At the end of a semester, it can be challenging to think back on the courses you just completed. Indeed, may question the purpose of doing so. After all, the exam is over and you’re pleased with your grade. Doesn’t that mean the learning is complete?
In short, no. In order to truly internalize what you have learned from your courses, there is a key element you must take into account. That is the element of reflection.
What is reflection?
At its core, reflection requires you to look back on the semester and determine how you are different because of it, both on an academic and a personal level. Reflection is different for each student, but there are a few key questions you can ask yourself to get started:
- What knowledge did I have about the content prior to taking this course? What new knowledge did I gain as a result of taking this course?
- How can I use this new knowledge in my academic program, in campus activities, or in life?
- When, how, and why has my learning surprised me? (Zubizarreta, 2009, p. 11)
- What have been the proudest highlights of my learning? The disappointments? (Zubizarreta, 2009, p. 11)
What is the point of reflection?
John Dewey is an educational philosopher and a pioneer of experiential learning and reflective thinking. One of Dewey’s (1916/1944) main points is that the reflection – the linking of past, present, and future learning experiences – is where the most meaningful learning takes place (p. 140). The purpose of reflection, then, is to make meaning from your experiences and thereby increase the value of your experiences.
Actively linking these elements requires you to take part in higher-order thinking, particularly metacognition. Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of your own thought processes, and it is the basis for many questions employers ask in job interviews. When employers ask questions about your most meaningful experience during college, the process of learning new skills, or concepts you can articulate after an experience that you couldn’t articulate prior to an experience, they are asking you to partake in metacognitive reflection.
What comes after reflection?
Once you have applied the reflective process to your coursework and you can articulate your new knowledge and its applicability to your academic program and career, it is a good idea to record this reflection somewhere. If you already keep a journal, then perhaps that is the best place for you to record your reflections. Electronic portfolios are also provided for you by the state of Minnesota, free of charge, through eFolioMinnesota (www.efoliomn.com). Recording your reflection is essential because it allows you the ability to look back and articulate them in a job or graduate school interview.
Dewey, J. (1944). Democracy and education. New York: Free Press. (Original work published 1916).
Zubizarreta, J. (2009). The learning portfolio: Reflective practice for improving student learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
-Ginny Walters, M.Ed.
Honors Program Assistant Director