What’s in your reflection toolkit?

This is the 5th post in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching to prompt you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche. Original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

There’s one tool that Stephen Brookfield still uses regularly 25 years after the first edition of Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher: the Critical Incident Questionnaire. The CIQ invites anonymous feedback from students in response to five questions:

  • At what moment in class did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment in class were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (teacher or student) took did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone took did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about the class surprised you the most? (This could be about your own reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else that occurs).

The CIQ is included in a comprehensive scholarly practice guide written by Marina Harvey, Kate Lloyd, Kath McLachlan, Anne-Louise Semple and Greg Walkerden for AdvanceHE. The short evidence-based activities are designed to support reflective practice for student learning. I highly recommend this as the go-to resource on reflection for learning.

The brief of Over a Cuppa is to focus on your practice as a teacher, rather than your students’ reflections for learning. With this in mind, we will revisit many of Harvey and colleagues’ ideas in future posts (storytelling, feeling, listening, exploring, dreaming). Of course, many practices apply to students and teachers, such as:

Give your brain a break: Instead of checking email between classes, spend some time watching out the window or mindfully walking with senses open to notice sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.

Here are two other tools I regularly recommend and have revisited many times (free but login required):

  • Teaching Perspectives Inventory – a 45-item instrument that explores your orientation to teaching.
  • ImaginePhD – designed for humanities and social sciences, three assessment tools – Interests, Skills and Values – offer an excellent tool for reflection.

Wishing you many happy reflections.


This is the third post in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching. Once a week during Session 1 and Session 2 I will publish a short post (250 to 300 words) which prompts you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

You’ve put on your teaching cloak and taught your first class for the semester. How did it go? What did students enjoy and what did you enjoy? Is there anything you would do differently? Your students are on track with learning outcomes and assessment tasks, but what are your intentions for teaching?

Setting intentions is a type of reflection for action (recollecting the modes for reflection covered in the first sip). Harvey, Coulson and McMaugh (2016) define reflection as:

A deliberate and conscientious process that employs a person’s cognitive, emotional and somatic capacities to mindfully contemplate on past, present or future (intended or planned) actions in order to learn, better understand and potentially improve future actions.

I feel like an imposter writing about planning since this is not my superpower. (Take a look at Janet Dutton’s post on lesson planning). In fact, every day—weekday or weekend, work day or holiday, ordinary or significant —I hold onto the same goals: Join an interesting conversation, Eat something good, Spend time outdoors, and Enjoy reading. Most of the time this works fine, but 2020 prompted introspection (and triggered a craving for novelty). To my daily goals I have added two intentions which I integrate in my teaching: amplify others and practise self-care.

Your intentions might look very different. Focussing on teaching: are you seeking to improve your online lectures? Experiment with something new? Create informal evaluation opportunities? Practise feedback strategies? Apply for a teaching award? Focus on embedding Indigenous knowledges? Connect with practitioners? Something else?

Here are some questions to guide your thinking:

  • What did you want when you were a student? How are your students similar to or different from you?
  • How are you feeling about teaching? What’s your top priority right now?
  • How will you gather evidence of your practice?

Harvey, M., Coulson, D. and McMaugh, A. (2016). Towards a theory of the Ecology of Reflection: Reflective practice for experiential learning in higher education, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(2). https://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol13/iss2/2

Curricula la la

Fresh from three plus days (and nights) of discussions about the curriculum architecture of the university, this post is a chance to gather my thoughts about understandings and assumptions of curricula in higher education. (Although I note that the plural form ‘curriculums’ seems to be increasingly in use across the university). About fourteen years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a research assistant for Sharon Fraser’s project exploring academics’ conceptions of curriculum (part of her second PhD!). A portion of this study was reported in the Fraser and Bosanquet (2006) paper ‘The curriculum? That’s just a unit outline, isn’t it?’  These are some of the things academics had to say about curriculum back then:

I probably think of the curriculum as a piece of paper, to be honest. I don’t think of it as the experience.
It is basically the content of the course, what you are going to be covering in the course and how you cover it and in what depth. It is basically like a course outline.
When I talk about curriculum in my department, most people think that I mean content, syllabus. They talk about a list of topics … And it’s very frustrating … The structure of the university … [is] very hung up on content … and the way degrees are structured … even timetable constraints … are real constraints on curriculum development.
The curriculum is … a dynamic process for me … something that emerges from the interactions of the students and the materials, and the readings they have done … The students learn a lot from each other … I don’t see curriculum as a structural thing.
I would never use the word curriculum, but I guess the reason I’m not interested is that I think it has a content notion attached to it … So unless the word curriculum can incorporate notions like a community of scholars then it is not a term that interests me.

Last year I was interviewed by Jason Lodge and Mollie Dollinger for their podcast Beyond the Lectern. This 45 minute unscripted conversation about curriculum was a chance to reflect out loud about how academics’ conceptions and experiences of curriculum have changed. In a nutshell: the term curriculum is in more widespread use than ten to fifteen years ago. My feeling is that a product notion of curriculum still dominates discussions in higher education. I wondered out loud whether modularised teaching and micro-credentialing were examples of curriculum as a product.

Using the example of graduate attributes, I talked about the challenges of curriculum as something that is trying to be both market-driven and a force for social reform. I talked about students as partners in the co-creation of curricula, and noted that sessional staff are often excluded from the creation of curricula. Universities do not always recognise the excellent curriculum work that is happening between teachers and students. I also talked about the balance between flexibility and quality assurance. (With some editing to make sense of my lack of preparation) I asked:

How high a tolerance do our institutions , our teachers and our students have for uncertainty? … How can the university enable [teachers and students learning together] to happen really well with the recognition that that is where … curriculum happens? It is very scary as a leader of learning and teaching to … hand over control to people in the classroom.

These words come back to haunt me as I take a more defined leadership role. Quoting them here is a way of reminding myself of the importance of relinquishing control and giving people space to play. Visiting Student Administration earlier today (the engine room of the university), I was delighted to see that they are taking inspiration from the Lego Academics and mapping the new university curriculum in lego.

Start of term.

— Lego Academics (@LegoAcademics) September 27, 2017

Dr Black questions the efficiency of the committee to evaluate the efficiency of department evaluation committees.

— Lego Academics (@LegoAcademics) April 29, 2016