A Review of “Reflection as an Assessment Measure”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In her 2000 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conference proceeding, Dr. Barbara M. Olds overviews the longitudinal reflective portfolio assessment program, which is part of the McBride Honors Program at Colorado School of Mines. She starts with a history of program; defines reflection; argues the importance of reflection; offers ideas for how to support student reflection; and connects reflection, assessment, and portfolio.

In this work, she defines reflection as “asking people to write about their goals, the strategies they use for reaching their goals, and their progress towards reaching those goals or others” (p. 1). This definition is built upon research about portfolios, reflection, and assessment, specifically the work by Kathleen Yancey (1998):

“In method, reflection is dialectical, putting multiple perspectives into play with each other in order to produce insight. Procedurally, reflection entails a looking forward to goals we might attain, as well as a casting backward to see where we have been. When we reflect, we thus project and review, often putting the projections and the reviews in dialogue with each other, working dialectically as we seek to discover what we know, what we have learned, and what we might understand. When we reflect, we call upon the cognitive, the affective, the intuitive, putting these into play with each other: to help us understand how something completed looks later, how it compares with what has come before, how it meets stated or implicit criteria, our own, those of others. Moreover, we can use those processes to theorize from and about our own practices, making knowledge and coming to understandings that will themselves be revised through reflection” (1998, p. 6, emphasis in the original).

Dr. Olds continues by arguing the importance of reflection by asking the questions—why should we care about reflection? She says, “It can be argued that a hallmark of the educated (as opposed to trained) individual is the ability to reflect on his/her goals and how he/she has met or failed to meet them” (p. 2). She then connects ABET criteria to one’s ability to reflect.

In continuing this argument, she questions—how can students be encouraged to be reflective? To make this argument, Dr. Olds connects to Schön’s work on “reflective practitioners” and “reflection-in-action.” She says, “good engineers are those who practice reflection-in-action; engineering educators can help by emphasizing that much engineering problem solving involves dealing with ‘poorly understood situations’ where reflection helps with understanding both the problem and the practitioner” (p. 3).

One way she and her colleagues are supporting students in being reflective is through portfolios. She describes the longitudinal reflective portfolio assessment:

  • Honor students enroll in and participant in an honor program seminar every semester.
  • The seminar moderator guides students through activities that help them focus on 2-4 of the honor program’s goals (e.g., communication, team work, critical analysis, etc.).
  • At the end of the semester, students select work to include in their portfolio, write a reflection to accompany each selected work, and write a reflection about the seminar.
  • After students have updated their portfolio for the semester, the moderators review the portfolios, hold a tutorial with each student, and write an evaluation of the student’s progress in meeting his or her goals.
  • At the end of the honors program, students write a longer evaluation of their growth in the program.
  • After students have written the longer evaluation, a faculty team reviews the portfolio and meets with each student individually for an exit interview and summative assessment.

At the end of the article, Dr. Olds characterizes the portfolio as largely successful, but emphasizes that they are “continu[ing] to refine it to meet the twin goals of providing feedback to the program for curriculum improvement and feedback to the students for their personal growth” (p. 7). In concluding she offers two tips: close the loop with reflection and monitor the program for participation by both students and faculty.


Olds, B. M. (2000). Reflection as an Assessment Measure. In Proceedings of the 2000 American Society of Engineering Education Conference. St. Louis, MO.

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

Yancey, K. B. (1998). Reflection in the Writing Classroom. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.