Teaching Reflections · Technology in Education · Topics for Parents and Students

The binder is dead; go paperless using online learning journals! Easy. Engaging. Evaluative.

I LOVE online learning communities for educators. Although I’ve really only started following some great teachers on Twitter, Facebook and Teachers Pay Teachers this school year, I genuinely feel like I’ve learned more over the past few months about pedagogy and cool new teaching ideas than I have in the past 10. This is where I encountered the idea of online ‘learning journal’s’. The term kept coming up over and over, with many different teacher examples of how they went paperless, and put binders to rest for good. I was intrigued…..and it fit so well with my new 21st century classroom, so after a bit of research I decided to give it a try.

What is an online Learning Journal?

An online learning journal is basically a 21st century, interactive binder. A key difference is that students create their learning journal entries, they are not ‘given’ items to put in their online learning journals, although parameters are given for their entries. Students use online learning journals to gather information about their learning, include media to support that learning (images, voice, video, etc.), as well as reflect on said learning. Since online journals are also interactive, it provides teachers a platform to comment about or have a conversation about various entries in a student’s online learning journal.

Inception Process

After quite a bit of research, I decided on using Google Slides as my platform for online learning journals. All my students were already well versed with the program, I liked the idea of one slide = one topic as well as the ability for students to move slides into a particular order and easily link in any other Google docs, slides or sheets they wanted. Another positive aspect of this program was that students could share their journals with me once, and I’d have access to them for the rest of the semester. This would also allow me the ability to comment on student journals at any time, and therefore give them real time feedback. Finally, as with all Google programs, students could access their online journals wherever there was an Internet connection, which eliminated the “I can’t find/access/etc. my binder” argument we’ve all heard so many times.

Once I decided on a vehicle for student online journals, the next step was getting them started. Since this would be the first time my students encountered the concept, I created my own journal and modelled how to both create the journal and make online journal entries. This helped my students emulate a model of what I’d like their journals to look like, as well as supported absent students to catch up on their journal entries. To begin, all we had to do was create a new project in Google Slides and name the work, ______’s Learning Journal. Pretty easy stuff!

After the journals were created, we began the daily process of creating daily entries. My English students use their learning journals daily to track their independent reading, vocabulary, grammar topics, unit topics, passion project details and anything else that we are learning at the time.

See an example of my ENG2P online learning journal here:  Mrs. Gray’s ENG2P Learning Journal.

Student examples can’t be shared for obvious reasons of student privacy, but by taking a look at my example you should be able to get an idea of what a student journal would look like.

Evaluation

Have you noticed that since the curriculum changed from allowing ‘binder checks’ to be graded, student binders have for the most part fallen to pieces? If students keep binders at all, they aren’t organized, complete or effective to use for studying purposes. I wanted this to change by the practice of using online learning journals, so I found a way around the ‘binder check’.

Since binders really are a combination of teacher handouts, and student notes, nothing is really student generated other than their ability to organize their papers into a neat order. Learning journals, however, are student generated. Students create their online journals, and solely contribute to the entries, including: definitions, reflections, additions of independently chosen or created media to support learning, etc. Therefore, technically, online learning journals are expressions of student knowledge and understanding of course: terms,topics, skills and experiences. Knowledge and understanding is absolutely something we need to evaluate as educators in all subject areas. Teachers may choose to use this evaluation as a formative or summative grade. I have chosen to complete learning journal conferences/checks monthly as formative feedback, with the final summative conference/check at the end of the semester translating to a summative mark. Check out a copy of my online learning journal evaluation here: Learning Journal Evaluation.

Student Feedback

The jury is in on this one. At this time, I’ve conferenced with all students in my three classes about their online learning journals to date. My first clue that this experiment was going well is that every student actually had a online journal to share with me. Some were absolutely better than others, but I expect them to improve as the semester progresses. This was shocking. If I did a binder check mid-semester in any of my classes in the past 10 years, I can guarantee that a full quarter of my students would have nothing or very little to show me.

My second indication that things were going well is that I asked each and every one of my students if they preferred online learning journals to regular binders and approximately 99% said yes. The one student who said no admitted she liked the convenience of them but thought that the learning curve of technology was very challenging for her. I’m interested to see if her opinion will have changed by our second conference, as by then using tech on a daily basis in the creation of her journal entries should have become second nature to her.

I gauge much of my classroom activities and topics on student feedback so this overwhelmingly positive feedback was great to hear. Student comments regarding why they liked online journals more than binders included the following: easier to access from anywhere, can’t lose anything, addition of tech helps support learning, easier to use as a study tool, fun to create. Clearly, my students are on board with this endeavour. A couple of my students have even created their own online learning journals for other classes because they liked the format so much. This gives me the confidence to pursue this practice even further, and it has encouraged me to write about it in this blog!

Final Word

As you can see, I’m sold on the idea of online learning journals. Let’s face it, in a 21st century classroom, the binder is dead along with it’s mate the textbook. When I introduced this practice at our school staff meeting earlier this month, my immediate focus was to encourage our Math and Science teachers to take up this practice. These are tough subjects where additions of media (images/videos) to support student conceptual learning based on topics would be very beneficial. Moreover, the reflective practice of student self-evaluation of skills and the ability for teachers to give them feedback in real time would also be tremendously beneficial to these particular subject areas. That being said, I’m all for online journals in any classroom!

What is your experience with online learning journals? Have you played with the idea or tried it? Is this something you think would work for your students? Comment and share:)

4 thoughts on “The binder is dead; go paperless using online learning journals! Easy. Engaging. Evaluative.

  1. Great timing of this blog Kyleen. I just collaborated with a tech teacher this morning on the creation of learning journals in his tech class. It’s such a fabulous way to share learning. I will share some of your resources with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t agree more that my personal learning about the use of technology has grown exponentially this school year. Each week, we are trying out new ways to show our learning in grade 6 using technology. Whether it is anything on the Google platform or specific programs or apps like Shadow Puppet, PicCollage, or Adobe Spark, we are constantly finding new and exciting ways to “show what we know”. As these elementary students move up to you at the high school, you will be in awe! I love the idea of the electronic learning journal to replace My Little Book of Big Ideas, which is basically a small spiral notebook where students write ideas they don’t want to forget from any subject area. Thanks for sharing! I have been inspired to try another new thing! 🙂

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    1. So glad our feeder kids are getting great tech skills;) I learn as much from my students as I do from other teachers regarding tech! I think you’ll really like using olj’s, Kaarina.

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