Reflective journals are used in a variety of educational contexts to promote reflection on experience and application of resulting insights to professional practice. A weblog (blog) is a Web 2.0 technology that can be used as an interactive journal, allowing authors to make entries publicly or privately available for comment and discussion by readers.
Using Schon’s (1983) foundational work on reflective professional practice along with recent literature on communities of practice (Kimble & Hildreth, 2008), blogs were used as reflective journals in the author’s graduate nursing courses. The purpose of this educational strategy was to stimulate collaborative reflection and experiential learning in emergent, asynchronous communities of practice.
Using Reflective Blogs
As part of hybrid or online graduate courses, both didactic and practical, students are asked to submit one entry to a personal course blog each week. Blog entries must be related to course content and learning experiences, but students are otherwise free to use their blogs as they wish, addressing topics and using writing styles and media of their choice. Students are also expected to read their peers’ blogs and to respond to at least three entries per week to which students can relate their own experience. As a supplement to topic-driven community spaces such as online discussion boards, students are encouraged to use reflective blogs as shared personal spaces in which learning is self-directed and experientially connected to course concepts.
Reflective blogs benefit from a gradual and structured introduction. Students need detailed, step-by-step instructions for blog creation and setup, as well as information about where to turn for help. Specific guidelines for student engagement result in quality interaction, reduced student stress, and a better overall experience.
Student introductions are ideal initial assignments that are both familiar and helpful in identifying blogs as student-directed spaces. Suggestions for topics can provide much-needed direction as students learn to blog reflectively, but assigned topics are best used sparingly, as they may threaten students’ sense of blog ownership and self-direction.
Instructors play an important role in facilitating learning using reflective blogs. They must be familiar with the blog software or Web services they intend to use before incorporating blogs into courses, as students will likely turn to instructors as their first technical resource.
Instructors can best model appropriate reflection and identify potential topics by engaging in their own blogs. As students become more comfortable with blogging, instructors contribute by reflecting on their own professional practice and identifying themes in, and connections between, students’ shared experiences. When possible, feedback should be both constructive and publicly posted on course blogs in the form of follow-up questions, links to related entries, observations, or validation.
Early feedback from students in the development of this educational strategy underscored the importance of clear expectations regarding student participation. Students reported being overwhelmed by the need to respond to peers’ blogs, especially in larger classes. Although some students worry about grades, others are motivated by the desire to recognize peers’ reflections.
In large classes, blog discussion groups of 8 to 12 students each can prevent student overload without limiting their exposure to different perspectives. Participation rubrics are invaluable in helping to reduce trivial responses and promote substantive engagement, and can be adapted from rubrics used for discussion forums to emphasize the connection of students’ reflections to course content.
Results and Reactions
Reflective blogging has been a valuable tool for promoting authentic, meaningful learning in the author’s courses. Student blog entries connect theory with professional practice and disciplined inquiry, both individually and collaboratively. Student evaluations indicate that blogging has promoted a sense of intellectual community, helped students to make sense of their practice experience, and assisted students to make course concepts more personally relevant.
Although this strategy was used with students in master’s and doctoral courses related to nursing education and nursing science, blogs hold promise for use with undergraduate students as well. Of particular interest is the potential for enhanced developmental learning experiences with prelicensure nursing students. Reflective blogs appear to be particularly well suited for use as a supplement to clinical postconferences, for example, as well as in any course that asks students to reflect on and connect practical experience with a broader theoretical context.
Stoerm Anderson, EdD, MSN, RN
- Kimble, C. & Hildreth, P. (Eds.). (2008). Communities of practice: Creating learning environments for educators (Vols. 1–2). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.
- Schon, D.A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith.