Towards a strong professional identity within higher education: Increasing the effectiveness of critical reflection through autobiographical reflexivity and persuasive technology

Monique M.J. Engelbertink

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research external, graduation UT

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Developing a strong professional identity (PI) is important for social workers as their profession is subject to significant changes, namely: economic, societal, interprofessional and technological developments as well as labor market changes. Professionals who have a strong PI are clear in what they stand for, the competences they possess and are confident in their professional work. A strong PI is related to a self-aware, explorative and committed student and also to a self-aware, explorative and committed professional. In current research literature, the importance of linking interrelationships between identity conceptualizations from adolescence to adulthood is evident. However, a review of students in their late adolescence exploring how their lives have been so far, and the reconstruction of their (professional) identity, through narrative interventions has not received much attention in the scientific literature. Narrative methods can lead to a stronger PI and support, and encourage, the student to reflect critically. Though, most of these studies are theoretical or qualitative in nature, or do not target social work students.
This thesis aimed to develop and implement a critical reflection blended learning course, while simultaneously investigating the value that autobiographical reflexivity and persuasive technology can add, benefitting PI development and critical reflection skills in social work students.
The doctoral research was preceded by an orientation phase in which the doctoral candidate, whose role was as a teacher and a co-developer, worked on PI formation in students through autobiographical reflexivity. This phase falls outside the scope of the dissertation.
Phase 2 (participatory design and evaluation) focused on the design of the blended learning course ‘autobiographical reflexivity’ with the use of persuasive technology. Based on the four categories (‘primary task support’, ‘dialogue support’, ‘credibility support’ and ‘social support’) in the Persuasive Systems Design model, this determined which persuasive techniques were used. Additionally, the use of the blended learning course was evaluated in a pilot study.
In phase 3 of the thesis (implementation and evaluation) research was conducted into the construction of PI in higher education students, the implementation of the blended learning course and its evaluation.
This thesis has demonstrated the significant role that higher education settings play in supporting their social work students’ PI development. Utilizing autobiographical reflexivity initially is best for starting this process, as this is related to strong affective and cognitive involvement from students. Other stakeholders involved, such as educationalists, professionals and teachers, also confirm the added value that autobiographical reflexivity
brings in terms of forming a PI in a student population. The ability to commit to a profession seems to be the most important factor for developing a strong PI and therefore it should be a focus in higher education. Higher education can, through critical reflection education and its four levels, stimulate students to reflect on the five components of PI (self-image, self-esteem, task perception, job motivation and future perspective) in order to strengthen their PI. Students recognize these five components when they reflect on their PI and various reflection levels can be distinguished in their written reflection reports. It is clear the potential that persuasive technology can bring to promote higher student involvement in blended learning, and ultimately deserves increased attention in future research. Finally, it is important to additionally consider the contribution of the individual professional to the collective PI of their professional group. Through this, the professional group develops itself through signals and communication, received from the individual professionals about possible shortcomings and needs within the profession and the society as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Westerhof, Gerben J., Supervisor
  • Kelders, Saskia M., Co-Supervisor
  • Woudt-Mittendorff, Kariene M., Co-Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date11 Jun 2021
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-94-6419-217-9
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2021


  • Identity
  • Reflection
  • Professional identity
  • autobiographical reflexivity
  • narrative reminiscene
  • Students
  • Higher Education
  • Persuasive Technologies
  • engagement and motivation


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