Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL and Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at Illinois State University
I find it interesting that when I run across something in one part of my life, it often pops up in others. Perhaps it’s an enhanced awareness of a topic that makes me more sensitive…or not. Whatever it is, it’s happened again around the topic of reflection. You could call it contemplation, introspection, rumination, or even musing, but it’s been omnipresent at work and at home these days.
I had the good luck to do some professional reading that was based on individual reflections, some personal, some professional. Rhonda A. W. Breit wrote a reflective piece for the most recent publication of SoTL in the South, wherein she bravely detailed her experiences around work, life, illness, and the academy. This piece inspired me to think carefully about the fragility of professional identity and the contexts and conditions that, when changed, can modify how we see ourselves as teachers and learners across mere minutes, days, or weeks.
In talking with a colleague about SoTL, we had a discussion about the fact that some days, we’re simply “mourning for a story.” This is not a sad thing, but rather, we decided, human nature. Experiences tied to emotions are often those we recall most successfully. Conventional scholarship seeks to remove as much emotion from systematic study as possible, which can limit access to the story behind the work (caveat — if vignettes or case studies are used, this lack of story access can be mitigated!). You can be a passionate advocate for/of SoTL and still like to know the stories that inspired that work. To that end, my colleague and I agreed that reading about others’ thinking processes to solve teaching/learning problems often influenced us to think differently about our own teaching praxis. This recent special issue of the Journal for Research and Practice in College Teaching provides a perfect resource for this: a compendium of systematic reflections organized around a variety of topics, telling the stories of unique contexts and individuals.
Finally, as an editorial board member for a disciplinary SoTL journal (Teaching and Learning in Communication Sciences & Disorders), I am working with three colleagues to establish a new framework for peer review of reflective manuscripts. We have been pondering various questions, such as: Who decides what reflections are valuable and worth sharing? Do all reflections that lead to change have merit? Does scale matter? How should decisions about what reflections are “publication-worthy” be made? What is a systematic approach to evaluating reflections for rigor, reader interest, and such? These aren’t all easy questions to balance, particularly in a discipline that has not conventionally published reflective pieces as scholarly work. I find the question of how to approach reflection systematically intriguing, and wonder if there’s any one approach that is better than another. Thus far, I have found a few resources in my early readings that touch on this topic, its components, and its considerations.
Shmuel Ellis, Bernd Crette, Frederik Anseel, and Filip Pievens published a paper in 2014 titled Systematic Reflection: Implications for Learning form Failures and Successes, detailing essential components of systematic reflection: self-explanation, data verification, and feedback. From this resource, we can learn possible components of systematic reflection, though perhaps these components won’t work on all types of reflection (abstract below):
Drawing on a growing stream of empirical findings that runs across different psychological domains, we demonstrated that systematic reflection stands out as a prominent tool for learning from experience. For decades, failed experiences have been considered the most powerful learning sources. Despite the theoretical and practical relevance, few researchers have investigated whether people can also learn from their successes. We showed that through systematic reflection, people can learn from both their successes and their failures. Studies have further shown that the effectiveness of systematic reflection depends on situational (e.g., reflection focus) and person-based (e.g., conscientiousness) factors.
The most recent issue of Teaching & Learning Inquiry features an article by Allison Cook-Sather, Sophia Abbott, and Peter Felten on the topic of legitimating reflective writing in SoTL. This article comes at exactly the right time for the work I’m doing with and for my disciplinary journal. This piece builds a case for reflective writing in SoTL to be embraced as meaningful and legitimate for four main reasons (tho I’d add to this, reflection tells the stories of teaching and learning, which is important to capture and celebrate!):
- The process of reflection is an essential component of learning.
- Reflective writing captures the complexity of learning.
- Reflection is an accessible form of writing for both new and experienced SoTL authors.
- Reflective writing is accessible to a wide range of readers.
So my next steps?
- Keep reading, reflecting, and learning about this topic.
- Consider ways in which systematic reflections might be best reviewed by peers as part of the publishing process for my disciplinary journal.
- Listen closely to future discussions of reflection’s place in SoTL as a way of sharing perspectives and experiences across the broad variety of disciplines and institutions and individuals engaged in SoTL.
- Advocate in support of reflective writings as necessary to tell the whole story of SoTL, teaching, and learning.
Breit, R. A. W. (2019). Work, life, illness, and the academy: A personal reflection. SoTL in the South, 3(2), 121-126.
Cook-Sather, A., Abbot, S., & Felten, P. (2019). Legitimating reflective writing in SoTL: “Dysfunctional illusions of rigor” revisited. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 7(2).
Ellis, S., Carette, B., Anseel, F., & Lievens, F. (2014). Systematic reflection: Impolications for learning from failures and successes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(1), 67-72.
Journal for Research and Practice in College Teaching, 3(2). Special issue, entire issue cited in blog.