Facilitating Reflection Online
The need for reflection is an unquestioned aspect of an effective digital pedagogy. Unfortunately, the tools that support interconnectivity also limit our ability to effectively reflect. We are in a constant state of partial continuous attention as we check in on any of the endless data streams that compete for our attention.
Educational research is unequivocal in its assertion that reflection is critical to internalizing new knowledge or behaviours. Authors Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, after years of observation, concluded that, “a mere 10 per cent of the managers we observed spent their time in a committed, purposeful and reflective manner” while the others “squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities”. (Bruch & Ghoshal, The Busy Manager, Harvard Business Review, February, 2002)
More importantly, reflection is essential to our health and our ability to navigate the challenges around us. John Baldoni notes in his Making Reflection an Action Step that,
"practitioners of organizational learning place great emphasis on reflection as a means of identifying issues, gaining perspective, and formulating solutions for going forward."
How then can we make use for reflection a technology that constantly vies for our attention? We believe that mobile technology allows certain 'affordances' that support reflective practice:
- learners can move to a more reflective space yet remain connected to the supporting conversations
- after-action review is well-supported by threaded conversations and asynchronous dialogue
- digital formats allow for the structuring of reflective practice through intentional stopping, thinking, organizing and proceeding (the space between stimulus and response can be controlled in a way that is more difficult in a face to face or synchronous environment)
Another crucial piece in effective delivery is the role of the facilitator. We believe that effective facilitation requires four capacities:
- personal presence
- community creation
- generative space
Personal presence provides a “creative container” in which we can explore meaningful dialogue and adapt to change in positive and innovative ways. Effective presence is not about appearing outwardly confident but is the emergence of our capacity for building trust, creative risk-taking, enhanced communication, and deep listening.
Revealing a shared sense of purpose is central to the facilitator's craft. Often this involves an understanding of adult learning principles and facilitative practice but also requires a focus on constant reflection, evaluation and adaptation, and confidence in creating an engaging learning environment for all types of learners. The facilitator models community and helps participants understand how their behaviour shapes and impacts the process and content.
A shared sense of purpose must be directed to positive outcomes and a facilitator's role requires a generative space to explore. Generative communities transcend organizations and functional/topical specializations to generate new conversations and allow participants to learn from different experiences and approaches. Generative space allows participants to:
- express thoughts and opinions honestly
- appreciate differences
- become aware of opposing ideas and value differing outlooks on common challenges
- be open to new ideas
- encourage risks and exploration of the untested and unknown
- supportive learning communities allow time for pause and encourage thoughtful review of the modeled processes
Reflection is a search for understanding and meaning in a manner that invites collaboration and reciprocity. Self reflection allows us to act with integrity and compassion. It allows us to demonstrate an understanding of our own motivations and to weave them into the needs of the task or group. Most importantly, a capacity for reflection allows us to operate at a deeper level of consciousness that recognizes how past personal experiences affect how issues are interpreted in the present.