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Tips & Tricks for Successful Implementation of Reflection Activities in Engineering Education

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Tips of the Trade: Best Practices, Expanded Advice, and Strategies for Implementable Course Improvement

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New Engineering Educators

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Paper Authors

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Lauren D Thomas University of Washington


Mania Orand Human Centered Design and Engineering

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Mania Orand is a researcher in the field of Human Computer Interaction at the University of Washington. Her research interests are on using reflection in designing web and mobile technologies, user experience, and digital media.

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Kathryn Elizabeth Shroyer University of Washington Orcid 16x16


Jennifer A Turns University of Washington

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Jennifer Turns is a Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She is interested in all aspects of engineering education, including how to support engineering students in reflecting on experience, how to help engineering educators make effective teaching decisions, and the application of ideas from complexity science to the challenges of engineering education.

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Cynthia J. Atman University of Washington

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Cynthia J. Atman is the founding director of the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT), a professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering, and the inaugural holder of the Mitchell T. & Lella Blanche Bowie Endowed Chair at the University of Washington. Dr. Atman is co-director of the newly-formed Consortium for Promoting Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE), funded by a $4.4 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. She was director of the NSF-funded Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), a national research center that was funded from 2003-2010. Dr. Atman is the author or co-author on over 115 archival publications. She has been invited to give many keynote addresses, including a Distinguished Lecture at the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) 2014 Annual Conference.

Dr. Atman joined the UW in 1998 after seven years on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research focuses on engineering education pedagogy, engineering design learning, assessing the consideration of context in engineering design, and understanding undergraduate engineering student pathways. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the ASEE. She was the recipient of the 2002 ASEE Chester F. Carlson Award for Innovation in Engineering Education and the 2009 UW David B. Thorud Leadership Award. Dr. Atman holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

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Engineering educators are introduced to an array of active learning approaches that pique their interest and spark excitement about the possible outcomes for their students. After initial exposure to new activities, contextual questions naturally arise for educators, and a clear understanding of the essential features for successfully implementing a teaching strategy become necessary. Reflection activities represent one approach for active learning that educators reasonably have questions about before adopting the approach. In our work, we have documented over 100 reflection activities facilitated by engineering educators from diverse types of institutions and shared those activities for public use in the form of a field guide. The field guide includes an overview of each activity, steps to recreate the activity, and tips and inspiration as shared by each educator who offered their specific activity for the field guide. These “tips and tricks” were very often derived from years of experience using the activity. Collectively, these activities and their associated tips provide a set of guiding ideas for implementing reflection activities in engineering education settings.

In this paper, we present themes that were derived from over 250 individual tips in our field guide for reflection in engineering education. These activities come from many different contexts, have varying depth, time allocations, and other features that make the activities unique, yet the tips yielded similar themes for success. For this paper, we completed a qualitative analysis to identify themes across all of the tips. We subsequently counted each instance of each theme to identify the most commonly shared tips for implementing reflection activities in engineering education. The dominant themes include: (1) preparation in advance of and/or debrief after the reflection activity, (2) communicating with students as a group or individually about their responses, (3) careful and intentional design of reflection activities, and (4) establishing value in reflection itself. Other themes included: being flexible as an educator, timing, grading, and leveraging peer interactions.

The tips and tricks for reflection celebrate the many successes these educators have experienced with the activities, while bringing attention to some of the unintended consequences for implementing reflection. By highlighting these successes and some of the tensions associated with reflection, we anticipate that readers will be well informed to make their own decisions as educators. Our goal in sharing these thematic findings is to call out the important considerations for implementing reflection in engineering as identified by over 110 educators. These “tricks of the trade” will help new and experienced faculty make decisions about how to design and implement reflection activities in their own pedagogy.

The core findings of our proposed paper are likely to be of interest to engineering educators who wish to implement reflection activities in their classrooms and interactions with students. Those educators, and in turn their students, will benefit from the experience of many educators and the positive outcomes they have experienced when using reflection activities.

Thomas, L. D., & Orand, M., & Shroyer, K. E., & Turns, J. A., & Atman, C. J. (2016, June), Tips & Tricks for Successful Implementation of Reflection Activities in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27045

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: © 2016 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