Critical reflection for teaching and assessment: Learning to understand vs learning to pass



Author(s) Catherine Groves


There is a growing body of evidence highlighting the value of critical reflection as a tool for both deepening learning within management training, especially for postgraduate programmes, and for improving management effectiveness. For such management educators, the traditional instrumental approach provides inadequate support for understanding and engaging with the increasingly complex business environment. Criticality of reflection has four distinguishing characteristics (Reynolds, 1998), which allow managers to question the social and moral discourses implicit within professional management practice. It is the very criticality of that reflection which leads to higher-level learning. A 24 credit MSc module adopted critical reflection as a learning tool, and was assessed through production of a critically reflective account. The paper explains how this module was taught and assessed, before proceeding to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of the approach and highlighting the beneficial outcomes achieved.


Intended session outcomes: • Exploration of critical reflection as a construct • Understanding of the utility of critical reflection in facilitating higher-level learning and truly critical thinking • Understanding of the application of critical reflection in both teaching and assessment at postgraduate level • Confidence to begin to apply critically reflective elements in postgraduate teaching practice The session will run as an interactive combination of slides and exercises for 15 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of Q&A afterwards. The format of the session will be one of scholarly practice where a strong link is demonstrated between theory and practice in teaching excellence. It will be of interest to those teaching diverse groups of post-graduate students, including international students, who often struggle with instilling the elements of critical thinking so vital to that level of study. The session will open with a request for one or two volunteers (two will be primed beforehand in case there are no spontaneous takers) to “show and tell” about one personal item in their possession, something that they are attached to, to explain what it is that the item says about them and who they are. This exercise will act as a springboard for a facilitated discussion with one or two slides on the nature of critical reflection and its use in teaching on post-graduate management programmes. Some theoretical perspectives on reflection and critical reflection will be shared. This will include a whistle-stop tour of some of the published literature to provide theoretical context for the session. The discussion will move on to present a case study where critical reflection was recently used as both a teaching and assessment tool on an MSc in Entrepreneurship in a UK university. The presentation will include a look at some of the teaching and assessment techniques used in the case. The adoption of critical reflection as a teaching and assessment tool was intended to encourage students to engage and grapple with the principles of topics, rather than simply remember and regurgitate them. Lessons learned over the course of three cohorts will be presented for discussion with the group. Elements of feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including students and examiners, as well as some of the subsequent developments, will be presented. Some resources will be made available at the end of the session for delegates to trial in their own teaching.

Key Words

Engagement, Critical Reflection, Alternative assessment

Key Messages

Critical reflection is a versatile tool that can be used to engage post-graduate students, and enhance independence of learning Adopting a discursive and critically reflective perspective can enhance your teaching practice This approach can be key to developing communities of learning within student groups, which in turn, result in higher-level learning for those students


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