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Learning and Teaching Conference 22 April 2010

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1 Learning and Teaching Conference 22 April 2010
Online Reflexive Diaries: Embedding Deep Learning & Personal Development Through Assessment & Feedback Anne Tierney (FBLS) – Eamonn Butler (CEES) –

2 Outline Introduction The Project Conclusions Questions and answers
Reflective Diaries as Assessment The Project Overview The Initial Results Student Reflections Staff Reflections Conclusions For Deep Learning For Personal Development Questions and answers

3 Reflective Diaries as Assessment
Reflective writing is widely used in higher education particularly in a formative capacity within professional subject areas (education, medicine, dentistry) [see IMS CP; Richards, online] But NOT common in social sciences, humanities, business, general sciences WHY NOT?

4 Reflective writing is not academic!

5 Reflective Writing as Assessment
Staff views: Diaries are often considered to be: Difficult to assess Not academically rigorous Subjective Too personal Informal (free writing, poor presentation, lack of structure etc) Therefore we overlook them as a form of assessment

6 Reflective Diaries as Assessment
Student views: The literature suggests students also fail to see the academic nature of the task. A similar project* at Sheffield Hallam University noted: “many students seen to feel that ‘writing reflectively’ isn’t ‘proper’ academic work” “many students did not regard reflection as ‘real learning’ because it was something that was ‘common sense’ and not based on ‘facts’ “many students… felt that this was the ‘easy module’ compared to their other 5 ‘proper’ modules based on reading and learning facts” *See Heron (2009)

7 Reflective Diaries as Assessment
Glasgow students echoed these ideas: “I thought that it might be easier, in comparison to other types of assessment because it’s quite easy to write how you feel about things, it’s more informal.” “I think it was a kind of psychological thing, being called a diary makes people more keen to do it than it being called a report, because you have so many reports.” “A diary has connotations, even though it is a substantial amount of the grade, its not quite as important as that 5000 word essay you’ve got to get in, it’s in your mind, it’s psychological in away” “And that’s the thing, because it’s not academic, it doesn’t have to be written academically, it’s much easier to do.”

8 Reflective Diaries as Assessment
Glasgow University Learning and Teaching Strategy (2006) states: We will engage [students] with teaching and approaches to learning which support their development as motivated learners, independent and critical thinkers, and promote confidence and awareness in their skills, knowledge and understanding. We will promote a learning environment that develops and values these attributes.

9 Reflective Diaries as Assessment
Reflective writing, particularly that facilitated online, has many benefits and helps to achieve the LTS (2006) goal and associated key strategic objectives which include: To develop further a wide range of assessment methods that are both effective in promoting student learning, and efficient in their use of staff time (Excellence in Learning and Teaching 5). To develop a student-staff partnership model that promotes student engagement with learning, and enhances student success (Enhancing the Student Experience 7) To embed and make transparent within our programmes the skills and learning opportunities that encourage entrepreneurship and enhance employability and enterprise. (Enhancing the Student Experience 8) To use new and developing technologies and associated methods of delivery to enhance student learning and promote flexibility. (Enhancing the Student Experience 9)

10 Reflective Diaries as Assessment

11 The Project Two courses that use online reflective diaries as assessment: Business & the Biosciences (FBLS) Central and Eastern Europe: Perspectives on Security Since 1945 (CEES) Both courses use Mahara to facilitate the assessment

12 The Project - Mahara Mahara is an e-portfolio tool
Adopted by the university for PDP Offers unique blogging facility

13 The Project - Mahara

14 The Project – Research Questions
Considering (1) the increasing pressure on staff and student time (given their workload both in and out of university) and (2) the fact that reflective writing is not always considered academic, do the benefits of using reflective diaries, both formatively and summatively, outweigh the extra effort involved for all parties? Is Mahara the best medium for the diaries, given that its intended purpose is for personal development planning?

15 The Project - Courses

16 Evaluation Questionnaire Focus Groups Diaries background
insight into student opinion Diaries insight into understanding and development

17 Questionnaire No idea 17% More effective learning 61%
50% of PS45 students had kept a diary before Of these 33% had kept a diary for study, the rest kept personal diaries (travel journals etc) None had ever written a blog When asked what the purpose of the reflective diary task was PS45 noted: No idea 17% More effective learning 61% Track student learning Alternative assessment 5%

18 Questionnaire Why keep a diary?
(Comments made before students were informed about the task). “to review learning, to reiterate points made in class, to engage personally with the topics and to link my learning with personal experience” “To allow the student to catalogue thoughts and experiences with the aim of using that to improve work produced” “To help students to discuss with themselves the main issues presented within seminars. This should in turn allow students to gain a deeper understanding of the course” “To encourage self study”

19 Use of diaries According to Moon (1999: ) reflective writing through diaries has the following benefits: “To deepen the quality of learning, in the form of critical thinking or developing questioning attitudes” “To enable learners to understand their own learning process” “To increase active involvement in learning and personal ownership of learning” “To enhance creativity by making better use of intuitive understanding” “To provide an alternative ‘voice’ for those not good at expressing themselves” “To foster reflective and creative interaction in a group”

20 To deepen the quality of learning, in the form of critical thinking or developing questioning attitudes “The diary has encouraged the students to talk and to express their opinions. I have noticed that there is much more discussion in this class than my others. We have had quite a lot, like, not arguments, but debates.” (PS45 Student 3) “I think [diaries] as opposed to essays, encourage [you] to have an opinion …and if you do have a view point that you didn’t read anywhere that you want to bring up in class then that’s why we have a lot more discussion.” (PS45 Student 5)

21 To enable learners to understand their own learning process
“Yes, you can see from where we had the lessons and lectures to where we were working on our own, the change.” (B&B Student 4) “I thought it made you address problems when you were doing the actual plan because you were writing what you thought went wrong, you weren’t going to just leave it to other people in your group to sort stuff out. If you were going to write it down you might as well get it sorted out.” (B&B Student 2) “It makes you feel a bit more confident in the course because keeping your diary up to date you keep your study up to date … you’ve got a kind of general knowledge about it, whereas a lot of courses you can get away with not doing any reading, so there’s a week where you’re sitting there and you get asked a question and you just don’t know the first thing about it, but at least, because of the diary, you have to do the work every week.” (PS45 Student 2)

22 To increase active involvement in learning and personal ownership of learning
“It makes you study the bits in class that you might not have… I think if I didn’t keep the diary, I wouldn’t have looked at that chapter. But now I’ve actually found some of it quite interesting.” (PS34 Student 2) “I was more inclined to look over what I’d done.” (B&B Student 1) It’s actually been great revision for me that I would have had to do eventually…but this allowed me to do it before and I’d do it again and do it more effectively because you actually have to write something about it, whereas for an exam if I was revising, I’d revise three or four topics… that’s a good point.” (PS45 Student 1)

23 To enhance creativity by making better use of intuitive understanding
“I would definitely agree that it’s a helpful and useful thing … you can [do] two different courses and it might be the same topic but because this is a security course you work at it slightly differently. I did the environment course last year and I’m doing the security one and you can talk about environmental issues but looking at them from completely different perspectives.” (PS45 Student 1) “I’ve mentioned things from other courses, like if you can make a comparison to the things you’ve done in courses like history; like I think I compared something like the Warsaw Pact to the Versailles Treaty.” (PS45 Student 5) “It was good because you would write things that had happened and observations you’d made just on life and tie it in with the class and it was different doing it but I really liked the diary. It was good.” (B&B Student 1)

24 To provide an alternative ‘voice’ for those not good at expressing themselves
“I think it makes it easier to talk in class as well because you know that everyone’s putting an effort in.” (PS45 Student 2) “I’m from a different department and … sometimes I can feel a little bit not quite on the same level as people who are studying all around the same period… so it really helps to see other people’s perspectives.” (PS45 Student 4) “I think it was quite nice that we had the freedom to put it in our own way a little bit rather than really strict guidelines because then we got a more honest piece of writing at the end of the day.” (B&B Student 3)

25 To foster reflective and creative interaction in a group
“… we didn’t know each other … I think you got to know people better and it was a kind of talking point as well.” (B&B Student 1) “it makes it easier to talk in the class as well because you know that everybody’s putting an effort in. I got quite annoyed at that in the other classes. I was like I’m sitting here having done all this work and these people have done nothing and I know other people in the class who had done a lot of work felt like that as well. But I think …? Makes you get involved, and I think it definitely makes it an easier class for people to bring up discussions and things.” (PS45 Student 2) “what I also liked was that we can comment on each other’s diaries, we can discuss also, outside the class, so the class is only once a week so there is no time to discuss that much in the classroom, there is a chance in Mahara.” (PS45 Student 3)

26 (Politics – Junior Honours)
Student Reflections Karen Sawyer (Politics – Junior Honours)

- Facilitation (training in use of Mahara) The task (training, guidance, support in writing) The Assessment (marking) CONTROL - Hand over of responsibility for learning to the student - Lack of awareness about what students are doing TECHNICAL - Feedback (staff) - Mahara challenging environment (students)

28 Mahara – is it worth it? Student experience!
“I couldn’t figure out how to get it to either put a blog in and couldn’t get the difference between posting a blog or a post, so for each day sometimes it would be a blog and sometimes it would be a post and I just could never figure out how to get it to be one or the other.” (B&B Student 2) “I’ve been doing it every single week and I can’t work out properly what boxes to click and all that sort of stuff and putting it in different places and then you can open it up and it all looks wrong and you mess about with it again. There needs to be a bit of a Dummy’s Guide.” (PS45 Student 2)

29 Mahara – is it worth it? Despite the problems experienced by both groups of students with Mahara they aren’t put off by it and actually encourage greater use of it, especially in the early years of university “I think introducing people to it in the way we were would be a really good idea early on in their uni career, have them do it as coursework in quite a short period of time, just so they get used to using it, and once [they are] fluent with it it’s a lot easier to run with.” (B&B Student 3) “The way it lets you save things and the diaries, the way you can do the presentation and bring in all the different things, and people look at it online, [that is] really good. It would have to be that you’d started it in first year and you’d kept at it all the way through. It would be a lot easier.” (PS45 Student 2)

30 Mahara – is it worth it? Sharing & Collaboration Positive support
Mahara also encourages the students to create their own learning communities Sharing & Collaboration Positive support “It definitely makes the class much more kind of interactive and supporting each other. I’ve never been in a class before where people each other videos and help each other as much as what we do in this one.” (PS45 Student 2) “People have been putting up their class presentations so it’s related. It is quite useful. It’s like a catalogue page of all the presentations” (PS45 Student 5) “I think to begin with everybody thought because we were doing a kind of personal thing that it would be private but as everybody got more comfortable with each other more people started opening theirs up...” (B&B Student 4)

31 Reflective writing is academic
The Learning Reality Perhaps one of the reasons why students have a positive attitude towards Mahara and why they are prepared to use it is that they actually are getting some academic worth from the task. This means: Reflective writing is academic The psychological perception of the task removes the restrictions which confine students into writing what they think staff want to read The diaries enable students to informally develop academically in terms of the ILOs of the course and depth of holistic learning / understanding This is reflected in the fact that through reflection the students do engage with course material in an academic manner

32 Academic Reflection I find myself sympathising with the Soviet Union, which feels wrong. Perhaps it's simply my British sense of the underdog but at times it's uncomfortable reading reports into a Soviet Union who were once a proud superpower and now feels like it's embarrassing itself. The feeling of political isolation and desperation in the eighties is palpable with repeated attempts at political deals being flat out refused by a west who were in no real need for peace. The Soviet deals in of themselves were politically naive. As the RFE research states the rationale behind the deals proposed are the same as they had ever been, stagnant political output and a lack of dynamic bargaining is indicative of the state of Soviet politics during this era. Yet equally it's all about perspective and why would Russia voluntarily give up the strengths they had in certain negotiation matters. Increasingly looking at the cold war from the eastern perspective is showing a different conflict to that I thought was being fought. (PS45)

33 Academic Reflection As for the actual business element of the course, beforehand I knew absolutely nothing about finance or business planning but through the various talks on building a plan, a lot of vital elements became second nature. By day four I was genuinely interested to know more about equity and shares and so asked Mr Logan about it, which considering I never usually ask questions in classes is a pretty rare thing for me and was only out of genuine interest in these particular concepts. I was critiquing other teams plans in my head during the presentations and dealt with the budget and SWOT/PEEST aspects of our event almost unconsciously. Therefore I think its fair to say a lot of skills I’ve obtained on this course have engrained themselves in me. As well as a few particular concepts that stuck in my head automatically; 4 Ps of marketing, future proofing your plan, equities and shares. I would never have thought that by the end of the course I could formulate a business plan and construct the financial spreadsheets required to track the profit margins and net cash flow of a company but I feel confident I could do it all again and furthermore, enjoy it. (B&B)

34 Students are thinking for themselves, recognising their abilities and articulating their development
“Education, can be used to free people or to domesticate them; when students write reflectively, I think they are being liberated.” (Sanford, 1990) In many way this is what PDP aims to do – in this instance it is embedded in the learning process “I think it is safe to say that this course has changed me for the better. Since finishing the course I have pro actively arranged a few meetings or attended events that previously I would have been too scared to attend on my own. Retrospectively reading the ‘fixed vs. growth mindset’ article on the moodle site, I realised that the course has started my transition from a fixed to a can-do mentality. The most important outcome of the course for me, is that I have realised that I am a much more confident person than I had previously thought. Talking in front of other people and telling them my personal opinions has always been difficult, but I can now see that sharing my views and experiences with other people is an important part in sharing who I am with people.” (B&B Student 5)

35 Conclusion In terms of our research questions
Diaries are beneficial for learning - provide evidence of effective learning - students are prepared to engage despite technical difficulty and investment of time - they are academic - rewarding for staff to see students ‘bloom’ Is Mahara the right tool? - Mahara seems to work - Gives students ownership of learning - encourages students to work with peers through new organic learning communities - Allows for regular effective feedback from staff and peers


37 References Glasgow (2006) The Learning & Teaching Strategy. Available at: Heron, E.J. (2009) “Using reflective Diaries Within the Context of a Work and Professional Development Module”. Available at IMS CP for Medical Skills-based Reflective Diary (based on Tomorrow’s Doctors) JISC-funded project, available online at: Moon, J. (1999) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development. (London: Kogan Page) Richards, J. C. (online) “Towards reflective teaching”, The Teacher Trainer, available online at: Sanford (1990), cited in J. Moon (1999) Learning journals: A handbook for academics, students and professional development. (London: Kogan Page)

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