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“Undervalued” reflective writing a useful tool for Health Studies teaching

A female student sits in a library writing an assignment on a laptop.

Reflective writing, often seen as purely expressive rather than a critical or academic tool in undergraduate public health biology courses, can be a powerful learning exercise when grounded in course concepts and academic learning, encouraging students to apply their knowledge to real-world issues.

A new article published in the journal Pedagogy in Health Promotion by UTSC Health and Society Assistant Professor Obidimma Ezezika and Centre for Teaching and Learning Associate Professor Nancy Johnston detail the design, implementation, and evaluation of a reflective writing assignment integrated into a lower-year undergraduate public health course. The report provides recommendations to course designers and instructors aimed at maximizing the effectiveness of reflective writing assignments.

The article argues that writing reflection assignments facilitate learning and enjoyment of the course, and allows students to discover the relevance of the course content to their everyday lives. In addition, it allows instructors to evaluate how students apply the knowledge gained from the course and illustrates how a teaching collaboration across the university can lead to a valuable impact for students. The article identified writing workshops as a key measure in improving the quality of reflective writing assignments. As well, a detailed grading rubric is crucial in clarifying expectations for students and guides instructors on how to grade assignments objectively.

“When I first implemented a reflective writing exercise in 2018, it did not go as well as planned," said Ezezika, the lead author of the study. "However, reflecting on the setback and collaborating with Nancy Johnston from CTL led to impressive outcomes in its subsequent implementation and highlighted the importance of developing meaningful collaboration to enhance teaching within the university.”

“If there was anything this experience taught me, it was to be comfortable with trying out new pedagogical tools despite the potential for failure, learning from failure, listening to students and collaborating with pedagogical experts.”

For more information contact David Blackwood, Research Communications Coordinator, Department of Health and Society, University of Toronto Scarborough: David.Blackwood@utoronto.ca