Category Archives: resource

“Reflection in Engineering Education Workshop” at University of Washington

In the final year of CPREE, the consortium hosted a two-day workshop on “Reflection in Engineering Education,” attended by over 60 educators from 22 institutions across the U.S. and abroad. This workshop built on the documented CPREE reflection activities, as well as the CPREE team’s experience working with educators to integrate reflection activities into their teaching. Specifically, workshop participants were invited to:

  1. examine reflection activities that have been conducted by engineering educators,
  2. explore strategies for choosing or creating a reflection activity to integrate into teaching practices,
  3. practice adapting a reflection activity to one’s own teaching practice, and
  4. identify possible ways to use reflection activities in future teaching.

By the completion of the workshop, participants were able to take away a clearer understanding of reflection, a repertoire of sample reflection activities, an initial draft of a reflection activity tailored to their own teaching setting, and a network of like-minded colleagues.

Click the thumbnail below to download a PDF of the workshop workbook.

thumbnail of cover for reflection workshop workbook

Reflection at ASEE 2016

Reflection was a cross-cutting thread again at the 2016 ASEE annual conference, as illustrated by the selection of papers below. The first three papers are work done by members of CPREE. As illustrated by the additional papers, there is broad interest in reflection in engineering education.

A review of “Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: a systematic review”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD, and Lauren Thomas, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinators

In this work, Mann, Gordon, and MacLeod (2009) conducted a systematic literature review of the use of reflective practices in health care. The aim of their work “was to understand the key variables influencing this process, identify gaps in the evidence, and to explore any implications” (p. 596). In their initial search, they identified over 600 papers that included the use of the word reflection or related terms. From a paring down process, they then identified 29 papers that explicitly addressed reflective practice in health professional education and practice. In coding these papers, they explored the questions: (1) Do practicing health professionals engage in reflective practice?; (2) What is the nature of students’ reflective thinking?; (3) Can reflective thinking be assessed?; (4) Can reflective thinking be developed?; (5) What contextual influences hinder or enable the development of reflection and reflective capability?; (6) What are the potential positive or negative effects of promoting reflection?

Tips for educators presented in this work:

  • Have discussions about reflection. Discussions about reflective thinking and reflection activities are not a common topic, and often it’s assumed that we are on the same page when we are talking about reflection. The authors encourage more open discussion about these topics.
  • Balance reflection on positive and negative experiences. It’s important for people to look back on and make sense of both positive and negative experiences. While the authors do not connect to The Stanford Resilience project, they do raise a similar point–the importance and role of reflecting on failure, in addition to reflecting on successes.

Questions or challenges presented in this work:

  • See the bigger picture. The authors do a great job of describing the papers and putting them together; however, there is room for synthesis and more information about bigger picture connections.
  • Recognize the different language used to describe reflection. Clearly there is a lot of work going on in health care related to reflection (as seen from the initial pass of identifying 600 papers); however, in culling this corpus down the authors went from 600 to 29. While the scholarship represented in these 600 articles use reflection in some way, many use different language or reflection isn’t the main focus. The findings suggest that there is no common definition of reflection, and the varied terminology and theory is a result of people drawing on different communities. In this systematic literature review, the authors do not normalize the language, so this may contribute to challenges.


Mann, K., Gordon, J., & MacLeod, A. (2009). Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: a systematic review. Advances in Health Sciences Education : Theory and Practice, 14(4), 595–621.

Review of “Getting the measure of reflection: considering matters of definition and depth”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In this article, Jenny Moon (2007), a prominent UK education development scholar, argues that while higher education and professional development are increasingly aware of the power of reflection, there is not a common definition–“there are considerable differences in the views of educationists on issues of definition” (p. 191). The purpose of her work is (1) to offer a definition of reflection and (2) to provide examples of how to support students in reflection.

In setting up her argument, she argues that a lack of community accepted definition for reflection can lead to challenges in telling/showing students how to reflect and explaining to students what reflection should look like. These challenges then result in superficial and descriptive reflection. So while reflection can be extremely powerful, it falls short when it is only superficial and descriptive.

In defining “reflection,” she defines a number of associated terms:”‘reflection’ and ‘reflective learning’ seem to be words that describe an internal process in contrast to ‘reflective writing’, which is a representation of reflection, but, like any other form of representation, it is not a direct representation of the internal process” (p. 192). She goes on to define “reflective practice” as a “broader process in which there is a habit of reflecting” (p. 192). She says that much of the differences in defining reflection comes from scholars focus on outcomes of reflection, rather than the process of reflection. In making this argument, she summarizes  the outcomes of reflection:

  • “learning, knowledge and understanding
  • some form of action
  • a process of critical review
  • personal and continuing professional development
  • reflection on the process of learning or personal
    functioning (metacognition)
  • the building of theory from observations in
    practice situations
  • the making of decisions/resolution of uncertainty,
    the solving of problems; empowerment
    and emancipation
  • unexpected outcomes (e.g., images, ideas that
    could be solutions to dilemmas or seen as creative
  • emotion (that can be an outcome or can be
    part of the process)
  • clarification and the recognition that there is
    a need for further reflection and so on” (p. 193).

In concluding, Moon offers resources that are structures for guiding the process of reflection. Specifically, she says that educators need to start with scaffolding or providing strong “props” to support reflection but then should soon after dispense with the “props” (p. 194). The goal in scaffolding reflection and then challenging students by removing the scaffolding is to engage them in depth reflection–reflection that moves beyond the superficial and descriptive. She then offers educators “The Worrying Tutorial” that is a series of reflection examples to demonstrate to learners the various levels of reflection. “It was to address the difficulty both of helping learners to start with reflection and then—at a later stage—to deepen their reflection” (p. 194). “The Worrying Tutorial” is to be used with the “Framework for Reflective Writing,” which provides descriptions of the four levels of reflection. Coupled together these two provide powerful tools to help students begin reflecting and deepen their reflection.


Moon, J. (2007). Getting the measure of reflection: considering matters of definition and depth, Journal of Radiotherapy and Practice, 6(4), 191-200.


Review of “The Power of Experiential Education”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD, CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In the article–“The Power of Experiential Education”–Janet Eyler (2009), a prominent scholar in experiential education, argues that one challenge of liberal education is preparing students to transfer learning to new context. She claims that in traditional education students spend significant time learning content from a book or from an education . For example through co-ops, internships, and service learning, students apply theory to practice and gain real experience.

While she boasts the value of experiential education, she emphasizes that students gain more out of the experience when there is purposeful reflection. In the her guidelines for creating high-quality experiential programs, she calls out reflection as one of the most important–

“The most critical factor for achieving powerful learning outcomes from experiential-learning programs is the inclusion of opportunities for feedback and reflection. Challenging, continuous, context-appropriate reflection turns work experience into learning experience. It is easy to underestimate how intensive reflection must be in order for it to have an impact; it is not unusual to find faculty members who believe their program provides adequate reflection even though the effects on students fall short” (p. 30).

In concluding this call for more purposeful and “intense” reflection in higher education, she offers implications for a variety of people:

  • Use Kolb’s reflection cycle
  • Carefully plan and embedded reflection into your teaching
  • “departments need to take ownership by placing faculty in charge of formulating goals for experiential education and facilitating internship seminars and service-learning classes” (p. 31)
  • …and many more

Overall, this article provides good argumentation about foundational reasoning for experiential education and how to even further improve experiential education through “continuous, well-structured reflection opportunities to help students link experience and learning throughout the course of their placements” (p. 30). In this theory this practice of purposefully and continuously supporting students reflection sounds ideal, it is important to remember a previous review about the reflection “structure trap” in service learning. This dissertation work suggests that so structured and rigid reflection interferes the already organic reflection, causing a feeling of fake or invaluable reflection.


Boswell, L. (2010). The Structure Trap. Students’ Perceptions of Reflection on a Co-curricular Immersion Service-Learning Trip.   (Doctoral dissertation). Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA.

Eyler, J. (2009). The Power of Experiential Education, Liberal Education, 24-31.

Resource: “A successful strategy to get college students thinking critically”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD, CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In an effort to support first-year physics students’ critical thinking, scholars engaged students in working through experiments in a lab and then comparing their experiment to other answers. “By applying some statistics they were gradually learning, they grappled with why their comparisons came out the way they did” (Johnson, 2015). Through reflecting on their own answers and comparing those answers to other experiments, students considered why they were different, where their thought process deviated, etc. This reflection opportunity led to critical thinking.

In implementing this pedagogical approach, the educators wanted to foster scientific thinking. In the end, this approach of  reflecting and refining their lab skills had beneficial effects, even lasting at least a year past intervention.


Johnson, S. K. (2015). A successful strategy to get college students to think critically. In ars technica.

A review of “Conceptualising learning from experience: Developing a model for facilitation”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In this work, David Boud (1994) offers  a model for supporting students in learning from their experiences. To start, he places particular emphasis on adult learning and learning from experiences versus learning from educators who are the authority figures. This argument lays the groundwork for the importance of supporting students in learning from their experience.

He then provides a quick summary of previous literature on learning from experience (e.g., Schön, Kolb, Jarvis, and Heron) and how it connects to his work, but most importantly the shortcomings of these works: “None of these authors have sufficiently addressed the needs of those confronted with the typically context-specific and personally-embedded learning which characterises the tasks which adults face” (p. 49).

Then he proposes a model for promoting learning from experience that is based two two assumptions: (1) “learning is always rooted in prior experience and that any attempt to promote new learning must in some way take account of that experience” (p. 50) and (2) “the process of learning from experience is necessarily an active one which involves learners in engaging with and intervening in the events of which they are part” (p. 50).

The model focuses on three parts: prior to the event (preparation); during the event (the experience); and following the event (the reflective process). While all of these parts are important in their own right, he pays particular attention to the last one: following the event or the reflective process. In dissecting this part of the model, he emphasizes that reflection includes emotions and feelings and has three parts: return to the experience, attending to feelings, and re-evaluation of the experience. The purpose of returning to the experience is for the individual  to mentally revisit and vividly portray the experience–remember what happened. The purpose of attending to feelings is that it can either inhibit or enhance further reflection (e.g., negative emotions may cause a person to focus only on the negative and inhibit their ability to learn from the experience). Finally, in re-evaluating the experience, Boud (1994) says that there are four aspects of the process: “association—relating new information to that which is already known; integration—seeking relationships between new and old information; validation—determining the authenticity for the learner of the ideas and feelings which have resulted; and appropriation—making knowledge one’s own, a part of one’s normal ways of operating” (p. 52).

Overall, Boud’s work offers another perspective when thinking about how to support students in learning from their experience. On the surface, the model may seem a little complex, but it is those intricate details that Boud starts to tease apart important aspects of reflection, supporting students in reflection, and ultimately in supporting students in learning from their own experience.


Boud, D. (1994). Conceptualising learning from experience: Developing a model for facilitation. Published in Proceedings of the 35th Adult Education Research Conference, 20-22 May 1994, Knoxville, Tennessee: College of Education, University of Tennessee, 49-54.

A review of “Educating effective engineering designers: the role of reflective practice”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In their journal article, “Educating effective engineering designers: the role of reflective practice,” Adams, Turns, and Atman (2003) characterize what contributes to effective engineering design education. They use Schön’s reflective practitioner theory  to interpret verbal protocols of engineering students engaging in design activities; to do this, they explore these research questions:

1. How could we measure reflective practitioner behaviour in engineering students?

2. To what extent do engineering students behave as reflective practitioners?

3. In what ways are seniors more reflective practitioners than freshmen?

To start, they overview Schön’s reflective practitioner theory–“A reflective practitioner is a practitioner whose knowing is not only rational and cognitive but also embodied in action and for whom reflection is critical to practice” (Adams, Turns, & Atman, 2003, p. 276). In connecting this definition to engineering, specifically to engineering design, Adams, Turns, and Atman (2003) emphasize that “the designer functions as both a creator developing a solution and an experimenter trying to understand the situation he is creating, hence the notion of the designer as having a ‘reflective conversation’ with the situation” (p. 276). In their work, they focus on Schön’s reflection-in-action.

To explore their research questions, they identify measures of reflective practice behavior that are important features of effective design practice: problem setting and listening to ‘back talk.’ “Underlying these trends is a predicament typical of complex and ambiguous design tasks—information cannot be gathered meaningfully unless the problem is understood but you can’t understand the problem without gathering information about it. As Schön notes, a process of reflecting in action provides one means for filling this gap. It allows new requirements to emerge (and be synthesised) during solution development that cannot be adequately identified or pursued until portions of the system have been designed” (Adams, Turns, & Atman, 2003, p. 292).

Their work offers a foundational piece in bridging engineering education and reflection, specifically the use of Schön.


Adams, R. S., Turns, T., & Atman, C. A. (2003). Educating effective engineering designers: the role of reflective practice. Design Studies, 24(3), 275-294.

Schön D. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic

A review of “Undergraduate Engineering Curriculum: The Ultimate Design Challege”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In a recent National Academy of Engineering piece, Susan A. Ambrose (2013) argues that engineering education has made significant changes to individual curricula, but says “It is time to move beyond tweaking individual courses or revamping one year of the curriculum. We need to be audacious enough to put the pieces together in a coherent, encompassing way across engineering curricula” (p. 22). One of the pieces to this puzzle, is providing students with “opportunities for reflection to connect thinking and doing” (p. 17).

In arguing about the importance of reflection in engineering curricula, she emphasizes  the role reflection plays in help students connect thinking and doing:

“When students engage in meaningful and frequent reflection about what they are learning, they are less likely to ‘have the experience but miss the meaning,’ because reflection provides a ‘continual  interweaving of thinking and doing’ (Schön 1983, p. 280). It  generates, deepens, and documents learning (Ash and Clayton
2004). In fact, studies show that students who ‘repeatedly engage in structured reflection…are more likely to bring a strategic learning  orientation to new challenges’ (Eyler 2009, p. 28; Eyler and Giles 1999), reinforcing the end goal of learning as the ability to use knowledge and skills flexibly in novel situations” (p19).

After emphasizing the value of reflection in engineering education, she presents one mechanism for supporting student reflection–reflective writing, specifically “writing to learn” and embedding “writing across the curriculum. She provides the example of e-portfolios as an opportunity for students to reflect on their learning and performance.

In concluding the section about reflection she says,

“So, yes, students learn by doing, but only when they have time to reflect on what they are doing—the two go hand in hand. Why, then, don’t engineering curricula provide constant structured opportunities and time to ensure that continual reflection takes place” (p. 20)?

In concluding, she calls the community to action. We need  to coordinate and continually support the areas of learning she mentions.


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

Ash S.L. & Clayton P.H. 2004. The articulated learning: An
approach to reflection and assessment. Innovative Higher
Education, 29, 137–154.

Eyler J. 2009. The power of experiential education. Liberal
Education, 95(4), 24–31.

Eyler J., Giles DE. 1999. Where’s the Learning in Service-
Learning? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schön D. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic

Research Brief: “Engineering Education Meets Human-Computer Interaction (HCI): Exploring How the Work on “Probes” can Guide the Design of Reflection Activities

By: Brook Sattler, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In this paper, we bridge the gap between the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and engineering education by exploring the work on “probes.” Specifically, we explore how probes have the potential to support reflection.

“Probes are small collections of artifacts accompanied by open-ended questions and evocative tasks to which participants respond over time” (p. 1). Probes are artifacts that support people in thinking about something specific and provide designers/researchers with inspiration for design.

In this paper, we offer examples of various probes in the field of HCI, such as packets with postcards, maps, disposable cameras, photo albums, and a media diary. For example, in a foundation work on probes, Gaver and colleagues (1999) used these probes to ask the elderly various questions about their life. Initially, the probes were meant to provided the researchers with data, but it was noticed that the probes also provided the research participants with an opportunity to reflect:

“What we learned about the elders is only half the story, however. The other half is what the elders learned from the probes. They provoked the groups to think about the roles they play and the pleasures they experience, hinting to them that our designs might suggest new roles and experiences. In the end, the probes helped establish a conversation with the groups, one that has continued throughout the project.” (Gaver, Dunne, and Pacenti, 1999, p. 22)…(italics added for emphasis)

In bringing the work on probes to engineering education, our goal was to encourage the community to think more broadly about how we support reflection.


Gaver, B., Dunne, T., & Pacenti, E. (1999). Cultural Probes, Interactions, January + February, 21-29.

Orand, M., Sattler, B., Turns, J. A., & Thomas, L. D. (2015). Engineering Education Meets Human–Computer Interaction (HCI): Exploring How the Work on “Probes” can Guide the Design of Reflection Activities. In Proceedings of the 2015 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Seattle, WA.