Reflecting on Reflection

My father was among other things a Lummi story teller. One of the stories my father would tell me as a child was the face of thunder. As this is oral tradition I am sure that I am either remembering the story incorrectly or perhaps my father told it to me in a slightly different way. Forgive me if you recall this story differently. From what I recall in this story a young man wants to see the face of thunder. He is told that he must climb a mountain during a terrible storm in order to see this face. A storm comes and he climbs a mountain and when he reaches the top he collapses in a puddle due to exhaustion. When the lighting strikes he sees his own face in the water and realizes that he is looking at the face of thunder.

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Moody Raindrops in Dark Blue Puddle By D Sharon Pruitt  from https://commons.wikimedia.org CC-BY-2.0

There are a variety of reasons I like this story. One of the reasons is that it illustrates that the accomplishment can be about self-awareness. That when we want to find something it may actually be found within ourselves. I also like how in the story the struggle of the climb forges the expression on his face. It communicates that sometimes the act of taking on a challenge is itself what helps you realize your goal. What is also so fascinating about this is how the simple device of reflection is critical in the process. Sure the young man has to climb the mountain and he must struggle in order to achieve a face that would be described as a face of thunder. However, until he reflects there is no realization of his goal.

Many years later as an adult, I found myself sitting in one of the most delightfully peculiar courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  T-440 – “The Having of Wonderful Ideas” taught by Eleanor Duckworth. Duckworth was a student of Jean Piaget and in this course I can best describe it as exploring Piaget’s theory of learning through a series of exercises providing graduate students with a primary experience of those ideas. One of the exercises we did was an exercise with mirrors. I will not detail that exercise here but rather a moment I had in my section (if that is unsatisfactory for you then please read more about the having of wonderful ideas here). The course was structured with entire class days and sections where you met in smaller groups with a teaching fellow. In section we were discussing properties of mirrors. Duckworth dropped in on our section and sat next to me. She asked us what we knew about mirrors.  We all provided our insights and she would check our statements with a mirror that she brought with her. Her mirror was something like a dental mirror attached to a stick.

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Then she held her mirror between our laps. It was in the middle between us. She asked me if I could see her in the mirror.  I replied yes. She then lifted her arm in an arc until the mirror was over our heads.  The entire time we kept eye contact through the mirror as it moved. It felt like a childish experience and it was delightful. I still remember how she looked at me through that mirror. She was intent, measuring, and critical with her gaze. I am sure she saw my face of delight as this course felt like a game for my mind. This moment of reflection held in Duckworth’s critical gaze generated a clear memory for me on of how I felt while learning in this course.

These stories illustrate how the reflective process can capture the emotional aspects of learning. In the first it is about the role of reflection as it relates to a private realization of self-awareness and in the second a demonstration on how a teacher might participate in student reflections. In my work at CAST, I participated in the development of a universally designed emotional self-report mechanism intended to support socially contextualized  emotional reflection during the learning process.  You can read about this interdisciplinary collaborative work in this recent tutorial published in the Journal of Learning Analytics. It is in some manner an early step in my process of becoming a researcher. As I continue to climb the mountain of my PhD I am exploring how technology can be implemented with socially contextualized mirroring supports for students’ emotion so that we can generate a trace of the emotional aspects of learning. The hope is that through supporting students we can also improve the trace data they generate during technology enhanced learning. This work will eventually directly support students, teachers, and researchers through improved data on the emotional process of learning. If that goal is not achieved perhaps struggling towards that goal will afford me the face of a researcher.