Pdp working Paper 4 Reflection in Higher Education Learning

Jenny Moon, SDU, University of Exeter

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Jenny Moon, SDU, University of Exeter

These are the accounts of a an experience of giving a presentation, written by a 22-year old (Marianne) in her first job after graduating.


I had to take an agenda item to the weekly team meeting in my third week of working at PIGG PLC. I had to talk about the project that I am on (creating a new database for the management information system). I had done a presentation before and then I relied on my acting skills. Despite the acting, I spent quite a bit of time preparing it in the way that I have seen others make similar presentations.

The presentation at the last team meeting, given by my colleague, went well – she used Power Point and I decided to use it. I decided that a good presentation comes from good planning and having all the figures that anyone might request so I spent a long time in the preparation and I went in feeling confident.
However, I became nervous when I realised they were all waiting for me to speak and my nerves made my voice wobble. I did not know how to stop it. Early on, I noticed that people seemed not to understand what I was saying despite the Power Point. Using Power Point meant that people received my presentation both through what I was saying and what I had prepared on the slides. In a way that meant they got it twice but I noticed that Mrs Shaw (my boss) repeated bits of what I had said several times and once or twice answered questions for me. This made me feel uncomfortable. I felt it was quite patronising and I was upset. Later my colleagues said that she always does it. I was disappointed that my presentation did not seem to have gone well.
I thought about the presentation for several days and then talked with Mrs Shaw about the presentation (there was no-one else). She gave me a list of points for improvement next time. They included:
- putting less on Power Point;

- talking more slowly;

- calming myself down in some way.
I also have to write down the figures in a different way so that they can be understood better. She suggested that I should do a presentation to several of the team sometime next week so that I can improve my performance.


I had to take an agenda item to the weekly team meeting in my third week of working at PIGG PLC. I had to talk about the project that I am on. I am creating a new database for the management information system. I had given a presentation before and that time I relied on my acting skills. I did realise that there were considerable differences between then and now, particularly in the situation (it was only fellow students and my tutor before). I was confident but I did spend quite a bit of time preparing. Because everyone else here uses Power Point, I felt I had better use it – though I realised that it was not for the best reasons. I also prepared lots of figures so that I could answer questions. I thought, at that stage, that any questions would involve requests for data. When I think back on the preparation that I did, I realise that I was desperately trying to prove that I could make a presentation as well as my colleague, who did the last one. I wanted to impress everyone. I had not realised there was so much to learn about presenting, and how much I needed to know about Power Point to use it properly.

When I set up the presentation in the meeting I tried to be calm but it did not work out. Early on the Power Point went wrong and I began to panic. Trying to pretend that I was cool and confident made the situation worse because I did not admit my difficulties and ask for help. The more I spoke, the more my voice went wobbly. I realised, from the kinds of questions that the others asked, that they did not understand what I was saying. They were asking for clarification – not the figures. I felt worse when Mrs Shaw, my boss, started to answer questions for me. I felt flustered and even less able to cope.
As a result of this poor presentation, my self esteem is low at work now. I had thought I was doing all right in the company. After a few days, I went to see Mrs Shaw and we talked it over. I still feel that her interventions did not help me. Interestingly several of my colleagues commented that she always does that. It was probably her behaviour, more than anything else, that damaged my poise. Partly through talking over the presentation and the things that went wrong (but not, of course, her interventions), I can see several areas that I could get better. I need to know more about using Power Point – and to practice with it. I recognise, also, that my old acting skills might have given me initial confidence, but I needed more than a clear voice, especially when I lost my way with Power Point. Relying on a mass of figures was not right either. It was not figures they wanted. In retrospect, I could have put the figures on a handout. I am hoping to have a chance to try with a presentation, practicing with some of the team.


I am writing this back in my office. It all happened 2 days ago.

Three weeks after I started at PIGG PLC had to take an agenda item to the team meeting. I was required to report on my progress in the project on which I am working. I am developing a new database for the management information system of the company. I was immediately worried. I was scared about not saying the right things and not being able to answer questions properly. I did a presentation in my course at university and felt the same about it initially. I was thinking then, like this time, I could use my acting skills. Both times that was helpful in maintaining my confidence at first, at least. Though the fact that I was all right last time through the whole presentation may not have helped me this time!
I decided to use Power Point. I was not very easy about its use because I have seen it go wrong so often. However, I have not seen anyone else give a presentation here without using it - and learning to use Power Point would be valuable. I was not sure, when it came to the session, whether I really knew enough about running Power Point. (How do you know when you know enough about something? – dummy runs, I suppose, but I couldn’t get the laptop when I wanted it).
When it came to the presentation, I really wanted to do it well – as well as the presentations were done the week before. Maybe I wanted too much to do well. Previous presentations have been interesting, informative and clear and I thought the handouts from them were good (I noticed that the best gave enough but not too much information).
In the event, the session was a disaster and has left me feeling uncomfortable in my work and I even worry about it at home. I need to think about why a simple presentation could have such an effect on me. The Power Point went wrong (I think I clicked on the wrong thing). My efforts to be calm and ‘cool’ failed and my voice went wobbly – that was, anyway, how it felt to me. My colleague actually said afterwards that I looked quite calm despite what I was feeling (I am not sure whether she meant it or was trying to help me). When I think back to that moment, if I had thought that I still looked calm (despite what I felt), I could have regained the situation. As it was, it went from bad to worse and I know that my state became obvious because Mrs Shaw, my boss, began to answer the questions that people were asking for me.
I am thinking about the awful presentation again – it was this time last week. I am reading what I wrote earlier about it. Now I return to it, I do have a slightly different perspective. I think that it was not as bad as it felt at the time. Several of my colleagues told me afterwards that Mrs Shaw always steps in to answer questions like that and they commented that I handled her intrusion well. That is interesting. I need to do some thinking about how to act next time to prevent this interruption from happening or to deal with the situation when she starts*. I might look in the library for that book on assertiveness.
I have talked to Mrs Shaw now too. I notice that my confidence in her is not all that great while I am still feeling a bit cross. However, I am feeling more positive generally and I can begin to analyse what I could do better in the presentation. It is interesting to see the change in my attitude after a week. I need to think from the beginning about the process of giving a good presentation.. I am not sure how helpful was my reliance on my acting skills*. Acting helped my voice to be stronger and better paced, but I was not just trying to put over someone else’s lines but my own and I needed to be able to discuss matters in greater depth rather than just give the line*.
I probably will use Power Point again. I have had a look in the manual and it suggests that you treat it as a tool – not let it dominate and not use it as a means of presenting myself. That is what I think I was doing. I need not only to know how to use it, but I need to feel sufficiently confident in its use so I can retrieve the situation when things go wrong. That means understanding more than just the sequence of actions*.
As I am writing this, I am noticing how useful it is to go back over things I have written about before. I seem to be able to see the situation differently. The first time I wrote this, I felt that the presentation was dreadful and that I could not have done it differently. Then later I realised that there were things I did not know at the time (eg about Mrs Shaw and her habit of interrupting). I also recognise some of the areas in which I went wrong. At the time I could not see that. It was as if my low self esteem got in the way. Knowing where I went wrong, and admitting the errors to myself gives me a chance to improve next time – and perhaps to help Mrs Shaw to improve in her behaviour towards us!
*I have asterisked the points that I need to address in order to improve.
Features of the accounts that are indicative of different levels of reflection

This account is descriptive and it contains little reflection.

- The account describes what happened, sometimes mentioning past experiences, sometimes anticipating the future – but all in the context of an account of the event.
- There are some references to Marianne’s emotional reactions, but she has not explored how the reactions relate to her behaviour.
- Ideas are taken on without questioning them or considering them in depth.
- The account is written only from Marianne’s point of view.
- External information is mentioned but its impact on behaviour is not subject to consideration.
- Generally one point is made at a time and ideas are not linked.

An account showing evidence of some reflection.

- There is description of the event, but where there are external ideas or information, the material is subjected to consideration and deliberation.
- The account shows some analysis.
- There is recognition of the worth of exploring motives for behaviour
- There is willingness to be critical of action.
-Relevant and helpful detail is explored where it has value.
- There is recognition of the overall effect of the event on self – in other words, there is some ‘standing back’ from the event.
The account is written at one point in time. It does not, therefore, demonstrate the recognition that views can change with time and more reflection. In other words the account does not indicate a recognition that frames of reference affect the manner in which we reflect at a given time.


This account shows quite deep reflection, and it does incorporate a recognition that the frame of reference with which an event is viewed can change

- Self questioning is evident (an ‘internal dialogue’ is set up at times) deliberating between different views of her own behaviour (different views of her own and others).
- Marianne takes into account the views and motives of others and considers these against her own.
-She recognises how prior experience, thoughts (own and other’s) interact with the production of her own behaviour.
- There is clear evidence of standing back from an event.
- She helps herself to learn from the experience by splitting off the reflective processes from the points she wants to learn (by asterisk system).
- There is recognition that the personal frame of reference can change according to the emotional state in which it is written, the acquisition of new information, the review of ideas and the effect of time passing.

Appendix 3

Criteria that underpin the description of a good journal (PGCE secondary)

  1. Evidence of critical reflection that results in obvious new and usable learning:

  • a description of the ‘stimulant’ for reflection (eg incident, quotation, theoretical idea etc);

  • evidence of going back over the incident (etc), thinking about it on paper, bringing to bear relevant extra information (theory, things said, advice, previous experience etc). This is the ‘melting pot’ stage;

  • the drawing out of some sort of conclusion which may indicate new areas for reflection or something learned;

- evidence of learning from the reflective process that is then used in the planning or operation of further activities.

(Criteria 2 – 5 were specific requirements of this journal, described in advance to students)

  1. Evidence of reflection on teaching experiences and the process of learning to teach.

  1. Evidence of reflection on the manner in which pupils (school students) learn.

  1. Evidence of learning from the relating of theory to observations and practical situations with respect to any aspect of teaching and learning with inclusion of references to other material.

  1. Evidence of a developing self as teacher. This will be demonstrated in accumulating remarks that build towards a ‘philosophy of my teaching’ or of ‘me as teacher’ – eg statements of beliefs about procedures, about values, observations that suggest an awareness of taking up a particular style or position as a teacher

6. Presentation in an adequate format- Journals that are excellently presented will gain a few extra marks. Journals that are very poorly presented will lose a few marks but a wide range of presentations will be ‘adequate’ with no loss or gain of marks. The maximum marks that can be gained and lost as above will be specified in advance.

7. Evidence of ‘multi-dimensionality’. Good journals will draw from and refer to a wide range of types of material. For example, a journal that does not display multidimensionality might consider ‘what I see happening in the classroom’ and relate it to one or two few standard references. A journal that is multidimensional will draw from a range of texts, quotations, pictures, relevant media items and so on. Additionally, it may show evidence of the learner ‘standing outside the situation’ in order to observe self. It may show evidence of understanding of there being different viewpoints about an event. The opposite to ‘multi dimensionality’ is likely to be a very narrow journal mostly based on observation or expression of own feelings, with few references etc.
As with presentation, most journals are likely to fall into a wide band of ‘adequacy’ in respect to ‘multi-dimensionality’. A few will lose marks (specified) because they are exceptionally narrow and a few journals will attract extra marks (specified) because they are exceptional in this respect.

LTSN Generic Centre

PDP Working Paper 4

Reflection in Higher Education Learning


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