30 May 2006

On reflective journals

It's that marking (grading) time of year again. One fascinating aspect of that is to get to read students' learning/reflective/professional journals. They go by a variety of names, but they are all thoughtful accounts of practice, which identify areas for development and make links to general principles (a.k.a. "theory").

Frankly, I haven't a clue how I mark them. That is phrased carefully. I know "how to" mark them; I authored the criteria in the tutors' handbook for the course. But that is different from the way I actually do it.

Students writing journals are frankly in a bind. Should they 'fess up to everything which went wrong, and gain marks for honesty and reflection? Yes; but of course they may lose marks for sheer incompetence. Or should they spin to emphasise success? Yes; but we can mark them down for being insufficiently self-critical.

It's the same kind of bind that convicts experience when applying for parole. If they admit their offences and exhibit remorse, they will be let out. But if they continue to protest their innocence, they stay in prison. What do they do if they are actually innocent? There have been a few recent cases which have highlighted this. (OK, I should reference them, but it's late and it's complicated to search for them... Are you going to mark me down on this?)

I'm glad I don't have to produce a reflective journal. Actually, I do, and this is it. But you are not going to mark or grade it (althought there is an occasionally-used comment facility; please use that more). But I don't have to do it. I do it because I find it useful to do it; and it does not matter very much what anyone else thinks.

Could I write like this if I thought someone would mark it? I'd like to think so, but frankly I don't believe it. Setting a "reflective journal" as an assessment task is highly problematic.