Promoting reflection

One of the more interesting aspects that has emerged from this year’s running of my module on negotiating politics has been the problematic nature of reflection on the part of students.

At one level, reflection is front and centre for them, since their assessment is based entirely on a reflective piece they produce at the end of the module, on their experiences in class and its relation to theory and academic literature.  To bolster this, I have given them opportunities for formative work, and I discuss this aspect with them every single week.

And yet, at the end of each session I end up having discussions with students about what they are doing and why.  Yesterday’s class was structured around a disarmament game that I use to explore trust in negotiations: teams represent a provisional government, the national army and three factions.  The game also has a faction-of-a-faction, who were left at one side of the room and other teams could decide what to do with them, if anything.  For 90 minutes, this team just sat and watched, with only one team even trying to talk to them.  At the end of the game-play, we discussed what had happened and I pointed out that this team would have attacked everyone else if the agreement everyone else had reached was followed through.

I suggested to the students that simulations tend to be rather predictable, in that they usually only include what they need to, so if an ‘extra’ group appears, then it has a purpose, so non-engagement is probably not a good idea.  Likewise, when I had asked them some weeks ago to set up Twitter accounts for the session on communication, no one had apparently thought through why I might have asked them to do this.

I left them with the observation that next week’s game, on power, will last exactly 30 minutes: as we’ll see, in this case it’s almost impossible to work out why that information is important, but I hope someone will come and talk to me about it.  And if they don’t, then perhaps we’ll have another learning moment.

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