The importance of reflection for students – and teachers


As an academic working in Vietnamese higher education, I have found reflective work with students to be one of the most interesting types of projects to create and evaluate. It encourages students not only to think in terms of ‘job readiness’, but also in terms of personal development, acquisition of soft skills and civic engagement.

The shortcomings of such skills among Vietnamese university students have been the subject of both popular discourse and academic studies.

It’s not hard to find ways to teach or learn to do reflective homework. The DIEP model (Describe, Interpret, Evaluate, Plan) is a common approach to developing reflective practice, which involves describing, interpreting and evaluating one’s own experiences.

Reflection involves careful consideration of the actions, experiences, intent, motivations, contexts, and implications of one’s practice and that of others.

A recent study of reflective assignments in higher education defines it as a higher order cognitive skill where people engage in specialized and focused inquiry based on their individual experience. Critical thinking with empathy leads to innovative problem solving, which is valuable in the post-COVID world we inhabit.

Students who know and understand how to think are not only desirable, but the kind of students we desperately need. Thinking skills are one of the main ways in which higher education prepares learners for life and work in the 21st century by fostering creativity. Innovative ideas for social good rely on critical thinking and empathy.

For example, in Forbes Vietnam’s 2022 30 under 30 list, several people were praised for their entrepreneurial creativity. This list included Le Yen Thanh, who created BusMap, an online route map to help people navigate urban areas, and Do Anh Thu, who launched the Women Will program to help women entrepreneurs develop their businesses. business ideas.

Arguably, without critical thinking, which involves the ability to think deeply about issues and people, these ideas might not have existed today. This is another reason why it is important that reflection be a common practice among students.

Benefits for students

The 2021 Global Risks Report cites the importance of advanced interpersonal skills as a priority for learners today. These skills are often developed and achieved through personal reflection.

The reflective homework literature generally focuses on reflective writing, but in a general sense, reflective classroom activities are seen as a positive aspect of good teaching practice, enabling students’ autonomy, motivation and creativity. students. This prepares them for life, work and civic engagement as local and global citizens.

Reflection helps students move from a task-based approach to thinking more holistically and creatively about their experience in college and beyond.

A positive view of reflection is present in the literature on higher education in the Asian context through the works of Namala Tilakaratna, Mark Brooke and Laetitia Monbec in 2019, Cecilia Chan, Hannah Wong and Jiahui Luo in 2020 and Hui-Chin Yeh, Shih-hsien Yang, Jo Shan Fu and Yen-Chen Shih in 2022.

These studies also shed light on the merits of reflection for students and educators, which include deepening disciplinary understanding, building socio-cultural knowledge, professional development for teachers, and socio-behavioral benefits such as patience and Gratitude.

I remember listening to one particular student’s in-class reflection presentation where they shared how a class I taught earlier in the same semester for the same course helped them not only professionally but personally. This student noted how our classroom discussions of media and communication theories helped them better understand their parents.

After reflecting on the material discussed in class, they were able to be much more empathetic, patient and understanding towards their family. In higher education in Asian contexts, parents may be less supportive of unfamiliar or unfamiliar forms of study and more interested in securing a stable career in a basic industry for their children.

This is often the case for students studying unfamiliar disciplines such as media and communications or design studies, which are less favored compared to areas such as business or engineering.

After the end of this semester, I was surprised to receive an email from the same student and another expressing gratitude for the class activities and assessments of this course and how it impacted their view of the world around them.

Benefits for educators

Throughout my years of teaching, I have designed reflective assessments in various formats – written, video, audio or multimedia – where students are challenged to remember what they have done, to show understanding and go further in terms of analysis. and evaluating their experience and synthesizing that understanding based on previous or competing experiences.

Reflective assessments align with Benjamin Bloom’s famous taxonomy of learning, with which most formally trained educators are familiar. This is all the more true as the 21st century iteration of this framework includes creativity as a predominant characteristic.

Often educators do not know whether a teaching and learning experience has been meaningful for students and the implications of that experience, whatever it may be. I have often reminded students that their thinking should not restate what is already known or obvious to both of us – critical engagement is a very important part of this task that goes beyond mere description.

Ideas generated by reflecting on one’s experience can be conveyed in new, unique, or creative ways if this is the case. A reflection is not a report that is content to give an account of its actions. It’s an honest look at his experience over a period of time.

Student reflections should help us as educators reflect on our practice. Reading, listening, or viewing assignments that contain reflective content from students should prompt us to re-evaluate our teaching practices and the underlying philosophy that underpins our research.

Although student-based teaching evaluations are only one way to measure the effectiveness and impact of our work, there is much to learn from student reflections that we may not find in other types of results.

By reading students’ reflective work, I learned what was helpful in the classroom as well as things to avoid. Reading the reflective works of the students encouraged me to become in turn reflective on my academic practice.

Given the social and economic challenges that characterize Asia today, thinking skills must be seen as more than a skill; it must be considered an ethical virtue. This virtue is important, not only for the students of tomorrow, but for those who will educate them.

Jonathan J Felix is ​​a Transdisciplinary Scholar at the School of Communication and Design, RMIT University, Vietnam, and a Visiting Scholar at the International and Comparative Education Research Group, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei. His research focuses on human capital formation and higher education informed by post-structuralist thinking. This article is part of a series entitled “Asian Higher Education Changes: Perspectives from inside” initiated by the International and Comparative Education Research Group at Universiti Brunei Darussalam ([email protected]). An overview of this series can be read here.

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