522: The Importance of Student Reflection

July 25, 2011 Justin Miscellaneous

In an online classroom, there are two primary written reflection tools: blogs and forums.

A forum is ideal for collaborating in a group, and following prompted topics. For example, a history instructor teaching a unit on the U.S. Civil War may post weekly discussion questions like:

  • Why do you think it took hundreds of years for slavery to become such a divisive issue?
  • How did women contribute to the war efforts?
  • How did the abolitionist movement begin?

From these questions, a very lively and thought-provoking discussion may occur among the students. Each shares their own input, responds to others, and contributes by drawing from their existing knowledge and experience. It’s an excellent activity for hybrid learning environments, and directed online classes.

Forums work well for self-directed classes, too, where students work at their own pace. While you can’t guarantee that every student will progress the same through the course, thoughtful forum-based questions can cause the student to continually think about the general topics at hand. It is not unusual for forum topics anywhere on the web to be rekindled one or two years after they go silent, often by an enthusiastic or curious contributor. The advantage of the forum is that it doesn’t have to be limited in time.

In this sense, the forum acts somewhat like a blog. Student A responding to a post that Student B made a year ago probably won’t hear anything back from the Student B, since Student B likely completed the course a long time ago. But Student A still gains valuable reflection from writing. Especially in a K-12 environment where safety policies may prohibit teachers from endorsing student blogging, a closed forum hosted on the LMS can be a welcome, viable alternative.

Dawley (2007) wrote, “The asynchronous nature of discussion forums provides opportunity for in-depth reflection over time. They also create a sense of community through discussion of course concepts, peer interaction and feedback, making instructor feedback visible to all students, and they also exemplify one of the highly touted benefits of online learning — anywhere, anyplace, anytime” (p. ix).

A blog is a reflection tool that doesn’t need strictly directed prompts. When students blog, they are writing to the world, and inviting comments from people all over, not just their classmates. Using blogs gives the students ownership of their content, and lets them engage a worldwide audience, not just their teachers and classmates. Plus, many students who are shy in face-to-face settings and never speak up in the classroom, finally find they have a voice and can assume a vibrant, charismatic persona they would never seem to be able to do in a face-to-face class session (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004).


Dawley, L. (2007). The Tools for Successful Online Teaching (1st ed.). IGI Global.

Ferdig, R. E., & Trammell, K. D. (2004, February). Content delivery in the ‘blogosphere.’ T.H.E. Journal, 31(7), 12-20.

blogs, edtech522, forums, reflection,

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