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Posts Tagged ‘journal’

H808 Core Activity 2-5: Criteria for reflective writing

In some courses, notably in nursing, teaching and other humanities learning, students are requested, encouraged or made to create and/or provide pieces of reflexive writing about their learning process. Starting such a task is not necessarily easy for everyone and writing about personal things, to look inside our personal thoughts, may seem to be for gifted students only. Nevertheless, I personally think that reflexive practice and reflexive writing about our learning is something that we can learn by practising. Here are some pieces of advice from a reflexive learner, me, reflexively writing about reflexive practice in learning.

Start small or K.I.S.S.

First of all, years ago, when I had to start a journal about my learning as a trainer teacher, I decided to start without too many expectations, and privileged regularity over quantity and quality. What was important was to start the process and write on a regular basis. To be focussed on the task more than on technology, Keep It Simple and Stupid (Kiss) and begin with what you are most happy with: pen and paper, emails to yourself, blog, e-porfolio, whatever suits you the best.

With time, you will discover that taking notes and posting them in an electronic form gives more freedom in the organisation of your work and the reuse of your editing.

From the surface to the depth

Writing directly about profound and personal thoughts on such an intimate subject as our transformation through learning is not easy, but this comes in time. Begin to write about facts to help your brain to focus on what happened, on what you learned or what you read, watched or listened to. Let your thoughts and feelings come up without any judgement. Think less and less about generalities and focus step by step on more specific points about the learning. These points should evoke agreement or disagreement, good or bad feelings, new ideas or bring back old personal experiences. Write all you get. Later, or in another post, you may go over and process your material to deepen or edit it. With time, this exercise will become more and more familiar and the path to your thoughts and deep memory will become brighter and quicker.

From privacy to publicity

It is important that this task must remain something you are confident about and trust in. Begin by writing your reflection for yourself and open them up to others with time. Opening your reflexive material, or a part of it, to others gives you the benefit of their comments on your work and the reciprocity to their own intimacy. This sharing can be made only with peers of the same cohort within a wider community. Making part of your thoughts obvious to the world gives you a way to be recognised for who you are. Whichever way, never lose the control of your image. When it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Writing towards objectives

The question of having a living reflexive journal in whatever form it can take, is of course driven by targets. Even if we know, through literature, that reflexive activities give students wider ownership of their learning and foster a deeper learning approach with tangible results in higher marks and better learning, these activities are time consuming. Moreover if such tasks are compulsory and have to be assessed, the style, grammar and structure will have to be reviewed.

As a personal learning tool, a reflexive journal is something that has to be tried for a minimum basis of one course before you can discover its advantages, so persevere, or follow a syllabus where you will be forced to do it, if you need, as I did, such a ‘driver’.

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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.

Reference:
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).