Critical reflection. What do we really mean?
Auckland University of Technology (and PhD student Deakin University) Do we really know what critical reflection means in the context of work-integrated learning, more specifically cooperative education? Critical reflection, in some form, is located within many higher education programmes, including cooperative education and many educators would say this is important for in-depth student learning. It is a form of reflection that is complicated as well as challenging for the learner and the educator. It would appear that there is a lack of consensus regarding the definition of critical reflection, as it is difficult to define and your definition may depend on your context and ideology. Many learning environments including teaching, nursing, business and social work utilize various strategies to facilitate reflection, including learning contracts and journals. Models of reflection, based on a philosophical approach, may be considered to assist students develop an understanding of critical reflection. The framework chosen to guide students’ reflections may be determined by the expectations of the learning outcomes. It would seem that critical reflection is generally understood to be difficult, contested terrain, that appears to be attractive on paper but is complex to put into action. Further studies are required to identify the true nature of critical reflection in cooperative education. Keywords: Work integrated learning, cooperative education, critical reflection, models
The area of critical reflection is generally understood to be a difficult and contested terrain, that appears to be attractive on paper but is complex to put into action. Educators say this is an important capability for students to develop as it contributes to greater depth of understanding and learning (Boud, Cohen, & Walker, 1993; Lay & McGuire, 2010; Moon, 2006; Wolf, 2010). The wide range of approaches to critical reflection suggests the focus of learning is placed on technique rather than the broader purpose and outcomes of critical reflection. Critical reflection should not be a prescriptive activity (Moon, 2006) but guidelines should enable the student to develop their own style. This paper begins a conversation on the challenging topic of critical reflection in cooperative education.
Defining Critical Reflection
There appears to be lack of a clear understanding of critical reflection, as it is a contested term reflecting the ideology of the user. Depending on one’s perspective critical reflection can be understood to mean very different things (Boyd & Fales, 1983; Brookfield, 2009; Gardner, 2009; Harvey, Coulson, Mackaway, & WinchesterSeeto, 2010; Hatton & Smith, 1995; Smith, 2011; van Woerkom, 2010) and varies within individuals and contexts. Critical reflection is widely recognised as a key component in the learning processes of individuals and is advocated in many areas of professional practice (Brookfield, 2009; Jarvis, 2010; Leijen, Valtna, Leijen, & Pedaste, 2011), especially within programmes where there is rich learning possible through specific experiences (Harvey et al., 2010).
The terms reflection, critical reflection, reflective practice, reflective thinking and reflexivity have similar meanings and application in educational literature, as well as, used interchangeably (Black & Plowright, 2010; Rogers, 2001). Authors consider that not all reflection is critical reflection and critical reflection maybe at higher, more complicated level that challenges the learner and the educator (Harvey et al., 2010; Hatton & Smith, 1994). Further unpacking is required to clearly identify the true nature of ‘critical’ reflection. Fook (2006) suggests work needs to be done from a “common basis of understanding” so the practice of critical reflection maybe refined and improved.
Mezirow (1990) considers critical reflection as a precursor to transformative learning, which...
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