Why use mobile technology to enhance students’ reflection on practice?

As an element of the capacity building framework designed to help students make better use of their personal mobile devices (PMDs) in workplace learning (WPL), this resource aims more specifically to help academic teaching staff, workplace educators (WPEs) and students integrate reflective practices during and after placement.

Dewey  wrote, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience”.[1] Reflection is, thus, essential to learning and it needs purpose and intention. Further, research shows [2] that reflection is what is required for ‘good’ WPL and for students to ‘feel’ work-ready.[3]

How can mobile technology enhance students’ reflection on their WPL experiences in order to be better prepared for their future practice?

Although there are opportunities for shared reflection on placement, we also know that at times, there is limited capacity by practitioners due to time and skills to enable students to reflect deeply on their performances on placement. Having to rely on WPEs to facilitate and/or support students’ reflection can be problematic as most WPEs’ primary role is to be a practitioner. In addition to this, often, they are not trained to facilitate learning through reflection.[4] There is a risk that many opportunities to learn from reflecting on experiences can be missed. But just asking students to use their PMDs for reflection ‑ just like simply exposing them to practice experiences ‑ is not enough. Students need to be guided to use PMDs effectively to reflect by themselves and with others.

Learning to reflect on practice experiences online with others helps students to accept self-responsibility and grow their practice authority.[5] However, as Strandell-Laine et al. found in their study on students’ use of mobile devices during nursing clinical placements, “Participants used mobile devices primarily as reference tools, but less frequently as tools for reflection, assessment or cooperation during the clinical practicum”.[6]

Though students value their pre-placement preparation for reflection, once in the workplace, they often report relying on prompts from the WPEs to reflect. They also report feeling more comfortable reflecting with their WPEs about technical and procedural aspects of work and less comfortable to discuss ethical, cultural and emotional issues.[4] There is a tendency for students to avoid asking questions out of fear of showing their lack of knowledge or challenging their WPEs.[7] Yet, shying away from asking sensitive questions about what they have seen and done beyond technical and procedural aspects of practice, limits students’ depth of reflection.

For Ryan and Ryan [8] there is a hierarchy of reflection (the 4Rs) with at its base reporting and responding; in the middle relating to personal experiences, and reasoning; and at the top, reconstructing. For Harvey et al reflection can range from superficial to deep and leads to a spectrum of outcomes from pragmatic implications and change, that touch on our routine practice, to more essentialist implications and change, that affect our understanding of how we learn, know and act. In this context, critical reflection “may lead to multiple learnings including transformative learning”.[9]

Critical thinking is the kind of reflection that helps students problematise practice and theory, makes situated and contextual dimension of practice more explicit, question the relationships between technical, historical and cultural practices and connects action with reflection. “Critical thinking within critical theory means thinking autonomously as well as with others, without allowing others to think for us. It means questioning the traditions and motivations that shape practices in the first instance, and then participating in shaping other possibilities for future practices”.[7]

Deep reflection is an essential process for students to make sense of the complexity of professional practice. “When we engage in reflection, it becomes much easier to make sense of our personal and professional worlds and how we operate within them; things become clearer”.[10] This kind of reflection requires “purposefully thinking about what you have done and what you are going to do next”.[10]

Therefore: PMDs, as bridging objects, can be most useful in facilitating reflection to gain deeper insights and ideas for future actions. Academics and WPEs need to provide scaffolded tasks using the many affordances of mobile technology to help students reflect o and integrate their experiences using their PMDs while on placement should be planned.

It is essential, though, that students are vigilant and selective, though, to stay professional when sharing experiences. They need to follow policies, privacy rules and ask for the appropriate permission from anyone who is the subject of the reflections.

Refer to the associated resource page for some examples of how to do this.



[1] Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educational process. Lexington, MA: Heath (p. 78).

[2] Billett, S. (2009). Realising the educational worth of integrating work experiences in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 34(7), 827-843.

Dyson, L. E., Litchfield, A., Lawrence, E., Raban, R., & Leijdekkers, P. (2009). Advancing the m-learning research agenda for active, experiential learning: Four case studies. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(2), 250-267.

Guggi, N., & Glover, R. (2012). Digital literacies for student employability: Spotlight on work placements. Paper presented at the T & L Showcase: Assessing work placements, Reading, UK. https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/cdotl/NGuggi_RGlover.pdf

Taylor, J. D., Dearnley, C. A., Laxton, J. C., Coates, C. A., Treasure‐Jones, T., Campbell, R., & Hall, I. (2010). Developing a mobile learning solution for health and social care practice. Distance Education, 31(2), 175-192. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2010.503343

[3] Ferns, S., Russell, L., & Smith, C. (2015). Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World. Paper presented at the 38th HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. http://www.herdsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/conference/2015/HERDSA_2015_Ferns.pdf

[4] Trede, F., & Smith, M. (2012). Teaching reflective practice in practice settings: students’ perceptions of their clinical educators. Teaching in Higher Education, 17(5), 615-628. doi:10.1080/13562517.2012.658558

[5] Ross, J. 2011. Traces of self: Online reflective practices and performances in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education 16, pp. 113-26.

[6] Strandell-Laine, C., Stolt, M., Leino-Kilpi, H., & Saarikoski, M. (2015). Use of mobile devices in nursing student–nurse teacher cooperation during the clinical practicum: An integrative review. Nurse Education Today, 35(3), 493-499. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2014.10.007 (p. 493).

[7] Trede, F., & McEwen, C. (2015). Critical Thinking for Future Practice: Learning to Question. In The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education (pp. 457-474). Palgrave Macmillan US.

[8] Ryan, M., & Ryan, M. (2013). Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 32(2), 244-257. doi: ttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.661704

[9] Harvey, M., Coulson, D., & McMaugh, A. (2016). Towards a theory of the Ecology of Reflection: Reflective practice for experiential learning in higher education. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(2) (p. 5).

[10] Hensley, P. A., & Burmeister, L. (2009). Leadership Connectors: Six Keys to Developing Relationship in Schools. Eye on Education. 6 Depot Way West Suite 106, Larchmont, NY 10538 (p. 102).