Reflective writing for coursework in Psychology

Instructor: Dr Eleanor Dommett, IoPPN

Module: BSc, Psychology, Level 6
Assessment: Reflective writing using personal profile blog entries in KEATS
Students produce five separate blog posts, no more than 500 words each, focussed on five of the topics taught in seminars and workshops (e.g. metaphors of learning, learning design). This contributes 25% of the module result.

Brief Description

This module does not directly teach psychology content but rather requires students to develop a psychology teaching resource for Level 4 students. To achieve this, they must engage with their chosen psychology topic but, critically, they must also engage in academic discussions around teaching and learning. The module has four types of summative assessment, however this case study will only focus on the reflective blog posts.

Why did you introduce the assessment? 

The programme context is one of diverse assessment where we move away from standard essays and examinations, unless these are essential to meet the learning outcomes. Additionally, the students on this programme have had experience of  reflective practice previously on core modules so the transfer of this into the blogging medium is not overly challenging to them. At present blogs are not part of assessment in other modules on the programme.

There were three reasons I chose to including reflective writing through blogs for assessment in this module to meet the learning outcomes:

  • Reflection: I wanted to encourage the practice of continuous reflection. For this to work, the reflective writing had to be brief and informal so an essay-style submission was not appropriate. Blogs offer a way for jotting down thoughts directly online without having to worry about finessing of academic writing and structure. The students were asked to base them on Gibb’s reflective cycle and based on their reflection make one recommendation to an educator in each blog.
  • Connecting theoretical to practical: I wanted to give the students a tool to concretise some abstract concepts. Teaching students about metaphors of knowledge creation can be quite challenging despite their wealth of learning experience that they could relate to these concepts. In order to be sure that they engage sufficiently with these sometimes-abstract concepts I wanted them to create something about each core concept. This type of writing allowed this personal creation without providing a heavy workload.
  • Employability: Blogging is a useful skill and one our graduates should have  practice with Although this assessment is not conventional blogging to an external audience, many blogs are written in a reflective narrative style.  This assignment allows our students to have some experience of the reflective blog genre before they graduate and enter employment or further study. Like all skills we want students to engage with, the best way to ensure they do is to include it as part of assessment and provide support and guidance as well as feedback.

How did you design the assessment criteria and weighting? 

The five reflective posts contributed 25% of the final module grade so each one is worth 5% and they are single marked. The marking criteria were developed to incorporate criteria on what makes for good blog writing as well as the necessary content. I looked for similar blog marking criteria online and found a few. Based on these and the programme marking criteria (which is based on the College one) I created marking criteria in the standard format for the module.

How did you give feedback and provide formative practice

Written feedback was given using the comment section of the blog. Each student received personalised feedback with the relevant section from the criteria included. A percentage grade was also given. Contributions can be time-locked (so a hard deadline can be used). KEATS has a suitable blogging tool (I used the OU Blog but there is also a Moodle blog) which allows students to have individual blogs that are visible to me but not other students.

After the first set of blogs were submitted and feedback was returned, the students with the most effective blogging style were asked if their blogs could be shared. Both students agreed with this and they were shared with the rest of the group. This facilitates familarity with the more public arena of blogging for external audiences.

How did you explain this to students? 

The overall assessment strategy was described in the Module Introduction video and Module Guide on the module KEATS page. The following, more detailed information, was included in their Assessment Brief issued at the start of the module:

Several different blogs were also given as links on the KEATS pages so that students had examples. A copy of the marking criteria was also provided on KEATS.

What benefits did you see? 

Diversity of coursework: I think use of reflective writing through blogs, as one of several diverse assessments, improved student experience. The students who completed the final evaluation (30% of students) valued the clarity of the marking criteria and free text comments specifically referred to the amount of reflection and diversity of coursework as good things about the module.

Increased engagement: I also think that improved learning was likely driven by the reflective posts because they meant that students turned up for all seminars and workshops and joined in. Across the entire term only two students missed one of these each so attendance was at 100% for most weeks. Comments made in the module reflection essay support this with students saying they paid more attention because they knew they had to do the reflection and this required a deeper level of engagement.

Supportive environment: Knowing that every seminar and two of the three workshops had assessment associated with them meant that I planned these even more carefully than normal because I did not want students to feel they were not suitably supported. I also made sure I referred students to a wider range of sources in general. Academic papers are important but many key individuals in education now blog regularly and so I aimed for students to be more aware of this.

The above points were based on:

  • Eva-Sys feedback
  • Content on module reflections which specifically referred to blogs/reflection
  • My own experience teaching the module.
  • Note: that there was no data from before the blogs were introduced to compare with. The average grade for the five blogs was 65% with a range from 51% to 77%.

What challenges did you encounter and how did you address them? 

The posts were quite time-consuming to mark. Each student submitted 5 in total and, although individually these could be marked quite quickly, the multiple submissions created a high workload. Additionally, at least 30% of the students submitted at least one practice ‘Homework Task’ which was good because it gave them a feedback opportunity, but it did add to the workload.

I managed to create a more efficient process eventually by constructing feedback in excel and then pasting it in as plain text. This allowed some shortcuts for standard phrases and rubric criteria. Despite being time-consuming they were enjoyable to read.

I capped numbers on this module because it was the first presentation and is optional, but the workload was just manageable with the 25 students I allowed. More than that would make the number of blog posts too high to mark in a timely fashion.

I was concerned that the technology would let me down or that I would have set it up wrong, but I did not encounter any problems.

I asked a couple of students to test the blog function in Week 1 and check they could not see other students’ posts. The fact that the feedback is provided via the blog means students can see it as you write it unless you hide them during the marking process, which is what I did.  I did discover that you cannot edit comments, only delete them and start again, so I started to prepare them somewhere else where I could read everything through carefully before putting it as plain text into the comment box.

Some students may feel overloaded by the number of submissions.Only one student missed a post (submitting 4/5 instead) so I am not sure about this, but it is something to consider.

What advice would you give to colleagues who are thinking of trying reflective blogs? 

  • Definitely go for it, but try to challenge the students in a single way at a time: so if they have experience of reflections then they can be challenged with a blog but if they have not done something before, give them a chance to develop the skill of reflective writing before transferring it to a novel medium.
  • If you are using blogs, make sure you can provide simple feedback (i.e. just plain text) as that is all the comments sections of the blog can allow.
  • Always double check your blog settings if you do not want students to be able to read other students blogs.
  • Give students examples of blogs and formative feedback options.

View Eleanor Dommett’s brief interview when she won a King’s Teaching Excellence Award for effective feedback:


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