice.
  • Reconstructing: Plan for moving forward for future practice.
Sources:
Ryan, M. (2013). The pedagogical balancing act: Teaching reflection in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education18(2), 144-155.

Aligned with Bloom's Taxonomy and built upon work of others such as Dewey (1966) and Kolb (1984), this model was developed at McMaster with the goal to guide, assess, and evaluate students' higher order learning through experiential education in McMaster's Sustainable Future Program.

Instructional resources, including a handout of the RLF rubric, a guide to using the RLF, and a reflection-writing workshop video can be found below:

Sources:
Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. The Free Press.
Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Assignment Templates

This page will describe different tools that instructors may use and include in their courses.

Reflection Assignments

This section includes different types of reflection assignments that could be used by instructors to integrate formal reflection into their courses.

Level 1 Assignments - These assignments are for learners that are brand new to reflection. Level 1 activities are highly structured with instructions to better familiarize the user with the process of reflection.

Level 2 Assignments - These assignments are for learners that grasp the fundamental principles of reflection and are ready to dig deeper into their experiences. Level 2 activities are structured to be conversational in encouraging critical analysis of learning.

Level 3 Assignments - These assignments are for learners that are experienced with reflection and are ready for a thoughtful look at their own professional identity. Level 3 activities are less formal and more open-ended in structure to draw out the different ways that learning can transform us.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Name: Three-staged Reflection Worksheets

Description: Structured handouts with explicit instructions for students to engage in reflection aligned with an intended learning outcome of the course. Three handouts are included to be administered at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the course. These handouts follow the McMaster Engineering reflection model. Note: for courses that are one academic term in length, it is recommended to only use Worksheets 1 and 2 to prevent student fatigue.

Recommended Class Size: Small, Medium, Large.

Click below to download.

Worksheet 1

Worksheet 2

Worksheet 3

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Name: Reflection Short Essay

Description: Reflections prompts for students to address in a 350-500 written essay using the What? So What? Now What? framework.

Recommended Class Size: Small, Medium.

Click here to download.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Name: Project-based Reflection

Description: An assignment intended for reflection on a group/individual project with prompting questions intended for students to reflect critically on the knowledge they applied and skills they developed during the project.

Recommended Class Size: Small, Medium.

Click here to download.

___________________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________________

Name: Job Interview Video

Description: Students submit a 3-minute video of themselves discussing a critical incident related to their course and how it has helped them prepare for the professional world.

Recommended Class Size: Small.

Click here to download.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Reflection Assignment Repository

Have you created a reflection assignment that worked well, and would you be interested in adding it to our assignment repository? Sharing your reflection assignment templates can help others create assignments for their courses. If you are interested, please email hanses2@mcmaster.ca.

Resources

This site contains additional resources on using reflection in post-secondary education. There is a vast amount of information available, and the resources on this site should be seen as a start to getting involved with reflection but not a complete list.

Tips and Tricks Handout

Toolkits

The University of Edinburgh – Reflection Toolkit

The Project-Based Learning (PjBL) Toolkit

Literature

Educational theories and models used in reflection:

Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection in applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.

Ryan, M. (2013). The pedagogical balancing act: Teaching reflection in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(2), 144-155.

Driscoll, J. (1994). Reflective practice for practice. Senior Nurse, 14(1), 47-50.

Borton, T. (1970). Reach, touch, and teach (pp. 75-91). New York Mcgraw-Hill.

Moon, J. A. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. Psychology Press.

Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. The Free Press.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development.

Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Ambrose, S. A. (2013). Undergraduate engineering curriculum: The ultimate design challenge. The Bridge, 43(2), 16-23

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions a User's Guide. Palgrave.

Reflection in Engineering:

Below you can find resources on the topic of using reflection in engineering.

NEWS: Click here for more information about the “Reflection in Engineering Education” workshop held at the University of Washington, September 14–15, 2017.

Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE) – website with resources on what reflection is, links to reflection field guides from American universities, and conference papers on reflection in Engineering. 

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

Turns, J. A., Sattler, B., Yasuhara, K., Borgford-Parnell, J. L., & Atman, C. J. (2014). Integrating reflection into engineering education. [Paper Presentation]. 121st ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis. https://depts.washington.edu/cpreeuw/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Integrating-Reflection-ASEE-2014.pdf

American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) papers on reflection (30+ papers)

Student Centered Resources

University Websites on Reflection:

Contact Us

Contact information for those who have questions. You may also submit a comment or contribute through our Comment Box!

Kyle Ansilio

Engineering Contact

E-mail for Reflection Consultation

  ansilikf@mcmaster.ca

Stine Hansen

MacPherson Institute Contact

  hanses2@mcmaster.ca