GeoScience/Psychology Outreach and Engagement Course
Case study on the GeoScience and Psychology outreach course and its use of a reflective project diary.
In the course ‘Outreach and Engagement’, fourth year students from the School of GeoSciences and the Psychology department provide innovative solutions to community clients. Projects range from creating educational resources on food waste reduction, to increasing accessibility to museums for people with autism spectrum disorder.
Throughout the course students create a reflective project diary. The diary is worth 10% of the course mark and needs to document project progress. Moreover, it must show students’ thinking and reflections on choices and direction of the project.
Not all students manage to critically reflect in their project diary. The course team is actively working to increase the support for students in this area by creating new, clearer guidelines. Overall there is high satisfaction for this course.
Takeaways may include:
- Experiential learning programmes lend themselves well to reflective project diaries, supporting students’ development and helping keep projects on track.
- It is important to have clear instructions about what you are expecting from students when posing reflective assessments.
- Consider spending time in the course to support students in how to reflect and how to write reflectively.
- Be available to support students who struggle to reflect.
|Location of practice:||
Outreach and Community Engagement course within the School of GeoScience since 2006, and the Psychology department since 2016 (EASC10087 – 20 credits).
4th year students
Course organiser, project supervisors (academics and PhD students)
Students write an assessed, reflective project diary to document project progress and make skills development explicit to themselves and others while working with a community client.
Staff mark the reflective dairy, which is summative and worth 10 % of the overall mark. Students may have questions about reflection in project supervisory meetings.
To complete the project diary, on average a student will spend about 30 minutes per week.
Community engagement, outreach, and science communication have long been central to the vision of the University and form the foundations for the GeoScience and Psychology Outreach and Engagement course.
The course is designed around the problem-based model of community engagement, where students work with a community partner who has an issue that needs solving. Students create a product which is designed with a legacy in mind. Past projects include community gardening projects or educational resources and workshops for mental health.
Students produce a final product, a reflective project diary, a technical report, a blogpost and a poster as a part of their assessment. Moreover, an interim report is submitted which receives formative feedback.
Reflection in context
Reflection has always been a part of the course through a reflective project diary. Given the experiential nature of the course, a project diary works well both to keep the project on track and support development in students.
One of the course’s learning outcomes focuses on developing and honing concrete skills and abilities. This learning outcome is addressed primarily through students developing and identifying new skills and strengths by engaging with workshops and the reflective diary. These skills benefit students and can give them a competitive edge while applying for work after university. These skills include, but are not limited to, effective communication and project and time management.
The project diary must document challenges and moments of success including what action and knowledge contributed to these. Students are also asked to record all major decisions and experiences related to the project, while attaching all written communication between them and their clients.
In this way, the project diary serves as both a place for critical reflection while also somewhere for documenting progress and work distribution over the year. The diary is submitted at the end of the year and does not require any references.
Introducing and implementing reflection
A description of the project diary’s requirements is included in the course handbook. The importance of independent thought and evidence of project progress are highlighted – there are no requirements to format and length.
Students are reminded multiple times that it is essential to keep and maintain their project diaries, and if necessary supervisors are happy to help with reflection.
The course team has recognised that despite the existing instructions, not all students engage critically with their reflections. The team wants to ensure that the support and guidelines for students are clear and has therefore chosen to:
- refine both descriptions and assessment criteria of the project diary, putting a larger emphasis on critical reflection; and
- is considering creating a workshop on reflection and reflective writing to ensure that students can gain the maximum development from the course.
Some advice the course team have identified from their experiences:
- Have clear definitions and know exactly what you are asking of students.
- Be adaptable and willing to focus on skills development in supervision not only project delivery.
- Consider peer support such that students can give each other feedback on projects and support the process of reflection.
Responses to reflection:
There are two distinct student experiences of keeping the project diary. Some students find the diary valuable by creating a place to keep track and make meaning of their experiences and for developing skills.
Others do not engage with the project diary in an explicitly reflective manner and treat it more as a classic diary – highlighting what they have done, but not why they have done it.
The course team is currently improving the assessment guidelines to put a larger emphasis on critical reflection.
The reflective diary is assessed to ensure that students will engage with project management and reflection.
A good diary documents the development of the project. Furthermore, the student identifies strengths and weaknesses in their own work. From this they create action plans for using their strengths and developing their weaknesses. The better the student is at giving themselves feedback and documenting reasons for their decisions, the better the mark awarded.
The course receives positive feedback from both students and clients. Places on the course are competitive as it is extremely popular with students, and clients really value the solutions that students provide.
The reflective aspect is essential to get the most from the course. There has been some challenges in communicating the critical nature of the reflective project diary to students. This is recognised by the course team which is working to ensure full alignment between instructions and expectations.
GeoScience Outreach Course website (within the School of GeoSciences website)
GeoScience Outreach Course blog (external blog about the initiative)
GeoScience Outreach: teaching science communication ‘beyond the programme’ and outside of the ‘Ivory Tower’ (Teaching Matters blogpost on the course)
Psychology Outreach and Engagement course description on 2018-19 DRPS (within University of Edinburgh DRPS)
Dr Bonnie Auyeung (Psychology)
Dr. Isla Myers-Smith (GeoSciences)