Back in 2015 I wrote a post for this blog on digital tools for reflective practice, and it has proved to be one of our most-viewed posts, but things move fast in the world of digital tools, so it seemed that an update could be useful.
What is reflective practice and why use digital tools?
Anyone involved in teaching will have encountered the concept of reflective practice. It is also key to many other professions and integral to much Continuing Professional Development (CPD) so it is a professional skill that will benefit students as well as tutors.
For those teaching in Higher Education, the Higher Education Authority (now part of AdvanceHE) has published a guide entitled ‘Reflective practice: some notes on the development of the notion of professional reflection’. The guide explores ‘how reflection – in which searching questions are asked about experience – might be conceptualised, why it can be viewed as rather more than “thinking about teaching” and why a consideration of reflective practice itself might be helpful to both the beginning and the experienced teacher’.
Unfortunately, reflection can easily be overlooked when time is short, which is why any digital tools that can make it easier can bring benefits for learning and professional development. Using digital tools for reflection can also enhance more general digital capabilities, which are increasingly valued in the workplace.
Digital documents, notebooks and journals
Traditionally, people would have used paper notebooks or journals to record their reflections and plans, so let’s start by looking at the digital equivalents of a paper journal.
Starting with the most basic way of reflecting digitally, Microsoft Word or Google Docs could be used to create one or more files where you can write your reflections, add images and links. University of Sussex staff and students are each entitled to install Microsoft Office on up to 10 devices and store up to 1TB of files in OneDrive with Office 365 so using Word on laptops, smartphones and/or tablets is an option.
Digital note-making platforms such as Evernote, OneNote and Google Keep go beyond journalling and offer possibilities for handling notes in all areas of your life. Meeting/lecture notes, shopping lists, recipes, reminders and scanned receipts – all the things you once did in a paper notebook and more. With these tools you can add audio, images and clip websites and as they sync across all your devices you can always have your virtual notebook with you.
Microsoft OneNote combines well with Microsoft 365 (see above), storing your notebooks in your OneDrive account. If you want something separate from your Sussex accounts then Evernote which has a range of free and paid options would be a good choice. Google Keep is another option, though it has slightly fewer features than the others it is very easy to make quick text or audio notes.
If you are not sure whether OneNote, Evernote or Google Keep would suit you best, this brief comparison chart might help.
If you are already using one of these tools for your digital note-making, why not add a notebook or tag for your reflections on learning/teaching?
There are a few online diary options such as Penzu, Journalate or Diaro (which uses Dropbox to store and sync your diary). These let you sort your entries by folder, tag them with keywords, search entries and sync across mobile devices and the web. Most of them let you add photos and some allow attaching files. On the whole, though, these have fewer options than digital notebooks (above).
Audio and video journalling
As most of us use smartphones with built-in audio and video recording functionality it is often as quick to make a short recording as it is to type up notes. Audio and video are not as easy to search as text, but if you attach your audio or video files to a digital notebook (see above) you can add tags to help you find things later.
Reflective blogging and podcasting
Some people prefer to do their reflecting in public and blogs are great for that – but you can also create private posts in most blogging platforms so you can choose what you share with the world. WordPress and Blogger are the most well known platforms and you can add images, audio and/or video to your blog. This comparison of blogging platforms might help you choose which is best for you.
If you prefer your public reflections to be entirely video or audio then YouTube will allow you to record or broadcast live from your desktop or mobile device and anchor.fm is the quick and easy podcasting tool that we use for our TEL podcast.
University of Sussex staff can get help in using any of these digital tools for reflecting on their own practice, or to encourage reflection in students, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.