ToE TIG Week: Self-Reflection as a Novice Evaluator: Using Reflection Journals in a Program Evaluation Classroom by Jennifer Ann Morrow, Ph.D

Jennifer Ann Morrow

Hi everyone! My name is Jennifer Ann Morrow and I am the program coordinator for the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement doctoral program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN. I have been teaching novice evaluators for the past 18 years.

Reflective practice is an important part of what evaluators do. As evaluators we reflect for a variety of reasons: to summarize an experience, to enhance our learning, to explore our feelings, and to make sense of what we know. As an educator I try to impart the importance of reflective practice on my students, however I have struggle at times to get them to see the usefulness of reflecting. It is important to get novice evaluators reflecting on their learning early on in the evaluation process and not just after a project has been completed. So, this semester I decided to try something new in my Introduction to Program Evaluation two-semester course. I’ve incorporated required reflection journals throughout both courses as students are designing an evaluation proposal for a real client, conducting the evaluation, and summarizing and disseminating key findings.

Hot Tips:

  • Provide structure and guidelines for reflection: To get students started on the path of consistent reflection, provide them with clear instructions and guidelines for their reflection journal assignment.
  • Encourage creativity! Students are free to write in paragraph form, bulleted lists, designing or attaching visuals, or to include audio notes as they are reflecting.
  • Prompt them with questions: I provide some suggested prompts to help guide them through this process (e.g., “What have you progressed on/been successful with regarding your evaluation activities this week?”, “What evaluation/class related struggles have you experienced this week?”, and “What skills have you learned/been enhanced for you this week?”).
  • Set DEADLINES: I set specific deadlines (4 per semester) where they are required to upload their reflections online. I try to provide feedback within a week of submission, as I’ve found that being attentive enhances the reflection process for students.

Rad Resource:

Encourage your students to be creative when they are reflecting on their evaluation experiences. For example, there’s the Reflective Question Colouring Book!

Rad Resource:

I also recommend an article that provides a model and structure to reflection both alone and with others, entitled Demystifying Reflective Practice.

photo of hands on a laptop keyboard
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating TOE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Teaching of Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our TOE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “ToE TIG Week: Self-Reflection as a Novice Evaluator: Using Reflection Journals in a Program Evaluation Classroom by Jennifer Ann Morrow, Ph.D”

  1. Hi Jennifer,
    I really liked your article this week! I recently started my Master of Education and the very first course I took was on self-regulation which included a ton of self-reflection. I have been trying to make self-reflection a huge part of my learning through this program as it is unbelievably helpful in understanding the information, my experience and understanding, what I need to do differently next time, what makes me comfortable/uncomfortable, what do I still have questions about, and applying my learning in a real world example. The course I am taking now is on evaluation and I hadn’t thought about applying it to evaluation itself. Self-reflection has such an amazing impact on my learning, it only makes sense that it could be applied to an evaluation for similar effects. I think it would be very important when looking at commitments to standards of practice and also to continue checking in on the end result of the evaluation for all stakeholders and participants.
    Your tips are fantastic! After taking a whole course learning about self-reflection and regulation it is hard to boil it down in order to help someone else start. The prompting questions are particularly important because they make you think about specific areas. Whereas, if you just tell someone to reflect, they may go blank and think that they have nothing to reflect on which makes it hard and they are unlikely to continue it as a habit. I really appreciate the tips and especially the rad resource of the colouring book you provided. Whenever we train anything on mental health, we give everyone adult colouring books as there are some studies to show that it encourages deeper thought and concentration with difficult topics. I love how it is being applied to reflection and I look forward to using it in my workplace.
    Thank you again for sharing this great article this week!

  2. Dear Jennifer,

    Thank you for your insightful and relevant article on reflective practice in evaluation. I am currently designing an evaluation for an internship program, and particularly appreciate the importance of self-reflection during this task. Regular self-reflection relates to my emerging design have allowed me to take a step back to make sense of what I know and enhance my understanding.

    I completely agree reflections on learning should not just occur after the project has been completed. Early reflections can foster new learnings, approaches, and connections that can be applied prior to completion of the evaluation. From my experience, this allowed me to dissect and assess my proximal goals, rather than limiting my focus on the bigger picture of my distal goal. In other words, I was able to break it down into smaller bits and better understand each part of my evaluation design.

    One of my discoveries is that I was more inclined to present and apply my knowledge in a different – often visual – way. Although I used reflective journals, I found I was proposing new ways of articulating my ideas. Interestingly, my reflections transformed into different formats formats each time (e.g., a chart, concept/mind-map, presentation, etc.). This discovery relates to your instructional tip of “encouraging creativity”, which I believe have multiple benefits. Personally it was a way of discovering what works best for me, as well as what format may best convey my reflection on the particular stage or task I was executing. On that note, I really enjoyed your ‘rad resource, the “Reflective Question Colouring Book”, and hope to try it out! I think it would be a stimulating yet mindful experience.

    As you identified, some instructional practices that can strengthen student reflection is to ensure appropriate timing and provide guiding questions. One element that you may wish to consider is incorporating collaborative opportunities or activities. Perhaps this could aid in helping your students see the usefulness of reflecting and/or assist students in finding a reflective practice that works best for them. What I mean by the latter is that some students may prefer to discuss with others is an informal setting. Have you discovered that throughout the process, students begin to understand and value the purpose of reflection? What are three ways in which student reflection can be enhanced?

    Outside of the evaluation context what I find intriguing is the customization of learning and use of technology in online education, which has facilitated novel ways for students to apply course content through and for self-reflection to occur continuously. For example, activity configurations that involve a workflow of steps require students to go back and build of initial ideas for a final submission based on new evidence. ‘Choose your own adventure’ activities function as an online experiential learning opportunity that emphasize planning, monitoring, and reflecting on their learning over time. Collaborative tools, such as discussion forums are used to supplement these learning activities by providing a space similar to a face-to-face discussion of decisions, inquiries, data, and actions.

    Thank you again! Your article has prompted a reflection of my own reflective practice. I appreciate your contributions to the blog.

    Kind regards,

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