Using reflective e-journals for the first time as an assessment task

Zen garden at Kew Gardens London

Zen Garden, Kew Gardens, London, June 2015

I decided to ditch the end-of-semester test from last year’s iteration of the Contemporary Latin(o) Americas subject that I coordinate and teach. I used the test in an innovative way, getting students to co-design 6 questions and then choosing 4 of 6 for the test (they didn’t know which ones and had to study for the 6). They chose 2 to answer – the two they thought they could tackle best. I posted on this back in October last year: https://testingflippedlearning2013.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/students-designing-their-own-test-questions/

Nevertheless, it still does not completely eliminate the issues of exam anxiety or last-minute cramming, leading to information loss rapidly after and thy exercise leans to surface learning more than deep learning. Interestingly, I tutored in someone else’s subject in Autumn semester this year and one of the students in the Student Feedback Survey panned the weekly in-class tests on required readings:  “I feel there was a lot of extra readings, and there was no way that I could get through it all each week as much as I tried … there was too much to complete the weekly exams [sic quizzes], and these always created extra stress for me, making the semester much more stressful due to trying to juggle all the assignments with the exams”.

So this year I have replaced the test in CL(o)As with a reflective e-journal. I asked a colleague what she thought of e-journals as she had experimented with them in the past with a language class. She responded that the reflective journals on language were very negatively evaluated by students as a waste of time and she herself regarded the whole exercise a waste of time for her to mark as well and will probably not use them again.

I am going into this open-minded, however. Perhaps the key is the nature of the subject you want students to reflect on in an e-journal. You also need to properly present the task, give clear guidelines and give examples, then check a couple of times during the semester that they are on track (creating entries demonstrating deep reflection). Here is a great online guide from RMIT University in Melbourne, which I have included in the student guide: http://www.deakin.edu.au/students/study-support/academic-resources/reflective-writing

I have high hopes. Let’s see how I go. If it is a flop, I’ll drop it, but at a minimum I will gain insight into student thinking about learning that I might not otherwise get and this will guide my subject design for 2016. Stay tuned for results.

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