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According to Gibbs (1988), simply having an experience is not adequate enough to promote learning. Not reflecting on an experience gained through learning would result in you loosing that knowledge acquired. It is from the concept of reflection that assumptions and theories are drawn. And it is this assumption that allows new situations to be handled more effectively. (Gibbs 1988). The process of reflection, presents an opportunity for an individual to gain further insight into his/her work through critical reflection on experiences, and through further deliberations of other viewpoints from authors and theories.
Moron (1999) sheds more light on this topic by stating that, reflection is a form of mental activity (or a way of thinking) that enables an anticipated outcome to be achieved. She suggests that reflection is applied to complex situation where there is no obvious solution.
In simple terms, reflection evolves around the notion of learning. Through the process of reflection, we conduct an in-depth review of a piece of work. Reflection occurs when there is a motive or a set target. Subconsciously, this motive may not be realized. In spite of the fact that it may not be a planned endeavour, it is through this same process that a new idea evolves.
Reflection is seen as an examination or review of earlier actions, events or decisions. Jasper (2003) contributed to this concept by suggesting that when we reflect on earlier experiences, we end up enhancing our being through the acquisition of new knowledge.
LEARNING THROUGH REFLECTION
Reflection can be defined in so many ways but they all yield the same outcome - learning. David Kolb (1984) supports Gibbs (1988) and Jasper (2003) definition of reflection through the development of the Kolb cycle. It is drawn below in a simplified manner but still portrays Kolb's concept of reflection. The cycle is trigged by the idea of having an experience from a piece of work which goes through vigorous experimentation and reproduced through a new experience. Reflection plays a vital role in this cycle as it reproduces this new experience through the process of learning.
Fig 1 Cycle of experimental learning
Source: http://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/training/gtu/students/resources/pgwt/reflectivepractice.pdf [Accessed: 15th July 2010]
Kolb (1984) saw reflection as a psychological activity that has a significant role to play in learning from an experience. In the Kolb cycle, reflection is seen as a developmental stage of the process of observation. In other words through the course of making an observation, an individual tends to reflect on an experience before the notion of learning is realized. While agreeing with this cycle, Moon (1999a) introduced another angle to this phenomenon by suggesting that while reflection is seen as a vital aspect of learning, it also acts as a catalyst for the assimilation of information already acquired. She elaborates further by emphasizing that reflection forms part of a kind of cognitive 'housekeeping role' which in turn creates a new learning experience.
RECOLLECTION OF EXPERIENCES
The AMP began with a week of induction. Before the week, a module timetable was posted on Breo which divided students into cohorts according to courses and allocated venues. During the first three days tutors are assigned to various sessions to introduce the module to students and to provide us with necessary information required to embark on the project. On the third day, students are expected to form groups. After the formation of groups, each group is allocated a topic. We are to work together as a team to research on the topic and to come up with relevant resources. With the help of an assigned tutor or supervisor the topic is further broken down and made clear to all members of the group. At the end of the week we are encouraged to work individually and to share resources when appropriate. A summary of what took place during the 12 weeks is as outlined below.
Day 1 - Unfortunately, this day fell on my birthday. I woke up very reluctant to attend the first session but upon remembering the warning which came with the timetable, I had no option than to catch the virgin bus to Luton. I arrived 30mins late only to be embarrassed by the tutor on duty. Everyone seemed happy and the room was very noisy. Most of us were still talking about the exams. After the news that the topic would be given, the room became quiet all of a sudden. I became tensed and anxious because I had a topic in mind which I have been researching on. Whiles we were being introduced to the unit and the topics of report writing, information sourcing and referencing, I was busy reading the module handbook because I was still confused. We were informed that the project topic would be given out on the third day so we had to continue reading the module handbook and ask questions in our next session. I spent the rest of the night reading the handbook hoping the next day would not bring anymore surprises.
Day 2 - The second day was even worst. Even though we had a tutor who kept making funny jokes, the introduction of Plagiarism, chunking and reflective writing really made me quite unsettled. The plagiarism session noted various examples of plagiarism and emphasized on the "dos and don'ts" of a good project. I was beginning to loose hope when the academic librarian took the stage. He talked about where to get relevant materials for our project. He answered almost all my questions and also said we would be spending sometime with the librarians to practice how to source for materials for our project. During the break, I met with my former group members and we agreed to stick to the same group. I was excited because most of us were hard working. Just when I was beginning to feel a bit better we were informed at the end of the session that the groups we form would be functional for just the subsequent two days. I went home even more unsettled and tensed than I was the previous day.
Day 3 - The next day, after meeting with my group members, we submitted our names and we were asked to choose a team leader to pick the topic. I was nervous and kept praying for my team leader to pick a reasonable topic. After some few minutes, she came back with our topic. Initially I panicked because I did not understand the topic but after reading through more than once, I had an idea of what was required. I couldn't wait any longer. I started reading, researching and making my own notes. I also passed through the shopping mall on my way home to grab a diary like I was advised.
Day 4 and 5 -The final days of the induction week came very quickly and we were reminded that it was the last opportunity we had to ask for help on anything relating to the project topic. We were informed that any further attempt by a student to seek further guidance regarding the project topic would be denied. Although, I had a clear understanding of what I was expected to do, I was still unhappy at the end of the induction week. I was expecting to be supervised by an assigned tutor until the project was completed. Never the less, the group discussions we had with the assigned tutors reassured my confidence. It gave me the much needed clarification, direction and scope of research required.
Weeks 2 and 3- In week 2, I started searching for relevant materials for my project. My first starting point was Google search engine as advised by one of the tutors during the induction week. My next point of call was the University's digital library and then the Milton Keynes library. My group members agreed to meet every Friday but I could not make it because I was working. They kept sending an update of the meeting until everyone decided to do an independent work. I still kept in contact with my group members to see what they came up with. We shared a lot of resources through email. I gathered as many articles and journals as I could and also kept updating my diary. Most of the information I came across were electronic books so it made my work easier.
Week 4, 5 and 6 - During the 4th week, it was more of the same thing. I kept reading and piling up articles and updating my diary. I realized that most of the materials we gathered during the first week had nothing to do with the topic because we were just brainstorming and searching with keywords so I deleted them. I took a second look at the objectives outlined during the group meeting and realized we had highlighted all the requirements needed to complete the project. I wrote short notes on any relevant material I came across and kept the reference in another folder. After realizing the magnitude of articles I had piled up, I became scared of loosing them so I made copies as backup. In week 5, I started extensive reading on the relevant materials and made important notes that would help me with the structure of my work. I later realized in week 6 that I was having an entirely different notion of the project topic. I now understood some other angles in which I had to tackle the project topic which was completely different from my initial approach during the induction week.
Weeks 7, 8 and 9- From previous experience, I decided to start with the body of the report. As I started typing out what I had written down, I realized that I had too many theories and most of them were just talking about totally different things. I began to panic so I stopped, took a second look at the articles and deleted the irrelevant ones. I managed to bring everything together on paper before typing again. I initially thought it would be very easy to put all the information together after several weeks of extensive reading. In week 8, I discovered some of the things I wrote down were not heading in the direction I had hoped for so I decided to take a second look at the materials I considered irrelevant. To my amazement, these materials were making more sense than the previous materials. I started reading and integrating the useful information into what I previously had. By the end of week 9, I had completed my literature review.
Weeks 10 and 11- On the 10th week, I woke up with a terrible headache hence I progressed at a very slow pace. A group member advised me to start working on the reflective report. The diary was very helpful. I used the module handbook as a guide to start my reflective report. I was determined to complete my report before the deadline. In week 11, I completed my reflective report but I was unsettled because it accounted for just 20% of the overall mark. I decided to adopt a strategy of typing out relevant information I had in my hand written notes. I was astonished to find out that I only had to take out some few sentences and I was back on track. I banned my self from watching television and social networking sites till my work was submitted.
Week 12- The last week of the AMP was really stressful. I sat down in front of my computer from 7:00 in the morning till 11:00 in the evening. My eyes were hurting but I couldn't take any chances. The pressure kept pilling up when I received a call from my father asking about my graduation date so that he could book his air ticket on time. Through hard work and dedication, I finished my work on the fourth day. I quickly uploaded it to three plagiarism websites to see if it flags up anything. It came up with 5% plagiarism so I properly paraphrased those areas and gave it to my best friend to prove-read and check for spelling mistakes. She came back with minor grammatical errors. I corrected them and began counting the days towards the completion of my masters program. I printed out the two copies as instructed and made an electronic copy. I took it to a local cafe over the weekend to bind it and submitted my work on the last day of submission. I returned home to submit another electronic copy via turnitin. I was full of smiles when I realized it was all over.
PERSONAL FEELINGS AND LEARNING FROM THE EXPERIENCE
The AMP was a very challenging endeavor but I rose to the challenge. I was very confident of producing a good project until I was told the topic would be given to us. I was thrown completely off guard but I was determined to give off my best. The new experience was exciting at the same time very nerve wrecking. Since the week started off on a bad note, I was in no mood for surprises. However, it was as a result of this panic and feeling of anxiety that motivated me to work harder. As an Msc student, I was under pressure to apply what I had learnt in the classroom to a real life scenario. I must mention that the total weight the AMP carried as a unit also gave me the scare. My grades were not exactly that good so it was an opportunity for me to improve my performance. I was very upset when I was let down by some of the articles and journals I pilled up but with the experience from previous projects, I quickly recovered and in the end I was satisfied with the final outcome.
There were a lot of lessons learnt during this project. I learnt that it is very bad to assume the form a project would take before you are assigned to it. I learnt that setting milestones and deadlines ensures that projects are delivered on time. Even though in my case I had so many short falls I was aware of what was needed to be achieved at each stage. Being organized focused and time conscious ensured that my project was delivered on time. One lesson also worth mentioning is the concept of planning a project structure. This enabled me to define the scope of my project to prevent me from deviating. In addition to this, the first week of the induction made me realize how important it was to work as part of a group. I would have loved to finish this project as part of a group work, but it gave me the opportunity to develop the skill of working on my own initiative.
GROUP DYNAMICS AND LEARNING FROM THE EXPERIENCE
According to Guirdham Maureen (2002), a group is defined as three or more people interacting together to complete a common task. Mullins (2007) agreed with Guirdham Maureen (2002) definition and went further to explain the five developmental stages of a group. That is Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning.
Applying that to my AMP group:
Forming Stage: - My group went into the Forming stage on the second day of the AMP week. There was no need to introduce ourselves because we knew each other. We had a brief discussion and arranged to meet the next day for our topic.
Storming Stage: - The group went into the storming phase when we were given our topic. We spent sometime reading the topic, trying to understand what was being asked of us. We shared ideas but we were unable to pinpoint what we were supposed to research on. We came together the next day still confused. But with the help of the assigned tutor, we started brainstorming and writing down keywords that would guide our research. It is important to note that there were some conflicts but the tutor present, managed to resolve all issues. We met on the final day with articles and journals to share. We were clear as to what was required of us and we all left the meeting satisfied.
Norming Stage: - This stage occurred towards the end of the last group meeting. We had most of our questions answered and we were in a good position to start our research. The group's norms were governed by the fact that we had a common task to complete even though it was to be done individually. We basically had to abide by good professional ethics and behavior which were acceptable as students.
Performing Stage: - This stage was the longest in the group's development. We worked individually and communicated ideas by email. Even though we had a common goal, the success of the project was based on each member giving off their best to obtain a good grade.
Adjourning Stage: - The group slowly died out when each member submitted their work. I must say it did end early for some as they worked faster than others.
One lesson I learnt was that, whenever we came together to brainstorm and to share ideas, it promoted further understanding of the topic. This helped to calm nerves and assured us that we were on the right track. During the tutor lead discussions, each member of the group was offered an opportunity to shed more light on the topic. This encouraged members to expand on their ideas and elaborate further. In my case, my group leader served as a role model to me. She was energetic and organized. She motivated me to think faster and to improve my research skills. As far as I am concerned, there were no elements of group thinking. Each member was dynamic and argued out their points from different perspectives. Even though we all came from different cultural backgrounds, no one was intimidated. Every opinion was valued and conflicts were resolved amicably. Another lesson I also learnt as part of the group was that, I was able to work independently and effectively with the help of the feedbacks I received from my group members. With the right group members, the most difficult project can seem very easy.
LESSONS FOR FUTURE PROJECTS
Looking back at the whole experience, I would say that the project has positively impacted the way I think and conduct research. Approaching a project with a negative attitude is not the best. It is natural to be nervous when embarking on a new project but panicking leads to more mistakes. In future, I would rely on my experience, remain calm and plan properly. To track my progress, I would also ensure that I set achievable and reasonable targets. Whenever possible, in future projects, I would ensure that I benefit from the groups dynamism and experience. As a personal motivating factor, in future projects, I would ensure that I work beyond my ability to motivate other members to do the same. Working under pressure is not always avoidable due to time constraints hence in future projects, I would ensure that I plan properly using the right tools such as Gantt charts as guidance. From the AMP experience, I would ensure that in future projects, I keep meaningful hand written notes and diarize events incase a reflective report is required at the end of the project. Lastly, in sourcing for materials, I would ensure that only relevant materials are stored to enable me work effectively.
From the definition of reflection, it can be deduced that reflection is an essential part of learning and knowledge acquisition. We reflect because there is a subconscious purpose or reason which tends to improve our previous experience and give us further insight into the topic of discussion. Even though I started off on a sketchy path, I hit the road running once the scope and objective of the project was realized. With determination and the zeal to succeed, I followed the advice of tutors and good project management to reach my target. The AMP project was much difficult than I anticipated but the experience gained would certainly go a long way to improve my performance in future projects. Working as part of a group also expanded my horizon and presented me with new challenges. With the right motivation and team spirit, I gradually overcame my worries and anxiety.
To conclude, even though I would have preferred choosing my own topic, I must confess that the topic given us was quite interesting and one that required much research. It would have been more interesting to work with our chosen groups throughout the duration of the project but that would have also discouraged individual dynamism and participation. The AMP experience was worthwhile considering the fact that we were working on a master's level. When given a similar project in the future I hope to tackle it with greater zeal and determination. I am of the view that with the right resources and motivation in the future, a much deeper research can be carried out on the topic.