Reflection as Integrative, Social Pedagogy: The College of General Studies’ Freshman End-of-Year Reflection

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Our practice engages students in a comprehensive reflection on all the courses they’ve taken in the freshman year at the College of General Studies (CGS), using a rubric we’ve designed based on AAC & U models to assess the work they have posted on their ePortfolios throughout their freshman year. Our assignment and our rubric can be viewed at FreshmanEnd-of-YearReflection(TeamB). While the vast majority of faculty use this standardized format, one faculty member offered students the option of responding in writing or via video, and the following is an outstanding example of a student reflection video: Gunita’s Freshman End-of-Year Reflection  (Please note–if you fast-forward past her kind words about our program, at about the one-minute mark she begins to address each of the seven rubric areas.)

Our College is a two-year, interdisciplinary, core-curriculum program that gives students the opportunity to take their general education courses in a team structure that allows for connections to be made among their courses (Humanities, Rhetoric and Social Science in the freshman year, and Humanities, Natural Science and Social Science in their sophomore year). Students take one elective each semester and continue on into the college of their major in their junior year, having completed all their general education requirements and some of their major requirements.

Authors: John Regan (lead and web design), Gillian Pierce, Natalie McKnight, Amod Lele

Practice Identifiers

Location: Our practice is part of our college’s General Education curriculum.

Scale: All 1,080 first and second year students in our program participate—our practice is college-wide.

High Impact Practices

Our practice connects to the high impact reflection practices below:

Reflection as a form of Connection (Integrative Learning)
Students’ ePortfolio help them with the transfer of knowledge from multiple contexts and consider the relationships between classroom and outside the class learning.

  • Make connections within a course
  • Make connections across courses and semesters
  • Make connections across disciplines
  • Make connections among academic experiences, co-curricular & lived experiences

Reflection as Systematic and Disciplined (Inquiry)
Students’ ePortfolio reflection processes embody…

  • A structured and scaffolded process
  • The Reflective Cycle
  • Connecting their learning to Gen Ed or programmatic competencies

Reflection as Social Pedagogy
Students use ePortfolio to share/peer review/ discuss/collaborate, connecting around course work, reflections, plans, goals, stories, etc.

  • Sharing their ePortfolios with and getting comments from faculty
  • Sharing & engaging in integrative ePortfolio commentary w/ other students
  • Sharing their eP & getting comments from external groups
  • Linking their eP to other students’ eP
  • Using their eP as a site for collaborative projects with other students

Reflection as a process of personal change
Students use ePortfolio for educational and career development, identity formation, by …

  • Articulating their educational and career goals
  • Considering their evolving personal relationship to learning and education
  • Completing/revising a plan of study
  • Planning/preparing for transfer or advanced education
  • Preparing ePortfolio to showcase to potential employers


We ask students in our college to set up an ePortfolio early on in their freshman fall semester, and we ask that they create a tab for each of their courses, one for “advising,” and also one for “interdisciplinary reflections.” The practice we describe below is posted under “interdisciplinary reflections,” but we ask students to reflect on interdisciplinary connections among their courses both informally and formally throughout the year. We also introduce them to the rubric in the fall term of their freshman year and refer to it in relation to assignments throughout the year. So far, the rubric has been used most fully by Rhetoric professors, but we are encouraging faculty in the other disciplines to make greater use of it as well, both in discussing the goals of assignments and in assessing students’ work.

Over the course of four semesters of interdisciplinary work in CGS, students develop:
1) the ability to communicate in writing and orally,
2) the skills needed to gather, analyze, document, and integrate information (research skills),
3) a detailed understanding of historical processes, literary and aesthetic movements, and specific cultural contexts,
4) an awareness of rhetorical and aesthetic conventions,
5) the ability to use quantitative methods in the natural and social sciences,
6) the ability to examine questions from a range of viewpoints and engage in perspective-taking, and
7) the ability to integrate knowledge and modes of thinking drawn from two or more disciplines to produce an interdisciplinary understanding of complex problems.

At the end of their freshman year, CGS students are invited to reflect on their progress towards these goals. Students receive a joint reflection assignment from all of the professors on their team (representing Rhetoric, Humanities, and Social Sciences) asking them to reflect on their progress toward all seven outcomes and to use specific examples from their coursework in the portfolio to support their observations. Peer mentors are not involved in the process.


The College of General Studies entails two years of studying four disciplines: Humanities, Rhetoric, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences. This Freshman End-of-Year reflection assignment calls for the student to consider his/her learning from each of these disciplines in terms of the seven CGS competencies. CGS professors have spent several years tailoring these seven competencies, the corresponding, overarching rubric, and the reflection assignments. In some ways, it is still a work in progress, as the professors themselves engage in the reflective cycle on their work. Students use ePortfolio to share/peer review/ discuss/collaborate, connecting around course work, reflections, plans, goals, stories, etc. The reflection also helps familiarize students with the specific language of the rubric and to internalize those outcomes.

Many CGS faculty members will ultimately examine the student’s reflection as they consider whether the college’s outcomes goals are being met. Of course, the perpetuity of the ePortfolio makes “self” an important audience as well. This reflection will be part a student’s ongoing ePortfolio work for at least the following academic year. Students use ePortfolio for educational and career development and identity formation, by articulating their educational and career goals and considering their evolving personal relationship to learning and education. As Carol Rogers observes regarding Dewey’s concept of reflection,”Reflection is a meaning-making process that moves a learner from one experience into the next with deeper understandings of its relationships with and connections to other experiences and idea.” We encourage students to continue using their ePortfolios beyond their CGS years.

The Role of Reflection in Advancing Student Learning

This assignment encourages students to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in the CGS competencies, based on their coursework during their freshman year. Students are asked to consider the implications of these strengths and weaknesses, and of their growth, on their education goals (and possibly, by extension, on their career aspirations). In this respect, we believe our practices are consistent with Dewey’s view that “[r]eflection is a systematic, rigorous, disciplined way of thinking with its roots in scientific inquiry.”


Students’ ePortfolio reflection processes embody connecting their learning to Gen Ed or programmatic competencies. The seven programmatic competencies of CGS are forefront in this Freshman End-of-Year reflection, as well as in the Sophomore End-of-Program reflection. Each skill calls for an integration of the four disciplines within CGS and a synthesis of their progress towards the seven competencies.

Evidence of Impact on the Student Learning Experience

We have collected the following evidence associated with our practices:

  • # of students
  • Pass rates
  • Retention rates
  • Student engagement through surveys and interviews
  • Other

We have been collecting evidence that is not necessarily a direct byproduct of this assignment but is associated with it. We know that a total of 600 students have completed the CGS End-of-Freshman-Year Reflection. Of these, there is a 98% pass rate for their freshman courses and an 84% retention rate for continuing in CGS.

Our first survey of student engagement was the C2L Core Survey last fall. When we distribute it again this spring, the freshmen will have completed their Reflection assignment.

Another type of evidence that we are able to collect is a comparison of the student’s self-assessment of his/her progress in the competencies with the professors’ assessments of the student’s progress in the competencies, as evidenced in his/her actual work that semester. That is, we can see how good the students are at assessing themselves. Based on our two years of assessing student eportfolios (Summer 2012 and Summer 2013), we have noticed that student self-assessments and faculty assessments do seem similar, but we would need to extend more detailed attention to this area to make any broader claims.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Professional Development

Faculty and staff using this practice engage in the following ePortfolio-related professional development:

  • Interdisciplinary PD

Guidance comes primarily from the CGS’ Assessment Committee. (In turn, the Assessment Committee is part of CGS’ Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning.) Eleven of the 49 CGS faculty members comprise this Assessment Committee. John Regan is the current chair of the committee. These eleven members are representative of the four CGS disciplines. One of the main functions of this committee is to share with the other three quarters of the faculty the overall picture of students’ work. Committee members disseminate information to other faculty through college and departmental meetings, including formal presentations at those meetings. While the Dean and the departmental chairs directly relay expectations for how faculty should use ePortfolio to meet the needs of our assessment project, the committee encourages and assists other faculty in their use of assessment elements (ePortfolio, the CGS rubric, etc.).


Our rubric, based on AAC&U models but tweaked by our CGS assessment committee, reflects the outcomes we hope our two-year program produces (i.e. competency in writing and oral communication, awareness of historic and aesthetic contexts, etc.). We make students aware of the rubric (and therefore the outcomes) in the freshman year and ask them to use the rubric to reflect on their progress at the end of the freshman year. Then our assessment committee uses the rubric to gauge student progress in the various areas of competency using work that students have archived on their ePortfolios over their two years.


The ePortfolio platform bears great significance in the assessment committee’s role of examining student work across the whole CGS college. Faculty recommend that students select the privacy setting of “open within the college, but closed to the general public”. This gives the assessment committee the ability to peruse not only each student’s interdisciplinary reflection, but also the pieces of work to which the student alludes in his/her reflection.

Scaling Up

For a full discussion of “Scaling Up” on our campus, click here.

Attachments and Supporting Documents

While each CGS faculty team (consisting of members from each of the four disciplines) may word their reflection assignment differently, all CGS freshmen are asked to produce something similar. Team B’s assignment calls for an essay; another faculty Team asks students to video themselves and include the video link in their ePortfolio.

For additional context of what it is students are reflecting on, we’re including some CGS courses’ syllabi:











Student work/ePortfolio examples