Self-reflection is crucial in helping students cultivate their ethics and articulate their positionalities in a complex, changing world. However, self-reflection is rarely approached in the classroom as a skillset in its own right. To address this, I developed and piloted Documentation for Designers, an undergraduate course, in the fall of 2021. Supplementing traditional design curricula by providing a dedicated space for reflection, storytelling, and self-inquiry, Documentation for Designers was an invitation for students to think deeply about how their work connects to their personal histories and the wider world itself. In the course, design students were led through a series of self-documentation prompts and reflection exercises. Each prompt asked students to capture their creative process in a new way (through photos, audio, video, design methods, and writing) and to reflect upon how the documentation process impacted their perceptions of their work. After the completion of the course, I conducted a semi-grounded qualitative analysis of students’ written reflections throughout the term to assess what aspects of the curriculum design affected the quantity and quality of student reflections. Preliminary findings suggest that when carefully facilitated in an environment of emotional safety, media-based self-documentation and reflection activities can successfully help students reflect not only on their immediate creative activities (their “process”), but also more widely on the overall contours of their entire body of work, their motivations, and their future goals (their “practice”). These findings show how simple media-based strategies might help educators make self-reflection more accessible (and joyful) for students across disciplines.
Trace is a multidisciplinary designer and researcher who has worked across the fields of health, public safety, and education. Her work at the UC Davis Center for Design in the Public Interest has received international recognition, and she has continued to work on community projects across the far reaches of Northern California (and the farther reaches of the internet). In completing a double master’s in Design and Community Development at UC Davis, Trace’s work explores the link between self-documentation and self-reflection, and asks what happens when we turn our own methods on ourselves.