Reflective practice for academics in Higher Education is not a new idea, in fact reflection is encouraged in most professional fields and is a habit that students should be developing as part of their wider digital capabilities.
Unfortunately, reflection can easily be overlooked when time is short. If digital tools can make it easier to quickly capture thoughts and ideas across a range of media, then there can be huge benefits for learning and professional development.
Digital tools for reflecting on learning and teaching
What works best for you will depend on the devices you want to use, what tools you already use for other tasks and the media you prefer. This post offers a few suggestions:
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 2013 on up to 10 devices and store up to 1TB of files in OneDrive with Office 365 so using Word on smartphones and/or tablets is an option.
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 (below).
Digital note-making platforms such as Evernote, OneNote and 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.
Evernote enables you to create ‘notes’ of text, images, audio, attached files and websites. If you are already using Evernote for your digital note-making, why not add a notebook or tag for your reflections on learning/teaching? Microsoft OneNote is similar to Evernote and it combines well with Microsoft 365 (see above). If you are not sure whether Evernote or OneNote would suit you best, these comparisons from CloudPro and Digital-Researcher might help. Google Keep has fewer features than Evernote or OneNote but text, audio and image notes can be colour-coded and tagged to help organisation. It works on Android, in Chrome and via a web browser, but there is no iPad/iPhone app.
Audio and video journalling
If you prefer to reflect using other media then you may want to try the online voice recorder Vocaroo (not mobile) or SoundCloud to create short recordings. If you want a video journal, try WeVideo or the tools provided on a smartphone or tablet. 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.
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. This comparison of blogging platforms might help you choose which is best for you.
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 their school learning technologist or email@example.com.
It would be interesting to see if the technology-enhanced options you outline can overcome Higher Education teachers’ reluctance to journal (see for example Janet E. Dyment & Timothy S. O’Connell ‘When the Ink Runs Dry: Implications for Theory and Practice When Educators Stop Keeping Reflective Journals’. Innovative Higher Education Journal (2014) 39:417–429)
Interesting post. There have been loads of blogs like the ones you’ve mentioned, I think it’s really a great practice for the student’s writing and journaling skills.