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Center for Teaching and Learning

Reflective learning prepares students for the ‘real world’

2013.CTL-19By Elizabeth Lowry, The Graduate School

The concept of reflective learning may spark some initial apprehension on the part of educators and students. But once they try it, they quickly see that it works, according to research and widespread practice.

Students – in fields from engineering to dance – deepen and strengthen their learning when they contemplate the material they have just learned to find its meaning and connections to past courses, lessons or experiences. In other words, reflection helps students connect the dots.

Learning through reflection in college prepares students for the “real world” after graduation.

“Employers are looking for students who are able to retain and make connections across contexts,” said Cindy Atman, director for the UW Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching and professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering.

“No matter how engaging and authentic the context that we as educators teach in, we cannot predict and model every situation that our students would need to demonstrate their knowledge. Reflecting on new information and making connections to prior learning, and diverse contexts is a critically important skill for the 21st century workforce.”

Reflection can support student learning – in any field of study, according to Atman and Betsy Cooper, divisional dean of arts in the College of Arts & Sciences and professor in Dance. Atman and Cooper will give the keynote presentation at 3 p.m., Tuesday, April 14, during the UW Teaching and Learning Symposium in the HUB Ballroom. The symposium begins at 2 p.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., with the keynote taking place between the two poster sessions.

“Some of the benefits are that students become more meta-cognitive in their approach to learning, moving from novice to expert at an accelerated pace,” Cooper said. “Students become more engaged in their learning as they connect experiences across learning domains. And educators become more responsive.”

The symposium will highlight some of the UW’s most innovative research and practices in teaching and learning as more than 80 faculty, staff, and students from nearly 40 departments and units across all three UW campuses present 42 posters that detail their research methods, results and implications. Interim Provost Gerald J. Baldasty will give the welcoming remarks. Poster presentations range from the impact of active learning spaces on student learning to incorporating art into assignments in social science courses to shortening doctoral students’ time-to-degree by providing writing support.

Hosted by the UW Center for Teaching and Learning, the symposium is open to the entire University, and no reservations are required.

Atman and Jennifer Turns, professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering, direct a consortium comprised of 12 campuses across the country to implement reflection in engineering classrooms. Funded by a grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education is interviewing educators about the reflection activities they use with engineering students. These activities include short, in-class reflection activities on how students used their day and student portfolios. Another form of reflection is an “exam wrapper,” in which students reflect on how they prepared for exams and how they performed. Then, students identify strategies to improve. The center staff will present a poster at the symposium with a sampling of reflection activities that local engineering educators are using, along with the rationale and benefits.

In the generative and performing arts, the most common means of reflective practice occurs through critique, Cooper noted. “This can mean self-critique, instructor or peer. It is common that all three are interwoven in a process,” she said. Through repetition and revision, based on the critique, an artist refines his or her technique and expressivity.

Other reflection methods in the arts include journaling, reflective essays on class progress and reflective essays on a portfolio. By establishing goal statements at the beginning of a dance course, Cooper’s students can create strategies to meet those goals, as well as revisit and revise the goals throughout the quarter.

The benefits of reflective learning extend throughout students’ professional lives as they can incorporate reflection into their individual work strategies and practices.

“Reflective practice can be a potent means for continued growth, and an antidote to burnout,” Cooper said.

Details, including poster titles, presenters and abstracts, are posted online.


Schedule:

2:00-2:05 Opening remarks: Beth Kalikoff, director, Center for Teaching and Learning

2:05-2:50 First poster session

2:50-3:00 Welcome: Interim Provost Gerald J. Baldasty

3:00-3:45 Keynote: “Using Reflection to Support Student Learning”

  • Cindy Atman, director, Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching and professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering
  • Betsy Cooper, divisional dean of arts in the College of Arts & Sciences and professor in Dance

3:45-4:30 Second poster session


Symposium co-sponsors:

  • Office of the Provost
  • The Graduate School
  • Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity
  • Simpson Center for the Humanities
  • Teaching & Learning Center, UW Bothell
  • Teaching & Learning Center, UW Tacoma
  • Undergraduate Academic Affairs
  • UW Information Technology
  • UW Libraries

Elizabeth Lowry is the director of marketing and communications for the Graduate School. She can be reached at elowry@uw.edu.