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Posts Tagged ‘reflection

I have returned to my local library in earnest. I had to avoid all our public libraries for over a year because the COVID-19 pandemic required that they be closed or operate at much reduced capacities.

When they first opened up, there was an online queue system that required me to reserve one or two-hour long slots at least the night before. These were snapped up before I could hit the enter key.

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Now that we are entering an endemic phase (i.e., trying to live with SARS-CoV2), libraries have opened up. Literally. There is more space between tables and chairs in the library and this should be the norm.

I am drafting this blog entry in the study area of my local library. In front of me are masked-up students mugging for their year-end examinations. Like me, they benefit from the well-lit, air-conditioned, and quiet surrounds. With the improved distancing, we can study and work safely.

Library display about air travel.

But now I think my local library is trolling us. Here is one photo I took of an extensive display of “travelling the world”. This is something most of us cannot do even with a few special air travel lanes.

Perhaps the display is aspirational. It is an attempt to help us look forward to better days. And that is what they should be. Better, not normal. 

Normal is a crowded library. Normal is congested streets as people make their way to work. Normal is sub-optimal and even sub-human treatment of people. We can, and must, do better.

Photo by Valentin Antonucci on

Reflection is a form of metacognition — it is thinking about thinking. Superficially, reflection is slowing down and taking stock of what happened.

Being inherently reflective might be a character trait. Being effectively reflective is a skill. I would like to offer a framework that suggests factors that develop effective reflection.

A little over 15 years ago, I conducted research and wrote a doctoral dissertation on reflective blogging by preservice teachers [link to dissertation maintained by IU]. References and research on reflection were hard to come by then. I doubt they are more common today.

I offer a reflective framework borne of my own reflection. I call it the Reflective Compass. 

The west and east points of this framework are critical and creative thinking. You need both to keep cognition in balance. Creative thinking sans critical thinking is like building castles in the air without ever planting your feet on the ground. Relying only on critical thinking — and confusing that with cynical thinking — cuts down everything before anything can grow.

The south point is evaluative retrospection. It is important to look back and process what happened in the past. Why? I offer this image quote.

We do not learn from experiences. We learn from reflecting on experiences. -- John Dewey

Looking back is not enough. You need to analyse and evaluate an experience: What was it worth? Why? Whether you succeeded or failed, what did you learn from it? If you got nothing from it, again, why?

If introspection is not accompanied by creative solution-seeking and critical analysis of such solutions, the process devolves into stagnant nostalgia. Reflection should provide direction for moving forward. This is the north point — forward-thinking — which entails planning, anticipating, and strategising.

Like any other framework, my Reflection Compass is only a model. Models try represent complexity but do not capture every facet of it. My model is not tested, critiqued, or researched. But I fling it into the ether just in case it helps someone looking for some some ideas on reflection.

This is not another one of my usual “focus on the processes behind the product” bits. But I still draw inspiration from a behind-the-scenes (BTS) video and an actual video to highlight something else.

I started watching Drive Tribe and Food Tribe videos recently. These are the intellectual property of the former Top Gear guys but James May seems to feature more heavily in them.

May has a small production team and one of his key hires is a person named Lucy Brown. It is Brown’s efforts to document her thoughts BTS that I am inspired by.

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The video above was her BTS look at her product — a remote instruction by May on how to prepare a simple meal over a video conference.

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This was the product. It was not slick-looking as it was a relatively simple recording of an interaction during their pandemic lockdown.

Together the videos are good examples of my usual call to examine the processes behind products. But they also reveal two other principles we should rely on more in education.

The first is critical reflection. It is important to analyse and evaluate the processes that resulted in the product. Brown reflected on her setups, the experiences, and her takeaways.

The second is the importance of a good mentor. May was encouraging without being overbearing. He often listened and responded to Brown’s questions or prompts, i.e., he did not just offer unsolicited advice.

There is another aspect of mentoring that the next video reveals.

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Call it what you will — disciplining, admonishing, chastising — a mentor needs to occasionally do this too. It is important to let mentees make mistakes, but it is also important to maintain standards and set some rules.

May led by example by coming in early and doing some of the cleaning up. But he also let his young charges know what he expected when they fell short. This is not a pleasant part of mentoring, but it is still necessary. I take this long term view of mentoring: It is important to be cruel in order to be kind.

I do not think I will ever tire of well-made behind-the-scenes videos.

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The one above combines my first academic love (biology) with my subsequent one (education).

It is one thing to appreciate the beauty that BBC documentarians capture — a “brinicle” forming in the antarctic in this case. It is another to see how they do it and what they reflect on. The first is the product and the second is the process. The two are linked, but the product is obvious while the processes that created it are less so.

I place more weight on observing and evaluating processes instead of focusing on a finished product. After all, an artefact has many ways of becoming. Some processes are more skilful, ethical, or otherwise better than others, so I want to know.

I received my second Pfizer-BioNTec shot on Friday. While seated in the waiting area, I was reminded of two three gaps.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

First, our schooling and education needs to teach learners of all ages a form of public speaking. This is not the sage-on-the-stage speaking but the speak-at-considerate-volume when in a shared space.

Photo by jonas mohamadi on

Second, some people are going to ignore these lessons because they are selfish. So makers of noise-cancelling headphones could update their devices to specifically be voice-cancelling.

Third, and written after I initially had just two thoughts, the WordPress mobile app needs to provide automatic attributions to images by Pexels. When I drafted this reflection on the app, the images above were included sans credit. I had to re-add the images on the desktop application for the attributions to appear.

Just sayin’.

Some folks might not like how long behind-the-scenes videos can be. So here is a quick process and product Instagram video.

Those who enjoy longer form videos might like the quirky animation and storytelling of TheOdd1sOut. In his latest video, the main man behind the channel, James, takes shots at uncritical thinkers.

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Anyone who has made videos will know how tedious the processes behind video-making can be. James opted to share his difficulty with saying “muggle public school”. 

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The painful and funny sequence might provide a small insights to non-videographers how much time and effort goes into voiceover work. I can relate because I used to make videos for the now defunct Cel-Ed channel.

On broader reflection, I wonder how many educators share their processes and failures more openly and reflectively. I know I do from time to time on this blog. These are not monetised or amusing, but I am certain that our collective efforts help other educators see that they are not alone.

I started listening to the Obsessed With… podcasts from BBC Sounds when they started following up with Line of Duty episodes. Why? I like gaining insights into the thought processes behind television products.

I listened to an old episode in the series which focused on Killing Eve. In the interview of Fiona Shaw, the hosts and guest reflected on why people disliked lockdown during the current pandemic.

They avoided superficial answers, i.e., how we are social animals. We can still socialise albeit differently, and we know we will eventually come out of lockdown.

Instead, they concluded that lockdown forced people to spend time with themselves. The question that each person had to ask themselves was: Do you like what you see?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Can you face yourself without the distraction of work or taking care of someone else? What do you see in that mirror? Are you happy with or disturbed by that reflection?

I know why I liked the quiet that came with our lockdown last year. I had been preparing for it since 2014 when I left full-time work to be an independent consultant. That move forced me to examine my priorities and to look both in the mirror and the crystal ball. I took comfort in what I saw then and what I see now.

After months of allowing a simple editing interface, WordPress forced its new editor on its mobile app and the Web. I am disappointed because I cannot rely on my favourite search of CC-licensed images, ImageCodr, as easily as before.

ImageCodr searches Flickr photos that have been labelled with any of the CC-licenses and provides HTML that can be copied and pasted into other websites. This used to work with the simple editor in WordPress.

Now I get this error message — This block contains unexpected or invalid content — when I try to embed HTML generated by ImageCodr. This happens if I add a new block -> embed -> choose embed as HTML.

Thankfully I can avoid this by a) ignoring the message (it still seems to embed), b) selecting custom HTML instead, or c) using some other external image source.

The last option is Pexel and Google Photos. I experimented with the Pexel source yesterday. I used images in shared folders in my Google Photos to embed all the screenshots above.

All this is a matter of getting used to the changes. However, I also think that the embedding is slower and less direct. It also feels like I am operating remotely on a patient — I cannot actually see and feel the HTML that this reflection is built on.

Be the best that you can be. That is what we urge our kids, right? But as they grow up, they learn through social interaction, societal pressure, and schooling that “best” is a result of competition.

Now competition itself is not bad. It can bring out the best in us. But it can also bring out the worst. One bad consequence is the focus on what others think or say.

Getting feedback by listening to or observing others is not a bad way to learn, but there can also be demoralising talk and bad models of behaviour. So the sooner a child learns to self-evaluate by critical and objective reflection, the sooner they gain confidence in their own abilities.

When compared to others, they might not be the best. But they learn to gauge what their current best is, look forward to improving, and celebrate both.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition 4

I challenged my audience in 2013 with a series of slides led by the one above. My intent then was to provide a fourth element in a loose but critical scaffold for thinking about MOOCs.

Back then, I asked them if adopting platforms like Coursera would serve their underserved (they evidence then was that it would not). I challenged them to ask difficult questions like: What might the consequences be if they did not rely on evidence-based planning and approaches?

Today I position this questioning element in the context of emergency remote teaching. How do we respond to the fear of asking and getting answers to the following questions?

  • What mistakes did we make and what did we learn from them?
  • Why were we not better prepared? How might we be better prepared?
  • How do we level up our collective capacity towards seamless learning?

The last question might be informed with this useful framework from Scott McLeod.

The other questions require a brutal and honest look at ourselves. Will we remember enough and be brave enough to do that when we are on the other side of the COVID-19 curve?

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