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Reflection: a key personal agency for learning to be a professional

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Reflection: a key personal agency for learning to be a professional?

Ursula Lucas, Bristol Business School, University of the West of England


Chapter A9 pdf


Video presentation


The question mark in the title of this presentation is intended to denote a reflective, questioning approach to issues of what we mean by ‘reflection’ and its relationship to ‘learning to be a professional’.


The focus of our work has been on the “development of a reflective capacity” rather than on reflection per se. Often the term “reflection” is associated with cognitive thinking skills. However, we are concerned with critical reflection which involves the questioning of taken-for granted assumptions and the “re-viewing” of a situation. We argue that “reflection” is a demanding process involving a motivation that leads to a willingness, or a capacity, to develop qualities of openness, acknowledge uncertainty and, ultimately, to take a view and act. This process involves the identification of taken-for-granted beliefs and a readiness to question them across a range of domains. The development of a reflective capacity thus involves issues of identity or view of self. Consequently change is unlikely to be straightforward. Challenges to existing beliefs may involve defensive responses such as denial, grief and loss. However, it may also involve more positive aspects such as pleasure and eros (Lucas, 2008). Our use of the term ‘capacity’ indicates that there may be a potential for critical reflection but that it may not be exercised in all contexts or on all occasions (Lucas and Tan, 2006).


A wide range of research has been conducted in the areas of critical reflection, and personal epistemologies. We have chosen to draw on the work of Baxter Magolda (1992) on ‘ways of knowing’ because, to a large extent, she has synthesised findings from earlier research (Perry, 1970; Belenky et al, 1986) through her large-scale empirical studies. Her work also complements that of King and Kitchener (2004) on the development of reflective judgement. A further reason for our choice is that Baxter Magolda also integrates issues relating to identity. She utilises the term ‘self-authorship’ (Kegan, 1994) and argues that this simultaneously comprises three aspects of a “way of knowing”: cognitive (how one makes meaning of knowledge), interpersonal (how one views oneself in relation to others) and intrapersonal (how one perceives one’s sense of identity). In our most recent research project (Lucas and Tan, 2007) we investigate how work-based placement learning supports, encourages or inhibits the development of a reflective capacity. We found that placement (unlike university) provides a context in which students have to take personal responsibility for their own learning and performance. Thus it provides a context within which students have to develop interpersonally, through a range of changing relationships with others, and intrapersonally, through a changing sense of self. Whilst placement provides a range of experience that might be integrated with prior university learning and lead to cognitive development, this potential is realised in only a limited number of ways.


The pedagogic implications of a focus on the ‘development of a reflective capacity’ and on “learning to be a professional’ are significant. It is important that there is a clear pedagogic framework that supports all learners. Educators, as well as students, will benefit from a questioning of their assumptions and beliefs. It is well-accepted that educators, themselves, conduct their teaching on the basis of a wide variation in professed and enacted beliefs (Kember, 1997; Lucas, 2002). Consequently, for some educators, the idea of ways of knowing and the interaction of cognitive, inter- and intra-personal development may challenge their own ideas about the role of teaching. We work within a “developing as a professional” framework for ourselves and our students. This framework assumes that it is not sufficient to assume that there is some recognizable end point of learning to ‘be a professional’. Rather, the telos is to ‘act professionally’ on the basis of acknowledged professional values and beliefs in a complex world. This involves a never-ending, ongoing commitment to development. And development involves the placement of a question mark in expected, and unexpected, places?


Key words : Reflection, personal epistemologies, ways of knowing, work-based learning, business and accounting education.



Baxter Magolda, M. (1992). Knowing and Reasoning in College: gender related patterns in students' intellectual development San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Belenky, M., Clinchy, B., Goldberger, N., & Tarule, J. (1986). Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of the Self New York: Basic Books

Kegan, R. (1994). In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life Cambridge, Mass.: HarvardUniversity Press

Kember, D. (1997). A recon ceptualisation of the research into university academics' conceptions of teaching. Learning and Instruction, 7(3).

King, K.P., & Kitchener, K.S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lucas, U. (2002). Uncertainties and contradictions: lecturers' conceptions of teaching introductory accounting. British Accounting Review, 34(3), 183-204.

Lucas, U. (2008). Being "pulled up short": Creating moments of surprise and possibility in accounting education. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 19(3), 383-403.

Lucas, U. and Tan, P (2006) ‘Developing a reflective capacity: the role of personal epistemologies within undergraduate education’[online] Paper presented to support a Research Seminar at the 14th Improving Student Learning Symposium, University of Bath, 4-6 September 2006. Available at: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/bbs/research/drc/isl.pdf (Accessed 19th February 2009)

Lucas, U., & Tan, P. (2007). Developing a reflective capacity within undergraduate education: the role of work-based placement learning. York: Higher EducationAcademy. Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/publications/LucasLengTan.pdf (Accessed 19th February 2009)

Perry, W.G. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson














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