December 5, 2009
eCoaching Tip 72 Course Closures — Making a Difference Years Later with Reflection Actions
Is the usual “crunch” time at the end of a course a good time for learning reflections? Sounds impossible but true. Even a short time dedicated to purposeful reflection is well worth it. This tip focuses on just one reflection actionthat can help your teaching and your students’ learning.
Reflection Action Question
Here it is: Answer this question for yourself and ask it of your students:
- What are learners taking away from this course that will be with them years later?
Or you might like to break this question up into two parts:
- What key information(e.g., facts, terms, formulae, concepts, principles, relationships, etc.) is/are important for students to understand and rememberin the future?
- What key ideas(or perspectives) are important for students to understand in this course?
Here are more examples of key information. The key information for a physics or calculus course might be a law or formula. The key information in a course in managing people might be familiarity with the concept of systems thinking as the “Fifth Discipline” from Peter Senge.
To guide your thinking on this, key information from a course is that set of concepts, people, or ideas that a person working in a discipline simply assumes are common knowledge in a knowledgeable person.
What is an example of akey ideaor perspective? The key idea for a course on managing people might be as simple and profound as the idea that managers can best develop their people through stretch jobs, coaching and mentoring. Or that effective leaders adapt their leadership styles and practices to culture and that this requires tools, such as systems thinking and listening.
Times and Places for this Reflection
You may wonder how to find time in the middle of crunch time to discuss and reflect on the course. Here are two possibilities. And once you start thinking about it, you will probably come up with many other great ways to do it with your class and have some fun with it.
- Set up a closing forum for this question on key information and key concepts. Ask your students to reflect and answer one or more of these questions.
- Hold a synchronous classroom session or just a phone conference and have an informal gathering and farewell session with the focus of the conversation on the key information and ideas, such as “This is what I will remember…”
As part of the reflection event, be sure to share your own reflection and appreciation for the students’ learning work. Sharing your own respect, enthusiasm, curiosity and wonder at the key ideas in a course makes an impression on your students, leaving them hungry for learning more and applying the ideas ever more broadly. A frank and open discussion of what has been learned can excite learners and help them consolidate their learning. You can also incorporate informal feedback on the course by asking the students which activities or readings were most meaningful to them.
Two More Reflection Questions You Might Find Useful
Here are two more questions that you might find useful for reflection. This question helps to personalize the course for your learners:
- What specific insight or learning from the course are you taking away that you didn’t know at the start of the course and that changes you in some way?
An insight experience can be a physical buoyant feeling as disparate ideas suddenly come together into a meaningful whole, sometimes providing a new way of looking at an idea, providing more dimensions or context to an idea, or even discovering the vocabulary to express ideas. See if your learners can share some of these experiences.
Another question that encourages reflection is this:
- What isone unanswered questionyou have going forward about what we have been learning this semester?”
By asking this question you are helping learners to focus their curiosity and their own learning zone. Asking this question also sends the message that while all learning answers some questions, that generally speaking, those answers raise other questions. The purpose is to seed their agenda for further learning – thus promoting lifelong learning.
Source of Reflection Suggestion
The suggestion to focus on key information and key ideas while wrapping up a course is from Dee Fink, the author of Creating significant learning experiences: An Integrated approach to designing college courses (2003). This suggestion will help you wrap up your current course with meaning and also help with your planning your next course.
A related suggestion that emerged from discussions during our companion webinar is to use Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning (Figure 1 in the Self-Directed Guide referenced below) to evaluate your course and plan forward. Briefly, the topics in the taxonomy are:
- FOUNDATIONAL KNOWLEDGE Understanding and remembering: • Information • Ideas
- APPLICATION Skills • Thinking: • Critical, creative, & practical thinking • Managing projects
- INTEGRATION Connecting: Ideas • People • Realms of life
- HUMAN DIMENSION Learning about: • Oneself • Others
- CARING Developing new Feelings • Interests • Values
- LEARNING HOW TO LEARN Becoming a better student • Inquiring about a subject • Self-directing learners
Enjoy this upcoming break and plan for incorporating reflection action events into your next course.
Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An Integrated approach to designing college courses. Jossey-Bass.
Fink, L. D. (2005) A Self–Directed Guideto Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved on July 12, 2010 from http://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf
Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016 in the second edition of the book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by designingforlearning.org.