Thursday, May 29, 2014

Blog Assignment #2: Article Review

Andrusyszyn , Mary-Anne and Lynn Davie. “Facilitating Reflection through Interactive Journal Writing in an Online Graduate Course: A Qualitative Study.” International Journal or E-Learning & Distance Education 12.1 (1997). 103-126. Web. 28 May 2014.

Andrusyszyn and Davie’s article relates the methods, data, and results of a qualitative study in which students in a computer-mediated course engaged in journal writing with instructor feedback. They use a qualitative method by an analysis of journal transcripts and interviews of five students and one instructor. This study of journal use is part of a larger project examining the facilitation of reflection in an online course. Reflection in this study is defined as “intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences in order to lead to new understandings and appreciations.” The authors conclude that interactive journal writing leads to greater student reflection, and she argues that journals should be “carefully considered” as productive tools in an online course as they have been in traditional learning environments. I would argue that this study has compelling ramifications for several areas of research. First, the definition of reflection in this study indicates that it occurs when “individuals engage,” so research on increasing student engagement in online courses would benefit from considering the role of journals as suggested by the authors. It would also be helpful for research into pedagogical tools that aid critical thinking in an asynchronous course where class discussion and collaborative learning can be problematic. The study notes that “the volume of dialogue generated and the asynchronous medium can make it difficult to link disconnected threads of a discussion conceptually,” but journaling “promotes the synthesis of ideas.” Lastly, and most interesting to my own research, is the potential for this study to support the use of dialogue (interactive) journals as a means to build rapport in an online course. The authors find that “journal writing encouraged the use of personal voice and increased the warmth of an academic environment,” and that “there seemed to be a partnership, a mutual respect, a balanced, reciprocal, collegial relationship evident in the interactions between the instructor and students.” While this suggests that journals have a powerful and positive effect on relationships, there is no quantitative evidence to suggest that these relationships improved student performance. The students perceived the activity as meaningful and helpful in deepening their reflections, but the question remains unanswered here as to whether this has academic transference. It should also be noted that the study is limited by its small sample. The process of responding to student writing is time consuming. The instructor in the study only needed to write back and guide five students. It is not reasonable to think that for an average class size the quality and length of responses would be equal to what was produced in the study. This could diminish the positive effect of reflection and rapport if put into practice. Overall, the study is useful as evidence for a larger, more comprehensive study of dialogue journals in the classroom.

2 comments:

  1. I like the idea of increasing reflective writing for idea synthesis or exploration, but agree with you that scaling and responses by faculty would be reasonable only in a very limited class size. I, as do my own students, hate assignments that fall into a void, especially when feedback is part of the development process. The class community can benefit from increased rapport, as you noted --but the question seems to still be there is it a feel good exercise, or does it actually benefit student learning? I am not sure in an online environment that community building and/or increased communication with the instructor aren't beneficial in their own right...

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    1. I would certainly agree that there is value in building community regardless of whether that translates to academic achievement or not. In this research, I seem to be picking up on a thread of teaching content versus teaching students. The former values achievement in the subject and pedagogical practices that increase knowledge transference. The latter suggests an approach where the content is secondary to the relationships built with individual students, valuing each student's experiences and presence. The result of this approach, proponents argue, will lead to greater engagement and motivation, thus achievement. It is an interesting debate and controversial since it aims to shift instruction away from just being an expert in the subject to being fully engaged with students and building relationships with them.

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