Reflection and Direction Journal, CTL Mini-grant Fall 2016
Instructor: Katie Hughes, Rhetoric and Writing Studies
Summary: To address specific pedagogical challenges associated with the online delivery of RWS 305W during a full 16-week semester, Professor Katie Hughes created a Reflection & Direction Journal assignment, to be completed for points after each live session, and structured so that students first reflect on the key points of the lecture content, and then direct their learning to a specific application to their work in progress. In addition to serving as an accountability measure for attending or watching the weekly live sessions, the journal contributed to learning goals of reinforcing lecture key points and applying concepts actively to work-in-progress. Furthermore, the journal created an opportunity for formative feedback in both directions: from student to instructor, revealing areas of confusion with course concepts, and from instructor to student, offering suggestions and solutions to challenges at hand.
What I Did
I implemented the Reflection & Direction Journal assignment to engage students more in my online RWS 305W Writing in Various Settings course by encouraging them to attend or view recordings of weekly live sessions, as well as to create an accountability measure for them having done so. I wanted students to realize that attending or watching the live sessions was critical to their success in the course.
The journal, to be completed for points after each live session, creates a structure for students to reflect on the key points of the lecture content, and direct their learning through application to their relevant work in progress. Each journal entry must respond to a specific focus that is announced in the live session. This focus is not available in writing or in any other course content. In other words, in order to successfully complete the journal entry that week, one must attend or watch the recording of the live session. The focus centers on demonstrating understanding of the key rhetorical principle(s) involved in the current assignment and applying that principle to their own work.
Specifically, my goals in having students complete this Reflection & Direction journal were to:
- Motivate students to watch recordings or attend live sessions
- Reinforce their learning by repeating back in their own words what I covered, in response to the assigned focus
- Add a layer of active application of learning to students’ own work, both for this class and for their careers or other writing situations
- Help students see value in the work we are doing in the course
- Give me insight as to whether I am getting through to students
- Create an opportunity for formative feedback through quick, individual comments right there on the journal entry
- Facilitate assessment of student work due to more informed submissions
How It Went
I consider the innovation to be highly successful, based on my experience over the course of the semester as well as on survey data and student feedback.
My experience includes a general lack of confusion on the part of students regarding assignments and concepts, which are all explained in the live sessions. Whereas previously, there was evidence via emails and poorly executed work that exhibited lack of attention to assignment criteria, with the implementation of the Reflection & Direction Journal, there were almost no emails, and student work was generally more on task.
To obtain feedback on this innovation, I added questions to my self-designed course survey that specifically targeted the effectiveness of the Reflection & Direction Journal from the students’ point of view. Aggregated results showed the journals to rank closely in popularity with other course activities in terms of helping their learning and providing feedback. However, the student comments revealed results that aligned with my own goals for implementing this journal aspect to the course. While some students grumbled that the journals felt like busy work, many wrote positive comments on their surveys that suggest the innovation served its goals successfully.
Most gratifying were the survey data regarding their attendance at or timely viewing of recordings of live sessions: Before the journal was added to the course, in Spring 2016, 59% reported either attending the live sessions or watching the recordings within 1-2 days. After the journal was added to the course in Fall 2016, this number rose to 86%. Clearly, the data show an increase in timely viewing of or attendance at the live sessions after the Reflection & Direction Journal was added to the course.
What I Learned
I have learned many things from this intervention. Essentially, all of my goals listed in the first part of this portfolio were met. The survey data and student feedback reinforced my own perceptions of this success. Therefore, I will continue to implement this assignment into my online courses.
While I am pleased with the results, I am not ignoring some less than enthusiastic feedback from a few students, who reported that the journals didn’t help them, were required too frequently, and felt like busy work. I will admit that I, too, found myself getting tired of reading them every week by the last part of the semester. Therefore, I have adjusted the frequency of the submissions, scaling them back to alternate every so often with peer reviews, for a total of 11 journal submissions, three peer reviews and one survey on the last day. I have also created a regular exclusive Friday due date for the journal or peer review, with no other assignments due on that day.
It was in direct response to the desire to avoid ennui with the journal that I believe I have improved the course assignment schedule overall in a significant way, as there is more regularity to what is due when. Previously, the course had regular bi-weekly due dates and weekly live sessions, but the journals were often combined with other assignments. I believe this new way of organizing the submissions, as well as alternating every so often with a peer review instead, will keep the journal assignment engaging and useful to more students.
The most gratifying, and surprising, result of the Reflection & Direction Journal intervention has been the students’ extended discussions of rhetorical principles as they apply to both our assignments and, more importantly, to the larger context of the writing they do in their personal and professional lives. We do not have time within the semester to go very deeply into rhetorical analyses of the various writing genres; in the past, I have included some lecture and some small discussions. Some instructors assign entire essays devoted to these types of analyses, but in my course, the focus is on “real world” writing applications, such as blogs, reports, professional networking sites and other online multimedia venues. Therefore, I have been very pleased to be able to include this analytical component into my course, which has stimulated deep learning and writing sophistication beyond my original expectations.