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Assessing First-year Students' Ability to Critically Reflect and Build on Their Team Experiences

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 1: It's All About Teams and Teamwork

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.241.1 - 26.241.17



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Paper Authors


Nick Tatar Olin College of Engineering

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Nick Tatar, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Instructor of Education: Dr. Tatar received his PhD from the University of New Hampshire where he focused on student learning and student motivation during the high school to college transition. He initiated and developed a first-year seminar course at Olin College, a course that focuses on working in teams, diversity, and self-directed learning. He enjoys collaborating with other faculty members in the classroom and is invested in research, classes and assignments that provide overlap and continuity within the engineering curriculum and engineering pipeline. Nick is also a mentor for the REU program at Olin which studies the educational experiences of undergraduate engineers.

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Kevin A. Nguyen Texas Tech University Orcid 16x16

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Kevin Nguyen is currently a graduate student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Texas Tech University and is working towards a B.S. and M.Eng in Environmental Engineering. He has participated as an undergraduate researcher in the NSF REU Summer Experience in Engineering Education Research program at Franklin W. Olin College.

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Chris Gewirtz Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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I'm currently a senior-year Engineering Physics student at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Though I've enjoyed the technical work I've done, and devote myself now to my senior design project, I feel that education research has much to offer me, and that I have much to offer it. I think the combination of science or engineering with education provides an opportunity for me to apply my scientific curiosity towards understanding and helping people, a better opportunity than I could have predicted before doing this research.

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Assessing first-year students’ ability to critically reflect and build on their teamexperiencesUndergraduate engineering students are more likely than ever to find themselves working onproject-based team assignments. This pedagogical shift toward project-based team learningenvironments has raised a number of questions for first-year teaching faculty including questionsabout how first-year students understand their own team experiences. For instance, when askedto critically reflect on their experience, what kinds of insight do first-year students glean fromtheir team experience? How do they leverage those insights to improve their learning and theirteam’s overall performance? In this project, the researchers explored these questions as well asattempted to understand any gender differences in how students reflect and how differentprompts influenced self-reflection.For this study fifty-six first-year students videotaped their team meetings while they worked on adesign project in a design course. Students were then asked to watch the tape and write a self-reflection paper that provided evidence-based feedback for themselves and their team. To helpscaffold the self-reflection exercise, students were given six different prompts to choose from toexplore their team experience. They could then use those observations to generate feedback forthemselves and their teammates. The five different methods available to the students were: astudy of non-verbal communication; an exploration of roles taken by each team member; acomparison of the video to one’s memory; a quantitative approach such as counting the numberof times each person spoke; and summarizing how the group made a major decision bydiscussing what options were presented and how consensus was achieved around a decision.Kolb et al. (2001) describe the process of learning from experience as a cycle and cite reflectionas the part of the learning process by which concrete experience is used to generate, validate orotherwise affect conceptual frameworks or knowledge systems. Using Kember’s (2008) rubricfor evaluating self-reflection, student papers were assigned an ordinal reflection level. Thelowest level of self-reflection, Non-Reflection, is attributed to papers that describe what is seen inthe video but there is little-to-no-evidence that the student attempted to interpret theirobservations. The second level, Understanding, is attributed to a paper wherein a student tries tounderstand the events they are seeing, but the knowledge they gain from the experience istheoretical or impersonal, and does not have clear implications for reinforcing or changing thestudent’s learning or team’s performance. Reflection is attributed to student papers that framedreflection and feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve the team’s performance. Thehighest level of reflection, Critical Reflection, is reserved for students who reflect on thepremises or precedents for their actions and feedback in the self-reflection is understood within atheoretical framework.After evaluating the self-reflection papers, 6% (n=3) of them were assessed as non-reflective (thelowest level of self-reflection), 29% (15) were labeled as understanding, 58% (30) earned anevaluation of reflective (the second highest self-reflection level), and 8% (4) were classified ascritically reflective (the highest order of reflection). Researchers also found a potential trend ofgender differences within the levels of reflection, with women more likely to submit essays thatwere reflective and critically reflective and men more likely to submit papers that were assessedas non-reflective and understanding. When a descriptive analysis of the prompts was done, astudy of non-verbal cues during the meeting generated the lowest level of reflection, non-reflection, and also the highest level of reflection, critical reflection. Students who focused ondecision making within the group or a comparison of their memory yielded the highest numberof reflection assessments. Papers that used quantitative based analysis produced the highestnumber of papers that were labeled as understanding. An inferential analysis of prompts yieldedno significant differences.Our results support the use of video-supported self-reflection exercises to facilitate learningabout teams in project-based settings. In addition, our findings suggest there are a number ofdifferent prompts that can be used to successfully scaffold self-reflection exercises. While manystudents appear to benefit from self-reflection exercises further research is needed to develop ourunderstanding of the long-term impact of self-reflection in project-based classrooms and howgender influences self-reflection.References:Kember, D., McKay, J., Sinclair, K., & Wong, F. K. Y. (2008). A four category scheme for coding and assessing the level of reflection in written work. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.Kolb, D. A., Boyatzis, R. E., & Mainemelis, C. (2001). Experiential learning theory: Previous research and new directions. In R. J. Sternberg & L.-f. Zhang (Eds.), Perspectives on Thinking, Learning, and Cognitive Styles (pp. 227-247). NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum: Mahwah.

Tatar, N., & Nguyen, K. A., & Gewirtz, C. (2015, June), Assessing First-year Students' Ability to Critically Reflect and Build on Their Team Experiences Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23580

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