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Editor’s Note: This paper capitalizes on student’s experience with Web 2.0 tools to enhance learning through reflection. It needs to be replicated with different teacher-student populations and subject matter. However, the results are significant and the underlying rationale is convincing.


Connecting the Dots: Integrating Technology
into Learner Reflective Practices

Mark W. Simpson, Sheila Bolduc-Simpson


“Reflection is central to all learning” (Bruner, 1960, p. 13) and the skills required of the reflective teacher and the individual attempting to become an independent learner are similar. With today’s twenty-first century learners, it is important that educators advocate integrating twenty-first century skills into their reflection activities. In Ray and Coulter’s study (2008) on the use of blogs by teachers for reflective purposes, the authors conclude that “Teachers would benefit from combining the skills of technology and reflection,” and that “these kinds of public technologies provide a way for teachers not only to analyze their own practice, but also to share their reflections with others” (p. 20). Teachers and students can now avail themselves of various online and computer-based applications in order to reflect on their learning. This paper briefly examines research on reflection in education and the use of new online technologies as tools to assist learners in their reflection experiences. The results of a survey completed by students in the authors’ three university classes who used online technologies to reflect on their learning experiences indicate that there are positive benefits for integrating web-based tools into the reflection process.

Keywords: technology, web 2.0, reflection, reflective, practices, online, computer, virtual, educators, students, learners, university, course, class, technologies, integrate, web-based, computer-based, tools.


Reflective teaching and learning practices have been leading meaningful educational change for many years (Dewey, 1933; Schöen, 1983; Loughran, 1996; Mezirow, 1990; Bartlett, 1990; Ross, 1990; Langer, 1997). In Experience and Education, Dewey (1998) stated that: “To reflect is to look back over what has been done so as to extract the net meanings which are the capital stock for intelligent dealing with further experiences. It is the heart of intellectual organization and of the disciplined mind” (p. 110). In the act of looking back, the individual examines what “has been experienced, and recreates the events, emotions, and happenings of the situation” (Lowery, 2003, p.23) in order to deal effectively with future experiences.

Reed and Bergenann (2001) state, “Reflective people continue the introspective process while they are actively pursuing information and clarification. Reflection is not difficult. Often it merely requires answering simple questions: What did I do? How do I feel? Why do I feel that way? What was the best thing that happened? Were there any things I could have done better? What would I do differently if I could do it again?” (p. 9).

Reflection then connects new learning experiences to previous learning and, ideally, results in the transformation of information into meaningful knowledge. “Reflection is seen as a process of reconstructing classroom enactments, including both cognitive and affective dimensions” and “to learn from reflection on experience” (Lowery, 2003, p. 23). This is reflection-on-action (Schon, 1983) or guided reflection and it leads to “greater student achievement and success in the classroom. Benefits from reflective teaching include increases in confidence, autonomy, and self-efficacy for teachers…students benefit by reflecting on their own learning to make sense” (Lowery, 2003, p. 29) of their discipline.

Teachers have assisted learners to reflect through the use of student journals, individual and group feedback sessions, case analyses, and other activities (Sparks-Langer and Colton, 1991). They have also provided opportunities for students to actively construct new learning through insights that they otherwise might not have made. One example of this is the use of question prompts and teacher affirmations such as “Why do you think that happens?” and “You can learn from what doesn’t work for you.” (Canning, 1991, p. 19).

Students today, however, are not yesterday’s learners. “Today’s youth are frequently creative, interactive, and media oriented; use Web 2.0 technologies in their everyday lives; and believe that more use of such technologies in school would lead to increased preparation and engagement” (Greenhow, Robelia & Hughes, 2009, p. 247). “Web 2.0 is linking people…people sharing, trading, and collaborating…” Wesch (2007) notes in his popular video, Web 2.0…The Machine is Us/ing Us, viewed by more than eleven million individuals on YouTube. “We’ll need to rethink a few things”, and among others, he lists “ourselves”. Similarly, “Engage me! Engage me! We are digital learners” plead twenty-first century learners in a short, four-minute video also on YouTube titled, A Vision of K-12 Students Today. These students, digital natives who “expect to be able to create” (Nesbitt, 2007), demand the use of technologies that at times challenge the knowledge and skills of their teachers, digital immigrants (Prensky, 2001). Researchers are investigating the use of online technologies for reflective purposes. For example, Ray and Coulter (2008) examined teacher blogs for amount and depth of reflective content and concluded that blogs that delved deeper than descriptive accounts of experiences “could lead to changes in practice” (p. 6).

Teachers and students can now avail themselves of various online and computer-based applications in order to reflect on their learning. This paper briefly examines how the two authors incorporated technology into reflection assignments in their virtual and hybrid courses. Results of a survey conducted after the reflection assignments demonstrate that there are positive implications for integrating web-based tools into the reflection process.

Technologies for Reflection

Russell Rogers (2001) notes that implied in the various definitions of reflection is the notion of active engagement in the reflection process. Traditionally, reflective methods, such as journaling, questioning, portfolios, presentations, and role playing have been dominated by the spoken or written word and have not used technology. With today’s twenty-first century learners, however, it is important that educators advocate integrating twenty-first century skills into their reflection activities.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2009) envisions a future in which students are prepared for work and life in the first decades of this century. Two key skill areas in their framework of twenty-first century student outcomes are (1) learning and innovation, and (2) information, media, and technology skills. Learning and innovation skills consist of creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration. Information, media, and technology skills are those that require information literacy, media literacy, and ICT (information, communications, and technology) literacy. This set of skills, which include higher order thinking skills, personal abilities, and technology literacy, are fundamental to meeting the challenges of a knowledge-based economy (Saltpeter, 2003). According to Alexandra Overby (2009), unless educators begin infusing technology into the curriculum, the gap between the needs of this generation of tech-comfy learners and the ability of educators to create meaningful learning opportunities will steadily increase.

While Overby used weblogs for reflecting on art production, Lisa Bucciarelli’s students used The MyEport ePortfolio system (www.myeport.com) to document their learning with digital portfolios Buciarelli (2009) states, “Web 2.0 tools, when properly infused into the curriculum, create a dynamic learning environment and foster both collaborative opportunities and individual autonomy” (p. 32). This dynamic learning environment incorporates the use of appropriate technology to reconnect learners to meaningful learning opportunities and enables them to actively engage in the reflection process.

Reflection Assignments

In spring, 2010, twenty-one students in a university hybrid Composition II course used both web-based and computer-based technology tools to produce midterm reflection assignments. Whereas Instructor I assigned the reflection midway through a fifteen-week hybrid course, Instructor II’s online students completed the reflection at the end of the spring, 2010 semester. Eighteen Introduction to Education students completed the assignments, embedded them in a discussion forum in the course, and commented on one another’s reflections. Twenty Introduction to Computers in Education students developed their reflection assignments, embedded them in their team blogs, and commented on each others’ reflections.

The palette of technological tools for formative and summative reflection activities in the authors’ courses offered students the opportunity to choose a medium of communication with which they were comfortable. One guiding question was “Do students value using various computer- and web-based technologies for the purposes of reflecting on course learning experiences?” The technologies offered were:








Photo Story 3






Windows Movie Maker


Picassa 3


At the end of the spring semester, students in all three courses completed an eight-item survey on www.surveymonkey.com about their reflection assignments.

Survey Results

Forty-seven of fifty-nine students in the three courses taught by the two instructors completed the survey. More than two-thirds of the respondents rated themselves as having intermediate technology proficiency. All students with the exception of two valued the incorporation of technology in the course(s). By far, the most popular tool to do the reflection was Photo Story 3, for over one-third of the respondents. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents took less than two hours in the preparation stage of the assignment. Almost half of the respondents took between one and two hours working with the technology to develop the product. In total, between two and four hours of the students’ time was spent preparing to do the assignment and developing the finished product.

Very Positive




Very Negative

Rating Average

Response Count

34% (16)

57.4% (27)

4.3% (2)

4.3% (2)

0% (0)



Clearly, with 43 out of 47 respondents rating the experience on reflecting on their learning using technology as either positive or very positive, incorporating technology into the reflection assignment was an engaging activity for almost 92% of the respondents.

Student Response



Yes, I recommend that this be a required assignment.



Yes, but I recommend that it be offered as an optional assignment for extra credit



No, I don’t recommend doing this kind of assignment



I have no opinion on this questions



Almost 94% of the respondents would recommend that this kind of assignment be either required or offered as an optional assignment for extra credit. Two-thirds of the respondents recommended that the assignment be required.

The following are student comments on their experience of reflecting on their learning using technology.

  • “I really enjoyed this last assignment because it was nice to reflect on everything I have learned. I especially liked it because my favorite thing we learned to do was to make a slide show.”

  • “It was really helpful to reflect on everything I had learned.”

  • “I’ve decided to use the diary entry method (loggel) because I currently keep a journal and feel it’s the easiest way to explain myself and get my point across.”

In general, the student reflections were descriptive in nature. Hatton and Smith (1995) differentiate descriptive writing from descriptive reflection. In descriptive writing, one just reports events or literature while in descriptive reflection, one provides reasons or justification for events or actions. Hatton and Smith go on to distinguish descriptive reflection from critical reflection. The critical reflector “demonstrates an awareness that actions and events are not only located in, and explicable by, reference to multiple perspectives but are located in, and influenced by, multiple historical, and socio-political contexts” (p. 18). Critical reflection leads to deeper understanding encouraging the reflector to question and challenge his underlying assumptions. (Yang, 2009).

Conclusion and Recommendations

This paper has briefly examined combining reflection and learning while using new technology tools. This has positive implications for instructors of online and hybrid courses. When learners are given the freedom to choose how to reframe, remix, relearn, and reflect on course content, more meaningful and engaging learning can occur. Just as reflection tends to be a personal process specific to the learner and the context, so too is the personal perspective with which the learner approaches the task of incorporating technology into the reflection process.

Appropriate incorporation of technology can make a valuable contribution to the learning of course content. “Technology affords possibilities and opportunities to play and explore” (Yelland, 1999, p. 41). As learners explore ways to transform content into meaningful learning, they build new understandings through these explorations. And as they build these new understandings through the production of their reflective pieces, instructors begin to look at learning through the eyes of their students. For the instructor doing the reflection assignment midway through the course, this affords opportunities to look at the remaining weeks of the course, polish what seems to be working, and revise or throw out what students express is not working for them. An end-of-semester reflection assignment provides useful data for the instructor when planning future course content.

The students in both instructors’ classes were not provided training in critical reflection; moreover, the series of questions provided in both instructors’ reflection assignments did not specify that learners should articulate in depth, for example, on the learning outcomes. In future reflection/technology assignments, the instructors plan to use Ash and Clayton’s (2004) three-phase reflection framework which incorporates description, analysis, and articulation of learning outcomes (p. 140). In the Articulating Learning (AL) model, the learner is asked to reflect on the what, the so what, and the now what by answering four guiding questions: (1) What did I learn? (2) How specifically did I learn it? (3) What does this learning matter or why is it significant? (4) In what ways will I use this learning, or what goals shall I set in accordance with what I have learned in order to improve myself, the quality of my learning, or the quality of my future experiences? (p. 142). In addition, a rubric for assessing the amount and depth of reflection will be used similar to that developed by Ray and Coulter (2008, p. 24).

As digital native 21st century learners and their immigrant instructors explore new ways to connect technology with meaningful learning in the reflection process, online educational experiences should be ones that are engaging, critical, creative, memorable, and transformative.


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About the Authors

Mark W. Simpson Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, FL. He can be reached at 10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Ft. Myers, FL 33965-6565, 239 590 7757, msimpson@fgcu.edu.

Sheila Bolduc-Simpson MA is an Instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, FL. She can be reached at 10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Ft. Myers, FL 33965-6565, 239 590 7810, sbolduc@fgcu.edu.

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