The Impact of Reflection and Where to Store the Pieces?

If my goal is to learn within a learner-centered environment, how can I step outside of the center to capture my learning and reflect on the process?

In our efforts to transform student learning, an effective way to engage students in higher education is to put them at the center of their learning (Weimer, 2002). But sometimes being at the center of things does not offer the best ‘seat’ to capture a bird’s eye view of how learning takes flight. In a learner-centered teaching environment, engaging in reflection can offer a way of contemplating the multiple teaching and learning approaches and breaking them down into smaller parts to understand the whole. Reflection is impactful. Much like the way art can be impactful as an artifact of reflection, especially if it is relevant to a learner’s experience. Take for example, Ian McMahon’s installation, Cascade: A Momentary Event with a Sculpture (McMahon, 2014). Here is an artist who spent hundreds of hours creating a sculpture made of plaster only to purposefully destroy it in a matter of seconds in front of his audience. As it fell to pieces, the audiences’ reactions were just as provocative. In this instance, the audience was not only at the center of a unique learning experience, they were also observers from the outside, trying to make sense of what took place. This type of meaning-making in education relates to Dee Fink’s (2013) concept of creating significant learning experiences to acquire new ideas based on one’s ability to reflect on the meaning of their learning.

Later, McMahon’s audience members were gifted with pieces from the wreckage; pieces born from one purposeful artifact and made into several enlightening artifacts, guiding his audiences’ reflections about design, execution, and purpose, and how it might relate to or differ from their prior beliefs and values. When this type of reflection is engaged, Fink (2013) considers how asking guiding questions can maximize a learner’s reflective practice. Some questions he includes are:

  • What have I learned?
  • How did I learn that?
  • Does this recent learning create a need or desire for additional learning?
  • If so, how would I learn that: read a book, talk to someone, do an experiment, take a course, attend a conference or workshop, or something else? (Fink, 2013, p. 118)

What’s interesting about McMahon’s art installation was that he used such a delicate material to deliver such a strong message asking the audience to reflect about moments in time and how short-lived they can be. On the contrary, visual art editor and audience member Jen Graves, archived and shared her photographs and video of the event via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube which gained a momentous response, including my own. Since this powerful moment was preserved in an online environment, I was able to engage with the artist and also reflect on Graves’s recollection as she revealed,

A moment like that, you want to capture. You want to have it over and over, maybe, to look at it from as many angles as possible, turn it into something much more like a sculpture that you can see from all sides, as often as you want to (Graves, 2014, para. 5).

Her testimony is somewhat ironic because in hindsight she has allowed the moment to be experienced, ‘over and over’ within a digital space and although it might not be as momentous as being there, still she has captured something significant.

At the University of Calgary, elearning tools like the D2L ePortfolio can provide opportunities to support student centered learning and capture these fleeting moments of epiphanies, failures, achievements, connections, and experiences that develop and deepen the quality of our learning alone and with others (Fink, 2013). Ambrose, Bridges, Lovett, DiPietro, & Norman (2010), believe reflection helps students recognize the value of their work. How can we utilize elearning tools in a course or program, for students to value their work through reflection?


Ambrose, A. S., Bridges, W. M., Lovett, C. M., DiPietro, M., & Norman, K. M. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Graves, J. (2014, August 18). Ian McMahon spent hundreds of hours making a sculpture, then destroyed it in seconds. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

McMahon, I. (2014, August 17). Cascade: A momentary event with a sculpture (reactions). Retrieved from

McMahon, I. (2014, August 17). Cascade: A momentary event with a sculpture. Retrieved from

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner centered teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.



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