What is reflection and why is it important?
Reflection is a purposeful activity in which you analyse experiences, or your own practice/skills/responses, in order to learn and improve. We reflect quite naturally in our day to day lives, thinking about things that have happened, why they have happened, whether we handled them well.
In academia, you may be asked to formalise your reflections to show that learning is taking place.
Reflection is a useful process even if you have not been set a specific reflective assignment. It helps you to make sense of and learn from your experiences. Many degrees involve assessed reflective writing. This is to allow you to demonstrate that you think you can write critically about you own skills or practice, in order to improve and learn. It is important to analyse rather than just describe the things you are reflecting on, and to emphasise how you will apply what you have learned.
This may involve:
'It is not sufficient to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting on this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost.' (Gibbs, 1988, p9)
There are frameworks that you can use to aid your reflective process. Alternatively, you may want to create your own. It needs to be a set of questions that you can ask yourself about an experience, plus a process by which you apply and learn from your reflection:
Graham Gibbs (1988) created a reflective learning cycle, including the role of feelings:
1. Description: What happened?
2. Evaluation: What was good and bad about the experience?
3. Analysis: What sense can you make of the situation?
4. Action Plan: If it arose again what would you do?
5. Feelings: What were you thinking and feeling?
6. Conclusion: What else could you have done?
Go back to the begining
You are aiming to strike a balance between your personal perspective, and the requirements of good academic practice and rigorous thinking. This means:
As an example, consider the extract below, which is from a nursing student's reflective essay. Consider how the writer develops a line of reasoning based on their own thoughts and experiences, and then links it to wider reading.
Please remember: different disciplines have different requirements and styles. This is an example of just one approach.
This promoted me to read into what I now realise is referred to as publication bias and has been widely documented in recent years. For example, Dawes (2005) argues that, although reputable journals adopt a robust peer review process, articles still get published with significant flaws:
'Journals have to publish to survive and they want to publish articles that deal with topical important issues of the day. Sometimes this imperative overrides the critical review process.' (Dawes 2005:6)
Furthermore, Brooks (1997:46) highlights the fact that statistical significance increases the likelihood of a researcher's work being published, which might tempt some researchers to tamper with the data.
I did not want to appear cynical to the rest of the group and kept these concerns to myself, which on reflection I perhaps could have volunteered for discussion. Instead I felt that in order to construct an accurate care plan at the end of each scenario I had to adopt a more robust approach in selecting appropriate journal texts.
After these realisations, I found it more help to employ the use of meta- analyses and systematic reviews saved time searching through numerous journalism and I found the Cochrane Library a useful electronic information source.
Gibbs, G (1988) Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Further Education Unit, Oxford Polytechnic.
Honey, P and Mumford, A (1986). In Mumford, A, Effective Learning. London: IPD.
Schön, D (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.
Williams, K, Woolliams, M and Spiro, J (2012). Reflective Writing. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
Open University, Skills for OU Study. Be aware of your habits. [online]. Available at: https://help.open.ac.uk/be-aware-of-your-habits [Accessed 23 March 2020]
Plymouth University, Learning Development. (2010) Reflection [online]. Available at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/uploads/production/document/path/1/1717/Reflective_Writing.pdf [Accessed 23 March 2020]