1. Designing Reflection
    1. Sample prompts
    2. Sample activities
  2. Assessing Reflection
    1. Sample rubric
  3. Tips and Challenges

[It is] necessary to reflect on experience in order to draw out the meaning in it and to use that meaning as a guide in future experiences. (Kolb & Kolb, 2017, p. 12)

  • Reflection encourages learners to articulate connections between their experience and course content, including knowledge, skills, and values.
  • Reflection is an iterative process. It is important to provide students with opportunities for reflection before, during, and after the experience.
  • Reflection activities can take many forms, including reflective writing, group discussions, learning portfolios, and presentations.
  • Reflection activities should be graded to signal to students that it is an important aspect of their learning.

Designing Reflection

There are any number of ways to design the reflective component/s of your experiential learning activity. Below are several frameworks to help you structure students’ reflection.

Once you have selected a framework for reflection, you can design prompts and activities that will align with the course’s learning outcomes.

To learn more about designing meaningful critical reflections assignments, see these modules from the University of Calgary’s Taylor Institute.

Sample prompts

To be effective, reflection prompts should be tailored to support the learning outcomes of the activity/course. For example, do you want your students to leave the experience with a deeper understanding of academic theories and concepts? Of the personal or career-related skills they developed through the experience? Of the structure of (and their role in) broader society and/or organizations?

The following prompts are adapted from the University of Toronto’s Assignment Sample and Ryerson University’s guide to Critical Reflection.

For more prompts for community-based experiential learning, see Western University’s Sample Prompts

Sample activities

Reflection can be designed as stand-alone activities (e.g., reflective essay or journal) and/or integrated into other activities (e.g., reflection prompts integrated into quiz or assignment). Whatever their form, reflection activities should be graded to emphasize their value in the learning process.

Below are several ideas for assessable reflective activities:

More ideas:

  • Written responses to reflection prompts integrated into a quiz or assignment
  • Critical events journal
  • Essay, report, or presentation (arts-based, multimedia, oral, etc)
  • Self-awareness tools and activities (e.g., questionnaires about learning patterns)
  • One-on-one oral assessments with the instructor
  • A project that develops ideas further (individually or in small groups)
  • Self-evaluation and/or group evaluation of a task performed

Assessing Reflection

In the activity/course design planning stage, you decided what teaching/learning activities would prepare students for assessments that would provide evidence of their learning in relation to the outcomes you established. Assessing reflection activities can be difficult without a clear idea of the learning outcomes.

For example, an e-portfolio activity can be assessed in relation to any number of learning outcomes:

  • To communicate using concepts scientifically;
  • To communicate using concepts accurately;
  • To support their arguments with evidence;
  • To connect concepts and ideas to real-life applications, connect theory and practice;
  • To make references and citations properly;
  • To reorganize and synthesize ideas, concepts and data;
  • To critically reflect on the experience/learning;
  • To engage in effective self-assessment on the learning process;
  • To demonstrate critical and creative thinking skills.

Preparing a rubric may help you to identify which learning outcomes can be assessed through the activity and which will need to be assessed in other ways.

If possible, consider inviting students to have a say in how their work will be judged – for example invite them to suggest the criteria you will use to assess their work, or include them in creating a rubric.

Sample rubric

Rubrics are helpful assessment tools that can help you to articulate the learning outcomes and expectations for yourself and for students. A well-defined rubric will also speed up grading, as feedback is built into the rubric’s criteria and descriptors.

Below is a sample rubric for experiential learning, broadly:

Evaluation Criteria 4 3 2 1
Meaningful connections between academic concepts and the experience Meaningful synthesis of connections between concepts and application, which  allows for a deeper understanding of the area of study and for a construction of a broader perspective. Effective use of experiential education  to understand  concepts and theories in the area of study. Comparison between experiential activity and academic concepts that indicate understanding of similarities and differences and the points of view of others. Identification of links between experiential activity and ideas raised in academic readings and how these may agree and/or are related to individual’s interests.
Reflection and self-evaluation Ability to engage in reflective, creative and self-evaluative work that demonstrates learning growth and development by building to prior experiences and effectively applying skills across various and diverse contexts and situations. Ability to engage on self-evaluation in regards to the learning progress and to identify and address  ethical concerns and challenges in diverse contexts. Ability to articulate own strengths and weaknesses in performing tasks and to use self-awareness to address challenges in other contexts. Ability to provide a description of own performances on tasks with a focus on general successes and failures.
Integrative communication of knowledge and skills Profound ability to communicate knowledge, skills and information in an integrative way that contributes to the enhancement of meaning (for the audience) and demonstrates how language, meaning-making processes, thought and expression are interdependent. Ability to communicate knowledge, skills and informative in various formats effective for a targeted audience and to make explicit connections between what is communicated (content) and methods of communications. Ability to present knowledge, skills, and information in formats that illustrate the connection between content and method in a basic way. Ability to present knowledge and information in an appropriate form.
ApplicationApplication of knowledge, skills, theories and methodologies to new experiential context Ability to make adaptations and apply knowledge, skills, theories and methodologies to new experience and to solve problematic situations with originality and novelty. Ability to make adaptations and apply knowledge, skills, theoretical concepts and methodologies to new experiences and to solve problems. Ability to use knowledge, skills, theoretical concepts and methodologies in order to contribute to the understanding of problematic situations. Ability to use knowledge, skills, theoretical concepts and methodology at the situation at hand.

Table adapted from AACU, Integrative Learning Value Rubric

More resources:

Tips and Challenges

  • Journal reflections completed at lower levels of reflection (Wessel and Larin, 2006) – need to engage students in reflecting at higher levels
  • Could be viewed as a time consuming process by many students who are pre-occupied with their studies and are coping with work demands. Thus, we can allot an in-class time for students to engage in journal reflections (Walker, 2006).
  • Need to create an environment of trust for journal writing to flourish.
  • Personal reflection may be experienced as a problematic and not a comfortable task because self-reflection and self-assessment may have the capacity to ignite speculation for need for improvement (Burnard, 1995). In the same vein, Dewey (1910) argues that reflective engagement can be strenuous at times because it requires judgement which may cause “mental unrest and disturbance” (p. 14).
  • Grammar and formatting should not be the focus of students’ attention when engaging in free-style journal reflective writing. The methodology of how they write should not concern them but rather what and why they reflect on specific topics.
  • Journal writing should be a safe space for students to engage in free expression. How can students be assigned a grade for own feelings, thoughts and interpretations of experiences? If a grade is assigned then instructors need to identify clear, measurable expectations and objectives. Some instructors give a percentage (e.g. 10%) to the completion of journal reflections in order to encourage students to write in a thorough and meaningful way (Williams, et. al., 2002; Hahnemann, 1986).