Interactive Student Journals to Promote Critical Thinking and Stimulate Learning

Presenter: Chris R. Calkins, University of Nebraska


Abstract: Interactive student journals serve multiple purposes in an upper level undergraduate course. Students are required to prepare a journal entry each week, which consists of some printed matter from the discipline. Newspaper articles, trade publications, internet stories, journal articles, and promotional/advertising materials have all been used to satisfy the assignment. Each entry must include a copy of the material and address: a) student reaction to the information b) identification of questions which might arise in the student c) how the information might be flawed/biased, and d) the potential impact of the issue or article on the discipline. The intent is to get students to interact with current issues in the field and to provoke critical evaluation of printed media. Journals must be brought to each class and the instructor frequently asks students to write in them during class. This prompts students to synthesize the information that has been presented in class and to re-connect with the instructor if their attention is drifting. Journals are graded on a +/- system to encourage a free-flow of thought. Other, structured writing assignments address the important issues of grammar, spelling, structure and thought within written communications. The instructor often responds to questions raised by the students and uses the journal as a way to communicate directly without the formality of a face-to-face meeting. Students therefore remain connected to the course throughout the semester, develop their knowledge of current issues, and enhance their critical thinking skills.

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Contact Information: 
Chris R. Calkins, Ph.D.
University of Nebraska
Professor of Animal Science
A213 Animal Science
Box 830908
Lincoln, NE 68583-0908
(402) 472-6314, Fax (402) 472-6362