Stitching the Diss: Strategic Reflection in Connected Learning

Many thanks to @aresnick, who brought up Gollwitzer and Schaal (1998) in a twitter conversation…making this rough draft of a section of my diss a little bit more possible.

As famously described by Donald Schon (1983), reflection-in-action is the process by which with some measure of consciousness we question our actions as they are taking place. It occurs when outcomes are surprising or things aren’t going as planned. It differs from reflection-on-action because it is seamlessly integrated into action; it follows action and results in action as the person seeks to experiment or try something new to alter the outcomes.  As Schon (1983) describes it, reflection-in-action leads to questioning of assumptional frameworks and strategic restructuring that can impact our understanding and ways of framing problems. Nevertheless, however “strategic” the thinking might be, it still takes place somewhat passively and by chance: Schon’s reflection-in-action begins only if initial outcomes trigger it.

In their description of metacognition in action Gollwitzer and Schaal (1998) cite ancient Chinese general, Sun Tsu, who describes three levels of thinking about action.  The highest is strategic planning, which defines long-term desired outcomes and goals.  The middle is operative planning, through which individuals decides when, where, and how to engage in goal-directed behaviors. The lowest is tactical planning, which relates to the details of implementation.  Gollwitzer and Schaal (1998) use Sun Tsu’s conceptual framework to describe how strategic, operative, and tactical planning require individuals to move back and forth through meta- (reflective) and object (behavior or active) levels of consciousness.  In other words, they argue that moving between reflection and action (reflection-in-action) is essential for active, engaged, strategic navigation of life. 

Strategic reflection in Connected Learning environments takes place through the cultivation and execution of two skillsets.  The first is group awareness, broadly defined as “an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context to your own activity” (Dourish & Belloti, 1992) which, in turn, leads to social capital that can be used to accomplish goals.  The second is digital transliteracy or the “ability to access information and communicate across multiple platforms, tools, and technologies.” (Dunaway, 2011). In the sense that “the medium is the message,” students with high levels of transliteracy understand the impact of various digital media and make intentional decisions around how they deliver their class contributions so that they have the desired impact (Dunaway, 2011; McLuhan, 1964). 

 High levels of strategic reflection exhibits itself in two ways. First, successful students move through class discourse make their points efficiently and effectively, allowing for what Downes called student autonomy: the right and opportunity for a student’s voice to be acknowledged, engaged through dialogue, and amplified so that it might reach a larger audience. Second, students might use the same skills to move through course content.  If content is presented as a broad topic, with an overview of its parts and problems, a student might locate an area of personal interest within that topic and work to identify (with the course facilitator) the best way to move through the course content and activities (i.e. choosing the right reading materials, framing research questions and project designs effectively) so that they can study something that is personally inspirational.  Carl Rogers called this process of strategic navigation through course materials “the freedom to learn.”   

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