Using a Database Application to Support Reflective Practice

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  • 68 TechTrends November/December 2008 Volume 52, Number 6 Volume 52, Number 6 TechTrends November/December 2008 69

    eflective practice, or reflection, is considered such a vital component of the learning process (Schon, 1987)

    that strategies and supporting tools warrant continued research in the learning sciences (Sawyer, 2006). Reflection has been defined as deliberating on experience (Pennington, 1995, p. 47), an activity or process in which experience is recalled, considered and evaluated in relation to a broader purpose (Farrell, 1995b, p. 95), and an active, persistent but careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in light of the grounds that support it and the further consequences to which it leads (Dewey, 1933, p. 9).

    Farrell (1995a) summarized a number of approaches to the study of reflective practice in teacher education: technical rationality, where the focus is on effective application of skills and technology in the classroom (VanMannen, 1977); reflection in action, where teachers are thinking about what they are doing while they are doing it (Schon, 1987); reflection on action, where teachers think back on what was done (Schon, 1987; Hatton & Smith, 1995); and reflection for action (or proflection), where teachers consider their reflections for impacting future actions (Towndrow, 2007). The approaches are similar to action research where practitioners plan, implement, reflect, re-plan, implement, etc. in an action cycle. In other words, reflection is a reconstruction of

    experience leading to individual growth (Dewey, 1938).

    In teacher education, reflective practice supports teachers as they move from routine actions in their teaching to more considered, cogitative actions. It is reasoned that this transformation makes teachers better, or at the very least aware of their pedagogical practice and beliefs (Vallance, 2006). Teacher education programs worldwide thus incorporate reflective practice as a valued and effective record of teaching practicum (Farrell, 1995a; Murphy, 2003).

    In-service teachers are also expected to reflect on their teaching as part of an appraisal or self-evaluation. A familiar example of reflective practice raising teacher awareness and consequently altering pedagogy to better support students learning is the twelve-year longitudinal research project entitled Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT). Teachers were immersed in technology-rich classrooms at selected schools and reflected on their practice throughout the twelve-year period. Pedagogical beliefs and subsequent classroom practice of the participating teachers changed from knowledge instruction to knowledge construction (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1998).

    Reflective practice in actionTo support reflective practice Farrell (1995)

    proposes a five-component model. These are:

    Using a Database Application to Support Reflective PracticeBy Michael Vallance


    For Japanese students and many of their instructors, reflective practice would be considered unconventional.

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    1. Provide different opportunities to reflect through a range of activities.

    2. Provide ground rules to the process of reflection.

    3. Make provisions for time.4. Provide external input for enriched reflection.5. Provide for low affective states.

    Farrells model of reflective practice was implemented in a first year undergraduate communication course at a modern science university in Japan. The 15-week class met twice a week for 1.5 hours. The aim of the course was to introduce and develop students literacy skills in media architecture and science education. Students used multiple media to locate, evaluate, present, and respond to information as well as communicate ideas, facts, and opinions within a science context. To support the students opportunities to articulate reflection required a tool that would be accessible and customizable, allow for organization, and be capable of linking to course content, resources, and tasks. Of course, a notebook and pencil was seriously considered. However, by linking reflections to digital resources such as Wikipedia, it was reasoned that students could contextualize their comments with online data and information.

    There are a number of digital tools designed to support reflective practice such as SenseMaker (Quintana, Shin, Norris & Soloway, 2006), or case-based reasoning templates using the Case Application Suite (Kolodner, 2006). However, Campus Productivity Kit, a user-friendly, free database template designed for recording and organizing information was selected. Campus Productivity Kit is available from Filemaker ( for Mac and Windows, and has a number of features that allow students to organize data, link to external files, type text related to selected activities, track To-Do items, link to Wikipedia pages online, and add contacts such as friends or people involved in an activity. Given these capabilities, the Campus Productivity Kit was downloaded and installed on the students laptops (n=20).

    Before explaining this implementation of reflective practice, it must be acknowledged that students in Japan do not experience explicit encouragement of reflective practice and personal interpretation of taught coursework. As explained by Mima (2003),

    In conventional Japanese education, the curriculum is largely designed for fact-based, exam-oriented learning. In this learning process standard textbooks are used to facilitate the hierarchical flow of information from knowers to nonknowers and this one-way flow has been implemented in the

    name of improving efficiency of education. Learning activities are carried out in a closed social environmentthe schooland a considerable gap exists between the subjects taught at school and the activities of real life (p. 266). Moreover, there is still little evidence to suggest

    that new or better learning is happening as a result of technology investment in mainstream Japanese education. The Confucian foundations of many Asian education systems continue to serve as barriers to innovative ways of teaching. Confucian hierarchy runs the notion of teacher as knower of the right answer and the student a humble imitator of the master (Drydan, 1998, p. 101), and this is making reform a slow process in an education system which puts a lot of emphasis on acquiring knowledge through memorization and repetition (Fujitani, Bhattacharya, & Akahori, 2003, p. 34). For Japanese students and many of their instructors, reflective practice would be considered unconventional. However, given the benefits outlined in the research and the universitys desire to promote autonomous, lifelong learning it was considered essential to begin the process of reflective practice and associated meta-learning with the new undergraduate students.

    Social constructivist teaching and project-based learning were used in the communication course. A number of open, flexible, and closed tasks were provided to challenge students knowledge of science topics or issues and communicate their understanding using multiple media such as PowerPoint presentations, short movies, and Podcasts. Literacy support was provided by online quizzes and model exemplars. The instructor guided the students through their tasks and technology played a supporting role in the process and outcomes. In addition, students were encouraged to be independent in seeking further resources and were guided when needed. For example, students were shown how to use the advanced search tools in Google and the university librarys database subscription services but only when they had a real need to use these tools. At the end of each stage of a task the students were expected to demonstrate achievement; for example, quizzes successfully completed, a storyboard for their movie, or an evaluation chart of relevant websites.

    During this research study, twenty minutes at the beginning of each lesson was provided for data organization and typing reflective comments into the Campus Productivity Kit

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    template. The twenty minutes was an opportunity for students to share their reflections with their peers and the instructor. Initially, students were requested to simply type a record of work completed and the process employed. Over the duration of a semester though, the students,

    with varying degrees of performance, typed comments that related to their understanding of, or thinking about, the task topic. There was no direct instruction on what to type or how to construct their reflection. Some ground rules, class time, and a critical friend (Towndrow, 2007) were enough to encourage students in this new experience. Individual feedback from the instructor and a critical friend enabled students to consider their reflections and modify, if desired. By reading the reflections, the instructor also gained an appreciation of the interpretation of the syllabus by the students and an overview of their progress on the course. Twice during the 15-week course, individual Campus Productivity Kit files were collected by the instructor for record keeping purposes as the reflection comments contributed up to 20 percent of the students course grade. The collection of the files had to be undertaken manually by using an external USB drive in order to ensure confidentiality. An evaluation rubric summarizing the grade was given to the students early on in the course. The evaluation rewarded accuracy, insight, quality, and quantity of reflections. The graded reflective practice thus encouraged students to write as much as they could and, over time, sentence accuracy and quantity increased.

    Farrells five-component model is next used to discuss the implementation of reflective practice with the undergraduate students.

    1. Range of activities. The Campus Productivity Kit allowed students to develop

    a personal digital folio of coursework, task processes, and task outcomes (see Figures 1 and 2). The students discussed their reflections and proflections in small groups. The groups were carefully assigned by the instructor so that each member would be a critical friend who could offer advice and comments in order to stimulate, clarify and extend thinking (Francis, 1995, p. 234).

    Although there was no explicit instruction on constructing reflective comments, it was noted that students gradually modified their reflections from simply recording class activities to reporting their understanding of topic contexts. Students were encouraged to write about their coursework, think ahead by

    Figure 1. Options available in Campus Productivity Kit.

    Figure 2. Adding project information to Campus Productivity Kit.

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    assigning tasks, and organize their learning. This minimal range of activities, facilitated by the Campus Productivity Kit, nurtured students initial endeavors into reflective practices.

    2. Ground rules for activities. Ground rules were immediately implemented and expectations highlighted. Initially the rules determined the quantity of reflections, learning organization (such as To-Do items), and contacts. Later, the emphasis was on qualitative input as the instructor discussed reflections with small groups and further questioned their comments in their Campus Productivity Kit. Also, a rubric was provided early on so that there was clarity about the evaluation of their reflections.

    3. Provide time for reflection. The first twenty minutes of each lesson was set aside for reflection and organization in the Campus Productivity Kit. This allowed for small group discussion, individual input, and instructor support. The instructor limited additional homework tasks so that an emphasis on writing reflections could be implemented.

    4. External input for enriched reflection. The instructor and critical friends provided external input. Comments and questions regarding students reflections and organization of the Communication course tasks and resources enabled students to further consider their input and modify accordingly. Such sharing of information, particularly between students, supported more coherent class dynamics, especially given the expectations of informed technology usage by learners in the digital age (Towndrow & Vallance, 2004).

    5. Low affective states. To reduce student anxiety in writing about their communication tasks the overall emphasis was on description and observation, and not judgment. This also

    Statement StronglyAgree Agree DisagreeStronglyDisagree

    1. The Campus Productivity Kit helps me better organize my learning. 0 16 1 0

    2. The Campus Productivity Kit helps me better understand the Communication Strategies coursework.

    6 9 2 0

    3. The Campus Productivity Kit helps me better understand the Communication Practice coursework.

    6 8 3 0

    4. The Campus Productivity Kit helps me consolidate the Communication 2 coursework.

    5 10 2 0

    5. The Campus Productivity Kit helps me think about new ideas for Communication.

    1 9 7 0

    6. The Campus Productivity Kit helps me construct my own explanations about the Communication coursework.

    7 7 3 0

    7. The Campus Productivity Kit helps me connect Communication Strategies and Practice coursework.

    9 6 2 0

    8. I will use Campus Productivity Kit in 2008. 0 6 9 2

    9. A class friend helped me type into my Campus Productivity Kit. 3 8 3 3

    10. Twenty minutes in each class plus homework writing was enough time for typing in Campus Productivity Kit.

    4 9 4 0

    Figure 3. Notes option allows for typing notes, adding documents and images, and linking to

    Table 1. Reflective practice survey results.

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    compensated for some students low linguistic abilities. However, judgments were encouraged later in the course from the more linguistically capable students. Because the course w...


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