Campus: University of Washington 

8. What? So what? Now what?

Educator: Dan Feetham and Lauren Fryhle
Context: outside of class; Engineering Exploration
Keywords: seminars, first-year engineering, pre-major
Student Activity Time: 10 minutes

After each weekly seminar presentation, students responded to three reflection questions about the class session.

Introducing the Reflection Activity

In order for students to make the most of seminar classes with diverse content, presented by different speakers, a stable sense-making activity is incredibly helpful. In the Engineering Exploration seminar, the educators assigned weekly reflections that focused on each class session’s visitor presentation. The purpose of this activity was to prompt students to capture, examine, and use the information that was shared in weekly seminar talks.

In the Engineering Exploration course, each weekly class session was a 50-minute seminar or panel discussion given by faculty members, industry professionals, and undergraduate students in the College of Engineering. After each session, the educators opened the homework assignment on the course management web site. Students were given until the next class session to respond to the questions, “What? So what? Now what?” with regard to the class seminar.

For the “What?” question, students were to compose a brief description of what happened in class and their most important takeaways from the seminar presentation. For the “So what?” question, students were expected to share the significance of the presentation and explain the personal meaning for the content that was delivered. The final question, “Now what?” prompted students to explain how what they learned from the presentation could become actionable in their academic life. On the course management web site, the assignment responses are shared with the class so that students can see each other’s responses to the same questions. The educators then read, commented on, and graded each student response for completeness.

The weekly reflection activity gave students an opportunity to record, consider, and apply each of the speaker and panel presentations in a relatively short format. For many students, the assignment enabled them to explain the value of the activity for their own engineering pursuits, to build a community within the class, and to view their peers’ thoughts on the same seminar.

 Recreating the Reflection Activity

Step Description
1 Schedule class seminar presentations.
2 Set up course management tool to release weekly discussion posts for the reflection activity.
3 Read, respond to, and grade students’ responses for completeness.
In the words of the Educator: Tips and Inspiration

Take the time to respond to student posts. The reflection assignments are public, so the students’ can see each other’s responses. In the beginning of the term, both of us respond to their posts, and it shows them that we’re actually paying attention to their posts. Many times we’ll provide a link or additional information that applies to what they are talking about. Doing it publicly goes a long way; they see that we’re paying attention. In class, we both try to mention both positive and critical posts that we want to address, because it tells them that we care about their thoughts and ideas about the class. What we’re trying to do is to get students away from believing that we’re asking them to do the assignment for us. 

Use the activity to help students to learn how to reflect on their own. The activity is simple and flexible, and if students really embrace the opportunity, they can be really unique in their responses. They don’t have to feel like they are in a box, and the assignment gives them a chance for their voice to be heard. The activity gives students a framework to break down reflection into small steps. For first-year students, they are struggling to make sense of these experiences on their own. The three questions provide an easy way to engage with the material, and giving the assignment consistently helps them to make reflection a habitual activity. We’ve also considered sharing some examples of what a good reflective post looks like for this class, so that students don’t feel adrift in completing the assignment.

What was the inspiration for the reflection activity? Ally Mills-Willis, who works in the honors department on campus, introduced us to this activity. She heard about the questions at an advising conference and shared the exercise with us in training. We decided to try it with our students, since we’re also working with first-year students in a seminar course. The activity also gives students flexibility as they explore engineering. It gives them a chance to look back through 10 weeks, see their thought process, and adjust their path and preparation based on those responses. They get to see and keep track of the nuanced differences between the disciplines as they prepare to apply to different departments.


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