Muddiest Point: Reflecting back to move forward

For the purposes of learning, reflection can be thought of as intentional bridging between past experience and future action. If getting your students to reflect sounds too complicated and time-consuming to fit into your busy ten-week quarter, consider an example of reflection that has all of the essential features but only takes a few minutes: an efficient, simple assessment technique popularly called “Muddiest Point” that can be applied in virtually any learning context.Reflection

After some kind of learning experience (e.g., lecture, group activity, paper), you give your students a minute to write down what they find the most unclear or confusing—the “muddiest point.” Students can benefit a surprising amount from the mere minute dedicated to this reflection activity. They practice greater awareness of their learning, and repetition can help develop habits to support lifelong learning. Students who recognize where their understanding is “muddy” are also better positioned to direct their learning to remedy this. To better support this, you can also ask students to identify one thing they could do to improve their understanding of their “muddiest point”—perhaps a study group, office hours, reading, or practice exercises.

This reflection activity can inform your future action as the educator, too—not just the students’. Students’ responses help you gauge their learning and guide how you might help them address their “muddiest points.”

Compact reflection activities like “Muddiest Point” are easy to incorporate into most courses. More extensive reflection activities can help students get more learning out of educational experiences and make more numerous and deeper connections. Such activities might have students dedicating more time to the reflection and/or entail reflecting on experiences over a longer span of time.

For instance, mid-way through a multi-week team project, you could have your students write about how they and their peers could improve at being a successful team. For even larger-scale reflection, you could have your students write about how learning in prior courses contributed to their successful completion of some kind of culminating work, e.g., an honors thesis or engineering capstone.

Helping students develop habits of reflecting can help them get more out of their educational experiences. With reflection, individual experiences become more meaningful, and connections to future experiences and goals become apparent. This helps integrates otherwise disparate days, weeks, quarters, and years of education, with the ultimate goal of lifelong learning.

Ken Yasuhara serves as the UW campus lead for the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE) and is a research scientist at the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT).

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