Emotional indicators as a way to elicit authentic student reflection in engineering programs

Joachim Walther, Nicki Wendy Sochacka, Nadia N. Kellam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Reflection is increasingly recognized as central to student learning and professional development. There is, however, a lack of defined, systematic strategies to stimulate purposeful student reflection and overcome the inherent difficulties of the engineering cohort to engage in reflective thought. This paper theoretically develops a framework of emotional indicators to support student reflection on critical learning incidents. The framework is explicated through early data from a qualitative study that employed these indicators in student focus groups. The framework systemizes feelings that accompany critical learning incidents and can, in turn, be used to trigger students' recall of those experiences. The following five categories are proposed to organize the feelings according to the learning context they occur in: novelty, challenge, progression, exploration and insight. This framework is then used to derive specific triggers which can be used in reflective exercises to help students identify and recall experiences that are crucial to their individual learning. The triggers were trialled in a series of reflective focus groups to explore student learning in an interdisciplinary synthesis and design studio with engineering and art students. The focus groups were digitally recorded and transcribed for the subsequent interpretive analysis using the qualitative data software NVivo8. The paper draws on early data from this study to (i) illustrate some of the above-mentioned five categories through a thematic analysis of the students' shared lived experiences, and (ii) explore the usefulness of the procedure in eliciting students' memories of transformational learning experiences. The early analysis of the students' suggests that identifying emotions that accompany significant learning moments provides an intuitive and meaningful access for students to reflect on their learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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