Undergraduate biological sciences and biotechnology students' reflective essays focus on descriptive details of experiential learning experiences.

Academic Article


  • Experiential learning experiences (ELEs), opportunities for students to apply knowledge and skills critically in a hands-on environment, are fundamental to the apprenticeship model of biological and biotechnological sciences. ELEs enhance student-learning gains, increase career readiness, and provide important networking opportunities. However, students do not often recognize the benefits of ELEs. Reflection is a highly effective tool to articulate learning gains and connect new content with established knowledge. Therefore, senior undergraduate students (n = 23), majoring in biological sciences or biotechnology, wrote required reflective essays about their ELE, in response to an intentionally vague prompt. Qualitative assessment of the reflective essays identified themes present in the reflective essays that typically included descriptions of what students did, with whom they worked, and what they learned during their ELE, but lacked critical analysis or deep reflection about their experience. Differences were also present between different types of ELEs. These results provide a foundation for guiding students to deeper reflection, ultimately resulting in greater benefits from their ELEs. To promote more robust reflection, and, therefore, theoretically enhance learning gains from ELEs, we suggest multiple iterations of reflection, instructor feedback and coaching, and ELE-specific prompts that focus on the placement of ELEs within students' personal and professional trajectory.
  • Authors

  • Halpin, Patricia
  • Donahue, Ann E
  • Johnson, Kathryn MS
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • March 1, 2020
  • Published In


  • Biological Science Disciplines
  • Biotechnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Problem-Based Learning
  • Students
  • Universities
  • experiential learning
  • qualitative analysis
  • reflective essays
  • undergraduate STEM education
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 32057263
  • Start Page

  • 99
  • End Page

  • 103
  • Volume

  • 44
  • Issue

  • 1