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Using eJournal writing assignments to assess learning and classroom community

Edward Laine
,
Bowdoin College
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This page first made public: Jul 8, 2008

Summary

About every two weeks I ask each student in my introductory course to write brief responses to questions I pose to them. They write these in an e-Journal, a part of the blog function of BlackBoard. My laboratory instructor and I use their responses to learn about the background and interests of students in the class, to assess how well they are learning, to determine if group work is going well, and to gives us ideas for improving the course.

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Context

Audience

An introductory course for non-majors with a significant service learning component.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This activity is designed in part to see how well students have mastered material covered in class the past week.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is an assessment activity that happens 5-6 times throughout the semester.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

This activity is used to assess how prepared students are for an exam and to identify areas that may need review.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

This activity can be used to assess how well groups are working together and identify groups that may need support. It also helps groups clarify their own goals and brainstorm new ideas. It encourages students who normally don't speak up in small groups to have a voice.

Description of the activity/assignment

About every two weeks I ask each student in my introductory course to write brief responses to questions I pose to them. They write these in an e-Journal, a part of the blog function of BlackBoard. My laboratory instructor and I use their responses to learn about the background and interests of students in the class, to assess how well they are learning, to determine if group work is going well, and to give us ideas for improving the course.

The following two eJournal question sets are part of a course, Marine Environmental Geology, a non-majors science course that has a significant service learning component. The semester long service learning projects that accompany this course require constant monitoring.
Assessing Service Learning Project Work The set of questions just below is designed to have students think outside the group context about what concrete steps need to be done to finish the work of their service learning project. We read these and respond very quickly, supporting good ideas. During the following week we encourage each group to come together and share what they have written in Part 1. Writing their thoughts down and having them supported by faculty helps some students who normally don't express their ideas in a group to try out their ideas with their peers.

The second question asks the student to reflect upon their own work and work effort and helps us learn if there are any potential problems within groups.

This week's e-journal is a follow-up to the presentations & lab we did this week. The first part, goals & help needed, should be written as a bulleted list with concrete objectives. The second part should be answered in brief paragraph format.

The data collection phase of the projects is complete, or for some groups, almost complete. While project work will carry on independently through the end of the semester, we only have one more week in lab devoted to it.

Part 1
After reviewing where you stood at the time of your presentation and what you accomplished in lab this week, what do you intend to do with the remaining lab period? What analyses do you hope to complete before you present your results to the class in November? What help do you need to meet these objectives?

Part 2
How do you feel about your project at this point? What do you feel you did well? Are there any places you think you could have done better, either personally or as a team?

Assessing Mastery of Content and Concepts

Last year I used this question to learn what specific problems students were having with course material before an exam. By asking them to use "use textbook vocabulary and to use it precisely" I am forcing them to dig into material and be very specific about what they don't understand. Sometimes students will write a very careful paragraph and at the end say, "I understand it now." That doesn't always happen, so for the most part I see what gets voted for most frequently and weave that into the next lecture.

Critical Concepts Question

Thus far I have covered topics in my lectures which depend on the following Critical Concepts sections in your textbook

CC1 Density
CC4 Particle size/sinking
CC6 Salinity, temp, etc

Read through these sections and write about the one that you had the greatest difficulty understanding. Be specific about what you don't understand. Be very careful to use textbook vocabulary and to use it precisely. Write no more than three paragraphs

Determining whether students have met the goals

Almost all students provide thoughtful, helpful responses to their eJournal assignments. If as student doesn't respond in a timely fashion it is reflected in a small way in their final grade.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

The eJournal is an electronic version of the "check-in" discussed by Clifford (2000) in the PBSL "Cookbook"

Clifford, Joanne, 2000. Chapter 4: Building Community in the Classroom. In: Problem Based Service Learning: A Fieldguide for Making a Difference in Higher Education, Gordon, R.(Ed), Education by Design, Keene, NH, pp 43-56.

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