Supporting Placements

The Placements system has a focus on supporting assessment, reflection, and three-way communication and file-sharing during placements (students, external supervisors & NU tutors/staff). For 2023/4, the system was extended to support evidencing of individual competencies/outcomes, with a student dashboard and ability for ad-hoc assessors to provide assessment without the need to log-in.


The Placements system was developed by FMS TEL as a sub-system of NU Reflect. It has been used by PGCE Programmes (ECLS) since 2017/18. The system absorbed established practice from the PGCE programmes, but was designed to be configurable for potential use by other programmes. It has been available to all programmes at the University from September 2019. It has been used by DClinPsy and other programmes.

Governance of NU Reflect (including Placements) is via a management team (academic lead, LTDS lead & FMS TEL lead), which reports to Digital Education Sub-Committee (DESC). A ‘baseline’ for the Placements system was developed following a period of consultation in 2022/23:

Baseline requirement  Description Purpose 
Custom forms Manage/create custom forms for a placement scheme The ability to develop context specific bespoke forms for student completion in line with programme requirements, supporting a range of functions e.g., assessment, reflection, placement evaluation etc. 
Rubric-based assessment Including scheme-specific skills/competencies and level identifiers The ability to assess student work against skills/competencies in line with programme context 
Three-way file sharing Between student, external supervisor & University tutor The ability to share forms with relevant users to support scheme requirements 
Competency sign-off Sign-off of skills/competencies/ outcomes, including by external supervisors. To support sign-off by external supervisors and other third parties. 
Reporting Data feeds or data download Required for reporting to funding/regulatory bodies. 
Admin access Tools to monitor placement cohort/assign to placement, location & supervisor etc. Set automated deadlines relative to placement dates. Scheme specific control to amend information as/when required, delegated to school/programme teams. 
Baseline requirements and features of the Placement system

PGCE students spend the bulk of their time on placements in schools around the region, with school-based supervisors who support and assess the students. A rubric-based assessment tool was developed and configured so that these supervisors can assess progress and provide feedback against national Teaching Standards (see Screenshot). They click on the desired Level Descriptors and can also add qualitative feedback.

Rubric-based Assessment in the Placements System

Additional forms (e.g. weekly progress) were set up; these were designed to be customisable as there were different requirements for Primary and Secondary PGCE programmes. A key design feature was to reduce the burden on admin teams, in particular by automating deadlines – in particular, forms are configurable with deadlines set relative to placement start and end dates, and set to who will complete these (supervisor, student, University tutor etc).

Students are automatically imported into the system, based on their programme or module registrations with the University. Programme administrators manage external accounts for placement supervisors, who do not have University logins.

Initially rubrics and forms were set-up by the development team; however, over time, the team in ECLS generally self-manage their use of the system in creating new forms and making old forms inactive. Form and rubrics data can be exported for reporting purposes and University tutors can view supervisors marks for the main Teaching Standards collated across the students (2 or 3) placements, before entering a final overall assessment. When there have been major changes to the professional frameworks, support was needed from the development team.

The DClinPsy programme (Psychology), where students spend the bulk of their time on placements, followed a similar model to the above PGCE programmes.

Developments for 2023/4

Pharmacy began using the Placements system in 2023/4. Requirements were significantly different to those of existing programmes using the system. These required extending the software, which was resourced by FMS. In particular, the focus is on evidencing individual competencies (rather than all competencies being assessed in the same rubric). Also, rather than a set-supervisor competing forms, there was a requirement for sign-off of competencies by ad-hoc supervisors, without the need to log-in. Established practice in MBBS was applied, with students entering the assessor’s Email address, which generates an Email with a secure link to the required assessment form. A ‘dashboard’ was developed for students and their tutors to see evidence by competency by year of the programme.

Student dashboard showing evidence by competency

The assessment tools and processes are indented to closely match those which students’ will need to use after graduating and using professional vocational ePortfolio. The new features of the software were designed to be configurable, to support the competency/skills frameworks of other programmes.

Further work will be undertaken, including developing a process for students to select a sub-set of items from their portfolio for each competency, for their end-point assessment.

Scaffolding Reflection

This article outlines the rationale for scaffolding reflection and describes the developments, which will be available across the University by September 2022.

Structured reflective templates are currently being piloted in NU Reflect. This article outlines the rationale for scaffolding reflection and describes the developments, which will be available across the University by September 2022.


A picture containing scaffolding, roof. Royalty free image from Pixabay

Scaffolding provides a great metaphor in Education. In the construction industry, scaffolding provides temporary support and helps shape the developing building. Scaffolding was first used as an educational concept, by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) to describe the support given by an expert in one-to-one tutorials – something akin to a semi-structured interview.

Scaffolding is also a useful metaphor in reflective practice. A series of questions or prompts can provide the learner with a structure to reflect on. There are many structured frameworks which can be used to scaffold reflection. Perhaps the best known are Gibb’s reflective cycle (Fig 1). This involves 6 stages, each with questions to encourage the learner to go beyond purely descriptive accounts, to incorporate reflective self-evaluation and also make plans to improve future performance.

Overview of Gibb’s Reflective Cycle

Over time, it is hoped that the use of such frameworks will progressively increase learners’ reflective capabilities. This may be enhanced by sharing, discussion and guidance from educators, particularly in the early stages of developing reflective skills. However, like the use of scaffolding in construction – eventually that structure and support may no longer be needed, after developing as an independent reflective practitioner.

Structure can be a double-edged sword though. Too much structure can reduce engagement (everything else being equal) and long ‘forms’ may be potentially intimidating or off-putting to some. Motivation is key. Aside from the obvious use of summative assessment (itself bringing challenges to ‘authentic’ reflection) – learners need to perceive value and purpose to developing reflective practice. Is reflective practice seen to be valued by the course – is it embedded in the module/programme and referred to by teachers and in course documentation?

In some contexts, particularly many vocational subjects, reflective practice is explicitly required by professional bodies, with clearly defined process which have reflective elements, such as annual appraisals and CPD. In other contexts, without this driver, there are challenges to avoid reflection remaining an ‘abstract’ concept, particularly if there are limited ‘practical’ activities to reflect on. Obviously, clarity of purpose is important. Reflective frameworks can be used (or adapted) for a range of purposes, such as reflecting on an assessment, perhaps before and after feedback, with actions to prepare for the next assignment.

Sharing and discussion of reflection is another dimension – in some contexts, reflection may be purely private, in other contexts sharing with a mentor may be mandatory. Where shared, fostering a ‘safe’ environment for sharing and discussing reflections is particularly important for younger students, whist many (but not all) mature students are more comfortable with this.

Reflective Templates in NU Reflect

NU Reflect is developed and maintained by FMS-TEL, has pedagogic support from LTDS, with academic lead (Patrick Rosenkranz / Katie Wray) and governance via DEC. NU Reflect was launched in September 2021 following a strategic review of ePortfolio. The redesign and rebranding was intended to help promote its core purpose of supporting reflective practice and transferable skills after may years of prioritising developments to support Personal Tutoring. As part of the strategic review, a recurring theme in the staff consultation was the desire for a prospective system to support reflective frameworks. Gibbs reflective cycle was the most widely used framework, used in contexts across all 3 Faculties – though often with minor adaptions for specific courses.

As such reflective templates were developed in NU Reflect and are being piloted in Semester 2 this year, with a view to being made available University-wide for 2022/3. The pilots have three ‘global’ templates available:

  • Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle
  • Driscoll Model of Reflection
  • Four Fs of Active Reviewing

Also, staff can create new templates to meet their particular module or programme requirements.

Pilot of structured templates in NU Reflect

Structured templates are nothing new, and were common in paper-based portfolios. However, there are some key advantages to integrating them in NU Reflect. For example, the reflections can be linked to skill(s) or competency(s) (either the Graduate Framework or programme-level frameworks), which integrates them in the ‘My Skills’ section of the Website . Reflections can also be tagged with course-specified or personal categories. The tools support longitudinal use throughout the student journey, rather than been restricted to an episodic learning event or being compartmentalised in a particular module. As such a learner can accumulate reflections and achievements against skills/categories over time. They also provide choice in sharing (or not).

The pilots are ongoing, but feel free to get in touch if you want to try them out.


Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 17(2), 89–100.

Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.