University of Strathclyde



In structuring new modules, I always build in collaborative tasks which have to be undertaken between sessions which either build upon or lead into class activities. This is a very simple way of providing a structure to support student learning which encourages greater engagement with ideas and re-inforcement of learning, based upon social constructivist principles of learning. It encourages students to think more deeply, and in a structured way, about their learning, acting as critical friends for each other. For many students, it gives them a sense of security and confidence in their learning.

The programme of study is created utilising the ‘Teaching for understanding Framework’ based upon the work of Professor David Perkins and his colleagues at Harvard University. The module handbook sets out clearly for each session goals for student understanding, pre- and post-session reading and post-session tasks. These tasks can be cumulative, such as building a data-base of new vocabulary.

The tasks are recorded in a Reflective Journal which is assessed as part of the course. Students allocate themselves either to small groups to undertake these tasks or work with a critical friend (depending upon the size of the class) and they are expected to report back to the class.  Students communicate with each other via. e-mail or Google docs. The Reflective Journal can take a variety of forms including blogs and video diaries (and some students have communicated internationally about their learning via these means). Many of the Reflective Journals produced by students have been inspiring and demonstrate a deep engagement with learning. They have been identified consistently by the External Examiner as being an exemplification of best practice.

Students are also expected to construct a Log Book in which they record articles (academic, national press …) which encourages them to keep abreast in their professional field and they are expected to annotate these articles and reflect upon them within their journals. In some classes, I ask students to work with a critical friend to critique an article from a professional journal (eg. Times Educational Supplement Scotland) which they then share with another pair in the class before I select a sample for discussion within the class.

Written guidance is offered to students on the creation of their Reflective Journals and Log Books and a presentation is made on the Induction day with illustrations of previous students’ work (after permission has been sought of the students).

The fostering of critical reading and writing is infused throughout all of my teaching and I introduce students to the use of critical frames as a means of reading for meaning and for understanding (rather than gaining a surface understanding of what they are reading) and to foster criticality in their writing. I also demonstrate the use of critical frames in my teaching and utilise them to critique with the class the lecture, a text or another source. 


School of Education

Faculty of Humanities and Social Science

Contact Details

Dr Joan Mowat




The rationale has been clearly articulated in the summary provided (c.c. overview)


This has had a highly positive effect upon student learning and has meant that all of the modules for which I am responsible are very highly evaluated by students. Students have been able to demonstrate a high degree of criticality in their work and a deeper engagement in learning than otherwise would have been the case.

Lessons Learnt

It is a very simple, cost-effective (in terms of time and energy) way of enhancing student learning and promoting student autonomy that is not reliant on a high degree of technology. It requires diligence, hard work and the provision of high quality feedback to students. Students also need to understand the rationale for the approach which is why I often share the ‘Teaching Understanding Framework’ with them and share the understanding goals at the beginning of each session. 


The above approach is ideal for tutorial-sized groups but could present difficulties for larger groups as it requires an interactive approach between lecturer and students. Depending upon the format which students adopt for their Reflective Journals and Log Books (and it is important to give students a sense of ownership over this), it may not be possible for students to submit this aspect of their work through ‘My Place’. This I have not found problematic but it could present difficulties for larger student cohorts.


Taking account of the above proviso, this approach should present few difficulties in this respect. There are no physical resources required (nor complex technology) other than would be required for normal teaching. However, staff training in this approach would be valuable as it would enhance the quality of delivery for students.

Suggestions for Transferability

Highly transferable to any context.


Example of a Reflective Journal

learning journal MLE 3-1.pdf