group photo of IUPUI and elementary school students

Peer Reflective Feedback in First Year Service Learning

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One of the ways that First Year Seminar students use dynamic and active ways to access their learning is through service learning. They connect the course content, their service experience, and what has changed for them, while giving feedback on others’ own reflections. Their reflections then become part of their final ePortfolio and presentation to one another.


Cynthia Clark Williams, M.S.
Director of Student Development, IUPUI Psychology and Neuroscience

The DEAL model was developed by Dr. Patti Clayton of North Carolina State University: Dr. Clayton references Kiser’s Integrative Processing Model in the original document.

Practice Identifiers

Location: This practice is embedded in the First Year Seminar linked with two other introductory courses as part of a themed learning community. One of those courses is the entry-level psychology course required for students intending to  major in psychology.

photo of reading lessonScale: It is used in all sections of the one-credit-hour Psychology FYS course. Most sections are offered in the fall semester each year, with one or two sections offered in spring. The FYS was first taught in this form in Fall 2011 and has been repeated each fall and spring since then.

High Impact Practices: The practice integrates three high impact practices: First Year Programs, Themed Learning Communities, and Service Learning. Each practice functions individually to foster the key student behaviors associated with High Impact Practices, including:

  • investing time and effort,
  • interacting with faculty and peers about substantive matters,
  • experiencing diversity,
  • responding to frequent feedback,
  • reflecting and integrating learning, and
  • discovering relevance of learning through real-world applications.

We believe that ePortfolio pedagogy itself constitutes a High Impact Practice, largely because learning and developmental portfolios also elicit the same key student behaviors, and more. In the case of this first-year, service-learning, themed-community practice, the ePortfolio intensifies the impact of these practices and provides a space where much of the reflection, peer feedback, and interaction can continue to reside and remain available for future reflection and integration. Examples of some of these responses may be found in the sample reflection and feedback below.

Practice Description

Practice Step by Step

IUPUI students in a First-Year Seminar associated with the Introduction to Psychology course for majors completed service projects over the semester that involved working at an urban garden and development site, a shelter, and a public elementary school. Their service learning supported two learning outcomes tied to the IUPUI Principles of Undergraduate Learning (PULs) and linked Psychology Department student learning outcomes as well.

1)  Integration and Application of Knowledge (PUL 3): One of the course objectives is to have students undertake self-reflection and work through an electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP) that includes knowledge of their strengths, educational and career goals, and how those fit together. The related Psychology Department learning outcomes are “to develop self-awareness by identifying personal strengths, weaknesses, values, and goals” and “to develop a realistic plan about how to pursue a career in psychology or a psychology-related field.” Assessment of these outcomes is based on the ePDP, Strengths Quest, and reflection on service using the DEAL model.

2)  Understanding Society and Culture (PUL 5): Outcomes for this PUL include the abilty to “operate with civility in a complex world” and “analyze and understand the interconnectedness of global and local communities.” The associated Psychology Department learning outcomes are “to work effectively as a member of a group to accomplish a task” and “recognize, understand, and respect the complexity of socio-cultural and international diversity.” Assessment is based on performance of and written reflection about the service experience and on feedback in teams on students’ ePDPs.

Preparing the ePDP engages students through a process of making these different connections and provides a repository of the connections made via reflection. Using a combination of reflective practice based on a model called DEAL (Describe, Evaluate, Articulate Learning–see attached description), as well as leadership and strength assessment and reflection, the students in this First-Year Seminar wrote reflective essays documenting their service experiences and connecting them to other parts of their ePDPs. In addition to the instructor’s formative feedback for every section of the ePDP, students in groups of three gave feedback through their ePortfolios on each of their reflections using the DEAL model. Since first-year students seldom have experience in providing peer feedback, the instructor reinforced the DEAL reflection process by adapting it to provide guidance for giving feedback (see below). Every week of the semester, the students were either writing their own reflections or giving feedback to their team members. These are the assignment instructions and prompts for one section grounded in service learning.

In this section you will reflect on the campus and community experiences that have enhanced your college learning. Such experiences might include undergraduate research, study abroad, service learning, volunteerism, internships/externships, campus activities, and/or student organizations.

SECTION REQUIREMENTS: For each campus or community experience you choose to highlight in your ePDP, include a thorough discussion of the following questions. In responding to these questions, be sure to provide enough explaation so that someone who is unfamiliar with the experience will understand it.
1.  Describe the campus/community experience. When and where did it occur? Why did the experience take place? Who was involved? What did you do? What did others do?
2.  What were the most important things you learned from this experience? In what ways did you increase your knowledge of yourself as a person, a learner, an aspiring professional, and/or a citizen?
3.  Give examples of parts of the experience that prompted you to learn and how the learning occurred.
4.  Why is what you learned in this experience significant or important to you? How does what you learned from this experience relate to your educational and career goals?

The adapted DEAL model was critically important in giving students consistent feedback and also in reinforcing their accountability to each other for their learning. A simplified version of the model was also used by the 1st and 2nd graders who received service for one of the course modules. The elementary students were given questions about their experience with the college students in the same fashion that the college students gave feedback to each other. This feedback was shared with the college students before they wrote their final version of their own reflection on the service experience. The mimicry of models strengthened uses of the model for the college students. In the final class session, students presented the four sections of their ePDPs, including how they perceived themselves to be changing and how they connected those changes to what they did during the semester.

Role of Reflection in Advancing Student Learning

Inquiry: The course was scaffolded to enhance the formative nature of the peer feedback using the DEAL model. Students took the chance to share their reflection on their experiences with others in their group, use the feedback to rewrite and re-examine their learning, and share the changes that were going on for them with the entire class at the end of the course. In addition, they thought about the feedback that they got from the children they worked with during their service in the school.

Reflection: The practice of using feedback from peers, the service classroom teacher, the children, and the course instructor during service learning created energy for reflective writing and inward personal work. Dewey’s idea of how universities and communities are co-participants in political, social, and educational decision-making is something that the students also reflect upon. What are the issues that connect to what they do in the school during service, their own experiences as students, and their current studies? These are reflections that come out of their writing and feedback to each other.

Integration: The practice of using a critical peer feedback model integrates personal knowledge, subject knowledge of psychology, knowledge of the service experience, and experiential knowledge from the service. It is useful to have critical feedback skills both professionally and personally, and it transcends solely academic benefits.

Evidence of Impact on Student Learning

quotes from two reflectionsTwo elements of preparation contributed to improve the depth of reflection, reinforced the practice of reflection, and extended learning from the service learning activity. The first element was the adapted DEAL model, the basis for students’ receiving feedback from their peers and for a one-on-one coaching experience with the instructor. The second element was a facilitated leadership and strengths classroom discussion led by a peer service-learning assistant. (See the Strengths Quest and Bonner Compass Leadership resources below.) The “WOW moments” highlight captures (first bullet) the pleasant surprise of the classroom teacher observing the psychology students and (second bullet) perceptions of instructor observation in the classroom.

In addition, the instructor and author of this practice carefully examined the evidence of over 100 final service-learning reflections using grounded theory. From it, she formulated a perception of a first-year student’s sense of civic identity and created a working rubric. (See attached graphic representation of the rubric.)

Feedback from a first-grader:photo of child feedback

Example of FYS student peer feedback:

[student name],
I too found it rewarding to work with the children…or some of them at least. I know what you are talking about when you mentioned their excitement when they remembered a hard word from the previous session. That was rewarding for them but also for us. I think it is interesting how you mentioned that the children had a certain schedule or order of operations that they went by when reading with you. I noticed that same thing when I was reading with the children and I found that to be very encouraging. It was nice to see that the kids felt as if they know which way they learned best. If that was indeed their reasoning behind being set in their ways, more power to them!

Excerpts from a final student ePDP reflection (used with permission; full reflection is attached):

“… Positive psychology is powerful. I applied this in the classroom by avoiding the individual flaws or mistakes and praising the correct answers and behavior. Some children seemed used to my compliments while others looked at me with bewilderment. Although it is sad that some children rarely experience positive remarks, this gives me a view into ways that teaching can be modified and improved. … In Psychology as a Biological Science, my professor mentioned how positive punishment is less effective than negative punishment. Illustrated quite blatantly, some children actually liked the attention of being scolded by the teacher. Keeping this in mind, if the students were not attentive I would somewhat shape them to pay attention and gradually read through the book. I did this by ignoring their fidgety actions and thanking them for sitting down, looking at the book, telling me what was in the picture, etc. Psychology amazes me; I felt like a scientist while applying what I have learned thus far. …
      Going into the project, I honestly was not very thrilled. Coming from a family with seven siblings, I assumed that these kids would be pests. After the first time I met with the children, I realized how unfair my attitude was. When I walked into the room, the kids lit up. I then learned that my attitude would make the situation, so I stayed positive and applied my knowledge of psychology and I couldn’t be happier. … This experience actually made me think twice about counseling and consider other opportunities provided within the field.”

Helping Students Advance Their Learning

Reflection as a form of Connection (Integrative Learning)

Students’ ePortfolio reflections are designed to help them make connections within a course and among academic, co-curricular, and lived experiences, especially service-learning elements of the course. Since the course is part of a Themed Learning Community (see attached syllabus), students sometimes also make connections across the linked courses and disciplines. Specifically, the reflections and DEAL-based peer feedback were designed to help students connect their service-learning experience to other elements of the FYS and identify alignment and congruence among their strengths, educational and career goals, and educational plan for using their time at IUPUI to realize these goals.

Reflection as Systematic and Disciplined (Inquiry)

As explained in Part I of the Practice Description, students’ reflection processes connected their learning to the PUL and program competencies articulated for the course. The carefully structured practice systematically moved students from conducting the strengths assessment and subsequent reflection, to classroom introduction of the service learning project and discussion about goals, to class discussion led by a peer mentor on the Bonner Compass Leadership, then participation in the service experience. Next students prepared written reflective essays about those experiences and posted them in their ePDPs. Two concurrent activities ensued: students met individually with the instructor to discuss their ePDP and how the service experience fit with that, while peers used the adapted DEAL guidelines to provide feedback on their group members’ essays. Finally, each student created an oral presentation, using all feedback, to share the ePDP with other class members. All touched upon how they connected to their service, how they connected their service to what they were studying and/or their career goals, and how they have changed.

Reflection as Social Pedagogy

photo of student groupStudents used their ePortfolios to share and engage in interactive commentary with the instructor and with other students. Students were organized into groups of three to provide feedback on each section of the ePDP, including the Campus and Community Connections section where they reflected on their service-learning experiences. Their model of reflection–including on-site reflections, in-class reflections, feedback from their peer groups, and feedback from the school children–all used the DEAL model, which is widely used in IUPUI’s extensive service learning program. The attached document describes the baseline model along with highlighted text to clarify modifications made by the instructor to adapt it for use in giving feedback. IUPUI’s ePortfolio platform allows for feedback from a variety of sources in addition to summative evaluation as a separate process in the ePortfolio matrix.

Reflection as a Process of Personal Change

Students use ePortfolio for inquiring into their educational and career development and integrative identity formation by articulating their educational and career goals and considering their evolving personal relationship to learning and education. This particular reflection practice is grounded in a constructivist epistemology supported by John Dewey. Dewey saw the dissemination of knowledge, so that citizens could make decisions and participate in the governing of society, as the most important part of a democratic nation. The glue that binds a democratic nation was, for Dewey, the individual’s active participation in the community. Service learning, as a field that has developed rapidly over the past 25 years, has become a method to bridge academic study and human experience. The First-Year Seminar service-learning activities support students’ creation of the Campus and Community Connections section of the ePDP.

Connections to Other Sectors of the Catalyst

Professional Development

University College has offered workshops focused on helping first-year students learn how to reflect as they prepare ePDPs, and the IUPUI ePortfolio Initiative offers a regular workshop on reflection, broadly applied. The Center for Teaching and Learning has supported both offerings. The instructor for this practice, Cindy Williams, has helped facilitate the general workshop. The IUPUI Center for Service and Learning takes the lead in guiding professional development for service learning, including use of the DEAL Model as an effective means of guiding student reflection about learning experiences.


The IUPUI ePortfolio platform (Sakai/Oncourse) simplifies the processes both of providing peer feedback (or feedback from other sources) and facilitating small-group work in this regard. The presentation template’s “Comment” functionality is minimal, but the Oncourse matrix, to which the presentation template for the ePDP is linked, does have separate functionality for feedback. In cases such as this, the matrix fosters social pedagogy without requiring world-wide public access or laborious one-by-one addition of permissions. On the other hand, first-year students are just learning how to use our complex learning management system, so they sometimes have difficulty sharing or giving feedback using the tools.

Scaling Up

As our Scaling Up Story notes, the electronic Personal Development Plan–our Connect to Learning campus project–has played a large role in recent rapid expansion of ePortfolio use at the undergraduate level. It is envisioned as eventually becoming a de facto undergraduate ePortfolio for IUPUI students, beginning with the First-Year Seminars. Users of the ePDP are currently experimenting with different ways of maintaining flexibility for a variety of purposes throughout the undergraduate curriculum, and this introductory psychology FYS has been one of the first to adapt the ePDP to a major program of study.

Attachments and Supporting Documents

Windows on Science TLC Syllabus

Bonner Network Leadership Compass

DEAL Model as Adapted for FYS

Rubric for Peer Feedback

Williams Civic Identity Rubric

Peer Feedback Example

First Year Seminar Student Reflection


This complex practice has experienced several challenges. Not all students followed the model for reflection and peer feedback well. Success depends on students’ completing sections of the ePDP on time and sharing with others when directed by the syllabus. The technology learning curve is steep for many. Large-scale assessment has proven challenging as well, as it is difficult to quantify change when each student has a different baseline and experiences different kinds of change. All FYS instructors continue to wrestle with the question of what explicit identity model works  well across all first-year students. At the same time, successes are numerous. Students are able to articulate and identify changes in themselves. They can articulate and identify alignment between their identity and their objectives and connect both to course content. Students get to know one another well through the group feedback process–important in building engagement among IUPUI’s primarily commuting student body. Also important for IUPUI’s mission of civic engagement, students identify themselves in some way as civic participants, and the instructor’s First Year Student Civic Identity Rubric has been well received as IUPUI seeks innovative ways to assess civic-mindedness.








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