If you attended the Instructional Excellence Retreat in May, you heard about – and hopefully learned something about – the concept of critical reflection.  Patti Clayton, a Senior Scholar with the Center for Service and Learning at IUPUI, ushered us through the process of critical reflection before, during, and after an experiential learning opportunity to generate, deepen, and document our learning about the experience.   Critical reflection was the focus of the Retreat because providing experiential learning to students is part of our SACS Quality Enhancement Plan.  Why?  Because the literature tells us that experiential learning promotes the development of critical thinking skills.  These skills are in demand by employers, so we want our students to have them.

I wanted to write about critical reflection to communicate what it is, when to implement it, and how to implement it.  Critical reflection is a reasoning process that is guided, descriptive, analytical, and critical, and can be articulated in a number of ways such as in written form, orally, or as an artistic expression.  Often, a reflection activity is guided by a set of written prompts, such as the ones shown below in the diagram.  A best practice for critical reflection is that students to respond to prompts before, during, and after their experience, so the prompts are adjusted to match the timing of the reflection.  Critical reflection can be integrated into any type of active learning experience, inside the classroom or outside the classroom.

critical reflection image

Image from University of Guelph, http://www.coles.uoguelph.ca/pdf/Critical%20Reflection.pdf.


If you are considering using critical reflection, first you need to identify the student learning outcomes for reflection. What do you expect students to gain as a result of this activity?  Understand multiple points of view?  Be able to propose solutions to a problem?  Once you identify the outcomes, then you can design the reflection activities to best achieve the outcomes.  You also need to think about how you will assess the reflections.  A rubric that outlines the criteria for evaluation and levels of performance for each criterion can be useful for grading and to provide detailed feedback to students.

Additional Resources

Bart, M.  (2011, May 11).  Critical reflection adds depth and breadth to student learning.  Faculty Focus.  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/critical-reflection-adds-depth-and-breadth-to-student-learning/.

Colorado Mountain College.  (2007).  Critical reflection. Retrieved from  http://faculty.coloradomtn.edu/orl/critical_reflection.htm.

Kenny, N.  (2010).  What is critical reflection?  Centre for Open Learning and Educational Support.  Retrieved from http://www.coles.uoguelph.ca/pdf/Critical%20Reflection.pdf.

Dawn M. Ford

Dawn is the Executive Director of the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning.

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