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Using e-diaries in online learning

If you have completed studies recently you may be familiar with the concept of a reflective journal. The e-diary, as it is used in the Educators' Network distance learning modules, builds on this concept and is tailored for the purposes and approach to learning of these modules.

Teachers (who are participating in these modules as part of in-service professional development) are encouraged to use the diary to reflect on what they know, what they want to know and what they have learned in each activity. In addition to this they are often prompted to make other reflective comments and, optionally, to make personal comments about how they are finding the online learning experience.

These comments encourage reflection on practice, one of the main objectives of the Educators' Network modules. They are also very useful for the e-mentors to read because they provide written proof of the influence that the modules are having on changing ideas and classroom practice. E-mentors are also able to establish how well the teacher is coping with the module and the demands of the learning approach.  This has been very revealing during the e-mentor online training course, where a glance at the e-diaries of training mentors has re-affirmed the value of the reflective and collaborative learning process as a group of educators share ideas and thoughts using an e-mail mailing list.

Rolien van der Merwe is a Computer Studies teacher from Cape Town. She has never previously experienced online learning. These are some of her e-diary comments on how she felt about course as she progressed through the activities.

Activity 1: Curious to learn more, quickly!

Activity 2: I am surely learning something new and I suppose that is one of the main reasons I am doing the course.

Activity 9: I feel that I am learning an amazing lot.  I look forward to possibly be involved with a group as mentor.

Last Activity (13): I enjoyed it tremendously!  I learnt a lot and started thinking about things I have not thought about much thus far.  I am sure I can use a lot of these ideas very effectively in my teaching.

Joan Armstrong (on maternity leave and now a part time teacher in Cape Town) showed increasing confidence in and appreciation for the approach as she progressed:

Activity 1: I hope to be able to cope.  I am sure that as I get into it more I will have a better ‘feel' for things. It is one of those areas that are not cut and dried, and I am not sure that I have done everything as required.

Activity 2: It is still a bit airy fairy but I can see where we are headed and I like the build up.

Activity 3: It is really becoming interesting as we get the group communication going.

Activity 4: The group is starting to really get into this whole exercise.  I am really impressed at the abilities and experience of those in the group.  I think though that we all are learning so much of what it will mean to be a mentor in this program.

Materials writers and mentors also receive positive feedback about the process and value of the activities. Gareth Fotheringham (a primary school teacher in Pietermaritzburg) provided some useful comments in his e-diary such as:

Activity 4: This was perhaps the most well ‘thought out' of activity in terms of all of us. I think it got us all being quite creative in our thinking and some really good points came out of all the responses.

Activity 6: Continues to be very enjoyable but I have begun to feel that I need to slow a little and reflect rather than rush through.

These examples serve to illustrate the value of an e-diary in the online learning process. Where the e- mentors do not have the advantage of regular contact and face-to-face communication with learners, they are able to make use of this tool and make strategic decisions about what support to give both the individual and the group.

Gerald Roos

18 August 2001


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