Blogging As Reflective Practice

Today, I am presenting at the 10th Annual NJ Best Practices Showcase on using blogging as a reflective process for my students. You can view the presentation on my Slideshare page. NJEDge.Net and the host school, the College of St. Elizabeth, are also recording the presentations and hoping to post them to the new NJVid site. In this post, I want to go into a bit more detail than I can do in my presentation about reflective practice itself.

Though I reference the book The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action by Donald Schön, what I am discussing does not appear in his book since blogging did not even exist in 1995 when the book was published. He was an MIT social scientist and consultant, and in that book he examines five professions (engineering, architecture, management, psychotherapy, town planning). The book is very much about how professionals go about solving problems.

He introduced reflective practice as a continuous process that involves the learner considering critical incidents in his or her life's experiences. The concept immediately gained traction in teacher education, and also health professions and architectural design. For a teacher-in-training and active in the field, the process of studying his or her own teaching methods and determining what works best for the students is essential. I think it is important that all students (practitioners-in-training) also consider their own experiences in applying knowledge to practice, especially while being "coached" by professionals (instructors,mentors) in their discipline.

Education is my focus here, but all three disciplines also make use of portfolios of a kind. If you use portfolios (paper, electronic or objects), you are probably already using reflection as a part of that practice.

Late in his life (he died in 1997), Donald Schön took an interest in the use of computers in design and the uses of design games to expand designing capabilities. That also appealed to me because I teach a graduate course in the elements of visual design at NJIT, and computer design has become a large part of the course.

Schön's exploration of the nature of learning systems and the significance of learning in changing societies, for me, has applications not only to what is called the "learning society" but also to the movement of that society online. The importance of networks and feedback online changes our ways of knowing.

Schön looks to what some people have called a more "existentially-oriented approach" to studying social change, as opposed to the rational/experimental model that is generally used.

The progression in the past decade of blogs from personal web journals to a platform for established professionals, corporations and writers has created opportunities for education. In my presentation, I was talking about my use of blogs with graduate students at NJIT over the past two years as a method for regular student reflection on their learning. I have them use the free Blogger service Though there are other free and paid services available).

Blogs offer the easiest method for students to publish online to a large audience without sophisticated web design skills. This allows them to focus on specific topics and on their own knowledge construction. The built-in feedback tools allow teacher-to-student and peer-to-peer and, perhaps most powerfully, outsider commentary.

Though blogs can serve as e-portfolios and some teachers use them as such, I am more focused on reflection. I don't ignore using the blog to address writing concepts, publishing practices, intellectual property and using the blog's digital design as a learning portfolio, it is just not my primary concern. Is that what I tell students? Not immediately. The "assignments" that they blog about initially are reflective in nature without having to make that the "learning outcome."

My use of blogs at NJIT is easily incorporated into the MS in Professional and Technical Communication program which already has program competencies for students and an established e-portfolio program.

In education, reflective practice is a part of teacher research, but the journaling and discussion of your own teaching practices is not the same as doing traditional research. That is, students do not hypothesize and test ideas in that rational/experimental manner. What practitioners do in "the real world" is more likely to be testing their ideas against multiple forms of evidence, against multiple perspectives from their community of practice AND the research literature.

There's an old saying that if you want to know what you think, write it down. Writing about your practice is part of the process as it requires you to organize ideas into a framework.

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