Case study: Reflective Exercises

Summary

Students are encouraged to reflect on their feedback through reflective exercises and workshops. As a result, they are able to interpret their feedback constructively and identify areas for improvement. The students can use these skills for subsequent assignments and apply them to different subjects.

Key points

College: College of Science and Engineering
Class size: Large (100-300)
Technological competency: Basic (General computer literacy)
Administrative support: General
Required resources: Moodle
Suitable for online/distance learning: No
Optional resources: YACRS

Corresponding contact: Jason Bohan, Maxine Swingler, Lorna Morrow

Course details

Course title: Psychology
Level: Level 1, Level 2
Module title: Psycholody
College: College of Science and Engineering
Instructor: Maxine Swingler, Lorna Morrow, Niamh Friel, Nathalie Sheridan
Implemented since: 2015

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Objectives

At Level 2, there is a lot of anxiety from students about progressing into Honours, and getting the minimum grade (B2) which guarantees you entry into Honours Psychology. Many students who come to Glasgow with the intention of studying Psychology as their main degree find that by level 2 they are maybe not quite at the level required of them.

Student anxiety about how to improve their grades was a driving factor in implementing the approach. Students would question their grades and were struggling to interpret their feedback constructively. This was becoming very labour intensive, as students would question their feedback with the markers.
To mitigate this demand, and to encourage students to engage with their feedback, the students were asked to complete reflective exercises before meeting with staff to discuss their feedback. Initially developed by Lorna Morrow and Niamh Friel as part of an LTDF bid in 2014-15, the exercises encourage students to work through their feedback independently before seeking advice.
Initially this was implemented online, but not all students were engaging with the online exercises, so the reflective tasks were built into the curriculum.

This form of assessment encourages students to:

  • reassess their feedback in advance of their upcoming assessment
  • target areas where they require improvement
  • develop a portfolio of feedback, which they could use to track their development as they go through the degree

Implementation (what was done)

The reflective exercises were implemented in several ways:

  • Online via Moodle and Mahara.
  • Voluntary sessions were set up, where the students could come to discuss their feedback with their peers and tutors, and highlight areas they could improve on in the future.
    • The sessions covered ways that you could apply your feedback to upcoming assignments, and used real examples of student work from previous years.
    • These sessions were run with the help of the Student Learning Service (now LEADS).
  • In class reflective exercises using YACRS.
  • Reflection was also incorporated into the feedback process.
    • When submitting their work, the students were asked to identify areas that they have ‘worked harder’ on from past assignments, and ask for specific areas that they would like ‘additional feedback’ on.
  • The email sent to the students with their grades included a link to the generic feedback, a summary of the reflective exercises, and the availability of the marker for a marking surgery. All of the information about feedback is in the same email.
    • If the students want to discuss their grade with their marker, they have to re-read the feedback, re-read the report writing guide on Moodle, and then read a journal article. They need to complete the reflective exercises before the meeting.

Considerations (and what worked well)

  • This approach has been adapted for the Level 1 course, so the incoming students will be familiar with the process.
  • The students used a classroom response system to post their thoughts on the in-class reflective exercises. The results indicated that the students were confused and reluctant to go through work for past assignments, and wanted to discuss issues that were relevant to upcoming assignments instead. In the future, this feedback will be adapted in the workshop structure, so that students have an opportunity to look at how they will plan their upcoming assignments based on previous feedback.
  • There were a few issues that came up in using YACRS for open-ended questions. Possible solutions include designing the questions differently, or using an alternative system.
  • After implementing the reflective exercises, a smaller number of students questioned their feedback.
  • The reflective exercises were more successful in engaging students than the workshops, which could be developed further. Students who have just completed Level 2 could contribute to the design of the workshops.
  • The workshops will be a timetabled class in the upcoming academic year, so the attendance should increase significantly.

Scalability and Transferability

Approach would scale to different class sizes. The reflective exercises would be implemented during lab sessions or smaller workshops, and the email correspondence could be sent out in both large and small groups.


Approach would be appropriate in any course where the students would benefit from reflecting on their feedback.


Benefits

Student benefits 
  • Students can ask questions about their feedback, and see examples of how they can improve.
  • The students are encouraged to connect feedback from previous assignments to upcoming ones.
  • The students are shown explicitly how to engage with their feedback.
Staff benefits 
  • Staff were able to highlight the areas that students struggled in, and address issues before the assessment deadline.
  • The markers were able to use the feedback sheets to point to areas where the students could improve and review the student’s effort to build on previous feedback.

Challenges

Student challenges 
  • Some students were unable to locate their feedback from last year.
  • Students found it difficult to interpret feedback in terms of their current assessments.
Staff challenges 
  • It was difficult to motivate all students to participate in the exercise.
  • Constructing the materials was the most time-intensive part of the approach.

References

Morrow, L (2014-15) LTDF Report Using Mahara to improve students' perceptions of, and ability to effectively utilise, feedback on assessment.
O’ Donovan, Rust & Price (2015) From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), pp.501-507.
Nicol, D (2010) A scholarly approach to solving the feedback dilemma in practice. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.