Flex 2. Reflective Writing

Activity: Reflective Writing

Date: May 19, 2017

Summary and Rationale (“What?”)

This was a two-hour workshop that introduced (or recapped) models of reflective practice. The workshop also reviewed the essentials of reflective writing.

I have taught reflective writing to undergraduates – with varying degrees of success – so need to improve my own understanding and learn from others who have explored the theory more deeply than I. Two courses I have taught featured assignments that required reflective writing, which, I believe, could have been better explained to improve student performance.

Relevance to Practice (“So What?”)

I am always seeking ways to use reflective writing to enrich a particular student assignment that requires students to reflect on a creative, practical activity – the Layout Game (details here).

What I Learnt About My Practice (More “So What?”)

In its current guise, the assignment based on the Layout Game asks students to reflect on the two phases of the game and contrast and compare the positives and minuses of each. Hitherto, neither the brief nor prior teaching introduced any structured models of reflection. This is the most obvious opportunity for modification: a basic three or four-step model could be pre-taught, but framed in the argot and philosophy of Operations Management. Schön (1983) recommends reflective practice as a means of professional improvement and competence development. Operations Management theory features a very close conceptual analogue – kaizen. Thus framed, the rationale for its application in this scenario becomes twofold: reflective practice assists in the structuring of the assignment and familiarizes students with another tool of capability development.

The Literature (Even More “So What?”)

According to Schön (1983), Brookfield (1995), and Bolton (2014), reflection leads to action and, ideally, to solutions for identified problems. All the main theorists of reflective practice agree that honesty, self-criticality, and rapid response are necessary to capture the learning opportunity, and so convert the experience into improved practice.

Three classic models of reflection were revisited in this workshop: Kolb, Gibbs, and De Bono. Brookfield’s “lenses” were also discussed. After overviewing the main features and relative merits and demerits of these models, a general conclusion was derived: it is important to use a model but the matter of which model is of far less importance. Models can be selected according to fit and adapted/combined according to requirement.

Reflective evaluation should involve recognition of positives and negatives. The analysis stages are where theory might also be included. Interestingly, it is important not to be academic in reflective writing. Also, in reflective writing, one should avoid excessive description and insufficient critical evaluation. Reflection in writing should not drift from description to conclusion without the bridging analytical/evaluative discussion. Importantly, questions (to self) lead to developed information and important insights. These are points that I would convey to my own students through the assignment briefing.

Opportunities for Change (“Now What?”)

Many of the fundamental concepts and principles of Operations Management are abstract. Undergraduates rarely have direct experience of manufacturing systems, so find visualising such a challenge. This is the principal trigger and the raison d’être of the Layout Game. Through pre-teaching, undergraduates acquire familiarity with the terminology of basic manufacturing processes, but lack deep understanding until they observe application. The Layout Game requires students to demonstrate systems thinking and recognition of the function-orientation that underpins the discipline. The Layout Game elicits application of prior learning, and challenges students to interact creatively to achieve a measurable outcome (measurability is another Operations Management principle that the Layout Game teaches, albeit indirectly).

In the game, students create a manufacturing flow comprising workstations that represent sequence-sensitive transformations. The layout game is played with level VI undergraduates. A more complex variant is played with MSc students.

Action Plan

  • Develop part 3 of the existing Layout Game assignment brief to encourage greater creativity. Hitherto, the assignment brief has not precluded creative methods, but the omission of mention of creative possibilities has implied preference for textual and diagrammatic accounts. In the foreseen assignment brief, explicit examples of creative options could be included.
  • Incorporate a reflective cycle model into the structure of the game play. The tutor could introduce a reflective cycle model and request each team to do a collective reflection after each phase of play. This way, the students acquire familiarity with the models, consolidate learning, record meaningful events close to occurrence (which some theorists claim is important), and stay attentive to events as they occur.
  • Explain to students the importance of creativity in both phases of the game. The game is tightly structured, so the configuration possibilities are distinctly finite. Nevertheless, the habit of creative thinking as a way to solving business problems should be emphasized. Indeed, students should be explicitly tasked to synthesize pre-taught knowledge with application requirements.
  • Minimize the importance of theory and referencing. Conveniently, the Layout Game assignment parallels the recommendation that reflective writing is non-academic. The purpose of this assignment is double: (1) to encourage students to reflect on their activity and thereby weigh analytically the two phases of play and observe the operational advantages of the changes made; (2) to demonstrate that problem-solving in Operations Management can be facilitated by informed creative approaches.

Further Reading/Related CPD Activity

(Review the following links and literature; attend any/all reflective writing-related workshops and events.)

References

Bolton, G. (2014) Reflective practice: writing and professional development. 4th edn. London: Sage.

Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Manchester Metropolitan University Strategy for Learning, Teaching and Assessment (2011) [Online]. Available at: http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk/ltastrategy/ (Accessed: 3 June 2017)

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D. and Jasper, M. (2001) Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions: A User's Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schön, D. (1983) The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.

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