Engaging in reflection
Over years of supporting students to self-reflect for employability development at The University of Queensland, we found that most students greatly appreciated a simple self-reflective structure to guide them through the process. Based on this feedback we developed a particular model of self-reflection for employability development intentionally designed to uncover specific learning relating to employability – SEAL.
The SEAL process of self-reflection, as shown below, helps students to unpack a particular learning opportunity in order to understand the employability development that has occurred.
By working through this self-reflection students will better understand how their experiences have helped them to develop the attitudes and behaviours that enable effective work performance.
What happened during the event, incident, activity, or task?
What were the new experiences you had to deal with or the challenges faced, and what impact did they have on you?
What did you learn from it -- what can you now do as a result and what do you need to do to handle a similar situation again in the future? How has the experience added to the ones you have already had in terms of your development?
The written SEAL examples provided show how students have worked through the SEAL process to identify their development as a consequence of their engagement in a particular learning opportunity.
Ask your students to:
- Select a learning opportunity to reflect on (remember this should be a particular situation where the student felt pushed outside their comfort zone)
- Work through the self-reflective process using the SEAL worksheet provided, writing out their responses.
The next step is for students to analyse their reflections to consider the specific competencies, capabilities or attributes that they may have developed as a result of their experience and the act of self-reflection. If the students have considered employer expectations in particular industries/roles/work contexts then they generally find this easier to do.
The ‘Learning’ section is the most important part of the SEAL self-reflective process, as it is where students can see what development has been gained through the situation.
When identifying what has been learned from an experience using SEAL, it makes sense to use the language of employers, and that means talking about ‘skills’ as well as personal qualities. Thinking about the learning from the reflection as ‘skills’ (and personal qualities) helps students to connect their development to the things that employers value, and that are listed in job advertisements or found in selection criteria.
Skills is the term used most often by employers when discussing the attributes that they would like an employee to possess. These tend to be quite specific and employers know just how these skills will be applied and in what context. E.g. negotiation skills required to effectively manage contracts with key accounts.
In the context of higher education we prefer to talk about the development of competencies, capabilities or attributes rather than skills. Capabilities describes potential or possibility that may not yet have been realised, or where the context of application might yet to be defined. A capability is the combination of knowledge, ability and experience, and suggests that the student has the aptitude to apply the capability in different environments regardless of the task or situation.
Using the term capabilities in higher education also removes the risk of students becoming fixated on an employer or industry wish list of skills that may change at any time.
Ask your students to look back at the self-reflection that they wrote in the last section. In particular to re-read the ‘L’ of SEAL and to:
- Identify words or phrases that indicate that they have drawn on a particular ability or personal quality to manage the situation.
- Identify any words they have used that link back to employer expectations in their field.
- Consider what they can now do as a result of dealing with this challenging situation.
- Highlight or list the capabilities that they have identified.
Below is an example of student’s L of SEAL with skills underlined:
I learned that I sometimes have problems with nerves when communicating in stressful situations and that planning out what I am going to say and trying to anticipate responses helps me settle those nerves and feel more confident about communicating effectively and professionally. I would use this strategy again in the future when preparing for important meetings or presentations.
On the surface, the student has definitely improved her communication skills as a result of the learning from her experience in the summer research project. But if you look more closely at her reflection, you can see that in devising a script to deal with her nerves, she has developed problem-solving skills, she took initiative to try to address her nerves, and her confidence has improved. She is also able to plan a communication event to anticipate responses which shows that she is proactive.
It is often very effective to invite the students to share their reflections in small groups. Students who have engaged in the same type of experience tend to find it very enlightening to hear about different development that other students have gained from what often looks like the same kind of activity. Because students bring their own unique perspectives, beliefs, and existing capabilities to every learning opportunity each student is likely to gain something different from the experience.
If the cohort are not particularly close, it can be difficult to get students to share and because the self-reflections are personal it may not be appropriate to force students to. However students are often excited to share their experiences with others and can learn greatly from hearing how their peers have managed challenging situations within the same or a similar experience. As an educator you may like to share your own reflection from a similar activity to get the ball rolling.