Tools of the Reflective Trade

This is my current Field Notes memo book and my trusty space pen!

This is my current Field Notes memo book and my trusty space pen!

by Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Even though reflection can be a valuable tool for teaching and learning, it’s only valuable if you actually do it. I’m a “process” minded person by training and by nature, so I’m usually searching for tools to add practical application to important theories. I wanted to take some time and explain some of my tools for reflection in hopes that they might inspire and encourage you in your own reflective practices.

In developing a reflection process that works for me, I decided to use different tools that each serve a specific purpose with little overlap into the other tools. There are tools for catching ideas and fleeting thoughts, and tools for deeper reflective writing. That’s what is effective for my thought process, but perhaps not yours. Find tools that naturally integrate into how you think and how you work. Many of the tools I use are cross-platform so I can access them in the moment using my iPhone or later when I sit down to write and think on my laptop.

Idea Catchers: These are tools that I use in the moment of inspiration. I can quickly and easily capture a thought for later reflection.

Recordium: This is an audio recording application; the free version has suited my needs so far. Immediately after class as I am walking to my car, I pull out this app on my phone. I record the memorable moments from class, both positive and negative, so I don’t have to rely on my cloudy brain to remember the details of that lesson when I go to review it for the next semester. And by speaking those moments out loud, it helps me process how that evening’s class unfolded. It’s quick, responsive, and easy to use as you really just hit the big “record” button to get going.

Vesper: This is an iOS app for quick notes. It’s clean, clear, and everything is taggable for future reference. While I use this app for catching ideas on the personal, as opposed to the professional, side of things, it has become a great tool for capturing and curating inspirations.

Field Notes and Fisher Space Pen: I love gadgets and apps more than most people, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a fond affection for pen and paper. Field Notes are durable, beautiful, and seem to be just the right size to be portable and provide enough writing space. And if you’re going to carry around a pen, it might as well be a space pen. The Fisher Space Pen can famously write upside down, in sub-freezing temperatures, and even under water, because sometimes getting back to the parking lot can be its own adventure. This is a tool that I use for both professional and personal reflection. If you flipped through its pages you are just as likely to see a memorable quote from a conference speaker as you would a dimensional drawing of my living room windows.

Writing and Reflection: These are the tools I use to take those moments of inspiration and process them to see how I can develop in my teaching and learning.

Evernote: Evernote can be a little intimidating to jump into because it offers quite a bit of functionality and depth. Essentially, it’s an online notebook (or collection of notebooks) that can store just about any digital content you can find or create. I have a “note” on each of my classes. I am continually collecting ideas on potential assignments, readings, and objectives to rework, update, and improve my class. I also create a section in that note called, “Things I Need to Fix Before Next Semester,” and keep track of those components of my course that are in need of immediate revision. Most of the time, those revisions come from projects that just didn’t work as well as I had hoped. As the beginning of the semester appears on the horizon, I will create a checklist of what I need to do before the first day of class, like organize and prepare Blackboard. The trick with Evernote is that the more you use it, the more useful it becomes.

Day One: I had the thought a while back, “I’m reflecting on my work, and I have experienced value in that. Why am I not reflecting on my life?” Day One has been great because I can use it on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac seamlessly while having it backed up to Dropbox. I love that I can add a photo to each entry as well, which is significantly more challenging with a handwritten journal. Because I have such easy access to it, it has become an almost daily tool for me to spend time reflecting on the intersection of my work, my family, and my life in ways that push me to become a better human being.

The tools above are examples of how I have integrated a reflective process into my professional and personal life. Perhaps at least one of the pieces can serve you in your own reflections on life and work, or even inspire you to get intentional about reflection in your teaching. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, tools are only valuable if you actually use them, so the most important thing is to find tools that serve your own purposes and processes.

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