Sunday, January 17, 2021

Non-reflective, Non-assessed Student Journals to Support Assessment?

Dr Alisa James
I have been looking at how to use tools such as Microsoft Word in Office 365, Mahara Journals, or Git for students to have STEM students Show-Your-Work. There has been much written about the use of reflective e-portfolios for assessment. I have been trained to write, teach and assess reflectively. However this is something the average STEM student and teacher finds very difficult. So I propose a form of non-reflective, non-assessed student journal: the student is prompted to record what they did.

James (2005) sets out how to guide physical educations students through preparing an assessed journal. They are referring to paper journals, but the technique applies also to electronic ones. First the student should be encouraged to be prepared with a suitable journal personalized to their tastes. With an e-journal I suggest a preliminary exercise where the student ensures they have access to the e-journal system, and enter some information about themselves. 

Ensuring students don't lose an e-journal is less of a problem than for the physical ones James discusses (p.42, 2005). An e-journal system used by an institution should obviously be protected from hacking and based up. However, it would nevertheless be useful to guide students through taking a copy of their journal, and reminding them not to edit old entries (as that then updates the time stamps ruining their value as evidence).

Writing prompts are more important for an e-journal used with an online course, than for the face to face classes James (2005) discusses. As the student will be mostly studying asynchronously, the teacher is not there and then saying "put a copy of that in your journal now". This has to be explicitly stated in course materials, ideally as part of a assessed task, so the student has an incentive. This can also be a good point. I suggest to mark a point in the course, an approach of synchronization of asynchronous learning (Worthington, 2013)

Writing prompt suggested by James (p.43, 2005) include: 

  1. "Write a paragraph about a ... goal you would like to reach. Explain why you want to reach that goal.
  2. Write a paragraph about what you did today that helped you to be successful in today's activities.
  3. Write a paragraph about your ... behavior for the day. What things might you do to demonstrate more sporting behavior in the future?
  4. What was the hardest thing for you to do today? Why was it hard?
  5. Write a paragraph that includes the cues of striking that we learned today. What will you do outside of school to practice these cues?
  6. Write a paragraph that includes the main aspects one should consider when developing a fitness program. Hint: Remember the FIT principle
  7. Write a paragraph that describes activities that you can do in your community that promote cardiovascular endurance .
  8. Write a paragraph that explains the difference between verbal and nonverbal communication. Why is it important to use both in cooperative activities? Be sure to give specific examples of both verbal and nonverbal communication." From James p.43, 2005, numbering added.

These are ordered from more to less reflective. The first four are about the individual student goals, success, behavior, difficulties. The next three are about future plans of the student to learn skills. The last is a more traditional study question about the course material. 

These questions are not that different to ones which might be asked as study aids in any course. One of my frustrations as a student was that my answers to such questions were never looked at by anyone, let alone count towards assessment. In theory they help with learning, but in practice, like any student, I would tend to focus on what got looked at and especially marked. The e-journal gets around this problem by having answers go somewhere, perhaps be looked at and help me at least pass the course.

James (p.44, 2005) points out It is important assess journals, but not overdo it.  entries. The author suggests the use of rubrics and checklists. However, they are unrealistic in expecting students to be frank in their entries. If the e-journal is part of the assessment, then students will write what they want the examiner to read.

For STEM students it can be especially difficult to find a comfortable voice to write about themselves. They may not understand the reason for writing this way and have had years of training which emphasized a neutral, impersonal way of writing. Also asking students to write for their e-journal is an extra task, as is assessing this. So I suggest a less personal approach, where the student places copies of what they are doing for their assigned tasks in their journal and  comments on these. In this way the student is commenting on the task and their work, not themselves.

This comment on the work, not yourself, is similar to the approach Dr Stephen Dann, has taken adapting the Lego Serious Play technique to reflection workshops. In 2017 Dr Dann ran a workshop for ANU staff working on their reflective e-portfolio for the Higher Education Academy Fellowship. In 2018 he ran a similar exercise for ANU Techlauncher students to consider their role in a group project. In each case the student is asked to make something with building blocks representing the topic and then talk about it. By talking about it, the students are encouraged to talk about themselves.


James, Alisa, "Journaling as an Assessment Option" (2005). Kinesiology, Sport Studies and Physical Education Faculty Publications. 78.

Worthington, T. (2013). Synchronizing Asynchronous Learning: Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Techniques. In Proceedings of 2013 8th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 26 Apr - 28 Apr 2013 , Sri Lanka. URL: Preprint available at:

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