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Engaging students in active reflection as part of the academic feedback cycle

Dr Jane Simmonds explains how she introduced a reflective self-assessment template for Masters students to complete when submitting formative practice exam questions

6 November 2018

Dr Jane Simmonds, UCL Institute of Child Health, developed a novel way of getting students to actively engage in reflection on feedback and feedforward to enhance their learning. The innovation was shared at the 2018 UCL Education Conference.

The project directly addressed assessment and feedback, one of the key areas for improvement at UCL.

While feedback and even feed forward for formative and summative assessments may be given to students, staff are often not sure if or how it has been used by students to help them to improve. Engaging students more overtly in the learning and feedback cycl, makes it possible to customise feedback/feedforward to meet each student’s needs.

What was your innovation?

I introduced a reflective and self-assessment template for students to complete when submitting formative practice exam questions within one of the MSc Paediatric Physiotherapy modules.

I developed the template in response to students, particularly international students, who were asking for advice on how to tackle exams and improve performance in summative examinations.

In addition, I wanted to provide a way to help students to understand what is expected of them in examinations and other assessments and to engage them with feedback and feed forward between modules within a curriculum.

How did the template work?

It was a two-stage process.

  1. Students were asked to reflect on previous feedback from prior educational experiences or from previous modules and to state how they had addressed that feedback.
  2. The students self-assessed [a specific assignment?] using our marking criteria, to help them to understand the marking process and to request specific feedback/ feedforward from the tutors marking the work.

For example a student might grade themselves in the merit range and state that, based on previous feedback, they have worked specifically on trying to improving their ability to synthesize evidence, or to be more critical of the literature, or to improve the structure of their essay questions.

The tutor marking the work (in this case me), then provides very clear feedback and feed forward based on the student’s reflection and also on how well they answered the question.

What was the impact?

The intervention received positive feedback from students, who felt that it improved their assessment performance.

I also presented on the project at the 2018 UCL Education Conference. I felt that the student perspective was very important to share and therefore I decided to include three post graduate Physiotherapy students in the abstract submission and subsequent delivery of the session.

Within the conference session I provided a brief review of the assessment and feedback literature including the importance of formative assessment and feed forward.  Issues of timing, specificity of feedback and feed forward and lack of student engagement in the process were presented.

What do your students say about the project?

‘It was an excellent experience to work with all of you on this and to have the opportunity to reflect and share with others how essential the feedback and feedforward has been for me as a student. The conference was interesting and inspirational, especially for all of us interested in working in the educational field.’ Andrea Elton MSc Advanced Paediatric Physiotherapy graduating student 2017-18

The feedback and feedforward helped to direct revision strategy, improve my writing style and create a clearer structure for answering exam questions. Thank you again Dr Jane for the opportunity given! I am glad to be able to contribute to this work.’ Wan Yin The, MSc Advanced Paediatric Physiotherapy graduating  student 2017-18, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

What did you learn from sharing your innovation?

It was a fantastic experience to involve the students in the presentation at UCL Education Conference. I learned even more about the student perspective of receiving feedback, the type and timing of feedback/ feedforward and how lost and under pressure to perform they can feel, especially when coming from other countries, where the processes for assessment can be very different.

What was involved in terms of logistics, time or resources?

Projects like this do take time to develop and implement, however the impact on student performance and experience can potentially be very significant.

I started thinking about how to address the issue at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year. I began implementing the formative assessment with feedback and feed forward in 2016-17 and further refined the approach to include active reflection by students in my exam based modules in 2017-18.

The project itself is inherent to my work as module and programme lead. The work involved thinking/ problem solving, talking to students and colleagues and creating a template. Setting up moodle submission and providing feedback / feedforward to the 18 students who submitted the formative assessment took ~ 6 hours in total.

The preparation for the conference session took ~ 10 hours in total as I needed to create a plan for the presentation, including a review of the review literature, practice with the students.

What difference has this made to staff or students?

We have observed improvement in student grades in modules where this approach has been used. The group average grades have improved by ~ 4% (moving from a pass average of ~ 58% in 2016 to a merit average of ~62% in 2018). Student feedback has been excellent from those who engage in the process. PTES scores for Physiotherapy are excellent we have consistently scored between 97% – 100%.

What are your plans for the future?

We are further refining this process and I have implemented the process into another exam based module. We are now planning to introduce peer review in formative assessments and presentation for some of our other modules. In this way students can also learn from each other.

What 5 tips would you give to colleagues who would like to emulate your approach?

  1. Reflect on how and when feedback/forward is given to students within your module/programme and how it is utilised and perceived by students
  2. Consider how formative assessment could be implemented within a module and how students could engage in active reflection  and self-assessment
  3. Discuss the idea with students and colleagues and pilot the project within a module
  4. Obtain feedback from student on the process and evaluate the take up and the impact on the summative work/ student performance and
  5. Feed this back to the students and to the team