Student Reflection: What and Why?

Graduate looks out over a lake

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

– John Dewey


Welcome to Remote Reflections!

This module introduces student reflection as an integral part of the learning process. Participants will learn about a variety of tools including: regular short reflection & journaling, reflective self-assessments, reflection as a summative assessment, scaffolded reflection, group dialogue/reflection circles, portfolios & ePortfolios, reflection on problem/project-based learning, and mind-mapping. Participants will learn how to design effective student reflection assignments and assess them, and will have the opportunity to create a reflective assignment that can be used in future courses.

After you’ve completed this module, you will be able to:

  • state the reasons for using reflection
  • design and facilitate effective student reflections
  • assess students’ reflective work

Student Reflection: What, Why, and How?

Reflection is, at its root, an act of looking back in order to process experiences.

Many students, staff and faculty in university and college settings think of reflection only in terms of “touchy-feely” individual essays or group discussions. Consequently, they resist opportunities to reflect on the nature of their work. However, reflection is decidedly educational. It helps cement student learning and also helps students transition from consumers of disciplinary knowledge to producers of knowledge. Reflection in online courses is particularly important to reinforce student learning.

Student reflection must be facilitated by faculty. Effective reflection requires that facilitators demonstrate an open-minded attitude, communicate appropriately, manage group dynamics, incorporate diversity, and provide closure (Reed & Koliba, 2003). Students need explicit training to practice reflection. Experience shows that the best way to develop students’ reflection abilities is to teach it hand-in-hand with course content.


Reflective Learning

Donald Schön was an influential thinker in developing the theory and practice of reflective learning. He suggested that the reflective learner reflected both when they were doing the learning (in the action) and after the learning (on the action).




Now that you’ve explored some of the reasons for reflection, take a few moments to consider how you might use reflection in your course(s). Enter your thoughts on the following prompts in the box below.

Reflection Tools and Techniques

There are many types of reflections that can be used to support student learning.

Click on the titles in the accordion below to learn more.


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Promoting Instructional Excellence Copyright © by Cathleen O'Neal; Constance Harris; and Olivia Pollard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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