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Learning Logs


Learning Logs

Learning logs are records of student learning or insights that grow out of personal reflection, or both
We’ve chosen to finish up our series on assignments with information on learning logs. Like the innovative and interesting assignments we plan to continue highlighting, learning logs are versatile and can be used to accomplish a range of learning out comes.

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We’ve chosen to finish up our series on assignments with information on learning logs. Like the innovative and interesting assignments we plan to continue highlighting, learning logs are versatile and can be used to accomplish a range of learning out comes.

Begin with what they’re not: diaries. Rather, they’re records of student learning, be that further explorations of the content, or insights that grow out of personal reflection, or both. They can be used to get students writing more and writing in courses where they typically don’t write. A flexible assignment, learning logs can be shaped in different ways and managed so that the reading and grading don’t require large time investments. What follows are the goals this assignment can accomplish, some common types of logs illustrated with examples, and a planning guide if you might be persuaded they’re an assignment worth trying or when your log assignment might be ready for a refresh.  

The goals learning logs can accomplish

  • Opportunities for students to write. Usually logs call for informal, low-stakes writing where the criteria is not spelling, grammar, or paragraph perfection.
  • The chance for students to put their understandings of course content into their own words. They aren’t copying down what the teacher says but using language that helps them make sense of the material.
  • Demonstrate the relevance of content. Log entries can ask students to apply course material to a situation, use it to solve a problem, or relate it to a personal experience.
  • Deeper analysis of the content. It’s the idea of writing to learn—that as students think about what to write, they consider the content in ways that promote their learning of it.
  • A different way to explore and learn course content. It’s not reading the text, rereading class notes, preparing for a test, or writing a formal paper. It’s another way to get students interacting with the content.
  • Clearer understanding of themselves as learners. Log prompts can ask students questions about their learning processes, to assess its effectiveness, and/or to record their experiences trying new approaches to learning.          

Types of logs—There are many possibilities but here’s a run-down of some of the more common types and some specific examples.

Content log—At regular intervals students write entries that respond to material presented in class, covered in the text, or provided by the teacher (i.e. prompts, scenarios, short case studies). These logs promote content learning by having students write about course material.

  • Statistics journal project—used in a statistics course. Students find examples of statistics used in the media (newspapers, journal, magazines, websites, books, podcasts). They cite the source or take a screen shot and upload it. They explain why they chose it and analyze the use of statistics in the example. The assignment requires three examples; two on topics identified by the teacher and one of the student’s choosing.
    Reference: assignment description submitted by math professor Karen Summerson at Pikes Peak Community College.

  • Writing to learn log—used in a sophomore engineer mechanics course. Students wrote one page per week on anything directly or indirectly related to the course. They also wrote four “directed” entries including a chapter summary, an analogy that involved applying course content to a “real world example,” an explanation/exploration that focused on explaining something difficult, and a set of prose instructions for solving a homework problem. The assignment counted for 10 percent of the course grade.
    Reference: Maharaj, S. and Banta, L. (2000). Using log assignments to foster learning: Revisiting writing across the curriculum. Journal of Engineering Education, January, 73-77.

  • Quote journals—Students select a quotation from an assigned reading or the course text that highlights a main idea or key point, represents a new insight, connects to previous content, that they don’t understand, or something that they disagree or agree with. Students may select the type of response or the teacher may designate which one(s) students will use and when. Students write the quotation in their journal and then explain why they selected it, why it’s important, what it means, how it relates, etc. Teachers can use selected log entries as discussion starters in class or online. They also provide teachers feedback that highlights how students are responding to course content.
  • Learning log—used in an introductory financial accounting course. Students write seven two-page entries in response to instructor prompts that mostly have student interpret and apply accounting concepts, although sometimes in unique formats. One has students write a whistle blower letter. One student is selected to read his/her entry (gets full credit for doing so). It’s used to launch the discussion during which students may make corrections on their entries (using a teacher supplied green pen). Students may write more than seven entries. The seven highest-scored entries count for 14 percent of the course grade. The prompts and grading criteria are included in the article.
    Reference: Grimm, S. D. (2015). Learning logs: Incorporating writing-to-learn assignments in accounting courses. Issues in Accounting Education, 30 (2), 79-104.

Personal reflection logs—Students use course content or their experiences in the course to promote personal insights or develop awareness. These can be logs where student track their efforts to learn the content or where they explore how the content relates to them personally.

  • Reflective reading log—used in a general education critical reading and writing course. Students were introduced to nine different reading strategies. For each of the 10 log entries they selected one of the week’s assigned essays and described how they read it. They also reflected on their choice of reading strategies.
    Manarin, K. (2012). Reading value: Student Choice in Reading Strategies. Pedagogy, 12 (2), 281-297.

Query collection—This journal collects questions: those raised by the content covered in class, by the readings, from discussions, or that come to the student as he or she studies course material. They may be questions the student can’t answer, new questions raised by the content, or questions that are of interest to the student. Students can be asked to write about the questions they’ve generated: what prompted them, where the answer might be found, ideas about the answer, or the answer.

  • Reading question assignment log—used in an upper division biochemistry course. Students generated one question for each of eleven reading assignments. Factual questions were not appropriate, rather these questions aimed to provide high quality evidence of student thinking. Reading questions counted for four percent of the total grade. [Note: these authors do not describe this assignment as a learning log.]
    Reference: Offerdahl, E. G. and Montplaisir, L. (2014). Student-generated reading questions: Diagnosing student thinking with diverse formative assessments. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. 42 (1), 29-38.

Experience journal—Often used to record internship experiences in service-learning courses or travel courses. Students describe experiences by writing about what happened and their response to it. Subsequently they may review entries and analyze them with content provided in the course or they may reflect more deeply on their involvement, what they did, could have done, maybe should have done.

  • Professional preparation log—selected for use in an MBA program because learning logs “teach essential skills needed by managers in today’s complex and chaotic organizations, they meet the needs of adult learners and they provide an appropriate assessment vehicle.” (p. 68) These logs were used in lieu of exams. The article includes an excellent discussion of the challenges involved in using learning journals as a major assignment.
    Reference: Varner, D. and Peck, S. R. (2003). Learning from learning journals: The benefits and challenges of using learning journal assignments. Journal of Management Education, 27 (1), 52-77.

Course log—It’s one journal, appearing online with posts from students in the course. They may respond to prompts provided by the teacher, and they may be assigned to post prompts or respond to the comments of other students. Teachers may post comments as well.

Log assignment planning questions: Here’s a set of questions that need to be addressed if you’re considering a log assignment, making plans to use one, or reviewing one currently in use. They illustrate the many different design options for this assignment.    

  • What’s the assignment’s objective(s)? To promote mastery of course content, or as self-reflection on the relevance of course content, or both? You can fine tune this further: are you interested in using logs to develop writing skills, critical thinking, problem solving, in-depth analysis? Hint: the more objectives; the more complicated the assignment will need to be. Better to start small if you’ve never used a log assignment before.
  • How much structure? Is the assignment open-ended with students invited to respond to course content as they see it relating to personal experience or professional goals, or does the assignment provide students with topic areas or prompts to which they respond? Or, can it be a combination, with some directed entries and some at the student’s discretion?  Hint: If students are beginners, or don’t have much experience with this type of assignment, they do better responding to prompts, at least initially.
  • How many entries and how long? Hint: Craft an answer in light of your objectives, whether the logs are being graded with or without feedback, and considering students’ prior experiences with writing logs. What kind of prompts do you have in mind and what would it take to provide a reasonable response?
  • What sources will students use to write their entries? Class notes; assigned readings; materials found online; sources identified by the teacher or those discovered by the student; discussions in class, online, or in small groups; personal experiences?
  • Who reads the logs? The teacher, yes, but perhaps a peer partner who reads, responds, and provides feedback? Could the author read earlier entries and respond in light of growing knowledge, skills, or experiences?
  • How often are the logs read? After every entry? At designated intervals? Are all the logs read or only a randomly collected subset?
  • Are the logs graded? Will students take the assignment seriously if they’re not?  If the logs are graded, what’s the criteria? How much is the assignment worth? Are individual entries graded, only a subset (say those written between due dates), or the whole collection?
  • How much feedback and how will it be provided? Via a rubric with minimal comments, extensive feedback on one or two entries but none of the rest, minimal written feedback, feedback provided to the whole class, online, or in class? Hint: Remember that learning from log assignments comes during the writing process as much as from teacher feedback.
  • Will the content of the logs be integrated in the course? Excerpts read by students or the teacher and used as-in class discussion prompts? Excellent entries posted on the course website? How will the teacher use log content? To identify areas of confusion and/or misunderstanding, or areas of potential student interest?