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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

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3.2 Critical reflection in SoTL

While reflection encourages evaluation of professional practice by SoTL practitioners, critical reflective practice enables them to delve beneath the surface of long-held ideas and paradigms, and to challenge their own assumptions about people and situations.

Educators’ actions are based on assumptions they have about how best to help students learn. These assumptions come from a number of sources: educators’ own experiences as learners and the way they interpret these; advice from trusted sources (usually colleagues); generally accepted research and theory; and how they see students responding (Brookfield, 2017). Sometimes these assumptions are justified and accurate; sometimes they need reframing to fit particular situations; and sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

In education, all practitioners have four lenses through which they can conduct critical reflection to identify blind spots in their practice and gaps in their thinking that they have never been aware of (Brookfield, 2015). These lenses help educators to consider aspects of academic practice from a different perspective:

  • The lens of students’ eyes: how do they see what their educator does? What meanings do students ascribe to the educator’s decisions? How do they experience the educator’s exercise of power and authority?
  • The lens of colleagues’ perceptions: it is about asking colleagues for feedback about what is going well and what is not: ‘What am I missing?’ or ‘What do you think is going on here?’
  • The lens of theory: here, educators refer to the theory to open up to alternative explanations and interpretations of what they are doing.
  • The lens of autobiographical experiences: educators review their own experiences to view their practice. For example, an educator’s setting up of group work for his students will be informed by his own experiences as a student who was reluctant to participating in group work.

These four lenses guided by the research questions of the SoTL inquiry can be used to support critical reflection.