Creating space for resistance in critical and creative thinking

We begin with the premise that learning is related to the space created for critical learning experiences – a space that is inclusive. Encouraging students to become reflective practitioners, similar to Schön’s and Kolb-Lewins’ ideas, has long been reported, yet, as is commonly said ‘reflection is difficult’ (Clegg 2004). The dynamic is poorly problematised as students find it difficult to engage in this process (Berglund et al. 2018). We are drawing on insights from two modules to explore how students and ourselves as educators and co-learners have engaged with the reflective space of ePortfolios to rethink ideas and practices. What we have come to recognise is the need for creating spaces for resistance.

Using ePortfolios

Our experiences are of introducing two differing cohorts to reflective practice at differing stages of learning - approximately 850 undergraduate students on a 1st year Entrepreneurship module and 30 postgraduate students on a Professional Development module. The two modules use ePortfolios as a means to encourage students to offer critical reflections and insights that enable them to ‘not only be theoretically knowledgeable and assume critical perspectives, but also to develop an understanding about the practical and relational challenges that this may involve’ (Berglund et al. 2018, 3).

We opted for Pebble Pad over other eLearning platforms due to its workbook functionality which we used to provide a Portfolio structure for students to enable ongoing, active learning to be captured in multi-media formats and shared over a longer period. The ePortfolios alongside the idea of reflective practice and writing as well as the infrastructure of PebblePad were introduced in the first week of their module. Both modules then offered structured prompts and set tasks to focus students’ ongoing reflection.

In addition to their being able to develop reflection through the use of text, images and videos in PebblePad, these ePortfolios, and the reflective writing prompts, we aim to develop students’ critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills and raise their awareness of developing professional competencies. From an initial glance, our experiences appear similar to other scholars using this approach (Maiden and Kinsey 2008; Lygo-Baker and Hatzipanagos 2012). What we did not anticipate in the setting up and support of these ePortfolios was the need for creating spaces for resistance.

Spaces for resistance

Much like Robinson et al. (2012), we sought to engage students in reflective practice by enabling them to question their own assumptions through questions such as

  • What did you learn?
  • What did do you struggle with?
  • What are the areas on the module that challenged you?

We discussed with the students their reflections, how the views of others changed their initial ideas and their learning from the module. Thus, we added a social aspect of critical reflecting. As educators/facilitators, we provided support during this learning process through feedback on their ePortfolio worksheets. Yet, where ePortfolios and PebblePad seem ‘unproblematically’ connected in the literature, reflection is experienced as rather difficult in practice (Hughes 2008). Hughes’ (2008) view that ‘Many of our students carry sophisticated technologies in their pockets which could be used to create digital stories, mp3 files and videos for example’ did not match our experience of students’ engagement with ePortfolios on PebblePad. Only some of the students on both cohorts have taken genuinely curious and creative approaches to their learning. Others though have made what they call ‘transactional’ choices – doing the minimum in creating PebblePad assets that is directly connected with the marking scheme. Notably, very few of the students engaged with all of the learning prompts and many of the individual reflections were narrowly focused on what was done in the workshops and predominantly word documents.

What we experienced strongly was resistance masked in feedback that they experienced difficulty with PebblePad as a tool. Yet, upon further conversations with students it transpired that the technical difficulties were often used as an excuse to engage with critical reflection. A similar dynamic seemed to work against engaging with creative aspects of ePortfolios, as expressed in this comment:

"I don’t know how to do this coursework because I can’t even upload the empathy map onto PebblePad because it has to be saved as an image but I did the empathy map on a word document and PebblePad doesn’t allow you to attach a word document only an image file, this website is the most confusing thing I've ever had to work with and it’s just not allowing me to even do any of this coursework (…)"

The above gives voice to the frustration, and anxiety, which inform our feelings that there is a need to make space for resistance in reflection. As such we have come together to give one another support, as facilitators, both in our own frustrations and in learning how to support students through the dynamic process of developing reflective practices that inevitably include resistance.

Our initial experiences in moving beyond problems of reflection and critical (and creative thinking) throws up new problems. We are interested in exploring these tensions with others and feel that recognising the need for space for resistance is a starting point for a shift in better understanding what is learnt using ePortfolios and PebblePad and how we facilitate this learning in higher education. From our experiences using technology for capturing reflection is problematic. At the very least, we need to be sensitive to how students respond. An implication is not simply encouraging students to create a time and space to reflect using PebblePad but of negotiating tensions between the student ‘push back’ focussed on the technology, as resistance to reflecting, and what we seek to encourage - a space of resistance - and critical and emancipatory practices in enhancing everyday learning practices. As such, we challenge some of the dogma to provide a better means of moving between critical approaches to theorising about reflection and individual and collective learning experiences.

By Doris Schedlitzki, Associate Professor in Organisational Leadership, and Pam Seanor, Senior Lecturer Strategy and Enterprise, at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England

Berglund, K. and Johannisson, B. 2012. Societal entrepreneurship. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Clegg, S. 2004. Critical readings: progress files and the production of the autonomous learner. Teaching in Higher Education, 9(3), 287­98.

Hughes, J. 2008. E-portfolio-based learning: a practitioner perspective. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, 1(2), 1-12.

Lygo-Baker, S. and Hatzipanagos, S. 2012. Enabling Professional Development with E-Portfolios: Creating a Space for the Private and Public Self. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 2(1), 37-52.

Maiden B. and Kinsey S. 2008. Encouraging reflective practice through the introduction of e-portfolios: a comparison of the postgraduate and the undergraduate experience. In: Wheeler A (ed) Learning and teaching project 2005-2007. Wolverhampton: Institute for Learning Enhancement, University of Wolverhampton. pp. 9–14. Available at (Accessed July 2019).

Robinson, S., Neergaard, H., Tanggaard, L. and Krueger, N.F. 2016. New horizons in entrepreneurship education: from teacher-led to student-centered learning. Education + Training, 58 (7/8), 661-683.