Preparing students for reflection
Introducing reflection for employability
As educators, we know that reflection is a critical element in the experiential learning cycle, however students may not know (or need some convincing). Therefore it is important that if you choose to use self-reflection in your activity that students understand its value, as well as how the ‘outcome’ of the reflection connects back to their course of study and their employability development.
Situate the reflection within your context. Set the scene with your students by discussing what capabilities and attributes are valued in particular industries (or in general). Explain to the students how the self-reflection will enable them to identify capabilities and attributes that they may have developed through the activity that are valuable in a work context.
Be explicit. Make the connection to the recruitment process. Hiring processes often ask for specific examples to demonstrate skill development. Reflections make excellent examples to use to address selection criteria or behavioural interview questions. If your students are entrepreneurial they will still use these reflections when communicating with stakeholders or investors.
Consider the language that you use. ‘Reflection’ may not resonate with all students. Your discipline or field of study may use different terminology that students identify better with. Use whatever term suits your purposes.
Don’t assume that students know how to reflect, or that it comes naturally to them. Many students (and staff) are not naturally reflective and prefer to follow a structure, and be given clear parameters on what they can reflect on.
While reflection can lead to a better understanding of oneself in many spheres, for reflection for employability development, try to encourage students to articulate their learning in terms of their potential to contribute in a work environment.
Selecting a learning opportunity
One of the first challenges for students can be the decision of what to reflect on.
While it is usually fairly clear what general experience will form the background for the reflection – a placement, project, or activity, you will need to consider whether the student will be reflecting on the experience overall or if they will be selecting certain situations from that experience to reflect on.
While it is possible to reflect on an overall experience (i.e. placement with xyz organisation) it can be a daunting exercise as many experiences consist of a multitude of potential learning opportunities. Reflecting on an overall activity can lead to quite generalised reflection rather than the deeper reflection that can happen when students focus on a particular activity, event, incident, task or situation as a part of this experience.
Asking your students to identify particular learning opportunities to reflect on can lead to deeper and more thoughtful reflections.
A learning opportunity could be any instance where the student felt like they were being pushed even slightly out of their comfort zone, or weren’t sure how to handle a situation. If they were motivated to take action of some kind, then the chances are that that experience is a learning opportunity.
Think about situations that had an impact on you.
Was the situation new or challenging?
Were you motivated to take action?
This is a learning opportunity!
You can get your students to identify potential learning opportunities from their overall experiences by asking them to:
- Break a ‘general’ experience into its parts. E.g. Overall experience = Summer Research Program
- Met with my research supervisor to determine the work to be done;
- Embarked on data collection;
- Worked with the research team to analyse the data;
- Prepared report on findings;
- Presented report to supervisor and colleagues.
- Review this list. Were any of these ‘parts’ of the experience new or challenging, or pushed you outside your comfort zone? Which ones?
If the student considers any of these to have pushed them outside their comfort zone then it may be a potential learning opportunity and could be reflected on to determine if any employability development occurred.
E.g. A student might identify that ‘Worked with the research team to analyse the data’ pushed them outside their comfort zone as it required them to learn a new methodology, and they felt out of their depth alongside other researchers who were much more familiar with it than they were.
Once the student has pinpointed a particular incident or challenging situation they can then apply a reflective model or technique to consider how they have developed through this learning opportunity and what they can now do – or do better – as a result.
When preparing your students for the activity as part of your course or program tell them to keep an eye out for potential learning opportunities. Remind them that if they find themselves in a situation where they feel uncomfortable or are finding something difficult to… ‘flag that moment!’ That uncomfortable situation is a potential learning opportunity for them that they can review and reflect on later.
Understanding employer expectations
A good way to prepare students to reflect for employability development is to have them consider the expectations of employers in the industries or professions that they are interested in entering. This will get them thinking about the capabilities and attributes that are valued in particular work environments, and also about whether they feel that they possess these, and if not, how they might work towards the development of these capabilities.
It is sometimes difficult for students who have not thought about the expectations of employers, and the skills that are important in a particular work environment, to identify the capabilities that they might have developed. Getting the students to investigate employer expectations before reflecting helps them to pick out particular capability development as they analyse their reflections and use the language of employers when identifying their development.
- Ask your students to research employer expectations in the industry/role or profession that they would like to work in (if they are interested in starting their own business, get them to research the capabilities that are valuable in start-ups).
- Get them to identify 10 capabilities, skills or attributes that are commonly requested in employer job ads.
- Ask them to discuss why they think that these capabilities are important in that industry/profession.