Reflections: A Shared Experience to Connect Students

Originally posted on March 22, 2010 by Brian Beatty

One assignment in every graduate course I teach is to post weekly to a reflection forum. Here is a recent assignment description for the reflection post, an excerpt from the course syllabus:

Weekly you will post your thoughts about the class, your project and the instructional design field in an ongoing discussion thread. These posts are intended to help you consider questions important to you, and capture your thoughts at selected instances in time. Posts will be viewable by others, though there is no requirement for others to read anyone else’s posts.

My rationale for this assignment is two-fold. First, I want each student to reflect on and reveal something about their learning process throughout the semester on a regular basis. The reflective post, open to whatever they want to talk about (as long as it is somehow connected to their course experience), provides evidence of their reflection for me to see. A weekly assignment keeps them reflecting on a regular basis. Second, I want them to be able to read the reflections of their peers without the requirement to read and interact (reply) with others. I want to give students their own “soapbox’ in a public forum without adding to the already significant interaction/work load for the course. I also want to provide students with the option of replying to others’ reflections if they want to. Interestingly, about 5% of the reflection posts elicit replies from other students. And while it is impossible to tell how many reflection posts are read by peers, the LMS we use (Moodle) generates a daily email summary of all discussion activity (including reflections) and sends it to each student. LMS logs reveal that many students read the reflections of their peers prior to posting their own refection in a given week.

Because all students complete weekly reflection posts and because the assignment is relatively easy to complete quickly (typical posts are 100-200 words – 50% shorter than this post), I have found this to be effective in connecting online and offline students with each other. The weekly reflection activity is itself a common experience shared by all students, and students often discover other shared learning experiences in the anecdotes, questions, and insights shared by their peers.

Next post I’ll write about the topical discussion activities used in my HyFlex courses.

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