Using Mediated Reflective Writing in Online and Blended Courses

Presenters from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:

Matt Russell
Dylan Barth
Gerald Bergstrom

[ SLOAN-C Proceedings Web Site ]

Reflective writing is ideally suited for experiential learning.

Dylan’s part focused on using reflective writing in a blended English composition course. His course is a blended course with 24 students. It is focused on research writing and consists of two seven-week modules. There is a final portfolio that has two revised essays: a ten-page research essay and a reflective letter.

The reflective essay was only at the end of the semester and consequently wasn’t very good as it was the only reflective exercise assigned to the students. However, Dylan revised the journal a bit and made students do one journal entry in the middle of each module. They received prompts for all entries. Students were required to consider what they’d done, what they were doing, and what they were going to do. This was all done electronically using D2L’s ePortfolio feature.

All told, there were 5 journal prompts, looking at all aspects of the research essay (the major project for the course) from start to finish.

Dylan’s reflective pedagogy records what works and what doesn’t, as well as what might change in future semesters. He uses his own reflective journal through the form of a blog to record his own insights. It is public, so students can see an insider’s view of the course and get a better understanding of Dylan’s decisions for the course (and post comments and feedback if Dylan so desires). In other words, it serves as a good model for the students (Dylan is practicing what he preaches).

Gerald “Gerry” covered writing exercises in a blended biology course. 
I’ve heard Gerry give a number of presentations on blended learning.
Gerry showed some quick examples of writing exercises. These include
standard essay questions, as well as “muddiest point” (1-2 sentences),
exit essays (1-2 sentences), literature reviews, and reflective
arguments. Muddiest point exercises give students the chance to ask
questions (in written form) for Gerry to answer at the beginning of
class. Index card questions allow Gerry to provide a scenario, and then
students collaborate in small groups and come back with a response to
the question.

One of the exercises Gerry gives he calls “critique
of a Lay-press article” (4-6 pages, with citations). It is less formal
than a standard literature review of peer-reviewed journals, but it
still an effective writing exercise. Students have to find an article in
a standard, mainstream newspaper (or journal) and critique the science
within the article–find a weakness, expand on a strength, explain the
article in different terms that may make more sense, etc. One sample
assignment involves looking at evidence from Abraham Lincoln that may
indicate that Lincoln suffered from a congenital illness.

learning objectives from such an exercise, students should be able to
describe the genetic basis of a disease, explain how specific genes
causing disease have been isolated, defend the proposition that Lincoln
suffered from one disease over another, propose an experiment to prove
the hypothesis, and organize the components of the essay such that a
lay-person could understand it.

Gerry provided a detailed set of
instructions amounting to a rubric that students had to follow in order
to get a good grade on the assignment. Gerry filtered their assignments
through Turn-it-in to determine if students had plagiarized and if they
met the criteria he specified.
It took Gerry about 10-15 minutes each
to grade each paper (more for lower-quality papers). Approximately 8
hours for his course of 80 students. You can make students write
informally in a science course and yet still produce quality writers
with a little appropriate oversight from the instructor. They will
hopefully be able to explain complex ideas and processes.

portion of the presentation focuses on using reflective journals in an
online literature course. He teaches a comparative literature course in
early world literature (antiquity to 17th century).

His class
typically had low enrollments. It fulfills a general education
requirement and the requirement for the English major. There were
infrequent writing opportunities.

Matt’s approach to course
redesign is to add more interactive components to the course (it’s a
small course so students should have more opportunities to engage with
instructor and other students). He wanted to employ much more media
clips from contemporary sources. He also threw out all tests and exams
and focused entirely on writing.

Reflective journals should answer what happened, why it happened, and what can be learned to address future challenges.

recorded their insights into the literary texts online. They had to
answer specific questions and give their impressions on the overall
class conversation over the texts.