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I’ve become a convert to the value of collaborative learning.

This has required a behavioural shift that I find I have carried into my every day life. I am less precious about what I do, open to critique, comment and sharing in a way that is liberating. It may be presumptuous to assume that all around me are as enlightened but I feel better able to offer comment and feedback, invited or not.

In relation to the exercise, this is our second collaborative effort within the Tutor Group and my third (or fourth) given the Supplementary Activities. I can also reflect on collaborative efforts and frustrations from H807.

The key to success is to abandon the idea, more or less, that people will behave as a group would in the real world. Not only does it matter that I am doing this at 4.00am, but I am in my PJs. This has to effect my attitude and thinking. Being asynchronous I can waffle on to my heart’s delight too, leaving it to others to extract whatever may be of worth here (if they get this far).

Here I go …

Even in a synchronous meeting might someone be in transit, on a train, another getting up, a third going to bed, a fourth trying to do this with food cooking, a child pestering them about homework, the TV on, the Radio on or off … someone at the door, the phone ringing … or as my 12 year old does his homework, while watching streamed cartoons. Not only are we ‘not there,’ how much of us/that person is with us?

What if we are all sheep, or all sheepdogs? Or all the shepherd? What if we care a lot, or not at all?

The trick is to accommodate all comers nor to care about someone else’s circumstances. i.e. set the thing in motion, contribute how and where you can to keep the thing in motion, be fluid, and contribute. Be open, ask questions, be willing to make mistakes …

We are exposing both the contents of our minds (a part of it at least) and revealing how we operate. Treat this with respect. Our differences may be extreme. Or not.

Treat the collaborative task as a raft. We’re on the Kontiki Ra crossing the Pacific together. We need to get along, anyone of us could sink the thing if circumstances don’t overwhelm us.

Accept that it won’t always work.

You may wait forever for a contribution that never comes; use this as part of the learning process rather than let it trip up the exercise. Role player a second or third person if needs – role play being something that is easily accommodated in this environment.

Don’t presume anything. Just begin, and keep going. Resist the temptation to see the output of others and redirect your group whole-scale in that direction. Each journey has its own lessons and will be different, however many times the exercise is carried out. Can tutors concur or are we like lemmings? (or sheep).

Do it for the learning experience and for the fun of it … not for the marks! The parameters of success and failure and suitably broad, accept that you’ll fall in the middle of this very broad road. To expect failure or to court brilliance are both doomed to failure in equal measure and to tip this Kontiki Raft of a collaborative exercise over.

My contribution?

Do do when you can. Try to contribute a bit regularly, as piling it at the beginning and the end can be like a Bull in a china shop … or a ghost entering a room.

The contribution of others?

Accept that it is their business. If the environment you are part of seems inviting and you each play host, however is around, then there will be an interest in ‘coming out to play,’ and even participating.

Remember what your first online collaborative exercise with a group of strangers was like, avoid the mistakes of the past … and work with behaviours/approaches you have seen are successful.

What happened?

We lined up, and made a start. We found our way and found our roles. There is no Seargeant Major telling us what we do, but someone or two needed to step forward. You can wait politely a little while, or offer your services if you feel you have the time to give and the wherewithall not to let others down.

Don’t be precious about anything. Respect all ideas as a catalyst for direction, improvement or redirection. Accept that things can shift. Accept that no one knows what you think until you express it. If you can’t touch type go get lessons!

Personally I am neither pilot nor co-pilot, if such roles exist. I may not be using this exercise to show initiative or leadership, but I can play several other roles as participant, as court jester … as an observer who will reflect on it, who will make a start and offer views, and insights, and make mistakes, and admit them, and be around (because I am and can be).

So what?

Like blogging making regular contributions probably works better than piling in at the weekend. Not a surprise that more are able to do this than not. Accept that my working day isn’t – I tend to be out evenings and weekends. Time zones mean little to extreme owls or an extreme lark … I am that lark, working best long before the dawn chorus, coming into my own as its volume increases.

Be guided. If not host, play the role of a good party guests. Acknowledge the contribution of others. Allow yourself to be cajouled by their thinking. Say it … it can be read, ignored, commented on or not. This is a process, not an end result.

Use what you or others know has worked in the past. Trying to assemble a moment when most of us can gather matters. Synchronous work acts like a milestone, a deadline … it galvanises contributions before the cut of point. It is always surprising how this joint enterprise can temporarily morph into a joint entity where instead of us each writing a paragraph, we write one paragraph together. Use the exervise to summise and find common ground.

What next?

Get some sleep. I’ll not be able to join in a proposed early afternoon Skype if I am napping.

Prepare. Understand what others have said. Identify strengths and weaknesses of our approach. Maybe take a look at what others are up to … even search the OU Blog for what H808ers made of this last year or the year before (its all out there!).

Be wise and be willing to accept guidance if my ignorance is also revealed. This is the point … you learn more from your mistakes, than from showing off.

Does this even count as reflection?

Am I doing it for myself or because the course requires it? Having not followed a template have I gone astray?

I find reflection spiralling out of control into an extra-terrestrial maelstrom of thought that has nothing to do with the ‘job at hand.’

At the macro level reflection for me is on the scale, and of equal significance to Douglas Adams and ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and the Meaning of Life and Everything.’

I find reflection spiralling out of control into an extra-terrestrial maelstrom of thought that has nothing to do with the ‘job at hand.’

At the micro level, the job at hand is a tiny part (10%) of a TMA in a unit, of a module of an OU Course.

My mindset has to be of a myopic jeweller with some gems and a gold band.

I don’t mean to trivialise it. On the contrary. I worry how in my life reflection has never imposed itself. I see, I feel, I do. If I reflect it is to look in a mirror and accept what I see, not try to change it.

Reflection has been hijacked by educational institutions. Don’t have time to mark a student’s work, get them to mark it themselves  … and then judge their ability to reflect on what they have done.

I think you can take from this that I don’t value reflection as a tool to assess a student. As a tool to gauge a person’s position, as a coach or facilitator to build on that person’s personal view of themselves – brilliant. But to give it a mark, pants.

Given that for the seventh or eighth time in the last two decades I have been advised that I am skewed towards action and visualisation I have to wonder how I can, or do, generate this amount of verbiage.

I am transcribing a dialogue between characters. I have a scene in my mind’s eyes as I type. I even see people, from the OU course, tutors, others … friends, as if attending a garden party.

For me reflection has to be, as it has been taken twenty years to engrain itself, the kind of introspection, sharing and reflection, fictionalisation and admonition, of Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf and Proust. I favour, absolutely, the indulgence of a Proustian ‘Involuntary Rush’ and its relevance to the person in this state. Serendipity. Where is there space for it if we are shunted down a dead track, into a Waste Land.

I go with Kolb and Cowan, their cycles and spirals. I favour the hurricane, the tornado over the spinning top. Which is what this is, spinning a top through a set of questions: what happened? What next? So what?! And then, I suppose, not a lot, or a lot, you defend your position, you stick, you retreat or move forward. Is this reflection.

Stopped by a Police Motorcycle on the A1 South of Gateshead my mother turned to her children and said, ‘cry,’ look uspet.’ And in due course, the traffic cop, seing three miserable children and a harassed Mum let her off the speeding fine.

Was that micro reflection on her behalf? Is this a Proustian ‘involuntary rush’ on mine.

Where lies this in education? Everywhere, especially in education social networking, which I have hated and now smile at. Reflecting on the whiffs of conversation I dared pick up as my daughter typed into Facebook with the speed of criminal law court copyist. The bulk of what her generation are learning is being done this way – socialising, homework, the entire mess of life a 21st century melange which says to me the OU is not right to say I am wrong, when I may be proved right and ‘they’ haven’t a clue.

I suggested to someone today that I would like to do one MA after another, five years a time, ’til the day I day. The OU can have my money and my mind. This is a little boy in a sweet shop.

Next up History of Art … with the OU, while doing an MA in Fine Art.

Then a return to History, 1066 to the Restoration for starters. Or Modern or Contemporary History? I fancy the First World War and have trunks (literally) a libary of books and other resources and artifacts on that one.

Geography, and all that it embraces.

English Literature and creative writing.

And French, once I’ve mastered the written language.

and kite surfing, and paragliding …

In your dreams mate, in your dreams.

‘All that hard work I did ought to count’

‘All that hard work I did ought to count’ Creme (2010)

A student, habitually wrote up her reading in a descriptive formulaic fashion without exploring the content or the process she was going through. She felt grieved that she was marked down having felt she had put in the effort. The effort, despite guidance, had not delivered what was being marker.

Some further notes:

Academic reflection is … more structured and more formal than what we will term ‘informal’ reflection. Moon (1999)

There is no point in defining reflection in a manner that does not relate to the everyday use of the word if further confusion is not to be created. Moon (2001)

  • It is an everyday, ever apparent process that is over theorised. It is simpler than academics want it to be.

‘Reflection is a simple process but with complex outcomes that relate to many different areas of human functioning.’ Moon (2005:4)

  • Surely the outcomes are meant to be simple and finite, while the process can be complex.

Reflection is theorised in so many different ways that it might seem that we a looking at range of human capacities rather than apparently one. Moon (2001)

  • It can be misinterpreted and misunderstood.

Dewey (1933) saw reflection as a specialised form of thinking. ‘a kind of thinking that consists in turning a subject over in the mind and giving it serious thought’

  • Like composting.

Dewey defined reflective thought as ‘active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends’ (Dewey 1933: 118)

The cycle revolves with new learning undergoing active experimentation and ‘recycled’ through new experiencing. In this way what was a cycle becomes a spiral (Cowan 1998).

  • Or flying a Peter Powell Stunt Kite.
  • [Has this got anything to do with Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change. 1996?] No, though the thinking developed as a management practice sounds similar. See where Google gets you? Call this serendipity. Our Cowan is Cowan, J. 1996)

A kind of cognitive ‘housekeeping role’ as well as generating new learning (Moon, 1999).


Cowan, J. and Creme, P. ((1998)) New forms of student writing in social anthropology. Learning Matters 8 , pp. 11-12.

Creme, Phyllis (2010) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30:3, 287 – 296

Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think. A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process(Revised edn.), Boston: D. C. Heath.

Moon, J (1999) Reflection in Learning & Professional Development: Theory and Practice.

Moon, J (2001) Reflection in Higher Education

Reflection on e-learning in my Open University Student Blog

‘A place to share thoughts, ideas, grabs and notes, as well as and anything else that strikes me as worthy of an ‘ememory’ along with a title and tags. The scope is broad, though the focus is on e-Learning – its potential and problems.’

I gave this title and description to my Open University Student Blog in February 2010. To deny the value of reflection would be to deny its contents.

Which I estimate runs to over 50,000 words.

Most of this I liken to training for a Triathlon. It simply documents the swimming, cycling and running required.

The big test ought to be a written exam. The big test might be a job interview.

Who knows. Some habits are hard to break. I was given a typewriter when I was 13 and a diary to write in when I was 14. I’ve catalogued events in my life since I was four; I’m nearly through with my forties.

Much of it is descriptive, much of it is reflective. I am its author and generally its sole reader. The blog or diary that makes good reading is the exception to the rule.

Does stopping life to reflect on it help?

Does generating more choices improve a situation?

Must we conform?

Perhaps had I got to university and found keeping a diary and sharing parts of it with others was a requirement I would have promptly stopped.

Exposure can be interesting. Navel gazing is dull. Reflection set within tight parameters is even more dull.

But dullness isn’t the criteria to judge its worth in this context, is it?

I’m an atheist who would choose Catholicism over other religions as I fancy the confessional.

Blogs spill over into confessional.

There is the constant risk of exposing too much. Of putting into a permanent record what you might only share and develop with a psychologist.

If its one thing we humans are brilliant at doing, computer aided when it comes to an online existence, it is exploiting others for private gain.

Reflection on Learning

Guide for busy academics. No.4 Notes. Learning through reflection.

Jenny Moon, University of Exeter – the guide. Upright.

Jonathan Vernon, my thoughts – my reflection(s), in italics and (parenthesies) as if I don’t quite mean it. Or do I? These thoughts just pop into my head. They bubble up from nowhere. (Reflection or an unfortunate chemical condition called myelination.)

PDP can involve many forms of reflection and reflective learning.

A mysterious activity … or capacity? (or indulgence)

‘it lies somewhere around the notion of learning.’ (What on earth is meant by that?)

(Plenty of people reflect, it is apparent in those people who listen during meetings. When they have something to say it is because they have taken on board various ideas and are then able to summarise and offer their own thoughts. They don’t need to write it down, all they have to do is sit forward and concentrate on what is being said, rather than thinking about what they would like to say.)

Generally reflection is a means of working on what we know already and it generates new knowledge.

(I disagree. Why reflect on something you know already? Surely not giving it a second thought applies when you understand something, better when you can act intuitively. On the contrary, the time to reflect is when you don’t understand, or your thinking has been changed and you need think twice?)

Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome.

(I disagree. Reflection can be a form of indulgence, a pastime, an entertainment. Indeed, does this author not start out by calling it a ‘mysterious activity … or capacity?’ Nothing they have thus said convinces me that they know otherwise.)

It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.

(Two words worry me here, ‘relatively’ and ‘largely’ suggest to me someone who doesn’t know, who is hedging their bets and has no evidence to support what they are saying.)

Reflection has a role in:

• academic and non-academic learning
• self development
• critical review
• considering our own processes of mental functioning
• decision-making
• emancipation and empowerment and so on.

(And here it is tag on, cover-all, phrase ‘and so on’ that worries me. A list. An open list. Why not just say ‘reflection has a role in everything.’)

Perhaps it should be called ‘reflectivism’ this obsession with navel gazing.

(It will work for some, not for others. And just because someone reflects a great deal, does not mean they find any deeper truth as a result, or as a result are then capable of deciding a way out of this intellectual impasse and turn thoughts into actions.)

There is a close relationship between reflection and emotion or feelings and many would suggest that the use of reflection in academic contexts provides an appropriate channel for exploration or expression of this human function.

(This is just poor English or Jenny has been listening to too much of ‘Just a minute … trying somewhat awkwardly to avoid using the same word twice.)

Self-awareness and control of emotions is an important factor in academic performance and PDP provides opportunities for emotional engagement with subject learning.

(Perhaps I’ll buy into this based on what I have read on ‘How to study’ in Richard Northridge’s OU book of 1990)

What’s more effective than reflection? Debate.

(And if open, formal debate in the style of a debating society is not feasible, then at least engaged discussion in a tutorial-like setting is required. This makes information stick, this transforms they way you think, changes behaviour and builds knowledge. Reflection doesn’t have teeth, it lacks the emotional edge of tussle with colleagues, fellow students, subject matter experts and senior tutors.)

Reflection compared to debate, is the difference between tea and scones and a bun-fight. Which are you going to remember?

Reflection is tame, learning should be a wild tiger.

• being reflective slows down learning, because it requires time for a learner to reprocess ideas.

(It can cause learning to grind to a halt. If all you are doing is traveling across the same ground. Reflection as a dog chasing its tail, not even that, reflection as a dog chewing its own tail.)

• material on which we reflect is relatively complicated or unstructured material. It challenges learners and when they are challenged, they gain greater abilities in dealing with difficult material of learning.

(We agree on this. But I don’t believe that reflection engenders challenge. Nor do I think, should students share their ‘reflection’ that this should be challenged unless the tutor or moderator wishes to or is trained to act as a kind of therapist who helps the reflective process along, by turning old thoughts into new ones, then seeking and agreeing a way forward.)

I don’t feel challenged by this ‘guide,’ only irritated. Irritation does not foster reflection or debate.

There are many vehicles for reflective learning in the curriculum:

• learning journals, logs etc
• the use of portfolios
• reflection on work experiences
• reflection on placement experiences beyond the deliberate curriculum
• in the context of peer and self assessment
• in the context of careers work, counseling or student or personal development work.

(How about reflection without ever writing it down, or recording it? Just person to person, not talking to yourself in a mirror, or talking to yourself at all, but by speaking with a friend, or colleague, or mentor, or ‘significant other.’)

There are some things to think about when asking students to reflect.

(i.e. before you reflect, reflect and before you get students to reflect, reflect. Indeed, why not stop and think again, think twice, think trice.)

‘You think too much.’

If labels stick, this one stuck. Time to move on, or not. Perhaps I’ll reflect on it.

Perhaps I just did?


Northridge, Andrew (1990) The Good Study Guide. Open University.

The Higher Education Academy
Guide for Busy Academics No.4
Learning through reflection

Resources for Reflection

(18 September – 1 October)

Unit 2 (part 2): Reflection and learning

Core texts

Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (2009) ‘Completed RLOs – study skills’ (online), Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Available from: http://www.rlo-cetl.ac.uk/whatwedo/rlos/completedrlos.php#studyskills (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).

Crème, P. (2005) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 287–96. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930500063850 (JV accessed 25 SEPT 2010).

Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf (JV accessed 26 SEPT 2010).

Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc (JV accessed 27 SEPT 2010).

Smith, C. and Haynes, R. (2005) ‘Reflective writing RLO’, London Metroplitan University. Available from: http://intralibrary.rlo-cetl.ac.uk:8080/intralibrary/open_virtual_file_path/i1026n24186t/reflective_writing/reflective_writing.html (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).

Smith, M. (1996) ‘Reflection: what constitutes reflection – and what significance does it have for educators? The contributions of Dewey, Schön, and Boud et al. assessed’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-reflect.htm (JV accessed 26 SEPT 2010).

Supplementary resources

Chen, H.L., Cannon, D., Gabrio, J., Leifer, L., Toye, G. and Bailey, T. (2005) ‘Using wikis and weblogs to support reflective learning in an introductory engineering design course’ [online], paper presented at the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Research & Innovation in Engineering Education. Available from: http://riee.stevens.edu/fileadmin/riee/pdf/ASEE2005_Paper_Wikis_and_Weblogs.pdf (accessed 25 May 2010).

ERIC Digests, http://www.ericdigests.org/ (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter a keyword search for ‘reflection’.

Lister, S. (n.d.) Do it Yourself Reflectionhttp://www.educause.edu/blog/slister/DoityourselfReflection/165694 (accessed 25 May 2010).

Making Practice-Based Learning Work (n.d.), Reflectionhttp://www.practicebasedlearning.org/resources/reflection/intro.htm (accessed 25 May 2010).

Reiss, D. (n.d.) Donna Reiss’ Active Learning Online Resourceshttp://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/ (accessed 23 June 2009). See also a sample reflective hypertext essay at http://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/refhypertext.htm(accessed 25 May 2010).

Richards, C. (2005) ‘Activity-reflection e-portfolios: an approach to the problem of effectively integrating ICTs in teaching and learning’ (online), Teaching and Learning Forum, Curtin University of Technology. Available from: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/richards.html (accessed 25 May 2010).

Sierra, K. (n.d.) Karina’s Writing Portfolio Wikihttp://cooper.pbwiki.com/Karina (accessed 25 May 2010).

Smith, M.K. (1996/2007) ‘David A. Kolb on experiential learning’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm (accessed 30 SEPT 2010).

Trafford, P. (2005) ‘Mobile blogs, personal reflections and learning environments’ (online), Ariadne no. 44 (July). Available from: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue44/trafford/intro.html (accessed 25 May 2010).

University of Denver (n.d.) DU Portfolio Communityhttps://portfolio.du.edu/pc/index (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter ‘reflection’ in the keyword search box for examples of student reflection.

University of Warwick (2004) Recording, Summarizing & Reflectinghttp://www2.warwick.ac.uk/elearning/tools/blogbuilder/recordreflect/ (accessed 25 May 2010).





Reflection in Higher Education

In time I will get this down to less than 200 words – or none. Because it won’t be in a blog, or an e-portfolio, but in my head.

And to prove it I should sit an exam or have a viva.

What else can indicate that I have command over the information, that my learning is deep, and that I can deploy what I have learnt?

Everything else is a compromise, a good compromise, but a compromise non the less.

Reflection in Higher Education. Jenny Moon

The nature of reflection – how it is seen in theory and how theoretical views are related to the common sense view of reflection.

Reflection is a simple process but with complex outcomes that relate to many different areas of human functioning. (p4)

Personal development planning (PDP) can involve different forms of reflection and reflective learning.

It is used in a range of contexts in learning and professional development in higher education.

There is no point in defining reflection in a manner that does not relate to the everyday use of the word if further confusion is not to be created.

We reflect:

  • in order to consider it in more detail.
  • because we have a purpose for reflecting – a goal to reach.
  • to seek understanding and clarification
  • Where there is not an obvious or immediate solution.
  • as a means of working on what we know already
  • on knowledge that we already have (thoughts, ideas, feelings etc).
  • adding new information and ”drawing out of it something that accords with the purpose for which we reflected.’
  • to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome.  (based on Moon 1999):

Some theorists see the role of emotion in reflection as very significant and frequently neglected(eg.  Boud, Keogh and Walker, 1985).

Reflection is theorised in so many different ways that it might seem that we a looking at range of human capacities rather than apparently one.

Dewey saw reflection as a specialised form of thinking.

‘a kind of thinking that consists in turning a subject over in the mind and giving it serious thought’.

(Such churning, such composting, requires plenty of matter, words, and time)

‘Active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and further conclusions to which it leads…it includes a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of evidence and rationality’ (Dewey, 1933).

Jurgen Habermas (1971) focused on the way in which humans process ideas and construct them into knowledge.

We largely ‘interpret’ in the social sciences in order to better our understanding of society and human behaviour.

Knowledge developed through critical or evaluative modes of thinking.

David Kolb(1984) is well known for his development of the Kolb cycle – or cycle of experiential learning.

i.e. learning from experience

Like CBT.

The cycle revolves with new learning undergoing active experimentation and ‘recycled’ through new experiencing.  In this way what was a cycle becomes a spiral (Cowan 1998).

A kind of cognitive ‘housekeeping role’ as well as generating new learning (Moon, 1999a).

Donald Schon focused on reflection in professional knowledge and its development (1983, 1987).

Many have written about reflection:

  • Boud, Keogh and Walker, 1985;
  • Boud and Walker, 1998;
  • Cowan, 1998,
  • Brockbank and McGill, 1998.

A ‘deep’ approach and a ‘surface’ approach to a learning task.

A deep approach is where the intention of the learner is to understand the meaning of the material.

A surface approach to learning is where a learner is concerned to memorise the material for what it is, not trying to understand it in relation to previous ideas or other areas of understanding.

These approaches to learning are not ‘either or’ situations, but at extremes of a continuum and the same learner may choose to learn differently according to the task at hand.

E.G Dexion

Invent or solve problems by asking over and over again, ‘What is the problem? What is the problem? What is the problem? What is the problem? What is the problem?’ Until you get to the crux of the problem.

(I got this from attending a business talk/workshop put on in the front sitting room of someone’s house in West Hampstead. This has to be late 1985 or early 1986. If I’ve transcribed those diaries and uploaded them then I ought to be able to do a search and find my notes. Is this how keeping a learning journal for life might aid memory?)

  • Making sense
  • Making meaning
  • Working with meaning
  • Transformative learning

On the basis of this model, There are at least three ways in which reflection might be seen as relating to learning

1. In the deeper approaches to learning

2.We learn from representing learning – when we write an essay or explain something or draw a picture of it, we represent it to ourselves and learn from the re-processing (Eisner, 1991).

3.We ‘upgrade’ learning … reprocessing ideas through reflection, integrating them with current understandings (Vygotsky, 1978).

This might be conceived as a kind of ‘chewing the cud’ exercise  – or cognitive housekeeping (see earlier).

  • A well functioning tutorial system is an example of a means by which we encourage students to upgrade their learning (3).
  • Preparation for and involvement in a tutorial is the opportunity for many students to reflect on and process their learning into a more meaningful state – in other words, to ‘re-file’ it.
  • Revision for examinations is another opportunity for review of previous learning such that understanding is deepened (Entwistle and Entwistle, 1992).

Reflection slows down activity, giving the time for the learner to process material of learning and link it with previous ideas.

Reflection enables learners to develop greater ‘ownership’ of the material of learning (Rogers, 1969).

Reflection will enhance the student’s ‘voice’ in her learning (Elbow, 1981).

A particularly important means by which reflective activity generally supports learning is through the encouragement of metacognition.  (Ertmer and Newby, 1996).

Study skills programmes that support learners’ awareness of their learning processes seem to be more successful than those that focus on techniques (Main, 1985).

We suggested above that reflection occurs when we are dealing with material that is relatively complicated – or ill-structured.  (King and Kitchener, 1994).

Just asking students to write a learning journal, for example, may bring benefits, but they will be haphazard.

learning journals, logs, diaries … with the intention of improving or supporting learning but are of many different forms.  Used successfully in most disciplines including the sciences and mathematics (Moon, 1999a).

Portfolios … unreflective compilation of work, to collections of coursework and reading with reflective comments, to coursework with an attached overview, to something very akin to a learning journal.

  • Reflection on work experience … to develop employment skills, or to use the experience as a basis for learning about self and personal functioning (eg Colling and Watton, 2000, Watton and Moon, 2002 – in preparation)
  • Reflection in work-based learning. (Boud and Garrick, 1999).
  • Reflective exercises:   Examples are contained in Angelo and Cross, 1990; George and Cowan, 1999; Moon, 1999 and 1999a).
  • Reflection in peer and self assessment:  self or peer assessment they are likely to be reflecting on the work in relation to their perception of how they think it should appear
  • Reflection in careers or personal development.
  • Reflection in APEL (accreditation of prior experiential learning

It has had a particularly strong role in professional education and development – with nursing, teacher education and social work as the principle examples.

An impetus to the thinking that underlies this section is the frequent observation that not all students find reflection easy when it is introduced as a specific requirement

Some, however, who may be good students otherwise, will not understand what is meant by it – and will ask ‘what is it that you want me to do?’

The discourses of some subjects are, by nature, more likely to require reflective activity ‘on paper’.

Academic reflection will be more structured.

We may be giving structures – such as the Kolb cycle – to follow.

In our private reflections, we do not systematically describe what we are about to reflect on – we just do it

From Moon (1999a)

Academic reflection is, therefore, more structured and more formal than what we will term ‘informal’ reflection.

Descriptive or deep

Reflection can be superficial and little more than descriptive or can be deep and transformative (and involved in the transformative stage of learning).

Reflection is used to make sense of unstructured situations in order to generate new knowledge.  It is important to be clear that the activity might be introducing the skill of reflective learning or generating knowledge by using reflection to make sense of something.

Most students will have learnt that they should not use the first person singular in an academic environment.

(Which is where I feel my ‘voice’ is being compromised by obliging me to speak in a certain way.)

Most students will have learnt that they should not use the first person singular in an academic environment.

Descriptive writing:

This is a description of events or literature reports. There is no discussion beyond description. This writing is considered not to show evidence of reflection.  It is important to acknowledge that some parts of a reflective account will need to describe the context – but in this case, writing does not go beyond description.

Descriptive reflection:

There is basically a description of events, but the account shows some evidence of deeper consideration in relatively descriptive language. There is no real evidence of the notion of alternative viewpoints in use.

Dialogic reflection:

This writing suggests that there is a ‘stepping back’ from the events and actions which leads to a different level of discourse. There is a sense of ‘mulling about’, discourse with self and an exploration of the role of self in events and actions. There is consideration of the qualities of judgements and of possible alternatives for explaining and hypothesising. The reflection is analytical or integrative, linking factors and perspectives.

Critical reflection:

This form of reflection, in addition to dialogic reflection, shows evidence that the learner is aware that the same actions and events may be seen in different contexts with different explanations associated with the contexts.  They are influenced by ‘multiple historical and socio-political contexts’, for example.

(developed from Hatton and Smith, 1995)

A fair question is that since reflection is an encouragement for learners to follow the lines of their own thinking, to work without a curriculum – how can it be marked?

i.e. as the institution hasn’t put in place adequate systems to monitor my progress why don’t I do it myself and give myself marks out of ten too?

N.B. The message of this section is essentially that there is no one way to assess reflective work.

N.B. There are no clearly agreed generic criteria for reflection since different people see reflection as different processes (as has been demonstrated in the early sections) and they set reflective tasks in order to achieve different purposes.

To encourage a student to be reflective is to encourage the development of a habit of processing cognitive material that can lead the student to ideas that are beyond the curriculum, beyond learning defined by learning outcomes, and beyond those of the teacher who is managing the learning. Boud, D and Walker (1998)

‘Promoting reflection in professional courses: the challenge of context’, Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), pp191 – 206

Vygotsky on reflection as wool gathering

On Reflection

I can appreciate that a psychologist or therapist can guide someone through patterns of thinking and behaviour in order to resolve issues. However, reflection without guidance, without parameters, might simply re-enforce the underlying patterns of behaviour and thinking.

Does it help to dwell on the past?

Might it be no better than what Vygotsky calls ‘ideal wool gathering’? (1998:23)

Might it not be better to worry more about what you do next, your mood, behaviour and attitude in the future – this you can effect, the past you cannot. If reflection is used in any way as a form of assessment then it is inviting the student to expose themselves, to provide a biased insight into how they go about things.

If psychologists are to be understood, as well as the views of some very successful woman, whilst men will overplay their skills and abilities, women will underestimate them. If used as a tool to form a view of a student’s successful acquisition of subject knowledge will such reflection therefore tend to favour men over women?

Would we not achieve more if we treated this reflection as an audit, an objective statement of what took place in the past?

Then, instead of reflection we ‘project,’ we envisage, predict or plan, simple set-out what we’ll do next, do in the future? i.e. we put more thought, if not most of our energy, into thinking what we are going to do, rather than what we did.

I come to this conclusion after three decades of keeping a diary, often reflective.

Far from reassuring me about the value of reflection to change behaviour I detect patterns of behaviour that are so repetitive it becomes boring – too much navel gazing. Some successful people I know don’t give the past a moment’s thought, indeed, I do wonder if it is this that allows them to be successful. Instead of travelling with their head constantly turning to look back, their thoughts and actions are fixed firmly on the future.

Or is reflection of the moment? It is neither of the past or the future. Is it simply a mulling over of things? How prescribed can it be? Is it an objective or subjective exercise? Could someone else do it for you, or of you? Would the views of someone else not in fact be of greater value? Instead therefore of ‘looking at yourself in a mirror,’ you look into the eyes of someone else and ask them what they see.

Most importantly, by reflecting on the past, you plan your future actions, trying to build on experience and to avoid making the same mistakes.


Vygotsky, L.S. (1998). Child psychology. The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky: Vol. 5. Problems of the theory and history of psychology. New York: Plenum.

H807: Innovations in E-Learning. Tutor Marked Assignment 3 – Reflective Writing and e-learning (or not).

I understood from the heading for TMA03 in H807 that ‘it is permissible to use an extract from a very long message.’ I therefore deleted the 900+ additional words that on two occasions occurred in a forum message.

At one stage I had in an earlier draft all messages including the Tutor’s introduction, my full response and even a previous pertinent message from another contributor. This for ‘context’ and making marking easier might have been better than all the html links that I added PER MESSAGE. I checked these anchors/links and there was a graphic in the Blog message too – clearly something in the uploading/submission process fangled these up.

The links/titling were absolutely as clear as anyone could wish them to be. A message per page.

My understanding of what makes ‘reflective’ writing is perfectly valid. It is open ended, not prescriptive – it is after all my mind that is coming up with these ideas, which is the entire point of it, to develop my personal understanding. I am trying to enhance my way of thinking, not adopt someonelse’s.

In relation to my continued dislike of the term ‘e-learning,’ it isn’t difficult to refer to plenty of current articles, including JISC that agree that the term is not universally agreed or accepted. Salmon referring to ‘e-lapsed’ time for an ‘E-tivity’ is palpably ridiculous. Academic os this ludicrous desire to ‘coin a word or phrase and a clichéd attitude regarding e-learning that anything with ‘e’ attached gains the ‘e-‘ branded values. Balderdash.

‘The first decade of the 21st century is already on the wane and we stand at an interesting point as regards the use of technology to support and enhance learning and teaching. The fact that we still refer to much of this enhancement as e.learning (and still disagree about what the term actually means) signals that the relationship between technology and learning is not as yet an entirely comfortable one.’ JISC 2007 (Introduction)

The lesson I have learnt is that it is vital to meet face-to-face, even to speak to someone through. Elluminate or on the phone where all kinds of important cues and nuances to understanding come into play: tone of voice, pauses, choice of words … and then facial expressions and body language when face-to-face. As occurred at an ASA workshop the other week, I simply couldn’t get my head around what the tutor was trying to say about Some aspect of Nutrition,I eventually left it, but a fellow student could see by my expression that I was just fed up of asking the same question and getting a numpty response that made no sense – this student made a far better job of explaining to me the point the tutor could not.

Two decades of sailing and I could tie and adequate Bolen knot with a struggle having been shown how to do it a hundred times – only when an instructor used the term ‘it’s a gripping knot’ did I understand WHY the knot worked and WHY it was important. My father didn’t permit the word ‘why?’ His favourite line was ‘don’t ask why, ask how high.’ Whatever that means!?
I must know why.

My quest is to discover why. Why is my nemis. Get me asking questions and I become driven to find answers, my answers.

If I keep asking ‘why?’ regarding the ECA, it will be because I haven’t had this ‘Bolen knot’ moment – I genuinely thought with TMA03, as occurred on about the 7th draft of TMA02, that this moment had occurred.

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