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Teaching Reflective Skills In An Engineering Course

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Motivating students to achieve

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1080.1 - 8.1080.20

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Paper Authors

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Elizabeth Davis

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David Socha

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Valentin Razmov

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3475

Teaching Reflective Skills in an Engineering Course David Socha†§, Valentin Razmov§, Elizabeth Davis † Center for Urban Simulation and Policy Analysis § Department of Computer Science & Engineering University of Washington


One of the most effective tools for lifelong learning is the ability to reflect and learn from experience. Reflection helps to clarify our understanding of the world and to create new distinctions and possibilities for the future. It is a way of creating intention. By putting attention on the perception of what has happened and what one wants to achieve, solutions to problems emerge more easily. We believe reflective skills are among the main characteristics that distinguish excellent engineers from merely good ones. This makes these skills important to teach.

This paper describes a set of reflective practices that we implemented in a 9-week course in software engineering at the junior undergraduate level. These techniques, many of them borrowed from professional leadership training programs, include individual, team, and project practices such as retrospectives (e.g., “What went well and what didn’t?”), informal chats with guest experts (e.g., “Do they really do it that way in industry?”), workshop simulations (e.g., “How do we decide when to ship a product?”), journaling, and some unusual activities (e.g., “Draw a picture of your team”). To gauge student progress we also used weekly reflective writing assignments as well as reflective questions on the take-home final exam. All of these techniques were well received by the students, as evidenced by anonymous, detailed end-of- course evaluations, as well as by feedback many students voluntarily provided four months after the course. Many have continued using several of the techniques after the course. The experience of applying reflective practices appears to have influenced a number of the students into viewing their project, careers, social interactions, and life choices in a different, more positive light.

We believe the practices worked particularly well because we set up the course with ample opportunities for students to make mistakes – a fodder for reflection – and learn from them in a non-threatening (academic) environment. While we recommend the approach to engineering educators interested in teaching “soft skills,” we caution that to successfully apply it, one needs to be comfortable identifying and handling conflict that may emerge.

1. Introduction

This paper describes a set of reflective practices that formed the backbone of a 9-week software engineering course at the junior undergraduate level. We report on our, and our students’, assessments of the effectiveness of these practices. The data were collected during the course, at the end of the course, and four months after the course.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Davis, E., & Socha, D., & Razmov, V. (2003, June), Teaching Reflective Skills In An Engineering Course Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2003 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015