Guidance and information on using reflective blogs, journals or diaries.
A reflective blog, journal or diary requires multiple entries and is often used to track, evidence and monitor development over time. The development often refers to either a project or the development of the reflector, or both.
For simplicity, ‘journal’ will be used throughout this page to refer interchangeably to blogs, journals or diaries. While there are differences, the points covered below apply across the formats.
Typical reflective journal questions
The journal will often be used as a way of keeping evidence, and this is mirrored in the typical question prompts:
- evidence project development and main learnings in regards to learning outcomes, personal development etc
- evidence any/all critical moments or challenging experiences
- evidence the background for major decisions (and the literature/experiences that made it seem like the right choice)
Similarly, your guidelines should support your students in answering your specific questions.
Typical ways to use reflective journals
Due to the flexibility of the journal, there are also many ways that they can be used in an educational or professional setting. For instance:
- a journal can be suggested to reflectors to keep for their own benefit
- the journal can be required for completion of a course
- the whole journal can be assessed in a summative manner
- each journal entry can be assessed in a summative manner
- the first entries can receive formative feedback and the remainder can be used for summative assessment
- all/some of the entries receive formative feedback and then provide foundation for a reflective essay
- reflectors can self-select a predetermined numbers of entries that are then used for summative assessment
- reflectors choose a series of entries and curate them with a written introduction/essay around them; both the entries and the written curation is used for summative assessment.
Typical structure and language
Both language and structure of reflective journals tend to have less strict requirements in comparison to a reflective essay. This is because a journal tends to be less formal – this can be mirrored in the chosen assessment criterion.
Less formality allows reflectors to capture their reflections immediately with no thought about language and structure, freeing them from restructuring them later. This can save the reflectors time.
That said, you can easily require that each entry is structured in a certain way. Should you choose this, it would be natural to have each entry fit a reflective model or the structure outlined in the ‘Academic reflections: tips, language and structure’ section of the Reflectors’ Toolkit. This section also outlines characteristics of academic reflections and, regardless of the levels of formality, it can be helpful for reflectors to use some of these.
Academic reflections: tips, language and structure (within the Reflectors’ Toolkit)
A journal entry is often between 250-700 words, but there is no one right length. The length most often depends on how you decide to use the reflections, the number of entries you require, and the workload of the reflectors in your initiative.
You can choose to allow people to write as much per entry and as many entries as they want. If that is the case, you must then either make it clear in your criteria how this will influence potential marks, or not let the number and length of entries affect the grade. Be aware as this can become extremely work intensive as it is likely some students will produce very lengthy responses.
This approach can be adapted such that there is a minimum number of words and entries, and once a reflector is above that number it will not affect the grade either positively or negatively if they produce more or stop at the requirement. This can ensure that all reflectors produce a meaningful number of reflections of the required length.
Entries can usefully be required to happen with a certain frequency by releasing prompts on a regular schedule or by requiring a weekly/biweekly entry.
It can be very helpful to require interim deadlines. This will ensure that reflectors do not produce the journal entries all at the same time, or right before the deadline, which will remove the benefits of reflecting regularly.
You can monitor the frequency of reflections in multiple ways, including:
- using an online service, which tracks when an entry is created
- date all entries and trust your reflectors
- have an interim deadline where existing work is viewed or assessed
- assess on a regular basis
- require reflectors to hand-in reflections on a regular basis to be checked for completion – if someone has not produced entries use this a foundation for a reminder of the importance of frequent reflections.
Typical weight of a reflective journal
While there is no right answer to how much weight each entry or the journal should have as a whole, it is important to remember the assessment hours/workload your course requires.
It is important to look at factors such as how the entries are being used, is there a chance for formative feedback, how strict are your criteria, and how much time are students realistically spending on this compared to other assessed work.