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Self-Reflective Owl

Self-Reflection on Learning

Today marks a year from the day when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in the U.S. It is a sober reminder…worth reflecting not only, of course, on the terrible human toll it has taken, but also how the pandemic has likely altered how many functions in society, including educational ones, will look in the future.

As educators of future medical professionals, our primary task is to help a student become a reflective and self-correcting life-long learner.   As we’ve discussed in the past in this blog, this is an imperative considering the vast and rapidly expanding volume of medical information, but I’d also suggest that it is important to help engage and motivate students.   This general idea was addressed in the following article on the Edsurge site focusing on K-12 education by Jacquelyn Whiting entitled “The Key to Better Student Engagement Is Letting Them Show You How They Learn,”1 but I’d argue that whether it is learning the basics of geometry or learning principles of physiology, our job is to put the student into the position to discover the concepts in the manner most meaningful to them.

It appears that the movement to online learning has moved students from classroom (lecture) fatigue to digital classroom fatigue.  In the digital classroom, they have many digital ways to check out, or worse, not show up at all, perhaps waiting for the recording. 

Whiting notes:

 When considering students as individuals and trying to identify the root causes of their perceived disengagement I find it useful to consider the variables of performance success—knowledge, skills, and environment conducive to learning and the motivation to learn. Missing just one of these variables can have a profound impact on engagement.

The Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has outlined the following  competencies for social and emotional learning.2 They are summarized as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.  So, the idea is to set it up learning management systems to capture how a student learns and also to reflect that process to the learner as well. Self-reflection is essential, especially when students are remote and distributed. CASEL suggests the following guide for students to reflect on their learning process.

 Learning Self-Reflection Guide




I can give and receive constructive feedback.

I said...
I heard...

So going forward...

I can recognize when aspects of my identity make it difficult for me to understand other people or situations.

I experienced...

Because of that...

I can use technology to connect, collaborate and learn with other people.

I created...

Now I realize...

The recommendation is to give students “agency” in their own learning process so they will invest in it.  Furthermore, CASEL recommends making thinking “visible” to members of a learning community, in order to “build strong, equitable learning communities that can thrive in these fluid educational circumstances.2

It is with a similar framework that learning is social and benefits from the power of peer review that we applied the Common Ground Scholar  (CGScholar) learning platform to have first-year veterinary students conduct case reviews, reported recently in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.2  (full author PDF attached). Students prepared a multi-media draft of a structured case analysis, and then 3 peers would anonymously provide feedback allowing improvement of the final draft based upon a defined rubric, as well as comments and suggested edits.  The learning platform analytics tracked and credited student effort both as a case author but also as a peer reviewer.   The various aspects of a student’s performance could be tracked by the student and by the instructor, and was, in our experience, a motivating factor for the student.  The instructional goal was, in part, to demonstrate the power of collective knowledge and effort, as well as to introduce them to the concept of evidence-based medicine and anonymous peer review.

Below is the “asterplot” of the overall performance of the Class of 2021 against the various measures (the “petals” of the plot) chosen for the class.  There were almost 11,000 measures taken and almost 1.66 million datapoints collected across the class learning “community.”  While this figure depicts the average performance of the class for an instructor, each learner is shown their own customized plot. Although not specifically surveyed, we know that this feature is very popular with students and provides some degree of empowerment.  And importantly, it subdivides their performance into 3 parts rather than just “Knowledge” demonstrated by a typical summative quiz or test, but also “Focus” (attention to details of assignment) and “Help” (performance as a peer reviewer).   Only 12 measures are shown in this plot of the 21 that are currently available in the analytics of CGScholar.  Many of those not used focus on the learner’s social participation (posting and commenting) that were not requested in these specific exercises.  The instructor can not only choose which measures to be demonstrated, but also adjust the relative weight placed on each.

Aster Plot

After 3 years of experience with this platform, we surveyed 422 students in 3 consecutive classes about their experiences. Specifically, using Likert scales, we asked them to respond to the following statements:

1. Writing with my own media helped communicate

2. Reading a peer’s media helped communicate

3. The exercises improved understanding of evidence in a case (quality of literature)

4. Reviewing a peer’s work helped me improve my own work.

5. My peers’ reviews helped improve my work.

About 2/3 of the students agreed or strongly agreed that inclusion of multimedia enhanced their ability to communicate their thoughts.  Slightly over ½ agreed or strongly agreed that multimedia enhanced their ability to understand their peers’ answers, and about ¼ disagreed or strongly disagreed. The majority felt that the exercises helped them understand the quality of evidence in the literature with 3/5 agreeing or strongly agreeing, and 1/5 disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.  Almost 2/3 agreed or strongly agreed that peer review helped identify weaknesses in their own work, and about ¼ disagreed or strongly disagreed. The majority of students (3/5) agreed or strongly agreed that peer review of their own work was important to the improvements they made between drafts. A minority (1/5) disagreed or strongly disagreed.  Overall, the results suggested that use of a LMS that supports multimodal knowledge representation and peer-to-peer feedback (i.e., CGScholar) was most beneficial in enhancing the students’ ability to convey their work (i.e., inclusion of multimedia), that focused software instruction improved student satisfaction, and that the peer review process was important in the improvements students made to their work.

So, regardless of the age of the student or level of study, it is clear that learners benefit by social and recursive feedback, while being challenged to reflect on their own learning process. CGScholar is, in fact, being used by learners of all ages.  If you’d like to learn more about it, visit or view this brief introductory video.


1. Whiting J (2021) The key to better student engagement is letting them show how they learn. Viewed on March 11, 2021

2. CASEL:  SEL: What are the core Competence areas and where are they promoted? Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning . Viewed on March 11, 2021

3. McMichael MA,  Ferguson DC, Allender MC, William Cope W, Kalantzis M, Haniya S, Searsmith D, Montebello M (2020) Use of a Multimodal, Peer-to-Peer Learning Management System for Introduction of Critical Clinical Thinking to First-Year Veterinary Students. J Vet Med Education, advanced online doi: 10.3138/jvme.2019-0029.

Authors’ Link to article PDF

Lead open source image: