Xavier Rambla Sociologia

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abr. 20 2017

Reflective journals in higher education: some observations

Personal journals have been a literary genre for a long time. In higher education, reflective journals have been used in order to raise awareness of the specifics of professional activity, for instance, medical interviews with patients, qualitative social research, or teachers self-assessment of classroom practices.

In general, reflective journals may be helpful to develop the higher-order learning outcomes. For instance, Bloom’s taxonomy distinguishes remembering, comprehending, applying, analysing and synthesizing. Remarkably, journals induce students to analyse evidence which could otherwise be taken for granted without recognising its importance. This tool also requires students to elaborate their own synthesis of a case or a particular situation.

In this entry I want to comment on three contributions of electronic journals to higher education. In other words, I want to write down some contributions of blended learning in this area.

  1. Reflective journals are useful for students and lecturers to discuss fieldwork observations in qualitative social research. Writing journals for this purpose has been a common practice for a long time. By accounting for the researchers’ observations and feelings, this technique expects to control for bias, and mostly, to construct theories through a constant dialogue with empirical evidence. Since electronic journals allow students and lecturers to share observations and feedback in a same space, they help both parties to think of the whole research process step by step. This is a promising intellectual exercise as well as careful, detailed and transparent method of academic assessment.
  2. This tool is also instrumental to report on professional internships. Normally, internships are assessed by final reports issued by both mentors in the workplace and academic supervisors. These reports mostly take into account to what extent the student fit into the placement and was able to make interesting suggestions both from the professional and the academic point of view. Electronic journals provide another opportunity to enhance these discussions and the ulterior learning insofar as they allow students and supervisors to discuss everyday experiences. This discussion may detect any problems disrupting fit for a variety of reasons (e.g. expectations, roles, miscommunication, unexpected emotional reactions). At the same time, a continous dialogue requires students to ground their specialised judgement of the experience on a huge variety of small details that otherwise would be easily overlooked.
  3. Finally, reflective journals open new opportunities for widening the array of relevant learning outcomes in the midst of academic cultures which are systematically centered on lecturing. Lecturing is a teaching instrument which may be as useful as any other one, but for complex historical reasons it has become the only one in some academic cultures. Then, it compels lecturers to elaborate on their personal view of topics. If students are to prove they attended the lectures and made sense of them, they are also implicitly required to adhere to this view. Only an excellent communication and a strong trust would allow for some room for explicit discrepancy in a written exam that assesses a series of lectures. In this context, reflective journals posit new occasions for debate and require both lecturers and students to take account of each other’s views and understandings. While lectures may be complemeted by question and answer sessions, this is normally a complementary activity after a long one-way transmission of information and professional judgements. However, if properly designed and scheduled, reflective journals may alleviate face-to-face sessions from this burden and open new spaces for different teaching and learning activities.

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