The Role Of Higher Education

Changes in operational procedure, management styles and services offered to clients and customers characterize many places of employment. An examination of the internet and other media reveals the rapid development of new products and seamless modifications of existing ones. A factor which caused major changes in people’s income, lifestyle and attitude, is the disruptions in the world’s financial market. Given the fact that change is a global reality, one role of higher education institutions is to enable students to not just function effectively in rapidly changing workplace environments, but to become reflective agents of change.

Being a reflective agent of change

Broadly speaking, a reflective agent of change makes use of reflection in the process of effecting change. Specifically, it involves both cognitive and affective processes such as employing self-directed critical thinking as a means of improving workplace conditions policies and procedures. The reflective agent of change develops an ‘uneasiness’ about protocol, process and procedure which leads to questioning of these aspects of the workplace, trying out new strategies and ideas, seeking alternatives, and using higher-order-thinking skills. The development and use of self-directed critical thinking and ongoing critical inquiry will also result in greater understanding of the workplace. This kind of knowledge is critical to the implementation of appropriate changes in the workplace because, successful changes to policies or procedure depend on knowledge of the nuances, thinking of the employers and employees and overall ethos of the workplace.

Secondly, being a reflective agent of change also involves the use of one’s affective skills as a means of improving practice. Markham (1999), points out that this includes the use of personal intuition, initiative, values, and experiences in the process of making sound judgment and decisions. If affective skills are honed, they will improve one’s ability to react, respond, assess, revise, and implement new approaches and activities.

Thirdly, being a reflective agent of change also requires a willingness to confront the uncertainties of one’s philosophies which undergird judgments, decisions and ideas for change. This is developed by examining ‘self’, personal competences and personal philosophies in a collaborative manner involving receiving, and giving feedback to colleagues

Developing reflective agents of change

From personal research in the area of reflection and reflective teaching (Minott 2009), I conclude that everyone has the capacity to reflect, for reflection is an element of being human. However, I also agree with Posner (1989) that there are ‘more’ or ‘less’ reflective individuals, hence there are ‘more’ or ‘less’ reflective students. This conclusion also highlights the fact that there are those who, for any number of reasons, for example, training or a lack of training in reflective techniques, or personal disposition and likeness or dislike for reflection, emerges as being either ‘more’ or ‘less’ reflective. Therefore, three things are required to develop students as reflective agents of change.

Firstly, there is the need to ascertain their belief and disposition on the matter of reflection. Again personal research (Minott 2009) as confirmed by popular theories, that students’ belief can hinder or help. In this process, it is important to help students to bring their embedded beliefs, values and assumptions about reflection to the fore for examination before beginning the process of encouraging their reflective skills.

Secondly, there is the need to develop students’ proficiency in the use of the techniques and tools of reflection. This includes the use of reflective journal writing, collaborative exercises, the use of questions, and what to question.

Thirdly, there is the need to encourage the affective or intuitive aspect of the practice, for example, sensitivity to factors that make particular ways of operating more or less appropriate, willingness and the capacity to ‘research’ their own work, and an awareness that the choices they make on the job are shaped by their belief.