Reflection in CBL: Lessons from Coding

Nov 25, 2018

One of the first pieces of advice provided when learning to code is to comment so that the person maintaining the code (you or someone else) can successfully maintain it. In the article 10 tips for Writing Cleaner and Better Code*, Joel Lee suggests that simply commenting is not enough and can actually become burdensome when not done correctly. He gives the rule of thumb that “comments exist to explain Why a piece of code exists rather than What the code actually does.” 

While not a perfect parallel there is some truth to this when considering how to do effective reflections during the Challenge Based Learning (CBL) process. Reflection is a key piece of the CBL framework because it allows the learner to think deeply about the process and become aware of how they make decisions and learn. If each time I address a challenge I become more aware of my thinking processes and tendencies the better learner I will become. As I become a better learner I develop better solutions. 

Yet, often reflections in the CBL process become a basic narrative of the experience. First, we did this, then we did that, and finally we did this. While there needs to be some description of what happened (the code) the most important part is doing effective commenting. Why did I do this? What happened when I did it? How did it impact the participants? How did I feel about it? What if I tried something else? What might I do differently next time? This reflective commenting on the code of our experiences will help us (mentors and students) become better learners and practitioners of CBL. If we do not reflect or simply describe our activities we will never develop the deep insights that will help us become better learners and teachers.