Reflective portfolios in biological sciences

Alison Cullinane, University of Edinburgh

Alison Cullinane, Lecturer of Biological Education, Portfolio Director & Cohort Lead from University of Edinburgh on ‘Reflective portfolios in the School of Biological Sciences.’ This recording is from our 2023 MiniBash community event which was hosted in Birmingham, England. Videos are for educational personnel only and require a live educational email to watch. You can read a small snippet of the video transcript below. 


So, I’ve been asked here to add to the diversity of accents. I’m originally from Ireland, but I find myself in Edinburgh University, and I’m the portfolio director there. I’m implementing a reflective portfolio in the school of biological sciences with science students. So, you can imagine all the science students hate me because I’m trying to get them to reflect, which is something that scientists don’t do apparently. 

So, I’m just going to give you very briefly just some background as to why this portfolio has been implemented. A little bit of how I’ve used PebblePad with the first years, and now I’m currently designing the second-year portfolio, a little bit of the student voice and some of the achievements and challenges so far. I’ve been in the post just over a year so this is all stuff that has come within the last year, ao I’m here as well to gain insights from more of the established PebblePad users. 

So as Simon Riley mentioned earlier, we are involved in this curriculum reform and our courses within the school of biological sciences are part of that curriculum reform. So we’ve done our first year where we have four new curriculums and overarching that is this reflective portfolio. 

The students within their portfolio need to reflect on the interactive lectures. We’re trying to remove the word lectures and we’re calling them interactive sessions. 

They have workshops, and of course they’ll have practical work as well, and the portfolio then is used to reflect on all of those. The portfolio itself is worth 25% and it is a pass-fail component of their grade. 

So PebblePad was used as the platform to deliver the first year and now the second year at reflective portfolios. And because reflection is something that will be new to a lot of students and particularly first years, I kept it quite structured so that they would learn how to reflect initially. So, each of the workshop’s workbooks were designed with very particular questions. They were designed around using Gibbs’s framework, and once again, the reflective toolkit that was mentioned earlier was drawn on a lot to develop a lot of these things as well. And it was also supported by literature on formative assessment, getting students to engage in their learning, reflection skills, skills development, and research on STEM career progression. 

So in terms of the first-year portfolio, the narrative or that storyline that they were doing, in the first semester it was just about learning to reflect and getting them used to speaking about themselves. It’s not something that you don’t often have a chance to do, but something when you go to interviews and when you have to write about internship applications. You have to talk about yourself and it’s not something that they’re used to, so it was just getting them to talk about themselves particularly in the personal weekly reflections, and then they had academic tasks where they reflected on their learning.  




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