Giving students some space to reflect on their Honours dissertations: A mini-SLICC (Student-Led, Individually-Created Course)

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In this post, Andre Phillips discusses the evolution of a ‘mini-SLICC’ (Student-Led, Individually-Created Course) he and colleagues designed to foster student reflections on their self-directed Honours projects. Dr Phillips is a Teaching Fellow in Reproductive Biology within Biomedical Sciences. This post is part of September-October’s Learning & Teaching Enhancement theme: Innovation in Science Teaching.

Reflection is being increasingly integrated into courses and programmes across the University. It makes students think consciously about their strengths, weaknesses, challenges they face and methods of dealing with those challenges, with implications for all areas of their academic, professional, and also personal lives. Reflection has been taught and assessed at Edinburgh under a framework called Student-Led Individually-Created Courses (SLICCs). (See Teaching Matters Blogs: “SLICCs : A Supportive experiential space where students can flourish”)(Teaching Matters Blog: Enabling student autonomy and co-creation during Covid-19 lockdown – Summer SLICCs)

SLICCs are a University-wide initiative that offer an experiential learning and assessment framework using a reflective e-portfolio. We have been piloting a ‘mini-SLICC’, worth five academic credits, in the senior honours year of the Reproductive Biology programme, where students reflect upon their experiences whilst undertaking their capstone honours project. Last year, students’ feedback indicated that their SLICC reflective learning course was really useful, but that it was too demanding of time for the credits assigned. We have sought to address this, while retaining the clear benefits of developing skills, and addressing challenges through using reflection.

Figure 1: Two examples of reflective cycles used by the students

Establishing reflective learning skills

Reflection can be an invaluable tool in our students’ and indeed our own toolboxes. It can allow students to better process difficulties they face in work and life, building ever important resilience. Such difficulties are often found when students are developing their self-directed honours projects, with pressure to do well in this heavily weighted, substantial and complex assessment.

The mini-SLICC in Honours Reproductive Biology

The final year students reflected on their dissertation progress using short blogs and collected their reflections into an early “Proposal” followed by Interim and Final Reports answering 5 learning outcomes (see figure 2).

Figure 2 The five Learning Objectives to be answered as part of SLICC reports

This gave the students a framework to reflect on the process of undertaking their own research project and writing a dissertation. It also represents an opportunity to consider their future professional directions and values, and perhaps even to vent. Common topics include adapting to self-directed lab work or making the most of supervisor meetings. From previous years we knew students gained a huge amount from undertaking reflective practice in their SLICC, although a small number of students really struggled to understand and engage early on. This is perhaps because they were unfamiliar with and uncertain about this sort of structured reflective approach.

Adaptations to the mini-SLICC in response to feedback

The course was re-designed to reduce the workload for students, while keeping the reflective practice effective (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Format of the Redesigned SLICC Re-designed “Slicc-Lite”

At the beginning of second semester, the proposal that is usually present in a SLICC was converted to a workshop to kick-start their reflective blogs. Further, the word count for the Interim and Final Report was cut from 3000 to 2000 words.

Final Reflections

In response to these changes, the feedback from both students and staff has been highly supportive of the change.  Students see the value of their gains surrounding reflective learning. Our staff see clearer organisation and alignment, the value of reflective learning in the students to improve their project working, and less impact on time as tutors and markers. The new workshop, combined with a more focused, compact reflective journey has succeeded in what it sought to do, and we’ll look at the next steps we can take to improve it further.

Special thanks to Simon Riley, Gavin McCabe and Norah Spears for their infinite expertise in course (re)design. Also special thanks to the fantastic admin staff Claire MacGregor and Amy Löhr.

If you’d like to find out more, there is a Learning and Teaching Conference presentation on this course and for more information on SLICCs in general please visit the website.

picture of editor/producerAndre Phillips

Andre is a Teaching Fellow in Reproductive Biology within Biomedical Sciences, interested in research on endocrine disruptors and reflective learning. Completed a PhD on Fish Behavioural Ecology at St Andrews before making the interdisciplinary jump to Edinburgh Medical School. First experience of teaching was as an outdoor instructor, and he is working to take the best parts of that experience for participants into University Teaching.
Twitter: @DrAndrePhillips

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