Some notes on: “Should student learning journals be assessed?”
Here are some notes I have taken during the reading of Crème (2005) about if, why and how student learning journals should be assessed. Before this reading I had already been thinking for a long time during other courses and even before having begun the MAODE courses, about whether it was a good thing to have a blog or not.
In an essay for H800 (Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates) I argued that I didn’t use a blog (even if it was requested) because of a lack of time and because I didn’t want to expose my writing (English is not my native language) and knowledge-in-development to everyone. I felt that the content of blog posts could be used by anyone to judge the post’s author and I was not ready to accept this, especially as I had to write in my third language.
With the beginning of H808, the choice is not mine any more and I am forced to post regularly to provide evidences to be enclosed with the different assessments during the course.
After my reading, I begin to see the direction in which the course drives us. During the two other courses I have already taken in the MAODE’s syllabus, we were also students reflecting on their learning, but the learning was more centred on knowledge acquisition, things to know. In H808, so far, I have the feeling that the outcomes are more about becoming self-sufficient and independent. While a student is learning a subject with their peers, a professional must come to a point where he/she can think by him/herself and take the best decision for their clients.
I think, therefore, that this becomes important for tutors in such a course, as well as for students themselves, to see the progress achieved in gaining independence and experience in e-learning. The use of a reflexive journal is thus no longer simply an option but a useful tool for everyone concerned.
The question raised by Crème in his article is whether such a learning process has to be assessed or not. Without responding directly to the question, Crème points out a certain number of issues for both cases:
Where assessment of student learning journals is made
- students may engage with this form of learning because it is assessed and not because they find it useful;
- it means that the institution recognises a different way of thinking and then a different way of assessing skills and knowledge acquisition;
- tutors estimate learning journals are useful and pedagogically important (we assess what we think is important);
- students may be intimidated by such a big process (i.e., amount of work, difficulties in commenting regularly about what is read, fear of showing their weak points);
- the risk is that student will be tempted to write journals as if they were a final and definitive product and not as a reflective and formative instrument.
In short Crème states that assessment may have ‘killed off the qualities that the work itself was designed to foster’: to be a more personal tool showing how students’ ideas have changed and to give students ownership of their learning.
The problem of honesty
Writing a journal and making it public or semi-public, exposes the owner whenever their writing is honest and not driven by the desire to present information to please tutors, but to serve their own reflection on the path to knowledge. I agree with Crème that assessing such sensitive work is judging the person more than their abilities. Knowing that learning journals are being assessed will just push students to write about non personal feelings and then turn the reflective blog into another plain essay without heart.
A mid-way solution
As a solution, Crème suggests using learning journals as evidences to quote from during the writing of a formal essay for assessment. These entries are provided as evidences and not assessed for themselves but serve to scaffold the final work students will present to their tutors for validation. In this way, students are forced to engage with a reflexive tool such as a learning journal and can hold forth on the subject in their own language, fostering questioning more than answering, learning more than knowing.
Regarding the H808’s Course Guide and Assignment Guide, this middle approach to assess an essay (TMA) supported by evidences drawn from our blogs and e-portfolio follows Crème’s suggestion, thus emphasising the importance of the process but keeping formal writing for formal and final assessment.
Crème, P. (2005) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 287–96. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930500063850 (accessed 9 October 2009).