Research Brief: Integrating Reflection into Engineering Education

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

Early in the development of the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE), it was apparent that a framework to understand reflection in the context of engineering education was necessary. The topic is frequently researched and published in other disciplines, such as medicine, teacher education, and therapy, but less frequently in engineering education. ┬áThe authors of “Integrating Reflection into Engineering Education” ( Turns et al., 2014) develop and present a framework for thinking about reflective practices, explore how it is situated in theory, and provide examples within engineering education. Also, Turns et al. (2014) confront some of the realistic challenges of supporting reflection in engineering education. The authors propose seven elements of reflection: experience, features, lens, meaning, action, intentional, and dialectical. The elements are drawn from existing reflection theory and related theoretical perspectives to provide a rich framework to understand reflection, particularly in engineering education (p. 3). The easy-to-use examples enable the reader to apply the seven elements and consider how reflection may work in their particular context, class, or activity. They also acknowledge that there are difficulties and concerns that may particularly resonate with engineers, as they encounter reflection within the discipline.

Tips for educators presented in this work:

  • Think of how you may have or are currently including reflection in your practice with students. Using the examples provided, there are ways in which our students reflect, with or without us, which we can influence on a regular basis.
  • Use this framework. This paper provides an accessible way to operationalize reflection in the context of engineering education. Once you have identified a practice that may explicitly be reflection, consider each of the seven elements. Also, keep in mind that there are not always right and wrong answers.
  • Acknowledge the difficulties. What are some ways in which reflection is difficult for you? Are you hesitant to engage students in reflection and why? These questions and concerns are valid, and certainly inform our approach to using reflection as an educational practice. Keep in mind, that reflection can be done on a very small scale and remain relevant to developing future engineers.

Questions or challenges presented in this work:

  • Some of the elements of reflection may be challenging to grasp! Many of the instructors and researchers that we have talked with have had challenges understanding parts of the framework particularly, lens and meaning. Which of the seven elements are challenging for you?
  • What examples of reflective activity are you using with students?

Turns, J., Sattler, B., Yasuhara, K., Borgford-Parnell, J., & Atman, C.J. (2014). Integrating Reflection into Engineering Education. In ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Retrieved from