Journals can be a powerful tool for student self-reflection and engagement. To be effective, however, they have to be integrated with the course goals. Be clear with students about why they are journaling and what you hope to see in their journals.
When you create a journal assignment for students, be very specific about what you want them to write about. Many academic journal assignments suffer from a lack of specificity. Many of the assignments I received as a student were so vague I had difficulty completing them. They were frequently based on page counts, with very few prompts to help guide my thinking. Many of my journal assignments were written the day before they were due. I would sit down with a notebook and three different colored pens, writing each day’s entry in a different pen to make it look like I had been writing all along.
Take advantage of the opportunity for rapid feedback presented by online journals. I was able to get away with writing my entire journal the night before because they were collected only twice a semester. The instructor didn’t want to stop us from writing by collecting our journal notebooks too often. Online journals avoid this problem and allow you to give frequent feedback of journal entries.
Even the most open-ended, self-reflective journal can benefit from some prompting or scaffolding. Many students don’t have experience writing journals, especially in an academic setting. Giving students interesting ...