What is a journal?
In academic terms, a journal means a regular publication containing a set of articles, often based on a theme or focussed on a subject area. Learning journals have emerged as a way for students to reflect on their learning (and can be relevant to theory and practice) and, subsequently, help in replicat[ing] ideas and facts, improv[ing] learning and communication skills and developing abstract thinking (Langer, 2002).
Journals can be set up in the following ways:
- Graded assignments: Journals can be used as formative and summative assignments.
- Date and time restricted: You can set up a journal to display after/until a specific date and time.
- Group journals: It is possible for a group of students to contribute to a shared journal space.
Why would you use a journal?
Similar to blogs, journals are a simple way to publish online and allow the author to offer a personal perspective on a topic. Journals are equally effective used to record academic ideas or responses as they are to document and evaluate practical processes or results. Journals are highly customizable and allow students to personalise their work and embed visual forms of communication such as images and video. Alternatively, journals can be more prescriptive and based on templates. Journals can be integrated into courses and modules as part of ‘blended’ learning methods and used as part of a wider assessment strategy.
Types of Learning journals
Unstructured – Allows students to develop their own format and this encourages students to write freely and creatively.
Structured – The form and style is imposed and can benefit the teacher and student. The instructor is able to easily compare students’ work and students are able to follow a template style.
Dialogue – A method to encourage the exchange and development of ideas between two or more writers (Peyton, 1993).
The use of journals can help students develop reflection in Kolb’s experiential learning cycle (1984) and it can help develop students in these key areas:
- Promote critical reflection
- Force students to replicate ideas and facts
- Develop abstract thinking that allows further conceptualisation
- Clarify ideas and thoughts
- Better able to link theory to practice.
- Form a useful device that can be used in blended and flipped learning techniques.
- Identify learners’ understanding of key topics and reduce pressure on teaching.
Assessment and feedback:
- Journal entries are easily available for future reference and provide a library evidencing student progression.
- Journals can be linked to the grade centre, and feature online marking/feedback tools.
How to get started
You can find useful guides about setting up and marking a Blackboard Journal and a summary of tool features on the Blackboard Help site for staff.
Alternatively, if you would like to speak to one of the TEL advisors in CQSD about using journals in your teaching, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a summary of your query to request a TEL 1-2-1 Consultation.
We also run a periodic staff development session called Create Learning Activities Using Blogs, Wikis, Journals and Discussion Boards. Part of this session covers the pedagogical uses of journals and how to use them.
Read and listen to Dr Nicola Abram discussing how she has successfully used online journals as part of the assessment in one of her English modules.
If they are well embedded into a course, Journals can be a useful teaching and learning tool and can be used in a variety of ways across difference disciplines. Journals encourage learners to reflect on their practice so a good starting point is to look at Kolb’s use of reflection in the experiential learning cycle (1984) and research-in action (Schön, 1983). Arthur Langer’s 2002 article about using learning journals in higher education gives a detailed account of the way journals can be a useful reflective tool and also outlines some of the pitfalls in their use.
KOLB, D (1984) Experimential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall).
LANGER, A M (2002) Reflecting on Practice: using learning journals in higher and continuing education, Teaching in Higher Education, 7:3, 337-351, DOI: 10.1080/13562510220144824
PEYTON, J K (1993) Dialogue Journals: interactive writing to develop language and literacy, Research Report (ERICDocumentReproductionServiceNo.ED354789).
SCHÖN, D (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action (New York, Basic Books).