“If exposure is essential, still more so is the reflection. Insight doesn’t happen often on the click of the moment like a lucky snapshot, but comes in its own time and more slowly and from nowhere but within.” – Eudora Welty

Reflection is the element that transforms simple experience to a learning experience. For knowledge to be discovered and internalized the learner must test assumptions and hypotheses about the outcomes of decisions and actions taken, then weigh the outcomes against past learning and future implications. This reflective process is integral to all phases of experiential learning, from identifying intention and choosing the experience, to considering preconceptions and observing how they change as the experience unfolds. Reflection is also an essential tool for adjusting the experience and measuring outcomes.

The Importance of Reflection

Although internships are supposed to help students apply what they have learned in the classroom to what they are doing in the workplace and vice versa, these connections are often not made without reflecting on the experience. Internship reflection “enhances a learner’s experience through a linkage of education, work, and personal development.” Through reflection, students gain an appreciation for the experience and self-confidence in their abilities.

Having a mentor or adviser to assist in internship reflection can help the student see his or her experiences from another perspective. Learners must have the opportunity to reflect on and observe experiences from many perspectives.” Encouraging students to examine issues that arose in the internship from a variety of different perspectives can help students better understand the actions, feelings, and reactions that occurred. In addition, this knowledge can help students reflect on better ways to handle future situations in the workplace. Allowing students to find their own answers and make their own discoveries is crucial, but advisers can play a pivotal role in sparking student reflection by asking reflective questions and providing encouragement.

The experiences of the internship can also cause students to become more reflective in other aspects of their lives, such as their duties as organizational leaders. Students are more likely to see reflection as a helpful tool once it assists them in their internship. If advisers are successful in their efforts to help students reflect, students will be encouraged by the results. It introduces them to a mindset of continuous learning and teaches them how to ask reflective.

Ways to Aid Students with Internship Reflection

This section will offer specific strategies that advisers can use to promote student reflection. Since students often get academic credit for participating in internships, students tend to express interest in participating in internships during meetings with their academic advisers. Advisers should note in students’ files when they are participating in internships so that they prepare for discussion and reflection when they return to campus. Although a faculty member usually serves as the instructor for internship courses, advisers still have a role to play. For example, advisers can help students establish goals and expectations about the internship. Chapel maintained that the adviser and the student should jointly develop the goals for the internship and state them clearly so that everyone understands individual responsibilities.

Once students have completed their internships, advisers should encourage them to make an appointment to discuss their experiences or be prepared to discuss the internship when the students comes in for their regular advising appointment. In planning for the meeting, the adviser can remember these three principles from the experiential learning literature: Learning should be relearning where students’ ideas are brought out, examined, and mixed with new refined ideas.

Learning involves the whole person (thinking, feeling, perceiving, and behaving). Learning is a process of combining new experiences with old experiences and vice versa. These principles can be implemented during reflection to encourage the student to examine certain situations and think outside the box. Advisers would benefit from using these ideas to help students realize the extent of the experiences they had and the potential impact on their futures.

Create a List of Reflective Questions

Advisers can promote student reflection by creating a list of questions to ask them about their internship experience. These questions should make students take the time to think about and deeply consider their experience. Examples of effective questions include: What were your first thoughts and observations when starting the internship? How was your internship experience different from what you expected? What did you learn in your internship that you can now apply to the classroom setting or to your daily life? What connections have you made between theory and practice? How have your career plans changed due to your internship experience? What skills did you acquire during your internship that you will be able to highlight in your resume, cover letters, and/or interviews? Advisers should discuss with students how they can use what they learned from their internship to help accomplish their future life and career goals.

Listen for Inconsistencies

Advisers should point out overlooked interpretations to the student but avoid offering their own interpretations. Students will often brush off something as being insignificant when there may be more to the matter that needs to be discussed. For example, a student may view criticism from a supervisor as evidence that their work or project is a failure. In reality, the supervisor liked the overall idea of the project but can see that the student needs to work on time management to improve the overall outcome. Advisers should resist offering their interpretation of the event and instead ask questions that allow students to explore it further without bias. This allows the students to make discoveries themselves without limiting their scope or point of view.

Encourage Self-Awareness

Advisers should encourage students to be aware of feelings and how those feelings have affected the internship experience, as emotional sharing is positively related to both learning and mentoring. Students need to be open and honest in terms of their emotional experiences with others, so encouraging emotional awareness will benefit reflection and understanding. Advisers can encourage awareness by prompting students to recall their initial thoughts and feelings during certain times in the internship. An event may have occurred that sparked an emotional reaction beyond what the student realized. This type of reflection will help the student to provide the necessary information for the adviser to respond appropriately and give positive and constructive feedback.

The Experiential Learning Cycle

Edgar Schon, an influential writer on reflection, described reflection in two main ways: reflection in action and reflection on action. Reflection on action is looking back after the event whilst reflection in action is happening during the event. To complicate matters there are different interpretations of reflection on action. Let’s now explore these terms.

Reflection in action – To think about what one is doing whilst one is doing it; it is typically stimulated by surprise, by something which puzzled the practitioner concerned.

Reflection on action – The retrospective contemplation of practice undertaken in order to uncover the knowledge used in practical situations, by analyzing and interpreting the information recalled.Reflection on action involves turning information into knowledge, by conducting a cognitive post mortem. The process of creating and clarifying the meanings of experiences in terms of self in relation to both self and world. The outcome of this process is changed conceptual perspectives.

Other reflective practices can focus more on self-development. Here refection does not only add to one’s knowledge but challenges the concepts and theories previously held. As a result students don’t necessarily see more, they see differently. The faults with these views of reflection on action are that they do not take account of the importance of reflection before action. This is when we plan out before we act what we want to do.

Reflection can best be seen as:

  • Reflection before action
  • Reflection in action
  • Reflection after action

Reflective Practice

Reflective practice is a way of studying one’s own experiences to improve the way one works. It is very useful for professionals who want to carry on learning throughout their lives. The act of reflection is a great way to increase confidence and become a more proactive and qualified professional. Engaging in reflective practice should help to improve the quality of one’s work and close the gap between theory and practice. The following examples of reflective practice will give you some idea of the various methods you can choose from.

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle

Gibbs’ reflective cycle is a process involving six steps. It is considered a ‘cycle’ because the action you take in the final stage will feed back into the first stage, beginning the process again.

  1. Description – What happened?
  2. Feelings – What did you think and feel about it?
  3. Evaluation – What were the positives and negatives?
  4. Analysis – What sense can you make of it?
  5. Conclusion – What else could you have done?
  6. Action Plan – What will you do next time?

Johns’ Model for Structured Reflection

This is a series of questions to help you think through what has happened. This can be used as a guide for analyzing a critical incident or for general reflection on experiences. John’s model supports the need for the learner to work with a supervisor throughout the experience. It also recommends that the student use a structured diary. This model suggests the student should ‘look in on the situation’, which would include focusing on oneself and paying attention to thoughts and emotions. The model then advises to ‘look out of the situation’ and write a description of the situation around thoughts and feelings, what they are trying to achieve, why they responded in the way you did, how others were feeling, did they act in the best way, ethical concepts, etc.

Rolfe’s framework for reflective practice

Rolfe uses three simple questions to reflect on a situation: What? So what? Now what? He considers the final question as the one that can make the greatest contribution to practice. What …is the problem? …was my role? …happened? …were the consequences? So what …was going through my mind? …should I have done? …do I know about what happened now? Now what …do I need to do? …broader issues have been raised? …might happen now?

Place students in contexts in which they have direct contact with people who are different from themselves. Students in internship settings experience organizational and professional cultures that are new to them. Interpersonally, students work day to day with coworkers representing various ages, races, cultural backgrounds, professional roles, stages of career development, and more. Research on internships suggests that from these experiences students increase their multicultural skills, improve their skills in getting along with others in the workplace, and improve their communication skills.

Provide students with frequent feedback about their performance. High quality internships are rich in feedback for students. The very structure of internships engages students with both a supervisor in the workplace and a faculty mentor, both of whom provide guidance, support, and feedback throughout the experience. Research supports the idea that internships that offer extensive feedback are perceived most positively by students and that strong mentoring and feedback from the workplace supervisor and from the faculty mentor are important components of internship effectiveness. More finely-grained research further begins to clarify the effects of specific characteristics of internship supervisors, such as their understanding of the relationship between theory and practice and their preferred learning styles on the supervision that they provide.

Provide opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings. One of the most common assertions in the internship literature is the central importance of linking theory and practice and engaging in transfer of learning in these experiences. Scholars note this as a particularly complex aspect of the internship experience and one that requires careful course design, close mentoring, and on-going feedback and support from. Studies have found that through internships students can achieve deeper understanding of pertinent subject matter and disciplinary concepts and grow in their ability to select, access, and apply relevant knowledge to ambiguous problems and circumstances.

Help students gain a better understanding of self in relation to others. Internships place students in complex social situations in the workplace where they can experience themselves in new contexts and types of relationships. It is not surprising then that research suggests that internships can help students grow in self-understanding and self-confidence. Among these findings are that students increase in self-concept crystallization and career choice clarification, report enhanced self-esteem and positive self-perceptions, gain an increased sense of self-efficacy, improve their interpersonal and communication skills, feel better prepared to enter the workforce and/or graduate school, grow in their confidence in their own skills and knowledge and develop a more mature and realistic understanding of the world of work and how to work with others in the workplace.