This article looks at how we can use the Journal tool in Blackboard for something a bit different to its usual task. The most common application of the journal is to create a space within a module for private reflection. However, it has other uses as this article will hopefully demonstrate. The article finishes with a very quick summary of reflection in education, and how Blackboard can help facilitate this.

The Scenario

Some time ago I was approached by Hannah McMahon from the School of Design, Culture and the Arts. Hannah had a small scenario she wanted to discuss. She wanted to get her students to commentate on a football match in real time. The real time aspect was crucial, but it was also important that they were able to record their commentary in a secure/private space. Not that there was any doubt regarding the integrity of the students, but, as it was to be assessed, Hannah needed to ensure students worked alone.

We discussed a few different ideas, such as recording an audio narration of the match or writing the commentary down into one document. However, it was crucial that the date and times were recorded accurately with no way to fake the process. A Word document could simply be a written account after the match, rather than a blow by blow account. The process was also to mirror what students might experience when working in the field – such as having to mail in their commentary.

The Solution

In the end we decided to try using the journal tool within Blackboard.

The journal is a private space that can be opened up for students in a module. It’s normally used for reflection (more about that later) but we decided to trial it for this experience. There were a number of reasons why we thought it might work.

  • Firstly, it’s private.
  • Second, the journal can be set to be assessed if necessary. It creates an area in the Grade Centre of the module, thus allowing staff to assess the contents.
  • Third, a journal can be made public at a later date. This could potentially be used for peer assessment, allowing students to learn from each other.
  • Fourth, it has the advantage of creating a date stamp for each journal entry. There would be no way that a student could “cheat” when they were updating their journal entries.
  • Fifth, the journal comes complete with a powerful and flexible text box editor. This allows for more than just text. If students wanted, they could insert images, embed sound and video and so on.
  • Finally, students were already familiar with using blogs in Blackboard. A blog and journal have very similar functionality so the learning curve in this instance was next to none.

The Results

The experiment was a great success.

Setting up the space was incredibly straightforward and didn’t involve a high degree of technical knowledge. The students engaged with the tool and almost all created a “live” running commentary of the game.

“It worked really well as a platform for the sports journalists to submit their work,” said Hannah. In addition, she commented that the students were very positive about using the space for other areas of their work, such as creating personal blogging spaces within the module.

Hannah has stated that she will definitely be doing the same again next year, which is great news.

Reflective Theory

The power of reflection in higher education is widely recognised as a key factor for students. Phil Race, in his essential guide “In at the Deep End”, lists reflection as one of the top five ways to help students, as well as making the case for reflective logs as a means for assessment. Fry et al discuss reflection at great length, and stress its importance in higher education. Perhaps the most notable exponent of reflection is from Kolb’s Learning Cycle, which includes reflection as a major part of the process. Jenny Moon talks extensively about learning portfolios, referring to Kolb and his experiential learning cycle. Whilst she explains many different approaches to keeping a portfolio, certainly a journal is one method.

Reflection in Blackboard

In Blackboard, one of the easiest ways to allow students space to reflect on their studies is through the journal tool. This sits within a particular module, and is a private space between the student and the tutor. It’s probably a good idea to inform students that you, as a module leader, can read what they write in their journals, even if you don’t intend to do so. If you are planning on making the journal public it is essential that you tell students up front. The space can be used purely for reflection or even as a means of creating communications between student and tutor.

When setting up a journal you can select whether or not you want students to be able to delete their posts. An interesting conversation arose between an academic and myself. The lecturer decided to NOT allow students this option. His argument being that he wanted students to see the progression they were making from start to finish. He reasoned that some students might not want to have a record of their earlier work but would then miss out on that opportunity to see their journey. An interesting point for certain.

The journal tool could be used as a portfolio. However, a journal is limited to a specific module. If you are interested in students creating a portfolio for their entire student life cycle, then the Portfolio tab in Blackboard is more suited. This extremely versatile tool is powered by Mahara, an industry standard portfolio tool for higher education. If you are interested in using Mahara, we have CPD sessions as well as extensive help guides to get you up and running in no time.

References, accessed May 2017

Fry et al (2009), A Handbook for teaching and learning in higher education: enhancing academic practice, Routledge

Moon, J (2006), The Uses of Learning Journals, Routledge

Alternative uses for Journals

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