Reflecting on reflection part 1

I’m interested in the idea of metaphor to aid understanding. A few years ago a colleague recommended that I read ‘Metaphors we live by’ by Lakoff, G and Johnson, M (2003), which opened my eyes to the power of metaphor and the way it can thread unquestioned through our language and underpins and influences our conceptual understandings.

When selecting  images to represent reflection in Continued Professional Development (CPD)   show beautiful landscapes reflected in clear pools of water, sharp outlines duplicated in each half of the picture. And I’m not alone – see  the examples below :

From Cover of Book 2nd Edition of "Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher" by Stephen D. Brookfield
2nd Edition of “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher” by Stephen D. Brookfield
Front Cover of Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice by Jennifer A. Moon
Front Cover of Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice by Jennifer A. Moon

I’m guilty of collecting these images myself, believing that they were a useful visual aid to the concept of reflection – I guess I’m still deeply influenced  by my own initial discipline training which was in Fine Art. They are beautiful and contemplative but as a metaphor for reflection – misleading.  They better represent description, the accurate representation of things as they currently are. I wonder if this is part of the conceptual problem that participant in my CMALT cohort have with the idea of reflection?

Trees reflected onto a still pond
A photo I took to illustrate reflection in presentations

“Lack of reflection” is the number one reason that CMALT portfolios are returned for further work. I can see from my participants that its not lack of effort so much as lack of understanding that causes this.

In a determined effort to meet the criteria I have seen participants add headings throughout their portfolios to remind them: Description, Evidence, Reflection. My observation is that this is not a successful – what tends to happen is they provide more detailed description under the heading of reflection. The problem is not effort – it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what reflective writing is and of what the assessors are expecting to see here. As someone  supporting applicants I see it as my job to better explain this concept and direct them to sources that will help them to understand the concept. The use of this common sense image of reflection may be causing confusion rather than helping.

What I understand to be reflection in the context of the CMALT portfolio is:

The assessors want to see that you think about your work and that your practice develops over time. That you understand your subject and can make connections between the theory and your (and others) practice. The assessors want to know about your values, what drives you and is important to you. If, as an assessor,  I don’t get a sense of ‘who’ the person is when I read the portfolio, I don’t think there is enough reflection – you need to put some of yourself in there.

A picture of a person gazing into a mirror maybe more helpful- because its the consideration of self that is more important than showing an accurate facsimile.

I discussed this with my mentor and he suggested “refraction”  as a better metaphor, the way things change as they move through different surfaces, which led us to the ‘lens’ metaphor which I discuss in a subsequent post.

In order to address my cohorts understanding of reflection. I have invited an expert speaker to come and talk to the cohort to explain what this is and what is expected.

I’ve also put together a reflection pack with a journal and stickers. The  aim of this is to encourage participants to reflect over a period of time, so that it becomes part of their daily practice. The stickers include a list of the portfolio areas and reflection questions to act as prompts. Participants report finding these helpful.

Reflection Packs - including notebooks and stickers
Reflection Packs – including notebooks and stickers


Brookfield, S. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. 2nd Ed Jossey-Bass (Kindle Edition)

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (2003) Metaphors We Live By. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Moon, J. (2000) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice. RoutledgeFalmer. Oxon.

Adventures in IDEL

A picture of my Second Life Avatar (a wolf) admiring the work of Jilla Lamar in Second Life
Sunday afternoon at the Art Gallery – My Avatar admiring the work of Jilla Lamar in Second Life

Last year I had the privilege of being a student on the Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning (IDEL) course which is the foundation course for the MSC in Digital Education. This was funded by a the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) who as part of their support for the Online Distance Learning (ODL) community offer bursaries to staff who are working on or considering developing an ODL programme.

I work as a Learning Technology Advisor in the Educational Design and Engagement team within Learning Teaching & Web Services (part of Information Services). I applied for the bursary as I am increasingly supporting staff working on fully distance online programmes and as the number of ODL programmes increase this is becoming a bigger part of my job. For example as service lead on QuestionMark Perception assessment system I support several ODL programmes in the creation and delivery of assessments.

What did I get from taking part in IDEL?

It was really interesting to get a student’s perspective on the institution I work for. I expected to get this by being a participant, and to an extent I did, but the most interesting insights came from getting to know the other students on the course. Despite it being fully online I had plenty of opportunities to talk with other students through online tutorials, in Skype, Collaborate and Second Life and also from the discussion forums in Moodle.

A photograph of My collection of IDEL readings
My collection of IDEL readings

Each week we were given a range of readings, some core and also recommendations for further reading, a proportion of these were in alternative formats like videos, but the majority are journal articles. Not only did it make an impressive pile by the end, but also allowed me to explore the technology around reading. I had a go with Mendeley (reference manager and PDF organizer) and tried reading and marking up text electronically, After that experiment I quickly opted for printing out documents on paper – I have to admit that having access to a laser printer did help! Before finally considering screen reading software (TextHelp Read and Write 10 – for which the University has a site licence), as it turned out from a tutorial discussion several other students did their reading this way. Studying for IDEL was a great way to make the space and time to read and I enjoyed some thought provoking articles regardless of how I read them.

IDEL activities offer its students opportunities to use a wide range of tools, thanks to this I was able to re-evaluate applications I thought I already knew such as Twitter and Second Life and also to explore/play with new tools such as Powtoon Cartoon creator and thinglink to make interactive images.

A screen shot of the themes  from my blog posts over the IDEL course
Themes that emerged from my blog posts over the IDEL course – appearing a Word Press Widget

One of the course requirements was regular blogging. I really enjoyed the reflective space of the blog and the encouragement to share my written reflection frequently, which was helped by the frequent feedback I received.  We used WordPress and I like the fact that I was building up confidence in an openly available tool which I can continue to use for work or private projects in future.

The blog activity formed 60% of the assessment and the other 40% was a piece of work on a subject you selected, related to one (or more) of the course themes. I chose to create an Open Education Resource (OER) about OERS in HE – using the free website building tool Weebly. Completing it was hard, with the hand in date is just after the Christmas break, but-all-in-all a really useful experience. Choosing to create something ‘publicly viewable’ really did focus my mind and I think made me work harder!

Would I recommend IDEL to other Learning Technologists?

Absolutely. It’s a fantastic introduction to the possibilities of online education and the IAD bursary offers a great opportunity to take part in a highly regarded online master’s programme.

And if you do enjoy your IDEL experience, you can apply for a further bursary for a 20-credit course, which means you can leave with a PG Cert in Digital Education which is a great addition to your CV.


IAD – Online distance learning Community (Bursary details on this page)

Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning (IDEL)

IAD Case Studies: IAD Bursaries