Posted by: sarenaumann | February 17, 2013

Weekly Reflections for Reflective Teaching

Weekly Reflections for Reflective Teaching

Notes from the end of my second quarter as an instructor for CSU East Bay.

When I was asked to teach introduction to information literacy, a ten-week course for incoming freshman at Cal State University East Bay, I knew I could draw from what I learned during an internship while in library school: I assisted three librarians in teaching their own introduction to information literacy courses by creating course content, teaching sessions, and grading assignments. I did not however create a course “from scratch.”

In order to create my syllabus I reviewed numerous syllabi from a handful of instructors I admired. I began by using assignments and online learning objects from these classes, and added in new assignments that appealed to me, all the while keeping in mind the learning outcomes and core competencies required for the course.

One of the best decisions I made is to use the Weekly Reflections I saw on another instructor’s syllabus. (Thank you Diana Wakimoto).

I decided to have the students write a Weekly Reflection, starting on week 2 and ending on week 8. Each week they write one or two sentences telling me:
1. What they learned this week.
2. How they can apply this knowledge to their work in college.
3. How they can apply this knowledge to their life outside of school.
4. If they still have any questions.

The Weekly Reflections are done in the Discussion Board section of Blackboard. Students can see each other’s posts.

1. What they learned this week.
This information helps me tremendously in a number of ways:

It helps me keep the pulse of the students. Are they engaged? I can tell if they are engaged when they write a lot about something we covered. Or if they said, “the lesson was very informative and thorough, I do not have any questions.” Or if they say they liked it. Sometimes they comment on how useful the assignment was, such as the RSS assignment. Or they might say they were intrigued by creating their own questions—not understanding why I asked them to do it but having a lot of fun in the process.
The Weekly Reflections also tell me if the assignments are lacking. When the students say, “I didn’t learn anything this week.” Or if they didn’t have much (or anything) to say, I take this as a sign that the assignment did not engage them. In this case I will either revise the lesson or get rid of it.

2. How they can apply this knowledge to their work in college. Students often write about how the assignment already helped them research for another class. Student appreciate learning how to choose a topic and write a research question, how to create APA citations, and how to write annotations. They did complain about the APA citations but after practicing them for a few weeks, finally appreciated how they were “getting good at it.” Students also really liked learning about the Subject Guides (more to come on this topic.)

3. How they can apply this knowledge to their life outside of school.  
One of my goals in the course is to engage the students in critical thinking and real life skills.
 At times the students do not believe the course material will transfer to their life outside of school. When they write this I comment on their posts and remind them how the skills might be used. For example:

  • Effective searching on Google is useful pretty much all the time.
  • Evaluating websites is important for finding reliable health related services, job related information, or travel information (examples I have use).
  • Digital footprint: How to work safely online.
  • RSS feeds for easy access to important information
  • Copyright and plagiarism.

By the time they write their Reflection Essays (see below) they understand more about how these skills can be used not only in school but also in their life beyond school.
4. If they still have any questions. This aspect of the Weekly Reflections is very informative. Even though I ask students to email me or visit me during my online office hours when they have questions, especially urgent questions, they often ask their questions or voice their concern about a broken link in the Weekly Reflections discussions. I learned that I couldn’t merely check Weekly Reflections after the week’s lesson is over, but I need to check the Weekly Reflections numerous times throughout the week. Students seemed to feel comfortable opening up or sharing more in-depth feelings/ideas in this area of Blackboard. I want to honor this. I am grateful that they are opening up to me at all! I still stress the importance of emailing me, but know that not all of them will do this. I can make comments right there on Blackboard for all students to see, and also address these questions in the next week’s lesson. Naturally if there is a broken link I will fix it immediately and email the class that it has been fixed.

Reflection Essay

During week 9 the students write a Reflection Essay. I ask them to review all of their Weekly Reflections, and write an essay that includes: What their expectations were in the beginning of the class, what they actually learned, how they can apply knowledge gained in the course to their work in school and how they can apply this knowledge to their life outside of school.

Three of the most common expectations:
1. Since this is the first online class for most of the students, they expressed fear about it and did not understand how they would “remember” to do their work. One student said she didn’t know how she would manage an online class with “no teacher.”
2. Many students assumed it would be a review of the library information they learned in high school. One student said he thought he should review the Dewey Decimal system to prepare.
3. Students thought it would be an “easy A.”

Here is one comment from a student about how he will use knowledge from class in his life outside of school:

“For my personal life, I doubt I will use databases for searching, however, I acquired skills that will be useful for my personal researching. For example, I will now check the credibility of a website before I start believing what the website is saying.”

Another student appreciated the Weekly Reflections and Digital Footprint assignment:

“I learned two major things that I will in my own life. First, I also found that the weekly reflections where really helpful for my own personal reference: I will consider doing reflections for myself to look back on any major emotional moments, since sometimes daily reflections can seem a little overwhelming. Secondly, the assignment of the Digital Footprint, made me more aware of the security risks of being online and I will have that in mind anytime I choose to publish or share something or when I use websites.”

Weekly Reflections for the sake of reflecting: One student commented on how useful the Reflections were:

“Every week we were required to write a weekly reflection, I believe those reflections really helped me to completely absorb what I learned that week. Since I had to do an assignment in relation to the things I had learned then reflect on it, it really stuck in my brain.”

Best Practices for using Weekly Reflections to enhance teaching:

  • Assign Weekly Reflections and a Reflection Essay. Take notes on what students are telling you.
  • Check Weekly Reflections throughout the week in order to address urgent issues: Either the assignment is not clear or there is a broken link, etc.
  • Comment on Weekly Reflections. Use this time to address students’ comments, issues and concerns by writing back to them.
  • With each comment, thank them for their contribution. Along with my comment I usually write, “Thank you for posting!” Offer positive feedback at all times. The idea is to encourage them to keep writing.
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