Accessorizing the Science Foundation with Internal Mirrors: A Novel Open Source Tool to Enhance Reflective Practice

By Cherie Lucas, PhD

Most students entering pharmacy have strong roots in math and science. It is no surprise, then, that it can be a challenge to get students to think reflectively, and even beyond that, write reflectively. As a lecturer for the Master of Pharmacy degree at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), I was asked to ensure that our students could develop the capacity for self and peer reflection on their learning and placement tasks. One of the ways in which this can be achieved is through engaging with reflective writing tasks. Reflective writing enables appraisal of one’s own skill set, training, competency standards, helps cultivate professional identity and develops critical thinking capacity.1,2 I encountered many students who had come from a purely scientific background. Therefore, it was likely that reflective writing would be foreign to them, posing a challenge to teach.

Reflection is not an inherent skill, but we do know that it can be taught through guided instruction and scaffolding the concepts throughout a curriculum (Figure 1).2 Given this, as an instructor I had two challenges: (1) to ensure students have the time and strategies within a curriculum to understand the concepts of reflecting on their learning and clinical practice; (2) to enhance student engagement in the reflective tasks.

AcaWriter as a Solution to the Challenge
An interactive online tool developed by the UTS Connected Intelligence Centre, as part of their Academic Writing Analytics project provided real time anonymous feedback and also appeared to enhance engagement with the task. I was invited to critique the reflective “tags” (elements) for the utilization of the tool and have since piloted this tool in my curriculum (Figure 2).3,4 The current iteration of the tool (AcaWriter) is open access which means that it can be used and replicated across multiple courses and can be shared easily.

Facilitating the reflective process
Reflection concepts and the foundations of reflective writing are scaffolded in our curriculum. I provide the lectures related to these concepts commencing day one of the degree and prior to conducting a more formal workshop that occurs one week before their final submissions are due.

The purpose of the 1-1.5 hour workshop was four fold:

  1. Showcase examples of reflective writing at different levels
  2. Introduce students to AcaWriter and its capabilities
  3. Facilitate formative feedback (personal and peer reflection) on their written tasks
  4. Introduce the reflective rubric 5 utilized for summative assessment as AcaWriter does not provide a score

One of the advantages of AcaWriter not providing a score for their writing is that it allows students to focus purely on writing and feedback rather than a score. In saying that, the reflective rubric was developed with underpinnings of the literature and is closely aligned to the elements of reflection within the “tags” of the online tool. Furthermore, this rubric has good interrater reliability, indicating that raters who utilize this rubric when assessing the reflective tasks were in high agreement with each other.5

Prior to the workshop conducted a week before students’ final submission for summative assessment, students are instructed to bring along reflective writing pieces to critique during the workshop. During the workshop, students are first provided with the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly” reflective writing exemplars that have been de-identified for training purposes. A class discussion follows and students are instructed to align rubric elements to the reflective writing task examples. This allows students to understand the summative grading process for this conceptual idea. These exemplars are then provided for students to review the feedback from AcaWriter. Students are asked to work alone for the first task, writing directly into AcaWriter and following the prompts for individual formative feedback. As feedback is provided in real time, students have the opportunity to adjust their submission. In other words, they are given time to self-critique their written task(s) according to the feedback provided by the output of AcaWriter. Students then work in pairs, swap their reflective writing tasks, and review and reflect on their peer’s task with a follow-up discussion. (Figure 1)

Why This Seems to Work
I have found that this process allows for an open discussion about critiquing one’s work and provides students with formative feedback prior to their summative assessment. The online forum enhances engagement and the peer reflection provides an alternative perspective and respect for another viewpoint.

Interested in adopting AcaWriter in your curriculum? Feel free to contact me and I will connect you with the lead in the project, who will guide you through the process.

I would like to acknowledge the work of my UTS colleagues Professor Simon Buckingham Shum, Dr Andrew Gibson, Dr Adam Aitken, Dr Simon Knight, and Dr Ágnes Sándor (Naver Labs Europe) for the collaboration around AcaWriter.

Figure 1. How to conduct a reflective writing workshop utilizing a novel online tool- Schema developed by Dr. Cherie Lucas (2018)

Figure 2. How AcaWriter operates


1. Buckingham Shum S, Goldsmith R, Bass R, McWilliams M. Towards reflective writing analytics: Rationale, Methodology and Preliminary Results J Learn Analytics 2017;4(1): 58-84 .

2. Lucas C. The relationship between reflective practice, learning styles and academic performance in pharmacy education. PhD Thesis The University of Sydney, Australia. 2016

3. Lucas C, Gibson A, Buckingham Shum S. Utilization of a novel online reflective learning tool for immediate formative feedback to assist pharmacy students’ reflective writing skills. Am J Pharm Educ. In Press.

4. Gibson A, Aitken A, Sandor A, Buckingham Shum S, Tsingos-Lucas C, Knight S. Reflective writing analytics for actionable feedback. Proceedings of LAK17: 7th International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge, March 13-17, 2017, Vancouver, Canada.

5. Lucas C, Bosnic-Anticevich S, Schneider CR, Bartimote-Aufflick K, McEntee M, Smith L. Inter-rater reliability of a reflective rubric to assess pharmacy students’ reflective thinking. Currents Pharm Teach Learn. 2017;9(6): 989-995.

Dr Cherie Lucas is a Lecturer of Pharmacy Clinical Practice at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Australia. Educational scholarship interests include: reflective practice, interprofessional education and interprofessional collaboration. In her free time she enjoys salsa dancing, visiting art galleries, museums, and markets and loves the theatre and musicals.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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