Students’ conceptualisations of critical reflection

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Whitaker, L & Reimer, E 2107, 'Students’ conceptualisations of critical reflection', Social work Education, vol. 36, no. 8, pp. 946-958.

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Critical reflection involves the identification of deeply seated assumptions about the social world and the individual’s connection with it; however, its scope and practice are contested. While ambivalence about its definition remains, critical reflection is described as a threshold concept in social welfare and social work education. This study investigated students’ conceptualisations of critical reflection by analysing the ‘learned’ critical reflection curricula of five core units in an Australian University. A content analysis of 162 assignments submitted by 86 students in 2013 and 2014 was conducted. Findings revealed students conceptualised critical reflection as a process that raised self-awareness, supported the application of theory in practice and, reinforced aspects of their professional identity. However, students adapted the process to fit their purpose and, when personal views clashed with professional practice, rather than examining the tensions that emerged, students privileged professional practice and silenced their personal views. Students did not engage with critical reflection to foster social change; rather their utilitarian approach positioned them to demonstrate competence in professional procedures. These findings highlight the influence of the contexts within which critical reflection is practised and informs the further development of the authors’ pedagogy.

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