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Case study 8: Reflection and dialogue on feedback

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    This case study was at the University of Westminster, on a level 1 life sciences programme.  An online system was set up where students wrote reflections after receiving feedback on their work.  This is really coming from a constructivist perspective.  It is stated in the case study that the assessment aligns with three REAP principles:

    1) facilitate self-assessment and reflection

    2) act on feedback

    3) encourage interaction and dialogue around learning (as the reflections formed the basis of progress discussions).

    It is not clear whether the reflections themselves were assessed – if not, I don’t think everyone would have the motivation to complete them.

    I think this could work well if it was integrated into personal tutoring – we have a stand-alone system for reflection in advance of and after personal tutor meetings, but it feels somewhat divorced from the other modules students are taking.



    Asking learners to actively reflect on and record their responses to feedback sounds like a good way of helping students to understand what the feedback means and to strengthen their understanding of the subject but I agree that its unlikely that some will do it without some form of extrinsic reward. Badges have been mentioned quite a bit on Twitter in the last few months.  I wonder if you could give students a badge for just responding and award a prize of some sort (marks?) for the greatest number of responses at the end of of the year/course/module. That would be quite easy to automate.  It would obviously open to abuse…any old response would  trigger a badge.  But the responses of the high frequency responders could be reviewed for quality as well as quantity.  While that would add to the tutor assessment load, it would be a relatively small addition compared with trying to assess the quality of every response.


    I agree about reflections needing to be assessed, although I do wish I didn’t have to!  Although I am torn on this issue I have come down on the side of assessing it, taking the view that if a ‘value’ is assigned to it then the students will attend to it.  Hoping in the long term they see the value in refection for their own CPD…

    I would be interested if you had any ‘tools’ you used to develop the habit.  Do you use ‘critical instances  for example?



    It is useful to hold some sort of practical workshop with students as they often don’t know how to do effective reflection. There is a useful reflective exercise that students can do from Jennifer Moon’s book “Learning Journals, A handbook for academics, students and professional development”.  This book comes highly recommended from several staff as a guide for them to help student understand the different levels of reflection and it also helps academic staff useful information on marking and feedback back on reflective pieces.

    The exercise involves reading accounts of a critical incident – the students then discuss in groups the differences between the accounts, specifically trying to identify the elements that are reflective, descriptive etc from the following criteria:

    ·         descriptive writing

    ·         descriptive reflection

    ·         dialogic reflection

    ·         critical reflection.




    I have ‘taught’ reflective writing for a number of years and echo Sue’s recommendation of Jenny Moon’s resources. There are some other useful resources below:

    Hilliard C (2006) Using structured reflection on a critical incident to develop a professional portfolio. Nursing standard 21 (2) 35-40

    Johns C (1995) Framing learning through reflection within Carper’s fundamental ways of knowing in nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing22 (2) 226-234

    When I assess reflective writing I tend to focus on the depth of reflection and evidence of personal change and future action as a result of completing the reflective account.



    I also find that assessment of reflective writing often causes debate amongst academics, I think this is due to the more personal nature of such writing. A colleague of mine recently said that reflective writing is similar to a piece of contemporary art, we can form very different opinions to the same assignment.

    How can we ensure objectivity?


    James Kerr

    Another resource, an oldie but a goodie, is The Dynamics of Discussion, by Barnlund.  It was written in the 1960s, but includes good information on what constitutes quality discussion and responses.  I have adapted it slightly to define what constitutes a quality response post for online discussion boards:

    Substantive post – the post should:
    1) Contribute relevant information pertinent to the topic.
    2) Incorporate the learner’s point of view to the topic or previous post.
    3) Evaluate others’ opinions or information if the learner does not have anything new to add.
    4) Facilitate the discussion if items 1-3 have already been addressed. (Points 1-4: Barnlund, 1960)

    Barnlund, D. C., & Haiman, F. S. (1960). The dynamics of discussion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


    These are really useful references – thanks everyone.


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