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Reflection in the Electronic
Writing Classroom

L. Lennie Irvin, San Antonio College




The Importance of Reflection
Reflection as a Catalyst

Reflection in the Writing Classroom
Reflection in the E-Writing Classroom


Reflection as Observation
Reflection as Refraction
Reflection as Coherence



Reflection in the E-Writing Classroom


Conclusion -- Works Cited


As we turn to examine how reflection works in a networked computer setting, we immediately see the expanded social environment for reflection. Donna Qualley's definition for "reflexivity" best describes reflection in this different environment:

Reflexivity ... does not originate in the self but always occurs in response to a person's critical engagement with an "other." Unlike reflection, which is a unidirectional thought process, reflexivity is a bidirectional, contrastive response. The encounter with an other results in new information or perspectives which we must hold up to our current concept of things. (Turns of Thought 12)

Typically, in a traditional writing classroom the most important "other" a student engages with is the teacher; however, the networked environment changes this teacher-centric dynamic. To illustrate the difference, we can look at Fred Kemp’s description of a writing cycle from his article “Computer-Mediated Communication: Making Nets Work for Writing Instruction” in The Dialogic Classroom. The table below charts out the sequence of activities done in class and out of class during one model writing cycle:


Instructor presents a prompt for discussion via synchronous chat



After thirty minutes of “discussion,” students write for ten minutes on a word processor summarizing the gist of the discussion



Students save the ten minutes of writing and the synchronous discussion to diskette.  The students are asked to read the discussion at home and delete all but three of the most interesting points from discussion


From these three points, the students are asked to create a thirty-line draft discussing whatever issue they took from the discussion.



Students post drafts to a discussion board for peer response



Based on feedback from the peer, students are to revise the draft for next class, building them to fifty lines of text



Students post drafts into a synchronous chat, creating an anthology of drafts, then spend twenty minutes reading these drafts.



In class, students are asked to freewrite about what they see as the major problems or strengths in regard to the class’s writing and how their writing compares.


Students are asked to prepare a third draft for the next class.



In class again (now the fourth day), students post their draft into small group chat sessions with four members each, read each other's drafts and discuss them.



Students make a copy of the small group discussion, download it to diskette, and then are asked to review the discussion before preparing their fourth draft.



On the fifth day of class, students post their drafts in the network and then do peer response (each person doing three to four responses).



Students are asked to review the peer responses in preparing the final draft



Student turn in the essay


Kemp calls this sequence of assignments "the writing-feedback-adaptation-writing cycle (or 'writing feedback loop')" (Kemp "Instructional Manual for Topic"). What I noticed as I examined this writing cycle--and others similar to it that I had used in my teaching in a computer classroom environment--is the level of “shared discourse.”  Students were sharing their writing and reviewing each other’s writing throughout the essay cycle.   In my own article “The Shared Discourse of the Networked Computer Classroom,” I proposed that the learning for the students, the social construction of knowledge, was increased through an extension of this shared discourse, and that this extension occurred through a repeated sequence of invention, reflection, and reinvention (Irvin "Shared Discourse"). My origin for the use of the terms invention and reinvention was inspired by Paolo Freire’s essay “The Banking Concept of Education”:  “Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (213). Perhaps another way to express what I saw in Kemp’s writing cycle could be better described by Dewey’s learning triad, “the most effective student learning is based on a three-pronged approach: doing, observing the doing, and reflecting on the observation” (Swain).  Students do, then observe and reflect upon that doing, and then redo—and then repeat the sequence (in Kemp’s example, five times!). 

A further echo of this sequence of learning can be seen in D.A. Kolb's Learning Styles as articulated in his 1984 book, Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. James Atherton in an excellent site reviewing the experiential learning cycle, points out that Kolb builds his theories from the work of Lewin:

This suggests that there are four stages which follow from each other: Concrete Experience is followed by Reflection on that experience on a personal basis. This may then be followed by the derivation of general rules describing the experience, or the application of known theories to it (Abstract Conceptualization), and hence to the construction of ways of modifying the next occurrence of the experience (Active Experimentation), leading in turn to the next Concrete Experience.

Two things become clear as we look at Dewey, Kolb, and at Kemp’s example writing cycle—the central, mediating role of reflection, and the extremely social context for this reflection.  We can see in Kemp’s sequence of assignments the same unique features of a computer networked environment that Joel English became excited about in his article “MOO-based Metacognition...”: "I have found that online writing conferences—which begins with an interactive dialogue-based form of writing, produces a learning text (the log of the conversation), and finally allows writers to read back through, respond to, and learn from the online activity—combines attributes of learning which, to my knowledge, have never before come together." We see in Kemp’s example similar episodes where students take transcripts of synchronous discussions, self-reflective texts, or peer responses and then look at them again as they prepare for revising their work.  What English and Kemp both stress about the computer networked environment is the mechanical advantage computers provide:

I also understand that it is possible to save face-to-face discussions in different ways: discussion can be audio and/or video recorded, and students could listen and/or watch those tapes for subsequent reflection-on-action.  ... However, transcribing tapes takes at least three times as long as the discussions take themselves, which renders this method impractical (especially compared to creating MOO logs, which can be printed and handed back to students literally minutes after the online discussions are over). (English “MOO Logs”).

Computer networks, then, by the ease with which they record texts and make these texts available offer new vistas for reflection.

But, as many have noted, computer networks also enable a greater degree of “socialization.” The importance of social reflection has already become a tenet of the thinking on reflection (Hughes, Bolton, Fey, Yancey, Qualley) as Terry Underwood confirms: “Although reflection can occur in isolation, it is the act of explaining ourselves to ourselves through expressing ourselves to others that enhances learning and that clearly locates reflective analysis in the social arena.”  Underwood goes on to assert: “The moral of the story for the teaching of writing is that reflection in isolation isn't enough; reflective analysis must be done within a community of writers for a student to profit from it.”  In other words, for the full benefit of reflection’s transformative power, students need to reflect with and to others.  For most writing classrooms the recognition of the importance of reflecting within a social context is met through small peer groups sharing their reflections and reflecting together or through developing a dialogue between the teacher and the student.  The moral to this paper is that computer networks provide a richer social environment where reflection can thrive. Three categories describe the nature of reflection in an electronic writing classroom: reflection as observation, reflection as refraction, and reflection as coherence.

Next: Reflection as Observation


Introduction | The Importance of Reflection | Reflection as a Catalyst | Reflection in the Writing Classroom | Reflection in the E-Writing Classroom | Reflection as Observation | Reflection as Refraction | Reflection as Coherence | Conclusion | Works Cited
by L. Lennie Irvin, San Antonio College