Science / Technology and Health

Reflective Learning

Written by Mike Thee

September 29, 2014

a professor and engineering student working on a project

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

SU is part of a consortium that is promoting more reflection in science and engineering education.

Seattle University is part of a consortium of institutions that are developing and promoting teaching practices that help undergraduate engineering students reflect on their experiences.

The university joins 11 other schools in the newly formed Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE), which is being funded by a $4.4 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The program focuses on first- and second-year undergraduates who want to be engineers. The goal is to enhance their ability to learn, help a greater percentage complete their degrees and ultimately foster a larger, more diverse and better prepared engineering workforce.

Reflection-giving meaning to prior experiences and determining how that meaning will guide future actions-has long been recognized as important in higher education.

Because reflection practices and strategies may vary greatly across schools, the consortium incorporates both associate's degree-granting and four-year institutions. Each institution brings a distinct perspective on engineering instruction and great enthusiasm for expanding their focus on reflection, leaders said.

The 12-school consortium will involve nearly 250 educators that will collect data on 18,000 student experiences. Each institution will receive $200,000 over two academic years to fund a principal investigator and other colleagues to carry out the work. Tools and practices developed throughout this initiative will be shared with engineering programs nationwide.

SU's principal investigator, Phil Thompson (professor of civil and environmental engineering), is joined on the project by Agnieszka Miguel (associate professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering), Teodora Shuman (associate professor and chair of mechanical engineering), Greg Mason, (associate professor and PACCAR Chair in mechanical engineering), Margarita Takach, (associate professor of electrical and computer engineering) and Nathan Canney (instructor in civil and environmental engineering).

"During the first year of the project, we have been tasked to identify how engineering majors are being asked to use reflection in the classroom here at SU," says Thompson. "This includes courses in math or the natural sciences in addition to their core engineering courses. Once we have identified 10 'best practices,' we will ask approximately a dozen Science and Engineering faculty to use these reflective practice modules during the second year of the study. Upon completion of each module, students will be surveyed to assess how well the reflective module helped them learn or apply a particular concept.

"Our data will be combined with the other participating schools and the hope is that with 18,000 student responses, a clearer picture of the importance of reflection in the engineering classroom will begin to emerge. With this evidence, we hope that it will encourage all engineering faculty to take time to incorporate reflection which will theoretically improve engineering education, student retention and perhaps innovation."

The other 11 schools involved are Arizona State University (Tempe, Ariz.); Bellevue College (Bellevue, Wash.); California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo, Calif.); Clarkson University (Potsdam, N.Y.); Green River Community College (Auburn, Wash.); Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.); Highline College (Des Moines, Wash.); Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, Ind.); Seattle Central College (Seattle, Wash.); Stanford University Palo Alto, Calif.); and the University of Washington (Seattle, Wash.).