Add to Technorati Favorites

Saturday, 18 July 2009

What is Reflection?

Far too often we hear of e-Portfolios as being good for reflection but, in reading on, I usually get the feeling that authors see reflection as purely introspection. Not that introspection is a bad thing, but reflection can be so much more, particularly when supported by a good e-Portfolio.

Firstly, let’s look at evaluation. I always encouraged my students to divide their considerations under five headings:

  1. The Product: Whether an artefact in the traditional sense of an item made out of resistant materials; a piece of music, whether written or performed; a dance routine or an essay, all are products. Each one of these can be reflected upon by their creator as to whether, in their opinion, the product does the job for which it was intended.
  2. The Process: One can describe and reflect upon the methods used, whether new skills had to be learnt and what other knowledge or skills were acquired along the way and how they acquired them.
  3. The Person: Often ignored in ‘evaluation’ but the benefits to the person, the trials or experiences that enabled the person grow and feel satisfaction or the motivation to go on further need to be documented.
  4. The Problems: If a learner is to progress, then they should be aware of the problems experienced, how they were overcome and what possible problems have still to be addressed.
  5. The Potential: Nothing should be done just on the blind expectation of another, whether it be a teacher or an examination board. When we create something in which we obviously take pride, there is invariably a sense of ‘What next?’ Where can I sell this product? Is there a potential for bulk manufacture? Can I reach a wider audience? Can it be modified or developed further?
So, what can an e-Portfolio add to the above?

Visual evidence, artefacts stored ‘just in case I might need them’ add so much to recall and reflection that memory fails to bring to mind. So often when I look at a picture it evokes smells and even kinaesthetic experiences long forgotten - and if ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ how much more a SlideShare or a video? Not only does the visual evidence evoke past memories, it can also suggest comparisons with the present piece of work and therefore extend reflection.

Historicity adds a perspective that can only be understood by comparing one’s efforts of several years ago with a present piece of work. Dr Helen Barrett writes of the e-Portfolio as being a record of one’s life-story. This again can only be true if the e-Portfolio is allowed to be that shoebox repository of personal treasures. But the understanding of progress or change is more than plain fact. There is an emotional element of possibly surprise or satisfaction which reinforces reflection. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1Corinthians 13:11) The reflections of a student, even over a few years of study, when using their collection of rich media can have a powerful sense usually of progression. Of course, when submitting such evidences, the students must be careful to properly explain their context and the purpose of using such ‘evidences’ in their reflections.

Others’ Opinions

The above examples can all be thought of as introspection. However, the e-Portfolio has the powerful facility of supporting collaboration and e-secure conversations that can be recorded and used ‘in evidence’. For instance, the formative assessments or suggestions of a tutor can be built upon and, in reflection, one can say how they responded to suggestions or criticisms, and whether they chose to build upon the ideas given or chose to reject them, preferably with good reasoning explained.

Similarly, the group collaborative conversations can be reflected upon, quotes extracted and discussed within one’s own reflections. I have encouraged this approach in many situations, primarily explaining it as the synergy of ‘2 + 2 = 5’. ie that in building upon each other’s ideas we can develop a much better understanding than what we could generate by our ourselves.

However, the e-Portfolio tool should also be capable of inviting feedback on any page. Similarly, polls, star-ratings, comments or even questionnaires can easily be presented to provoke feedback from peers, mentors or other readers.

Simon Grant in his book 'Electronic Portfolios' provides a good definition in his Glossary:

"Reflection could be simply defined as the bringing to mind of some past experience or event, with the intention or the result of learning something from it. This contrasts with mere reminiscience, which people can do again and again without learning anything new. Reflection is connected deeply with portfolios, as a portfolio can act as the record of the experience or event, and can act both as a prompt for reflection and as a factor towards the accuracy of later recollection."

Earlier in his book (p50) he writes:
"Expressions, assertions and claims do not necessarily describe anything, and are not in their essence descriptions... Their function in relation to the rest of the world is by pointing to the connections in the world, rather than mere existence...`
He quotes Socrates, 'the unexamined life is not worth living'. (p210)

Unsubstantiated reflection is thus a possibly useless activity. However, by using an e-Portfolio to both present a project and also substantiate reflective argument with evidences is, in my opinion and experience, the only true and effective method in this web2.0 world. How I envy today’s young students!


Miss Jane said...

Ray - thank you for your comments and for the link to your blog. I hope you don't mind, but I will be posting your link onto my blog for others to view.

My current university subject is all about managing e-learning, and exploring web 2.0 tools and technologies. I was disappointed that the whole slideshare display was not visible, as we had notes that were pertinent to each individual slide. In saying that, we had only considered reflection as an introspection, and had not looked upon it as a long term activity. Our group had only become aware of digital portfolios being used in the prep and early childhood years, and have not seen it in practice as a long term, portable tool. How my views are changing the more I am exposed to what is possible.

I am looking forward to reading your blog, and the book that you have recommended.


Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Jane,

Thanks for your kind response. Yes, anything that you can do to promote this sort of dialogue is good for us all.

One of the next big issues that you will have to face is that of 'transition'. - If you believe that an e-Portfolio is supposed to be lifelong then really it needs to be hosted externally to any institution. This is a serious problem. Dr Helen Barrett solves this by going to 'cloud computing' - but I'm not happy about this for youngsters or, for that matter, the elderly.

You will see many references to this in my blog.

Ray T