This semester I have trialed the use of reflection papers in two of my units – one of them an introductory unit, the other an advanced unit. In my instructions to students in the advanced cohort I wrote:
Students are to reflect critically on their own learning with respect to the assigned readings and intensive class experience. The reflection is to address one or two key aspects of learning, examining what new knowledge they have obtained (or new understanding of previous knowledge already held), and exploring how this newly acquired knowledge/understanding will shape their life in Christian community and Christian service. Students are to share key aspects of their reflection in an online forum discussion, giving and receiving feedback on the material learned.
Notes: this exercise is not an opportunity for solipsistic waffle. A critical reflection involves questioning and interrogation, and bringing the topic into critical and evaluative dialogue with other sources…
I did not remember writing it, so was a little surprised when students on the first day of class complained about the question. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“We don’t know what you mean. I have never even heard of ‘solipsistic’…” I had forgotten I had written it, but decided not to back down. “Well, that’s what dictionaries are for: have you looked?” No surprises that a number had not yet gone to a dictionary. But then when pressed I admit having to search my own brain and “pull” for an explanation, not having a precise definition on the tip of my tongue.
I remember saying something like, “It means to be caught up with only your own thoughts,
going round and round as though there is nothing outside your own head worth talking about.”
I was rescued, however, by a conscientious student who took to dictionary.com and loudly proclaimed: “Solipsism:
“Yes,” I said, all knowledgeable, “That’s exactly what I meant.”
Having now marked the papers of the advanced class, I am very pleased to announce that there was no solipsistic waffle!