‘General Introduction to Psychology is the first course that new students of Psychology take. It used to be a course that gave students a basic overview of psychology as a field. We now wanted students, besides getting to know the field, to reflect more and make them think about what psychology has to do with their lives, and why they study it. We didn't want them to just remember facts from a book, but let them critically reflect on material. This way we hope to make students realise that psychology is a perspective from which you can view the world. Psychology is not something you only find in books. With this in mind the course was innovated.’
Besides elements focused on knowledge acquisition, each week students answered essay questions that were aimed at reflection. The exam was replaced with a portfolio assignment, which took the following shape:
- Each week students watched educational videos and read about a topic from the book. Students answered multiple choice questions about the material. When students made a lot of mistakes, they had to rehearse the incorrectly answered questions. Next to that there were weekly seminars and reflection sessions on fridays. Here students could ask questions and share their perspective on the material from that week.
- Each week students answered three to four essay questions focused on their own perspective and based on inspiring examples, like a TEDtalk. For example, in the first week students thought about what they expected of the course and what they find interesting about psychology.
- Each week students gave feedback on the answer to the essay question of another student. This peerfeedback was not without set-backs, that’s why next year Nils wants to provide students with more examples on how to give good feedback. Students sometimes struggle with the fact that there were no clear right or wrong answers. As the course progressed however, it became more clear to students what the purpose behind the assignments was and they found it was a nice way of learning.
The technical setup
In the course, the tools in Brightspace form the backbone of educational design:
- The essay questions were shared and made in Brightspace every week. Students submitted their answers and shared them in Brightspace Lockers with their feedback partner.
- Each week there was a formative knowledge test that took place through Quizzes in Brightspace. Through twelve questions the test covered two subjects per week. When a student did not pass, he or she got feedback and rehearsed the incorrectly answered questions later that day. This gave students structure, and motivated them to study. These formative tests were not associated with a grade and they were mainly aimed at 'do I understand this?'. However, participating in the formative tests was a necessary prerequisite to hand in the portfolio.
- As extra material, Nils uploaded vlogs to Brightspace each week, in which he shared his personal perspective on the topic of that week. With this personal and sometimes informal approach he wanted to share positive and healthy thoughts with students in times of covid.
Assessment without grades
The assessment of the course was done through a portfolio. In it, students answered eight questions comparable with the ones that they had been answering every week, but a bit more elaborated. The questions were about theories, but from the perspective of the student (for example what theory they liked the most and why). There were also questions about personal things, for example how students saw their own academic journey as a psychologist. The assignments during the course had to be handed in in order to be allowed to submit the portfolio.
The portfolio was graded using a Rubric. Criteria were how well someone could reflect, how thoroughly they reflected, how it resonated with other topics and how well the student could communicate this. Within these criteria, students could score 16 points, of which 10 had to be earned to pass. So no grade was awarded to the student, only a pass or fail.
Reflection leads to openness and new insights
‘I was very much impressed with how well some students could reflect. They had very creative and clever thoughts’, says Nils excitedly. ‘Students were also given a lot of freedom in how they could answer and about what they wanted to say in the portfolio. A couple of students were very open. We wanted to move beyond the surface level and we definitely succeeded.’
Nils and his colleagues were surprised that multiple students mentioned that the formative testing had helped them. Through the tests, students knew if they understood the material and it structured their learning process. For Nils and his colleagues it was a challenge that the course only lasted seven weeks, which was too short. ‘We had to make difficult decisions about what to put in and what to leave out. In the end, we rather had a little less material, to make sure it could be properly understood by students. We also noticed the short amount of time in students' reflections; it ensures a good learning curve, but just as students get the hang of it the course ends already. It would be nice to give students more time to reflect’, Nils says. ‘We have gotten words of appreciation from multiple students saying that this way of reflecting has really helped them to understand and confirm their choice to study psychology.’
Tip from Nils
‘Good education focuses on the individual student and gives them as much autonomy as possible over their own learning process.’