Student learning is more impactful when meaningful reflection is integrated into course design (e.g., Lee & Sabatino, 1998). Providing students with the opportunity to think about their learning experiences and articulate connections to their personal, professional and academic goals can help them better prepare for career success and lifelong learning (e.g., Rolfe, Jasper, & Freshwater, 2020). Widely recognized as an evidence-based best-practice for experiential-learning (Kolb, 2015), critical reflection generates, deepens, and documents learning (Ash & Clayton, 2009).
Reflective journaling provides a valuable outlet for students to “think about various concepts, events, or interactions over a period of time for the purposes of gaining insights into self-awareness and learning” (Thorpe, 2004, p. 328). In light of this, the authors united a research-based model of critical reflection with a student-friendly blog tool already built into their university’s learning management system (LMS) to create a ready platform for deeper learning in online courses.
Link to Example artifact(s)
The Ash & Clayton (2009) model of critical reflection, known as “DEAL” (Describe, Examine, and Articulate Learning) outlines a strategic approach in guiding learner reflection. Designed to embody the best-practices of: 1) identifying learning objectives; 2) designing reflection to achieve those objectives; and 3) integrating assessment into the process, the DEAL model can be applied to any academic course.
To identify learning objectives, “begin by determining what students should be able to do by the end of the course or learning unit” (Frass & Edwards, 2022). Bloom’s Taxonomy (Rev.) provides a method for stating learner outcomes in practical language. For example, a workshop focusing on using the DEAL model in online courses might state, “By the end of this session, you should be able to prepare and facilitate a reflective blog in an online course.”
Designing reflection to achieve the stated objectives involves developing an overall reflection strategy that may employ any of a number of online reflection tools (e.g., blogs, journals, discussion boards, wikis). Adopting a strategy that enables students to build upon prior learning over time has long been considered best-practice (Eyler, Giles, & Schmiede, 1996). In that regard, online blog tools provide the advantage of enabling students to regularly reflect on learning independently at key times determined by the instructor, such as at the end of each week or learning module (Muncy, 2014).
By integrating formative assessments, which enable the instructor to measure to what extent the learner is on track to master the stated learning objectives, reflective postings are scheduled intermittently throughout a course. This enables instructors to gauge student learning, identify individual needs, and check for possible gaps in course content or delivery. Summative assessments, such as a final cumulative reflection posting, provide a way for faculty to determine whether the learning objectives have ultimately been mastered.
Application of Strategy
Recognizing the power of critical reflection to enhance learning, the University of South Carolina (USC) adopted the Ash and Clayton (2009) DEAL model to help faculty apply a consistent framework for student reflection that would be useful in any discipline, across curriculum, and applicable in a variety of learning contexts. In 2020, its co-developer, Patti Clayton, came to the USC campus as an invited speaker for the university’s annual celebration of teaching and learning. Since then, the model has been used by the authors to enrich both face-to-face and online courses and programming.
The campus-wide adoption of the DEAL model is also associated with USC’s most recent Quality Enhance Plan, Experience by Design, where student engagement, both within and beyond the classroom is aligned with critical reflection to help deepen and extend meaning-making of key collegiate experiences (USC, 2021). Through this process, faculty and staff are encouraged to apply the DEAL model through a variety of educational contexts to help advance the institution’s understanding and application of critical reflection practices.
In designing online courses, many faculty may not immediately think of critical reflection as a tool for integrating student learning. Yet, because “knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 2015, p. 49), guiding students in how to translate their learning experiences into lasting knowledge is imperative. Using Ash and Clayton’s DEAL model can make this process easy for both faculty and learners. The authors’ reflective blog assignment (linked below) makes it easy for any instructor to embed critical reflection into online courses by using the following steps:
- Choose a blog tool that is embedded in the institution’s LMS system to make submission standardized, intuitive, and safe. Most LMS systems have a blog or e-journaling tool. Among other benefits, this makes student access and use easier and more consistent across courses. It also provides instructors with an integrated grading system and a way to provide more timely feedback to learners. Although most blog tools allow for peer review (students can comment on others’ blogs), to enable truly candid responses, faculty should consider making the postings accessible to only the blogger and the instructor.
- Explain the purpose of critical reflection to students and how it will benefit them. Begin the assignment by explaining to students how reflective blogging can enhance their learning experience. College students are generally comfortable with self-directed learning but want to understand how the activity will benefit them in real-life situations (Knowles, 1996). For example, a blog assignment might begin with:
Critical Reflection involves “intentional consideration of an experience in light of particular learning objectives” (Hatcher & Bringle, 1997), and has been shown to deepen learning (e.g., Ash & Clayton, 2009). To help you get the most out of this course, you will maintain a personal blog in which you reflect upon what you have learned in each unit, and why it matters.
(Edwards, 2020) (artifact linked below). In addition to the written instructions, the instructor could also record a short introductory video with this background information.
3. Provide clear, step-by-step directions to guide students through the process of reflection. In Edwards’ courses, students maintain a personal blog in which they reflect on what they learned at the close of each of the three learning units. She explains that students will be using the DEAL model of critical reflection, and provides guidance for each of the steps.
a. Describe – Students are asked to describe what they did during the learning unit. “Answer the Who? What? Where? When? and How? of the learning experience(s). Describe what you read, heard, discussed and did.”
b. Examine – Students examine their learning experience(s) within the unit. “Identify how your specific learning experience(s) during this unit tie in with the overall course objectives and/or unit objectives. Ask yourself how the material covered in this course relates to/builds upon other courses you’re taking/have taken.”
C. Articulate Learning – Finally, students explain how their experiences during the unit translate into substantive learning that can be applied now and in the future. “Answer these questions – What did I learn? Why does it matter? How can I use it in the future? What gap(s) still exist in your learning, and what do you need to do to fill it in?”
For full student instructions accompanying the reflective blog assignment, see Artifact 1, linked below.
4. Provide meaningful feedback on student reflections. In addition to enhancing student learning and providing formative/summative assessment, reflective blogs help faculty engage with online students, building rapport and providing meaningful and timely feedback. The feedback loop also further emphasizes the iterative nature of reflection to students and helps faculty to model key questions students can ask themselves in future learning opportunities. For a sample of an actual student blog post with reinforcing feedback, see Artifact 2, below.
Encouraging reflection through blogs can be a powerful teaching and learning tool. As students practice reflective blogging, their levels of both competence and confidence increase over time, enabling them to make meaningful connections between learning experiences and their own goals.
Since implementing reflective blogs in courses, the authors have found that the more specific the assignment prompts are (see Artifact 1), the richer the reflective content. Also, students seem more aware of overall course and specific unit learning objectives. They have also found anecdotally that feedback from the (separately administered) university student course evaluations tend to contain richer insights regarding learning activities, experiences, and outcomes than in previous sections of the same courses before the tool had been used.
On a broader scale, the DEAL model’s flexibility has enabled its application across many contexts and courses at the authors’ university. By following its sequential steps, students focus on crafting a response that is unique to them, and no two students seem to make identical connections or have the same key take-aways. In addition, student feedback suggests that after using the reflective model, learners now have a natural framework which they can use to synthesize experiences later and in other contexts, leading them to practice reflection as a lifelong learning skill.
Attached please find:
- K.E Edwards’ (2020) assignment with directions provided to students based on the Ash and Clayton (2009) DEAL model of reflection;
- Screenshot of student blog post (used with permission);
- Ash, S. L., and Clayton, P. H. (2009) DEAL Model of Reflection
Link to scholarly reference(s)
Ash, S. L., & Clayton, P. H. (2009). Generating, deepening, and documenting learning: The power of critical reflection for applied learning. Journal of Applied Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 25-48.
Eyler, J., Giles, D. E., & Schmiede, A. (1996). A practitioner’s guide to reflection in service-learning. Vanderbilt University.
Frass, L., & Edwards, K. (2022). Using backward design to move online courses forward: Laying the pedagogical foundation for high quality courses. In A. deNoyelles, A. Albrecht, S. Bauer, and S. Wyatt (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.
Hatcher, J., & Bringle, R. (1997). Reflection: Bridging the gap between service and learning. College Teaching, 45(4), 153-158.
Knowles, M. (1996). Andragogy: An emerging technology for adult learning. London, UK.
Kolb, D. A. (2015). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Pearson.
Lee, D., & Sabatino, K. (1998). Evaluating guided reflection: A U.S. case study. International Journal of Training and Development, 2, 162–170.
Muncy, J. (2014). Blogging for reflection: The use of online journals to engage students in reflective learning. Marketing Education Review, 24(2), 101 – 113.
Rolfe, G., Jasper, M., & Freshwater, D. (2020). Critical reflection in practice: Generating knowledge for care. London, UK: Bloomsbury.
Thorpe, K. (2004). Reflective learning journals: From concept to practice. Reflective Practice, 5, 327–343.
Edwards, K., Fallucca, A., & Frass, L. (2023). Apply the DEAL Model of Critical Reflection in Blogs to Maximize Student Learning. In deNoyelles, A., Bauer, S., & Wyatt, S. (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.