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Reflection Makes the Implicit Explicit with Erik Blair

Welcome to Episode 66 of the Think UDL podcast: Reflection Makes the Implicit Explicit with Erik Blair. An educator for over 20 years, Erik Blair is currently a Senior Lecturer in Health Professions Education in the Institute for Health Sciences Education at Queen Mary, University of London. I first ran across his work on the OneHE website which is full of fantastic courses to learn more about teaching and learning and faculty development. I was especially interested in his work on reflection. In today’s conversation, we discuss what reflection-based activities are, how to incorporate reflection activities into your classes, what different kinds of reflection activities there are, and what might work in different circumstances. We also talk about the benefit of incorporating reflection-based activities for students and instructors alike. Erik is also the author of several books including his 2020 publication Independent Thinking on Teaching in Higher Education. You will find a link to his author page and other information on reflection and OneHE on our website for episode 66 if you would like to learn more about Erik’s work. Thank you for reflecting with us today as you listen to our conversation on this episode of the Think UDL podcast.


Find Erik Blair on Twitter @ErikBlairHE

Check out the OneHE website to learn more about teaching and learning strategies, and check out Erik Blair’s page on OneHE!

Erik Blair’s Amazon Author page shows his available books

Lillian mentions her use of a Reflection Table Assignment in her Intercultural Dialogues class. Feel free to use and/or adapt if you find it helpful

Erik mentions Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the multiple domains of learning (not just cognitive). Take a look at this website from the University of Waterloo on Bloom’s taxonomies
This is also related to Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, where reflection is a key component of learning. Look at simplypsychology’s explanation of Kolb’s Learning Cycle to learn more about how reflection helps us to really learn!



Sat, 7/10 11:19PM • 1:06:46


students, learning, reflection, knowledge, people, thinking, teaching, reflect, reduce, class, tools, activities, udl, learners, cave, reflective, data, words, headlamps, question


Lillian Nave, Erik Blair

Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian Nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 66 of the think UDL podcast. Reflection makes the implicit explicit with Erik Blair. An educator for over 20 years, Erik Blair is currently a senior lecturer in health professions education in the Institute for Health Sciences education at Queen Mary University of London. I first ran across his work on the one he website, which is full of fantastic courses to learn about teaching and learning and faculty development. I was especially interested in his work on reflection. In today’s conversation, we discussed what reflection based activities are, how to incorporate reflection activities into your classes, what different kinds of reflection activities there are, and what might work in different circumstances. We also talk about the benefit of incorporating reflection based activities for students and instructors alike. Erik is also the author of several books, including his 2020 publication independent thinking on teaching in higher education. You will find a link to his author page and other information on reflection and one he on our website for Episode 66. If you would like to learn more about Erik’s work. Thank you for reflecting with us today, as you listen to our conversation on this episode of The think UDL podcast. Thank you so much, Dr. Erik Blair, for joining me today on the think UDL podcast. 

Erik Blair  02:18

Thank you very much, Lillian. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Thanks for asking, 

Lillian Nave  02:22

Oh, I am so excited. Because we have a kinship spirit about this reflection idea for our students, and I really wanted to pick your brain about it and, and really know about your thinking on it. And so before we do that, I wanted to ask you, what makes you a different kind of learner? 

Erik Blair  02:45

Yeah, see, this is this is a brilliant question. And I love that you ask everybody this. So I did my homework, and I checked out some of your previous guests. Nice. So Anne Gagne and Flower Darby, and I thought, you know, these guys know what they’re talking about. Let’s check them out. Yeah. And it’s very interesting because um, described a mathematical approach. She was saying she’s logical, thoughtful, systematic, and flow are described herself as a voracious reader, a reflective processor, finding the science finding information, by the end of it both some talks about a kind of sense making, going through this process, and then making sense. Another sense maker as well, I think, my waist probably a little bit different to that I like to reduce things down to the key point. So I start with a big set of information. And I think we’ll kind of reduce that to a few bullet points, coverages that the statement can reduce it to 10 words, perhaps. And just kind of that as my bit of information or hopefully later on, I’ll be able to unpack up back the way. But much like and flow, I’m very much about going through this process. And again, how does this help me understand the world? How does this help me make sense of the world? So as you can think that’s the kind of learner I am? Wow, yeah, we always have to have right something to hang our hats on, right to make that connection with new knowledge. Right? We can’t just accept new knowledge without some way to, like, put it on an armature or, you know, understand it with the tools that we already have. So I see how you’re, you know, how is it that we make sense of new information? Or how is it applicable? Or, you know, why does it make sense to us? So you’re already in that application phase of, you know, how it’s going to work for you? Yeah, yeah. My system. I feel like I don’t know if it’s a system or something that, you know, like many of us, it happens, and then then later on, we have to think about it and do I have a system, but my system comes from when I was a high school teacher years ago, started a Korean High School. And I would spend five minutes a beginner class explaining a task and say, This is what we’re going to do and that was it. a novice, I didn’t know what I was doing was terrible. And then five minutes of information from me. And then it was always one or two kids in the class who didn’t get what I was seeing. And they turn to their friend next to them and say, What are we to do? And a friend could explain the same thing and about 30 seconds. capacity to take this information, reduce it down to this, like key info and say, This is what we’re doing. This is amazing. I need to be doing more of that. Yeah, there is a downside of this. Because later on, as it became a little bit more experienced, I realized that, whilst they were able to condense information, they never explained to the peers why they were doing things. Gotcha. They got the war of learning, but it didn’t get away of learning. And that was something that only experienced, I could think back on. And I wish I could go back now, you know, 10 1520 years, and say, Hey, guys, you know, we can make this better. But no, I’m interested in not just not silly nugget of wisdom. Now, what, but also why we’re doing this?

Lillian Nave  06:05

Yeah. Yeah, that’s so important with I know, with our students, with my students, they’re so interested in, you know, what do I have to do? Let me get it done as quickly as possible. And therefore, they’re not thinking of why is this important? How can it be applicable or helpful in my life, or five years down the road? They just think, oftentimes, I need to get this done. What’s the shortcut to getting it done? And what I’m fascinated by is your work that really privileges or puts to the forefront? The reason why they’re they’re doing it that’s like an integral part of what the learning is reflecting on how it makes sense to them, or why it should make sense, right?

Erik Blair  06:50

Yeah. And it’s making the implicit, explicit, and, and those those levels you’re talking about, they probably have a very strategic way of doing things to say, let me just get through these five things. Because Because if I get these things ticked off, then I get this a debit get, I can move on, I can go to Korea. And it sounds like they’re just getting through things, ticking things off. But actually, they’ve been really strategic. They’re thinking about a whole big picture, a whole chain of events, where it will lead them. And maybe their reflective thinking is certainly Where will I be the end point? And can I think about, so planning backwards to get to this. And we only become tools and their whole career path. I don’t want that because I want my students to be totally excited about everything that I ever do. run out of class screaming my name. But that doesn’t really happen every day. So sometimes our students are a little bit more strategic than we were like, and they’re not asking the why question. Because their why question is much further down the line. It’s not connected with my classes caked with their whole career.

Lillian Nave  07:56

I see. Yeah, totally makes sense. And I think that’s why they seem short sighted to me, but really, they’re just they’re farsighted. They’re they’re wanting to get to the end of their their journey.

Erik Blair  08:07

Yeah, yeah. I mean, like, get off. It’s like a pair of glasses. They’re long sighted. We’re short sighted, which I correct for one thing, but maybe in doing so we changed something else? I don’t know. But for me, if they took the time to think about where they were, where they are, no, and reflect on what they’re learning? No, I see that as a means of being stronger in the future.

Lillian Nave  08:32

Absolutely, yes. Yeah. And and trying to add that reflection as many times as possible, I think is helpful. So yeah, so I definitely wanted to talk to you about that. So I wanted to ask you about reflection, and the UDL guidelines include reflection activities, and engage in the engagement column, which focuses on the effective networks of the brain. So that why of learning that we just talked about, and specifically for instructors to engage their students, we should be providing multiple opportunities and options for regulation that includes self assessment and reflection. So what are reflection based activities? And why should we use them? Well, it really is about a type of meta cognition has given students a chance to step outside their day to day learning. And they can pause and think about how have I learned when we can also kind of pre pause, and we can think about who will I be learning. And so we often think about reflection as something that happens after the fact. There’s a space for this reflection beforehand, based on what I’ve already done based on the tools that have already been shared with me. based on my experiences and the frameworks I’ve got around me, how will I approach a new task So in this way, this is about as helping students to support themselves, as learners support their understanding, focusing on how they’re learning, rather than what they are learning. Okay, that’s big. That’s very, that’s a big shift for them to make not just the content, right? They’re just very content focused. But shifting to that process, right?

Erik Blair  10:24

Well, there’s not just data, we’ve got 3000 years of higher education we’re fighting against, you know, we’re fighting against a system that seems to be built around knowledge transmission. Yeah. And especially as we move up into follow higher adult education, it becomes more and more about facts, the systems in the crown, the curriculum full of facts. Whereas we don’t do when you look at the kindergarten, they’re doing so much great learning amazing stuff, starting the very start of learning, what we give them room to play, to think, to enjoy themselves, to develop skills and understanding that are fundamental, we can’t have knowledge without skills and understanding. But for some reason, the higher education is just going to really reduce the role of skills and understand them, and really boosted the role of knowledge. This is where it’s at. And I think we’ve got a lot to learn maybe sort of bias coming to a high school teacher background, there’s a lot to learn from the study, the sector that embraces play and discovery as a way of learning.

Lillian Nave  11:38

Well, yes, and I’ve I’m really in tune to a group of professors called professors at play, and they’re trying to bring this play back into into higher ed. And because it is lost, for the most part in the the concentration is on that content acquisition. And I found that a lot of that con, content acquisition is also forgotten, like you remember it for a test? And then what happens to it? Do you retain that? a year or two later, I’ll ask my students when I get them as a first year students in high school, and I’ll ask them, what did you learn your sophomore year? So thinking back three years, and they can’t even remember the names of some of the courses right that they took. So even though they might have gotten an a, you know, or passed or done well, the the knowledge that they gained, they have, they’ve completely shut it out or gone on to something else. So if we were to focus on more long term skills, right acquisition, then it makes me think that wow, was that year was that sophomore year in high school that they can’t remember anything that they did, or or the subjects that they took? Was that a waste? You know, what, what could come out of that and didn’t want my class to be that way. And I tell them that I say, I don’t want this to be three hours a week we come together, and then you don’t remember it, because it wasn’t worthwhile. So we need to work on the things that are going to be worthwhile for you in the long term.

Erik Blair  13:14

Yeah, I’m sure that coming to your class really empowered and ready to go. But sometimes they don’t have the framework for examine what’s happened. So often, when we think about learning, we think back and we talk about, what did you do? or What did you learn, but we don’t talk about both together. And so we could start by asking, what did you do? And what they did, maybe all sorts of stuff, like, you know, that might be the periphery of learning. And it seems like, Well, you know, I saw it with my friend, he was from high school, I met him there. We were sitting at the back on wall menu who did just nonsense that seems, you know, but all that stuff. These are these little ties to history. And once you start thinking about what they were doing, then you think and what you learned, and then they can sort of place themselves or reflect back and place themselves in a situation. And then and they’re situated reflection, they can think about all right, no, I’m in that place. I can imagine myself in New York, imagine myself in the hoodie. Now I can think about what I was doing in that moment. So in reflecting we can tie doing learning. But often when we ask the question, we asked one or the other.

Lillian Nave  14:29

Right. And one of the things that you’ve made me think of recently is that reflection part that includes the context, and I came upon found out about you through one he and I’ll have a link to that in our resources. And you have a course there on reflection that I was just excited to get into and I was able to take and really explained a lot about how important that reflection is. And that whole part about how like how the learning happened, made me think of an exercise that I’m asking my students to do, which is to talk about the feelings they had, while they did that, like, and I give them a prompt like, were you excited? Were you happy? Were you scared to do this interview with somebody You didn’t know? Like, what are the context markers of that? And I? Honestly, I didn’t know exactly why I was, you know, adding that part, but but you’re helping in my thinking, to understand that the context is, is helping them to remember what they learned or how they learned it. Is that right?

Erik Blair  15:38

Yes, we are. Humans are situated animals. We know we don’t live in some abstract situation. But knowledge doesn’t just happen does out of context. All knowledge is contextual. It’s connected with something else. I’ve always felt sorry for Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues. So

Lillian Nave  15:57

between this research group, they had what, four volumes of work for domains of learning, and it’s been reduced to more or less one PowerPoint slide. And they think, wow, you know, maybe this is my reductionist way of thinking is like, but really, that needs to be unpacked. And what we do with that, but certainly, the Benjamin blooms work, people talk about the cognitive domain, right? And overshoot the affective and overshoot the psychomotor and the cognitive. So that is not how people feel how people act and the effort they put people put in. I mean, anybody you know, in life, when you meet them, you think about how you interact with them. You think about the effect of you think about what they’re doing, how they’re gesticulate. And who told them or how short What do you think about the the physicality of them. And when you think about how much effort they put into, to being a good friend to know a new to asking questions, we don’t just think about was this person clever? Yeah. You know, so I’m really pleased to hear that you’re doing this kind of situated thinking it’s just taking knowledge is an abstract thing can’t be right. It can’t be right. Right. And you know what, when I learned of Bloom’s taxonomy, I was Postgraduate School, I was teaching I had been teaching for years, and I never heard of it at all. Because isn’t that the way that happens? You You go to graduate school, but you’re not taught how to teach necessarily. It’s happening more now, where researchers and graduate school students are learning how to teach their discipline, but it’s still not very popular or it’s not ubiquitous, that you actually learn how to teach you just learn your subject matter. So you become an expert. And then a magically, you’re just assumed that you would know how to teach it, which just isn’t true, right. But I didn’t find out about this Bloom’s taxonomy. I heard people talking about it for a while, and I just felt really insecure that I didn’t know what it was and and found that pretty much you’re right, it’s, it’s reduced down to one PowerPoint slide about understanding and an application and creativity. You know, like, there’s stages, apparently, or some people will say, a pyramid, but there’s also lots of debate. And it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I found out there were all these other parts, about the social affective, psychomotor, that that’s sort of part about, wait a second, there’s all these other parts to learning. And I don’t know what happened, what they’re just gone, like, people don’t talk about them. I don’t know what happened. 

Erik Blair  18:41

No, no. My favorite is the last one, the cognitive and cognitive is basically effort. And we talk to people who teach to talk with the students and effort all the time. They you know, they don’t try hard does this person does to try so hard? And they talk about effort all the time. But then, if it’s so front and center, why is it so low? Why is nobody reading about connetion? Why is that Google essentially pop up like 100,000 hits? Yeah, it’s just such seems to be something that is so important, but completely overlooked at the same time. Yes, that’s higher education. 

Lillian Nave  19:19

True, true. Exactly. That is, in a nutshell, you’ve just reduced it again, thankfully, and made it very clear. So I’m, I have found that we do we concentrate on things like just the knowledge, the knowledge production or retention, and we leave out all these other really, really important things. And reflection, I think, helps us to get at those other things that are outside of just cognition, outside of just knowledge retention. And, but moving into those other areas, right, the things like the effort, right and psychomotor skills. That’s strange. That’s weird people are they object to that. So that brings me to my second question, which is, when we start doing these reflection activities, when we start asking our students to be thinking about their situated learning, then there’s there’s some objections that you’ve heard about what are some objections to reflection based activities? And how would you counter those objections? Because we’re doing something that’s kind of against the grain, right?

Erik Blair  20:31

Yeah, when we think about learning in higher education, a lot of higher education has a card of exceptionalism about it. So I work with colleagues from all disciplines, or faculties, I work across the board. And my experience is that every single discipline, every single faculty says, Yeah, that’s fine. But it won’t work for us, we’re slightly different. And when every says that doesn’t work for us, then all of a sudden, that doesn’t work for anybody. So you can come up with a, an idea, or thought, even something that is well researched and evidence based. And you say, here, guys, this is a good thing to do. But one of the first reactions can be, that would work for others, but not for, for us. And that’s, that’s really tricky. So, in higher education, we have this as a serious case of exceptionalism. And alongside the exceptionalism, we accept the data within a discipline within the subject. But we find it hard to accept data from outside. So for example, people often have student evaluations of teaching, and the students would give feedback. And you know, when you can like it a lot better you can, you can, you know, we all have a feeling about that, what happens in a normal data set of a researcher finds data, they look at where they mean, as the look at the average, look at say, I did my research. And this is one big set of data here. And there’s some outlier data to hear and to hear. But when the look at student evaluations of teaching students look at the exceptions, look at that outlier data. And then we could extend to other amazing students who thought they were terrific, a terrible. And so they, for some reason, and the research, academics look at one set of data. But in the teaching, they ignored the key data, the bulk of the data, and the preferred to look at the periphery. So something weird is happening, that we’ve separated research and teaching, and it’s the same person, the same skill sets applied to different systems to two sets of data. I’ve no idea why this happens. Yeah, you know, once you talk to people, when you say like, imagine this data, this teaching data, imagine that was your research data, your and you had, you know, drop folders data yourself within your subject? How would you treat it, and they have the skill set already. And once you start looking at teaching data in that way, then we can start overcoming some of the barriers. They say, Okay, I can write enough I’m able enough to pick us apart. I see what’s going on. But they just need to be challenged and a good way to look at teaching in the same way as they might look at the research. Yeah, yeah. And this, like reflection, bringing in reflection activities is it’s out of the ordinary, it’s new, and there’s sort of a bias against newness, isn’t there? Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And also, we’ve got things such as time, time is always against us. Yeah. So if you have a one hour seminar, people say, Well, I’ve got one hour, and they’ll say things like, I’ve got to get through this, right, you have to cover this and cover it. Yeah, you know, as if it’s like, like mud, you have to trek through or once we’re through the other side, everything will be alright. And that’s a weird way of treating knowledge. It’s something that we just have to slog our way through. And hopefully, we’ll be out the other side. And if you think of it that way, we can understand why they pack the seminar full of stuff, because as long as you get through it, finishing is the goal for them, or for that with that mentality finishing class as the goal not necessarily knowing stuff.

Lillian Nave  24:25


Erik Blair  24:26

For so entry, just an idea. This is actually you know, you’re one hour, can you take seven minutes at the end and introduce reflection? Well, this is a whole new paradigm as a whole new way of thinking of and you can understand why people would reject it because it’s like, well, that doesn’t fit into my way of doing things. I haven’t got time for it, right. That’s the biggest one I have about time. Yeah, no one has time for anything. You can’t use time as an excuse. You’re just we’re past time. Surely, you know. You haven’t got time for all eternity. curriculum either. No, I’m going faster isn’t the answer. So just teach less and reflect more. That’s Yeah.

Lillian Nave  25:07

Right. Right. Right. I love that you can’t, it’s not going to help if you just speed up your speech, right? And it get a whole lot more information in the hour then than if you spoke slowly. The students aren’t going to get it. It’s, it’s not helpful.

Erik Blair  25:24

Yeah. And we’ve all been to those sessions where I’ve observed classes quite often. And you’ll see someone, and you’ll look up at the start of class. And you can see they’ve got 50 slides. Yeah, you know, you’re 55 minutes, and we’re five minutes to go. And they’re only halfway through. Oh, yes. And you think what they’re gonna do, and they always do the same thing. They go fast. And then they and then they skip slides. So knowledge and planning was essential knowledge, no, becomes skippable. You know, it just let’s skip that. If we had done that in our planning. They had looked at it before the meet the student by the end said, How much of my 50 slides as skippable and all that, oh, they suddenly have more time, more time to deal with topics more time for examples, and hopefully, more reflection at the end. Yeah, there is no set of PowerPoint slides that can’t be cut in half.

Lillian Nave  26:24

Right, right. And you’re asking, you’re asking us as instructors to reflect, before we would go into a classroom or before we put our lesson together. Because there is I know, in the beginning of my teaching career, I felt like I needed to cover meaning I had to present the information. And there is a big difference between covering and teaching, right or left hearing 47 facts and learning the information, there’s a huge difference. And he just because you hear it doesn’t mean you know it and understand it and can apply it. I my brain could be you know, in another room, right? Just thinking about something else, even though I’ve heard it, it doesn’t mean I’ve learned it. And so these reflection activities and ideas is that part where you are making that knowledge applicable, you’re able to hang it on your, you know, on some sort of apparatus and make it useful. And there is such a push to cover everything to put as much stuff in your 4550 minute class, 75 minute class, if you have a lecture, even a computer like video lecture, you know, fill it, fill it, fill it, and students, anybody who’s watching that is going to kind of give up after you know, 20 minutes, we know that that videos shouldn’t be more than about 20 minutes, because our brains just sort of shut off. So adding some sort of activity, some sort of time to sit and think and reflect is going to help in bringing that knowledge into some sort of usefulness. Right?

Erik Blair  28:12

Oh, absolutely. And usefulness is such a great word. Because the opposite of that is uselessness isn’t that, you know, he, you know, were covering content for no apparent reason. So we might one of my favorite teachers ever Professor Tony Klein, psychologist from UCL London. Really newest, really top of his game amazing, such a great lecture, a great scientist. And I worked with him for a bit. And it’s always coming to class with a big stack of books, you know, which for some may be content. But actually, he brought and after discussing with him, he brought that in to reassure the students, just as a symbol that sat on the side of his leg. He never opened the books he never needed to he was he knew stuff already. But it was assemble it says there’s something here there’s something solid, you know. And one thing he did do is he put a post it note on top of this stack of books that just said slow down. That was his instruction himself. That was his lesson plan, his session plan. And it just it slow down. And he went and and i think i don’t know experienced or know how or know what something that taught him that he doesn’t need to come up with all the information all the time. It just he just needed to be there in the place to give them the benefit of his wisdom to benefit his experience and to give them certainly some thinking systems. That’s what we’re here for. We are not for content. We’re there for thinking systems. We’re not the providers of knowledge and the internet either. All knowledge is out there already. Why are we sharing knowledge a student who can find it twice as fast as we can produce it, you know, we need to be offer them something different. And that is the skills of analysis, the skills of thinking the skills of application, we need to give them a reason for looking at his knowledge. And for me that reason is about reflection and true reflection. We’ve come to understand knowledge, or we come to use knowledge we can project forward.

Lillian Nave  30:22

Yes. And that makes that course that information that environment meaningful, rather than like that, thinking about what’s the opposite meaningless, right? If you go through the motions, and you remember things, and you put them back on a test, and then you forget about them, what was the meaning that was had besides gaming a system and, and showing a performative student game, you know, that I can get an A or A 4.0, but then forgetting, you know, what you learned? And so this is a lot about meaningfulness, I think in in learning and taking something that’s important and helpful away from your classes for our students.

Erik Blair  31:09

Yeah. Otherwise, you know, what, why, why come to class, we can see plenty students vote with their feet, they, they won’t turn up if they you know, if they don’t feel turned on by class. And the thing that I would argue is turning them on, as that spark the thing that offers meaning, the thing that connects the knowledge to their lives, because their world to their future. So again, we’re putting knowledge in a situation and our job is this kind of tie up these loose ends to give them the skills of understanding, so they can pull us together and come up with their plan for, for doing or learning for doing the work for living their lives?

Lillian Nave  31:49

Yeah. So you’re making a really brilliant case, for including this reflection, right. And in any sort of class, whether it be, you know, in person, or online, we should really do this. So you had mentioned in your one ag course that we should get students to reflect and like the first five minutes, seven minutes of an in person class by setting up or offering these parameters of engagement. And that’s something I wanted to ask you further about, can you explain what you mean by parameters of engagement? And then maybe tell us like how that might also apply to if you’re not in a synchronous, like in person class? What would that look like? Maybe for an online class or something like that, too. But what are these parameters of engagement? You talk about?

Erik Blair  32:39

Yeah. Well, I have a simile or metaphor in my head about that as a kind of aquarium or fish tank approach. Okay? The parameters engagement is setting up the structure, the boundaries of learning, this is the space that learning will happen. This is a safe place, that’s a place we can ask questions, there’s a place where you’re free to put up your hand, if you have a problem. And I’m here for you in a setting up the boundaries of learning the framework. We may also put in our aquarium, things that sort of excite things like a little, maybe a little castle, a little treasure test a sunken ship. Yeah, so those are tools and excitement and things that might stimulate our learners. But after that, the bullet key jobs of the teacher has to get out of the way and to let learning happen. So once you set up the provinces engagement, you’ve got the tools, and you’ve got the ways for them to engage. And you’ve got this, if you’ve use signposting and structuring and signaling and you’ve put multiple methods of possible engagement, you’ve put that in your parameters of engagement and your fish tank, you stand back and you let them get on with it. And that’s really the start of this framework for me. We are there to supply the the tools we are that we are the trades people that the people who pass your soul, we need a sore hammer, we need a hammer, but you will do the hammering and you will do the soy when it comes to reflection, what’s for sale this, these parameters. We’re asking students, no, no, you’re in this place. Now you know, what I want from you know, you know, the end point the intended learning outcomes, perhaps you say, Have a think about how you’re going to do this. Think about how you’re going to learn this, think about how you’re going to approach this the novelty thing from nowhere because students have a history of learning already. So they’ll start to reflect back, how did they do similar things, or previous experiences can I draw on and they can spend five minutes of reflection and order can do a task. And then later on. We ask them to reflect to the end of the class and we’ll ask them questions such as, what did you do? What did you learn these things? You know, how did you learn that? And then we’ll say, Well, how can this learning help you in future? How can you project your learning forward? So all this is this, the frame or the promises, I like to sit through our learners and, and for most of us time, I am out of the way.

Lillian Nave  35:19

So you’re really moving from the sage on the stage, which is right like the person in front of the classroom who is covering content, who is spitting out facts as as much as possible. And moving to that guide on the side, those are two different phrases we use in higher ed about the role of the instructor. So you’re it seems like you’re advocating that the role of the instructor is more of a facilitator of learning rather than the presenter of all knowledge or evaluator of all things. It’s more of a coach right on the side.

Erik Blair  35:55

Yeah, yeah. And this is possibly one of the reasons some people reject this notion. Because to be called Mateos simulator, and that sounds amazing, you know, Professor sounds amazing. But we call an instructor, a coach. For some we’re talking a hierarchy of language, and under reduced and you feel reduced, simply because of the term is used to describe them. We’ve kind of need to maybe do some background work and to understand then, that you can be one thing, but you can have multi roles within that. Yes, you can be senior later on, but you can also be at times coach at times facilitator, maybe occasionally sage on the stage. But you know, you can have these multi roles, and then get over this notion of one role being so high status and another role being low status. We’re all doing all these jobs all the time. You know, so having a, maybe we’ll go general title and specifics for what we do. The other thing was thinking is when we engage with our students, so I’ve forgotten a group of students in the setting table that doing a task. As soon as we engage with that group, we disrupt the task, we become the focus students come to us for the answer, because that’s the way that’s been the previous model. So if we can step back, and we’ve given them the system for learning, we can step back until they call us until we are needed, then we become useful. But if we just kind of wander opposite Hey, guys, how you doing? Just check in and see how things are, always talk to us all learning stops, and we become the person who has asked questions, and the person who’s expected to give answers. I don’t really want higher education to be a place where I just offer answers.

Lillian Nave  37:44

Yeah, yeah, I equate that idea of the learning environment. And I’ve said this before is, is like we’re all exploring a cave. And there’s a really different experience. if let’s say, I’m the only one who has one of those nifty helmets with the flashlight on it, the headlamp or as you might say, a torch on the front of the helmet. If I’m the only one who’s pointing out things in the cave, then we get a very small view of the cave, we can’t see everything because it’s just my light that’s shining on on the depths of the cavern. But if all 20 people in the cave, spelunking expedition, have flashlights or torches on their on their helmets, right or headlamps, as we might call them here, then we all get a much better illuminated view of the subject matter, right of the cave itself. And we can see much more nuanced understanding. And even just because someone’s at a different vantage point, they can see the back end of or the other side of a stalactite formation that I never would have seen. But because of their vantage point, which could mean anything right there, where they’re coming from their different skills or the way they see things, that means we get a much better understanding. And if they’re showing each other, they’re seeing a lot more of the cave than I have, even though maybe I’ve been in the cave, I’ve mapped the cave, I’ve gone to the cave a lot. I’ve brought many student groups to the cave, right. But I would probably point out the same five formations that are the most important and I would lose out on the incredible wonders that are there, that other students and their perspectives might be able to teach each other just like you said, in the very beginning, you could see one of your students in high school explain in five or 10 words what you spent five minutes explaining, I found that my students are even better at explaining or being able to relate things then I could in my you know, just in my own understanding. And so this, I think is really empowering. But it’s also like you have to release a lot of your power as that senior lecturer or that you know, sage on the stage and It’s a little bit scary, I think for some, and it takes some practice. And and I certainly had a hard time and couldn’t do that when I was first starting out because I felt like I had to prove that all of that stack of books that I might have in the front of the class was in my brain. And I had to kind of show people that because I felt insecure. But, but it wasn’t helping my students, right to really help my students, I needed to give them the headlamps to look at the cave.

Erik Blair  40:28

Yeah, absolutely. And we’re looking at I mean, men, many of us feel this imposter syndrome, especially the star of our teaching. You know, I mean, we bring in these things to make us look good or replete with stuff or sessions for the content just to reassure us or try and reassure students that actually, this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. And so this is a normal way of doing things. But with time, but looking back, we all have to come back. And we all learn that. That was that didn’t work. And we’re saying I will say that for a long time. And why is nobody lesson why the new people coming through not here? And that’s because they’ll go back to who we were, they’re going back to stuff in their filler content. Yeah. So it’s, there needs to be some may be helpful. If there was a way of introducing people to teach in where they would believers, perhaps. You know, I do like your spelunking example of I don’t think I’ve ever said that word out loud. Yeah. And what I was thinking, as you’re saying, that, is that what we do is we hold on to knowledge, sometimes because it makes us feel powerful. And, or maybe because it gives us legitimacy. Yeah. But when we do so we limit the agency of the students. So this, if you have your head, torch head laughs and they say, and you say, all let me describe what I can see. And your students have to listen carefully, as you describe what you can see, were more So a student friendly way would be just go, Hey, guys, we’ve only got one torch. But you know, you can all have a goal. Look at over here. I’m not controlling knowledge. I’m not the gatekeeper of knowledge, I have the tools to access knowledge. And I’ll now pass you the tool tags as knowledge, and you have a look for yourself and see what you can see. And as you rightly said, what we think about the the removal of our students, students will see that same knowledge and interpret that same knowledge from multiple perspectives. And their life and their history and our context. And personhood, will help you understand that knowledge. But don’t you pass on your head torch? Nobody’s learning anything. You can describe things to people.

Lillian Nave  42:54

Yeah. And they need to have that experience where they’re doing that interpreting. Because if they’re applying my lens to their life, it’s not going to really be helpful or meaningful, right? If it’s just my understanding of this thing that I’ve constructed and not their own understanding, right, that they have really taken to be their own, then it’s not going to be applicable. Right? They have to do it, or else it’s not meaningful.

Erik Blair  43:24

Exactly, exactly. And sometimes we can forget, that’s a little bit that we forget our journey to where we’re where we are. And we need to remind ourselves as, as practitioners, we need to remind ourselves where we were at that stage, and academics need to reflect back on where was I at that point? What did I want to know, at that point? What helped me learn at that point, we cannot look at students through where we are no, rather where we were, then it’d be more realistic to look at students through where we wear them. Again, that’s another kind of reflective journey reflection through time, as opposed to reflection on action or inaction.

Lillian Nave  44:08

Okay. Well, I want to ask about those the different kinds of reflection just a minute, but one other part of that. I like your aquarium metaphor about the parameters of engagement and setting that up. Would you have any pointers or ideas? How would that look? Let’s say for not in an in person class, right? How would it look online?

Erik Blair  44:31

Yeah, so I mean, this works perfectly well online, because for most of the time online, we’re not present. Online Learning No, has got this asynchronous and synchronous split, for most online, watchable, online lending, no record, upload resources and tools and frameworks and discussion boards and so on. And so there’s lots of asynchronous stuff out there. But what I would say as the students still need to feel that we are present in the room wisdom, even though we’re not. So we can set up this framework we can put all these resources and tools and so on. But we need to have a way of doing it. This parameters of feeling like what do we mean by that is, if we pick up five resources, and you just label on one, read paper by blogs and time to add comment to discussion, board, three comment on a peer discussion. This is a recipe, but it sounds cold and abstract. But if you say one, Hey, guys, really look at this paper here at super amaze Patel, I focus on page 12. That’s the bet that really got me thinking, Erik, as you’re often the same instruction, but you’re seeing it in a way that sounds like you’re present sounds that your voice is there, you know, so you just need to personalize this signpost them. So that an asynchronous environment, it still feels like you’re there in the background in a good way, not necessarily, you know, big brother staring over people’s shoulders, it feels like you’re there in a good way to support when the reading instruction that he had and your voice and your language. And I think that framework will work asynchronously. Yeah. Whereas if we just treat a virtual lab environment as a place where we work, we talk in a different way. You know, your, the way you write should possibly when it comes to instructions to a student should sound like should sound like the way you talk, you get those two things connect close. And catch your cadence and your way of being and near the students will feel like you’re in the room, although you’re clearly not.

Lillian Nave  46:48

Yeah, yeah. And it seems like this, this is a design principle to where I suppose in the your first example of like, bullet point, one do this, that if you design it, so that it’s you and the student transacting together, like read this, take this quiz I graded or the computer grades or whatever, you know, and then do this, and I’ll insert myself here, you know, I answered this question, rather than a different design might be that you set up these parameters of engagement, where you kind of let them loose in the cave with their headlamps and say, here are these resources. And instead of having to, let’s say, Come back to the evaluator to the sage on the stage, like taking a quiz or, or something like that, then they’re offered or set loose to have discussions with each other, that maybe we’re not as present in right that in a small group, we’ve got four or five students that are discussing this. And it’s only after a while that they might check in right, so so that it’s less we are the we’re intruding on it and more allowing for these parameters to set up a place where the students have more agency. Does that make sense?

Erik Blair  48:04

Yeah, yeah. And agency is such a such important thing, when we’re just thinking, when you’re discussing this story, sharing the work or sharing what they’ve done. Think of it the physical environment, and we’re working through you got five groups of students did a task in a classroom, often will get the stage who asked for feedback. And that’s kind of normal and was good one, someone will stand up and say, This is what we’ve been doing. And it seems like weaving that feedback goes from students to lecture from students a teacher. And I wonder why we do that as Yes, because we feel the urge to check on them. Or is it because it helps learning and the to meet me through different things? Yeah. And another way of doing feedback is about five groups. You say one person, stand here and stay with your group work and rest before you go to another table, and feedback to your peers. And the lecture can just eavesdrop and listen and hear what’s happening. And doesn’t need to be checking that learning has happened. The students can check that lemons happen, we just need to give them the tools so they can check. Again, we’re back to moving the power to the students and given them the ways of enacting this power. So our job is to give them the systems they give them the patterns, the structures, the parameters, and then they can do the hard work.

Lillian Nave  49:27

Yeah. Yeah, that seems to be a major benefit. So that was one of the questions is, what are the benefits of these reflection based activities? And it’s empowering, isn’t it?

Erik Blair  49:40

Absolutely. Absolutely. This is something that says, I’m here to help but you are in charge. You know, often the power is given to me by a postgraduate student. Some of the dinner masters or PhD will say, what’s your project? You’re in charge of your project? Why is it impo not given to an undergraduate, somebody who’s fresh out of college, you know, as soon as we can empower them, the more they own the project, the more they own the learning. And they’re more likely to engage with things. They think, well, this is for me buy me off me, you know? So yeah, absolutely. And also, they’re working with each other rather than by themselves. And so group work is often seen as this sort of four or five students together at one table and one group. But when we start joining groups up with each other, they become a class and they become more powerful again, and they have a stronger voice. I’m not saying our voice is reduced, we just have a different role. And, but so we can rebuild in the students, and we’re helping them to build themselves.

Lillian Nave  50:49

Yeah. So okay, I want to get into practical ideas, too, because you give a quite a few different ways that we could do this. So what are some practical ways that we can embed student reflection in a course?

Erik Blair  51:03

Yeah, so I mean, I always go back to my most straightforward. Two questions. So if you have no time, no space, which obviously I’m arguing is not always the case. But if that is your thinking, two questions quiet. And so what does she have done? So you just have to say, what have you learned? And so what, how can you use this, this can be 30 seconds, and students can put that at the end of the notes, almost like a precis of what they’ve taken notes on that day. The same thing can happen in an asynchronous environment where every so often, you can ask them to journal. And then instead of in the journal that day, they can just write a journal, it just is a summary of what I’ve learned. And so what how I’m going to use this, what is the impact of this landing? How can you use this going forward? So if you have no time whatsoever, and to just talk to questions, have you have a bit more time, these things can be structured, often reflective logs, reflective diaries, most times positions, doing reflective walks and reflective diaries by myself. But there’s also space to work. And I found that works in peers, it doesn’t tend to scale up into bigger groups, but two students working side by side to create a call log. So they can both enter different times. And then you can also schedule when they can work together to enter the log. And so maybe they only need to add 500 words once a week. But you’ll see over the course of a semester, you’ll see such a learning journey. And when it comes to exams and papers, they’ve got this whole history, not just of all the content, but all the key land and have summarized that we’re back to master the starting point of having a few bullet points. So the 500 word weekly log is the starting point for unpacking all that important lambing that the dead engage with.

Lillian Nave  53:01

Wow, I love that idea. I hadn’t heard of that before, like a co-journal where two people have worked throughout the semester, writing down what they’ve learned together and that and in in doing that they’re learning from each other because they can read each other’s and find out Oh, that’s what you learn from that. I didn’t learn that. But now I know now, I can learn through you too. Yes, Fantastic.

Erik Blair  53:23

Yes. But you can probably imagine some pushback on that already. A few colleagues suggested why that wouldn’t work. Yeah. But my advice for instructors really, is before you tell me what wouldn’t work, make one change; Try it. Try it three times. And then ask the students if it worked. That’s a better approach rather than saying, before I even start, I can tell you it’s going to fail. This is, you know… The Wright brothers didn’t take that approach. But that’s,

Lillian Nave  53:57

that’s right.

Erik Blair  53:58

We need to try, we need to fail, and then we need to repeat and get better. Yeah. So we need to also need to commit to the activity. So if we want to just as academics, as teachers, if we’re introduced activity, we need to commit to it, give it time, give us give it space, as I say run it three times, because running three times normalizes anything in higher education. Yeah. You know, you know, after like, stop class, everybody’s established the seat. Yeah. You know, and they establish expectations for you. So do anything three times will normalize the task. Then ask the students did it work?

Lillian Nave  54:40

Yeah. You just you brought up another thing that I saw you mentioned in your one he course and that is the Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. And you actually, this is actually funny now that you said this is how you learn as you reduce things because I’ve never seen a Kolb’s learning cycle in the short words that you used, which was do you experience something? And then the next thing is you review it, then you conclude or theorize, and then plan for what’s next. And this is a big circle or these four things that that go on. And this is one of the things that you use is like a reflective review. Is that right? How do you use that? Kolb’s experiential learning cycle?

Erik Blair  55:28

Yes. I mean, this comes from work that I actually did with medics. So people do medical education. And certainly in the UK, they have this model that says, see one, do one, teach one. You know, and this, and that spoke to me initially about this code cycle. But what was missing from this was understanding and analysis because clearly, when we learn, we don’t just see and repeat. Yeah, we’ve got to see, we think we analyze, we reflect we critique, and then we come up with whatever answer so once we’ve got our answer, then we can apply it because we have we’ve worked out what’s going on. So let’s get to see do review. It’s reducing, as your brain is reducing called down to a few useful, perhaps functional words, rather than the theoretical words that we tend to use with them, you know, create clear, solid, concrete operational type words, right. And as soon as you use the language of cool people ask the question, what does that mean? So why not reduce it, what the what it really means and this is due, or it means review? So yeah, it’s kind of part of my thinking about reducing things down. But it’s also thinking about the moving beyond the cycle itself to the utility of the cycle. That’s what really matters. You know, knowing Kolb’s cycle is one thing, make using it in your life to make your learning better is much more important. And if you miss remember the cold cycle, that doesn’t matter, either, you know, is the thing that you miss remembered. help you and your future learning and advances. Yes, I’m very happy for you, Mr. member. Cool.

Lillian Nave  57:19

Yeah. Right. Yeah, it’s he is cold is asking us to add in that really important part, which is review, or think about what happened, because we don’t learn from experience. But we learned from reflection upon that experience, I have made the same mistakes over and over again. You know, we do that in our lives. And you know, I’ve bought the wrong thing, I’ve done the wrong thing. And it’s only when I take the time to review all that did not go well. And the next time I do this, I need to remember or make sure that I do it differently. Because I know we’ve all made the same mistakes, right? Just because we’ve done it once doesn’t mean we’ve learned from it. So we need to include that reflection, that review Part before we move forward. And that’s the essential part of learning. That’s what I love about what you have to say is how essential This is that it is the meat the most important part of learning. Is that reflection.

Erik Blair  58:22

I think so too. I frequently use Excel. I’m not very quantitative at all. Okay, so every time I go into Microsoft Excel, I go into this document, and I forget all the functions and don’t know how to do things. And then close it. And I returned to it three months later, I still don’t know what I’ve done. And I said, Well, how did they do this last time? And I have no way of recollected. Yeah, I need to listen to more advice, I need to really get to the end of my time on this spreadsheet, and then write down what I’ve learned, what I’ve been doing, how we can use this way and the next time and have myself a little post it note of information. So the next time open this application, I’ve got some advice, some reflection that I can build on. Otherwise, I’m starting fresh each time. That’s the experience or cycle and action. We’ve got to stop, reflect or build our own theory. Otherwise, we’re starting fresh every time and that’s not very sorry, back to where did Edison

Lillian Nave  59:28

know? Exactly. So you’ve you have said before and this is what I appreciate that students need a couple things to benefit from these reflection based activities. And that is tools and time. Can you explain what you mean by students need tools and time in order to benefit to get this empowerment from these reflection based activities?

Erik Blair  59:55

Yeah, I mean, obviously we’ve spoke already a lot of the time and given The time and creating a space for them to learn the space for them to use, the skills and the learning that was shared with them. So we need to model this. So there’s ways that we’ve the ways we share our tools as we would demonstrate with model, we signpost that we structure things to say, this is how I do things, here’s three ways that I do things, choose the one that works for you. So that’s the kind of tool side of things. The tools is a weird word work, because usually, if you go to toolbox, you have one specific tool for one specific job. But education is not the way. So for example, if you think about one multiplication, there said, five 610 ways that you can do the same maths or math, you can do the same sum. And no one way is right there. As long as that worked for you, and you get the result and you can discuss your process, then that’s fine. So the tools are the multi methods of learning that we can share with our learners. Give them those and then give them a space to actually used them. For me, they’re basically three ways of doing things. And there’s my way, there’s your way, and then there’s no way. So they my way, is the old didactic way of doing things, you know, I will show you a new copy. And I am right. And if you can do it my way I am happy. Yeah, no way is when you have no system, no structure, learning is random. And I’ve been to lots of classes, I’ve left nothing. What was that about? I have no idea. It was like complicated, there is oppressive, but I have no idea what happened there been, you know, presentations and workshops. And I’ll leave it I think, Wow, that was some fun. But I don’t know what it was, it didn’t have any real structure to it. So that’s the kind of no way no systems. But my favorite as the your way you give the student a number of different options. And then they personalize and say when I do this task, this is how I’m going to approach it, this is my way. And it may be a mismatch or mix match of different things. And there may be some ideas you’ve never had yourself, and they may take some of your ideas and approve them. But they’ll come up with their way of doing things. And they may have two or three ways of doing a task. And whatever they choose will be specific on the context or the other students that they’re working with. So you’re giving them tools, and you’re giving them space to do it. And then you’re stepping back.

Lillian Nave  1:02:40

Yeah, that’s great. And it allows them to, to find the usefulness and the meaningfulness in their learning and and empowers I was the big takeaway I got from learning from you is how empowering This is for our students.

Erik Blair  1:02:55

We are there for them. That’s, you know, yeah, exactly. That seems like such a simple statement. But it is true. We are there for them. We want to make their life their learning better. And in doing so they will make our world better. So there’s plenty payback for us, they will improve the world. Yes, give them the tools to do so.

Lillian Nave  1:03:17

Oh, excellent. Oh, okay. So I’m sold on it. Right. I have been sold on this idea for a while. And so if you are now going to give advice is my last question, if you are going to give advice to other instructors or professors or senior lecturers or whatever they may be, who wants to implement reflection based activities in their courses? What do you say to them?

Erik Blair  1:03:44

I think I say, try it Be brave. You there’s there is no right way of doing things. And there are many reasons not to do things. Where if we take that approach, we will do nothing. So we need to try it, we need to be brave. We need to trust our instincts, we need to move beyond the idea that we’re stuffing a student’s filled knowledge. And we need to just think about what will work and all work. I know my students have thought about who they are work, don’t judge it by the knowledge to buy the books we shouldn’t we shouldn’t design class based on what’s in the book. We should design class based on who’s in the class. So have a look know your students and be brave.

Lillian Nave  1:04:32

Oh, excellent. Oh, thank you, I’m empowered. I feel empowered to to continue and to try new things to allow my students to take over in in many ways and release that for my students. And I think that’s, that’s going to serve me better and it’s going to serve them better, too. So thank you so much, Eric, for spending the time to talk to me and for sharing your knowledge and the mission. many ways you’ve thought through this already and have reflected upon reflection. So thank you so much for joining me today. Thank you Lillian. It’s an absolute pleasure. I really enjoyed our chat. Great. You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. The think UDL podcast is made possible by college star the star stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aides based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David pate, Bill falwell and Jose ko chez our sound engineer is Tanner Jones and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the think UDL podcast.

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