Reflection – JEE Academic Bookshelf Revisited

Academic Bookshelf Revisited #1 – Reflection

Update of Journal of Engineering Education – Academic Bookshelf 86(2), April 1997


A little over 25 years ago Lyle Feisel, then editor of the Journal of Engineering Education Academic Bookshelf column, asked me to succeed him. As an insatiable reader, I was delighted; however, I didn’t have much experience writing about the books I read so was simultaneously doubtful. My dear friend, Billy Koen, author of Discussion of the method: Conducting the engineer’s approach to problem solving, asked pretty much every time we met, “What are you reading?” and that question would often lead to a delightful conversation about books and ideas. Billy’s encouragement prompted me to take on the task.

The topic of the first column for the April 1997 issue was reflection. I summarized books by Donald Schon, Ray Nickerson, Steven Brookfield and others. The 1997 column is available here.

Now many years later I am revisiting the topic of reflection and this visit is prompted by a book by Ellen Rose, On reflection: An essay on technology, education, and the status of thought in the twenty-first century. Rose’s On reflection is a deeply engaging and provocative essay on reflection; which takes Schon and Dewey to task, and raises concerns about the effect of technology on human thought and interaction.

Rose notes in her reflection on reflection that, “it is a fundamental premise of this book that the technologies that support human interaction and knowledge acquisition are implicated in some profound changes in habits of mind” (ix). Furthermore, she notes, “This transformation owes much to the work on John Dewey and Donald Schon, two philosophers who sought at different times to redefine reflection as action: scientific process and on-the-spot decision making, respectively. In Chapter 1, I establish that my intention is to reclaim an understanding of reflection as a form of deep thought that takes place in conditions of slowness and solitude” (ix-x)” … even more, a mindful, careful way of being in the world – and, having done so, to embark on a conversation about why it matters” (p. 16). “The essence of reflection is synthesis: the creation of new ideas, perspectives, and possibilities.” (p. 8).

Rose disagrees with Schon’s reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action and argues for a third interaction between reflection and action, reflection-then-action. Goldberg and Somerville (2023) support Rose’s argument, “Finally, this book will be most useful with consistent reflection followed by the taking of small actions …” (p. 33).

On technology she writes, “I believe that the teacher’s role with respect to technology is best described as stewardship. Rather than simply accepting, with either reluctance or enthusiasm, the arrival of the latest technological “tool,” we must manage, with care and forethought, the movement of technological innovation into educational spaces.” (p. 95). Rose argues “…that technology become not the means of instruction but its subject—the focus of discussions and reflections about how new communications devices alter human interactions, habits of mind, and possibilities.” (p. 104).

In the chapter, Cultivating Reflectiveness, she notes, “No teacher goes into the classroom with the intention of dulling her students’ reflective capabilities, but as we have become caught up in the demands of schooling, it is easy to forget that our most important task, as educators, is what Jerome Bruner calls “the cultivation of reflectiveness.” (p. 100).

Finally, and poignantly, Rose argues, “The moral of my story is this: reflection can be cultivated – but only, I believe, by a teacher for whom reflection is a moral commitment” (p. 105). 

If you would like to explore more responses to Ellen Rose’s On reflection, there is a wonderful review by John Cowan, which he closes with the following, “This essay on technology education and the status of thought in the 21st century is a gem. If you are interested in reflection—or even technology education—buy it, read it, read it again and again, seek out its many messages—and reflect deeply upon them.” Cowen review – BJET Cowen notes, “She challengingly rejects reflection-in-action as an oxymoron, since true reflection, which requires (in her view), solitude and slowness cannot take place instantaneously.  Equally and scathingly she disposes of reflection-on-action as mere review or assessment, a view which many reflection practitioners – myself included – may dispute.” Cowen does indeed dispute the claim very thoroughly and eloquently in his book, On becoming an innovative university teacher: Reflection in Action, Second Edition. Here are two additional reviews – MacDonald, Brown

Reflection is critical for learning and teaching as noted by Dewey, Schon, Brookfield, Cowen, and especially, Rose who describes reflection as a “mindful, careful way of being in the world.” I encourage us to continue reflecting on reflection and especially on how we can help to cultivate reflectiveness among our learners.

A note on Lyle Feisel. Lyle has been a friend and mentor since the early 1980s, and I am eternally grateful that he asked me to write the Academic Bookshelf column. In 2013 Lyle published Lyle’s laws: Reflections on ethics, engineering, and everything else; I highly recommend that you read it.


As I was about the post this reflection essay, a new book, Experiments in Reflection: How to See the Present, Reconsider the Past, and Shape the Future” by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Stanford, emerged and the author argues that reflection is a “whole-body process.” “I see reflection as a whole-body process of transforming experience into meaning to shape the future. Let’s unpack the components of this way of looking at reflection.” It appears there will be more opportunities to reflect on reflection.

Cavagnaro, L.B. (2023). Experiments in Reflection: How to See the Present, Reconsider the Past, and Shape the Future.  California: Ten Speed Press.

Cowen, J. (2006). On becoming an innovative university teacher: Reflection in action, Second Edition. Open University Press.

Feisel, L. (2013). Lyle’s laws: Reflections on ethics, engineering, and everything else. New York: Brooklyn River Press.

Goldberg, D.E. and Somerville, M. (2023). A field manual for a whole new education: Rebooting higher education for human connection and insight in a digital world. Douglas, MI: ThreeJoy Associates, Inc.

Rose, E. (2013.) On reflection: An essay on technology, education, and the status of thought in the twenty-first century. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press.