The project outlined below was an action research project that I introduced in 2008. You can read the introduction to the project here and also watch a video presentation prepared for the Designs on e-Learning International Conference 2009 which gives an overview of the project and the final conclusions:

Developing the use of blogs as a reflective tool from Jonathan Kearney on Vimeo.

Jonathan Kearney, artist & Associate Lecturer, University of the Arts London.

00.00 - 02.44 - intro and abstract - problem, methodology, conclusion
02.44 - 11.29 - literature review - reflection, learning & blogs
11.29 - 13.49 - action research design for this intervention
13.49 - 16.59 - 3 methods for reflection
16.59 - 20.54 - feedback from students
20.54 - 22.29 - reflection - was it deepened?
22.29 - 27.39 - conclusion & 4 principles for the use of blogs as a reflective tool

Developing the use of blogs as a reflective tool

As part of a University of the Arts London research project looking at teaching and learning, I want to introduce a experiment, using action research as a methodology, to look at ways of deepening reflection on the MA Digital Arts course.

What is reflection?

Put very simply, reflective learning is all about you, it is a process of making sense of your learning. It is not just a about what you did, it is about who you are when you are doing it, it is something about your identity, your beliefs and your values.

'Reflection could be argued to be the essential stage where learning is integrated within the whole learner, and added to existing frames of reference, and internalised and personalised.' (Race, 2006)

There are many good resources you can explore to get a better understanding of reflective learning, 2 good introductory links are:

The action research project

Current reflective blog practice

Each student is asked to make a least a weekly reflective entry in a blog. At the beginning of the course we provided a guideline for this and a series of 4 questions that you could use as a possible structure for your blog entries. Some students use this structure and most develop their own methods. Developing your own ways of reflecting is important as the reflective writing should done in a way that is very comfortable for each student, using your own words and style.

However, it is often very hard to reflect and some people find it quite an alien thing to do, even within a fine art practice based subject like MA Digital Arts. Also, after several years of following this current structure for the course we re aware that it results in a wide range of reflective output. For some students the depth of reflection is very deep and the evidence of their learning is easily seen, but for others their reflection remains quite shallow.

Therefore the intention with this research project is to introduce 3 different methods of reflection in an attempt to see if there are other ways to deepen the reflective learning of all students.

Please note:
this experiment is not just for our benefit as staff members (but if you are able to evidence your reflective learning more clearly and deeply then it can't harm your assessment!); the key reason for trying this is for you to benefit from using different methods. This experimenting may reveal other ways that might work better for you. Also the skills you learn in reflecting will enhance your practice as artists and is a vital transferable skill into any area of life.

The 3 methods

For approximately 5 or 6 reflective blog entries (these don't have to be weekly, in fact several shorter entries each week is generally a better approach), I want you to restrict your entries to each of the following 3 methods (using the first method for 5 or 6 entries then move onto to second method for 5 or 6 entries then move into the third method, also for 5 or 6 entries, there will be a total of 10 weeks to cover all 3 methods):

1st method - written entry:

this is very similar to what many of you do now but I want you to follow more closely the following questions in each written entry. Not all these questions will be directly relevant each time you write an entry but they are designed to encourage you to think more deeply:

What was the best thing I did? Why was this the best thing I did? How do I know that this was the best thing I did?

What worked least well for me? Why did this not work well for me? What have I learned about the topic concerned from this not having worked well for me? What have I learned about myself from this not having worked well for me? What do I plan to do differently in future as a result of my answers to the above questions?

With hindsight, how would I go about this activity differently if doing it again from scratch? To what extent will this activity influence the way I tackle anything similar in future?

What did I find the greatest challenge in doing this work? Why was this a challenge to me? To what extent do I feel I have met this challenge? What can I do to improve my performance when next meeting this particular sort of challenge?

What was the most boring or tedious part of doing this assignment for me? Can I see the point of doing these things? If not, how could the activity have been re-designed to be more stimulating and interesting for me?

You do not have to answer every one of these questions but in reading through them I hope you see the need to think more deeply and examine your own feelings in the reflective writing. The activity you reflect on can be anything from making a new piece of art, to reading a book, to programming a new bit of action script; anything that relates to your MA research.

Please don't treat this as an academic piece of writing, it must remain a very personal reflection, something that is useful for you in following your own learning.

2nd method - photographic entry:

for these 5 or 6 posts I would like you to use only photographic entries on your blog which can include short written captions. These photographs can of course be photos of sketches and other hand drawn material, using a photograph just makes it easier to upload to your blog. The short captions allows some writing but the images must do the main work of reflection.

3rd method - voice and video entry:

for these 5 or 6 posts I would like you to reflect using your own spoken voice in sound or video form. The quality is not important just the fact that you are speaking or performing your reflection. You can follow the questions above in speaking your reflection but keep them short, upload several short entries rather than one really long one. You can use youtube, or any other method of hosting the sound or video, just make sure there is a clear link in your blog.

Focus groups

After using each method for 5 or 6 entries over the following 10 weeks I will conduct short focus group sessions with a maximum of 6 students each time. These focus groups will be approximately 30 minutes long and the idea is to simply get feedback from you as to how you felt during this process, both negative and positive. These focus groups will take place after the final show has finished in the 2 week period before the summer break, so all students should be available to participate.

Final output

The findings of this research will be written up and presented within the university, however, no individual student will be identified by name without specific permission from you. I expect the paper to simply include anonymous quotes from the focus groups without any need for any student to be identified.

Your involvement in this project in not compulsory, however keeping a reflective blog is compulsory and without one there is no way we can assess your learning. Therefore I am confident that participating in the project will only enhance and deepen your reflection. For full time students and 2nd year part time students (both face to face and online) I realise that you are coming towards the end of the course, however you do still need or continue with your blogs and this could be a useful way of enhancing them before your final assessments.

It is really important to note that the idea here is not to increase the burden on you as students, so please don't feel any pressure because of the project.

Jonathan Kearney
Associate Lecture, MA Digital Arts, University of the Arts London, Camberwell College of Art

Here are some questions from students and the discussion that followed that may help clarify this project

Here is an extract from a chat with the online first year students:

Jonathan Kearney: the only point I would like to emphasise...
Jonathan Kearney: is that as this is action research...
Jonathan Kearney: a comparison element is really needed to make it research...
Jonathan Kearney: so if you do join in with this, it is a good idea to try all 3 methods during the next 10 weeks otherwise no comparison can be made

student: I have been thinking about this issue since it came up. Does it matter if the entries in each of these categories (ie the 3 methods of reflection you are asked to follow) are (i) sequential (ii) there are additional entries in whatever form?
Jonathan Kearney: good question...
Jonathan Kearney: i think the important thing is the comparison, so sequential isn't necessarily vital...
Jonathan Kearney: the same with additional entries in different styles...
Jonathan Kearney: i guess you could use the categories system to differentiate them later to get you own perspective on what worked and didn't ie. add 3 categories to your blogs one for each of the 3 methods, this allows you to quickly see any posts using each of the methods

The same student made a very good comment later on which also helps sum up the aims of the research project:

student: I can see how the three approaches can contain a different take on 'reflection' - which can be a value, and even the basis for a re-appraisal or reaffirmation at the end of it all.
Jonathan Kearney: that is the aim, you put it better than I could!!

Details of the feedback focus groups is here