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Using ICTs to promote reflection in learning

David Locke, Memorial University of Newfoundland


In typical face-to-face classrooms, students are rarely given adequate opportunities to reflect on their learning (Lin, Hong, & Lawrenz, 2012). In-class journal writing can be an effective means of student reflection, but it tends to take away from instructional time that is needed to teach the curriculum (King & LaRocco, 2006). It can also be unfair to those students who are less able to express themselves through writing and whose reflections will therefore be less clear (Granberg, 2010).

Asking students to write reflections at home instead of in class can be problematic as well; for example, if the intention is to share the reflections with others, “the logistics of passing them among professors and students […] can be a formidable task” (King & LaRocco, 2006, Some Drawbacks to Traditional Journaling section, para. 1). There will also be only one copy of each reflection available for reading at any given time (Lin et al., 2012). Another problem is that some students may choose not to write on a regular basis and may instead write all of their reflections shortly before they are collected, a practice which certainly limits the amount of reflection taking place (King & LaRocco, 2006).

Promoting reflection in the form of whole-class or small group discussions can also be quite challenging, particularly when class sizes are large (Cooner, 2010). Getting students to ask one another reflective questions can be effective; however, many students – particularly those in secondary school – will require a significant amount of support before they are able to successfully do this (Wu & Looi, 2012). Another problem with reflective discussions is that students sometimes find it difficult to reflect on problem-solving sessions; they may forget exactly how the problem was solved, as well as the different strategies that they attempted throughout the process (Pon-Barry et al., 2005).

Role of ICTs

Classroom discussions can be supplemented with online discussions to promote ongoing student reflection (Ellis, Goodyear, O’Hara, & Prosser, 2007). Because of the asynchronous nature of online discussions, students will have more time to reflect on their posts, as well as on those of their peers; they will also be able to prompt further reflection by responding to one another’s posts and explaining why they agree or disagree with particular points (Lin et al., 2012). Ellis et al. (2007) found that university students engaging in asynchronous online discussions “reported reflection as one of the most valuable affordances that the online postings provided” (p. 87). Land and Dornisch (2002) conducted a similar study of 35 university students; some students “explicitly stated how a posted perspective contributed to a re-thinking of […] their initial ideas [and] thus, it represented a refinement or evolution of an initial perspective” (p. 373).

Electronic journals can promote reflection as well; students can use blogs, for example, to engage in reflective journaling and can then further their reflection by commenting on one another’s entries (de Andrés Martínez, 2012). Xie, Ke, and Sharma (2008) studied 44 college students; they reported that all of the students using blogs improved in their reflective abilities and that there was a positive correlation between those abilities and their grades.

As an alternative to expressing their reflections through writing, some students may benefit from creating reflective digital videos (Cheng & Chau, 2009). Cheng and Chau (2009) found that video reflections actually tended to attract more peer feedback than written reflections. Reflections can also be recorded and shared as audio; some blogging sites allow users to leave messages over the telephone and will then upload those messages as MP3 files (Fisher & Baird, 2006). Cheng and Chau (2009) asserted that, regardless of the medium chosen, electronic portfolios are effective tools through which students can document how their work has grown and reflect on the learning that has taken place.

Finally, intelligent tutoring systems (ITSs) have been developed to promote student reflection since they “emulate the effectiveness of human tutors [by] incorporating natural language dialogue” (Pon-Barry et al., 2005, p. 42). By posing appropriate questions, ITSs can help students to reflect on subject matter, as well as on their learning strategies and understandings (Grigoriadou, Tsaganou, & Cavoura, 2005). Wu and Looi (2012) reported that secondary students who were prompted by an ITS demonstrated larger knowledge gains and developed better concept maps than students who did not receive prompts. When reflecting on problem-solving sessions, some ITSs are particularly useful because they are able to remember the steps with which students had trouble and can then focus on those areas when engaging in reflective dialogue (Pon-Barry et al., 2005).


Many teachers who try to promote reflection in their classes by implementing electronic journaling and asynchronous discussions quickly become concerned about those students who seldom participate (Granberg, 2010). Ellis et al. (2007) found that these types of students generally do not understand the concept of reflection and how it can help them learn. Therefore, before asking students to engage in reflection, class time should be allocated to teach them how to do it and why it is important (Granberg, 2010).

Students are also sometimes reluctant to disagree when writing responses to their peers’ entries (Lin, Hong, Wang, & Lee, 2011). Prior to engaging in online discussions, students should be given guidelines and examples that teach them how to effectively and respectfully argue (Lin et al., 2012).

Another potential problem with electronic journaling is that some students may be self-conscious about what they write and may be less likely to fully engage in honest reflection if they know that other people will be reading their entries (Xie et al., 2008). This obstacle can be avoided, however, by asking students to maintain private blogs instead of public ones (Xie et al., 2008).

While an electronic portfolio is “inherently a reflective venue” (Hadley, 2007, p. 449), a problem often encountered is that students can become overly focused on technical concerns and may not place enough emphasis on the actual contents of their portfolios (Hadley, 2007). To address this issue, Hadley (2007) developed a ‘portfolio forum’ through which students can reflect on their portfolios’ items and discuss each item’s significance.

Works cited

Cheng, G. & Chau, J. (2009). Digital video for fostering self-reflection in an eportfolio environment. Learning, Media and Technology, 34(4), 337-350. doi: 10.1080/17439880903338614

Cooner, T. S. (2010). Creating opportunities for students in large cohorts to reflect in and on practice: Lessons learnt from a formative evaluation of students’ experiences of a technology-enhanced blended learning design. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 271-286. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00933.x

de Andrés Martínez, C. (2012). Developing metacognition at a distance: Sharing students’ learning strategies on a reflective blog. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 25(2), 199-212. doi: 10.1080/09588221.2011.636056

Ellis, R. A., Goodyear, P., O’Hara, A., & Prosser, M. (2007). The university student experience of face-to-face and online discussions: Coherence, reflection and meaning. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 15(1), 83-97. doi: 10.1080/09687760601130057

Fisher, M., & Baird, D. E. (2006). Making mlearning work: Utilizing mobile technology for active exploration, collaboration, assessment, and reflection in higher education. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35(1), 3-30. doi: 10.2190/4T10-RX04-113N-8858

Granberg, C. (2010). Social software for reflective dialogue: Questions about reflection and dialogue in student teachers’ blogs. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19(3), 345-360. doi: 10.1080/1475939X.2010.513766

Grigoriadou, M., Tsaganou, G., & Cavoura, T. (2005). Historical text comprehension reflective tutorial dialogue system. Educational Technology & Society, 8(4), 31-41.

Hadley, N. J. (2007). The portfolio forum: Power in reflection. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35(4), 449-455. doi: 10.2190/C521-U100-535U-7626

King, F. B., & LaRocco, D. J. (2006). E-journaling: A strategy to support student reflection and understanding. Current Issues in Education, 9(4).

Land, S. M., & Dornisch, M. M. (2002). A case study of student use of asynchronous bulletin board systems (BBS) to support reflection and evaluation. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 30(4), 365-377. doi: 10.2190/A9EM-YBPQ-5JWU-2JWT

Lin, H., Hong, Z., & Lawrenz, F. (2012). Promoting and scaffolding argumentation through reflective asynchronous discussions. Computers & Education, 59(2), 378-384. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.01.019

Lin, H., Hong, Z., Wang, H., & Lee, S. (2011). Using reflective peer assessment to promote students’ conceptual understanding through asynchronous discussions. Educational Technology & Society, 14(3), 178-189.

Pon-Barry, H., Clark, B., Schultz, K., Bratt, E. O., Peters, S., & Haley, D. (2005). Contextualizing reflective dialogue in a spoken conversational tutor. Educational Technology & Society, 8(4), 42-51.

Wu, L., & Looi, C. (2012). Agent prompts: Scaffolding for productive reflection in an intelligent learning environment. Educational Technology & Society, 15(1), 339-353.

Xie, Y., Ke, F., & Sharma, P. (2008). The effect of peer feedback for blogging on college students’ reflective learning processes. Internet and Higher Education, 11(1), 18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2007.11.001