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Best Practices | Reflective Teaching

Harry Potter looking in the mirror

(Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)


In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry, while up to some mischief, stumbles on the Mirror of Erised. The mirror, according to Professor Dumbledore, reveals the deepest desires of our hearts. Dumbledore explains that the happiest person in the world would look into the mirror and see nothing but her or himself as they are without any grand trappings.

So what does the mirror of Erised have to do with reflective teaching practice? Let’s imagine for a moment that there is such a thing as the instructor’s version of the mirror of Erised. Now imagine the average online professor looking into the mirror; imagine yourself looking into the mirror. What would the mirror reveal about your teaching? What deepest desire for your classes might the mirror expose? Chances are, if you are like most instructors, the mirror would bring to light that there is room for improvement. And yet, how can one work toward improving their online teaching? One way is through reflective teaching practice.


Whiteside and Dikkers (2010), discuss just this idea of critical reflection in “Transforming Teaching in High-Tech, Collaborative Learning Environments with Critical Reflection.”

Whereas the research tells us that one of the most important components of teaching involves regularly taking a step back and honestly reassessing the teaching and learning situation,very few faculty members allow themselves to take the time for pedagogical reflection. However, this type of critical reflection is imperative when teaching in new, high-tech learning environments that may introduce unfamiliar pedagogical paradigms (para.3)


Teaching in the new high-tech paradigm most certainly presents a challenge, even for those who have been teaching online for some time. The challenge of online teaching raises two questions, what reflective teaching solutions can be proffered to help with finding success and how can these solutions work to fulfill teaching desires? While there are a number of ways of answering these questions, consider the following two suggestions that can be easily taken and immediately applied to your online teaching.


The first reflective teaching suggestion to help you achieve your teaching desires is to consider keeping a teaching notebook (digital or paper). Use the notebook to record a running list of items you might want to fix or change in your course. It might also be a good idea to jot down methods and tools you come across in other courses that can be redesigned for your course. If a colleague is doing something you think your students could benefit from, jot it in the notebook. Perhaps, at the end of the semester when you redesign your course, you can include the new ideas and methods. Keep in mind that it would be best to wait until the course has ended before implementing changes so as to avoid confusing students. Also, not all desires can be realized right away, so consider breaking your list down into immediate changes and future wishes.


Another suggestion is to add a midterm survey for your students. Without a course survey it is difficult to judge the results, successes, and stumbling blocks faced by your students. The questions do not even need to be in depth, for example, are the readings and assignments connected? Do you find the discussion boards illuminating for the content? Feedback from the students is usually helpful in determining the issues and glitches in a course with assignments, instructions, technology, etc. Having students identify course issues by way of a survey will provide you with tangible material on which to reflect when the course is complete. Knowing what to fix, and fixing it, will mean you will not need to be endlessly sending out update Announcements in Canvas every time an issue rears its head in your course.


The two suggestions need to work in concert with one another because while taking your own reflective notes on what to improve is important, you are not going to learn everything you might want to know about how to make your course better without also asking the students for their feedback. In the end, the goal of reflective teaching is to be able to look into the instructor’s version of the mirror of Erised and see only yourself as you are, holding a pair of socks.



Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry and the mirror of Erised [digital image]. Retrieved February 2, 2014 from Google Images.


Rowling, J. K. (1998). Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Richmond, B.C.: Raincoast.


Whiteside, A. & Dikkers, A. G. (2010). Transforming Teaching in High-Tech, Collaborative Learning Environments with Critical Reflection. Retrieved from