Category Archives: resource

A review of “An appraisal of medical students’ reflection-in-learning”

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

In this research, Sobral used a quantitative approach to examine the research question “how do students reflect as they strive for some control of learning early in their clinical activities?”  The findings suggest that when students reflect on their medical education there is potential for “greater benefit and enjoyment from their medical studies” (p. 186).

Tips for educators presented in this work:

  • Look at the assessment tool. If you are interested in assessing reflection in your classroom, the survey is an interesting tool to consider when embarking on evaluating reflection. While some of the questions may seem a little different, the language Sobral uses to capture the meaning of reflection could be useful.

Questions or challenges presented in this work:

  • Be patient with the write-up of the article. We appreciated the idea of the paper, but it was so brief that it made us wanting more details. There was enough resonance at the beginning of the paper that we were interested, but then the author so quickly jumped into the findings. This abrupt approach left us wondering if we understood the research questions and design. Even further, we were left wondering if we were using the same language to talk about reflection.


Sobral, D. T. (2000). An appraisal of medical students’ reflection-in-learning. Medical Education, 34(3), 182–7.

A Review of “Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance”

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

A practical reason to implement reflection activities is to assist students in learning the material, and optimize their performance. In a business context, researchers evaluated three hypotheses about reflection, reflection and sharing, and self-efficacy in two lab tests and in the field (Di Stefano et al., 2014).

The two lab studies were used to identify the relationships between reflection, reflection and sharing, the influence of incentives, and self-efficacy. They found that (1) reflection improves performance, (2) self-efficacy mediates reflection and learning without reflection, and (3) reflection increases self-efficacy and performance (p. 11 and p. 24).

The field context is particularly interesting; at an international call center the authors tested these relationships in a practical way with new employees who were participating in a two-week training program.  The participants were assigned to one of three groups: control, reflection, and sharing. At the end of the work day, those assigned to the reflection group were given a basic journal prompt to reflect on the day’s activities and given 15 minutes to respond. Those in the sharing group were given a similar prompt to journal for 10 minutes, and then discuss with another participant for 5 minutes. In the field, reflection and sharing resulted in improved performance on a subsequent assessment and that self-efficacy explains that relationship.

While this paper has its reasonable limitations, it does provide an interesting connection to self-efficacy, a topic that many engineering educators are familiar with. The authors also introduce the importance of a social component to improving reflection. Essentially, reflection can be best supported when participants have the opportunity to engage with others who shared a similar experience.

Tips for educators presented in this work:

  • The value of reflection. This paper provides some evidence indicating that reflection does improve performance. In each case, those who had the opportunity to reflect outperformed those who did not.
  • Social aspect of reflection. Incorporating a social component to reflection activities may assist students in achieving greater performance outcomes for the activities. In many engineering classrooms, creating a sense of community is a challenge.  This research does not specifically explore the topic, but it is likely that reflection activities with a social component may assist in that effort.

Questions or challenges presented in this work:

  • The researchers found that self-efficacy had a mediating effect on reflection and learning and that reflection predicted self-efficacy. How have you seen self-efficacy and reflection play out in your context/experience?
  • What are creative ways to implement a social component to reflection activities in the classroom?


Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G., & Staats, B. (2014). Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. Harvard Business School Working Paper, 1-48.

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.