This simple axiom guides my work as a Social Work educator: Students learn from experience. Lectures allow for the dissemination of information, classroom discussions allow for students to process information, but experiential learning opportunities allow students to develop a skillset that will transcend beyond their time in my classroom and hopefully after they graduate from TCU.
Experiential learning is a four-mode process: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation (Kolb, 2015). For example, I provide a skill-training activity for my students, they reflect on what they learned, together we engage in a classroom discussion considering how what they learned during the activity applies to course content, and then they develop new goals to work on. These four modes continue in a cyclical manner.
Enhancing student reflection is a challenging task. Providing activities, leading classroom discussions, and supporting goal development can occur within a larger classroom environment. Reflection is a process requiring students alone to determine how a classroom activity influenced them. Enhancing individual student reflection is a goal I now accomplish through the ePortfolio tool in TCU Online.
ePortfolio Reflection Journals
Students can use the ePortfolio tool in TCU Online as a reflection journal. In only a few steps, students can write a short 200–300 word reflection journal entry and share it with me online. In return, I can leave each student a customized response regarding how their reflections uniquely relate to course content and future steps they can take to maximize progress they are making in my class. Students are encouraged to address only in-class experiences in their journal entries. This request narrows their focus to the experiential learning activities in class. As a result, I become aware of multiple internal perspectives regarding experiences students shared together.
For example, consider students taking turns acting as clients and social workers in a role-play activity. I can read their reflection journals to assess what they are learning from the experience of acting as a client. It is likely that sitting on “the other side of the table,” i.e., acting as a social work client, provides new opportunities for students to experience what it is like to receive social work services. After students write in their journal entry about what it is like being a social work client, I can leave them comments regarding how their personal insights connect to their ongoing preparation for professional practice. Using the ePortfolio allows me to make individual comments on each student’s journal entry.
Reflection journals illuminate diverse student perspectives. For example, after students participate in a classroom activity focused on a particular social work topic, e.g., substance abuse, it is likely each student will perceive
the activity differently. After reviewing student journal entries, I can return to class the following week and share themes common across all journal entries. I can also share noticeable differences in how students perceived parts of the activity. Journals remain confidential, yet, I can share with students any noticeable patterns of similarities or differences to enhance their learning.
Interpersonal Classroom Model
I developed a teaching approach called the Interpersonal Classroom Model (ICM). The ICM incorporates ePortfolio reflection journals as a weekly assignment. Using this model, I teach students course content and provide experiential learning activities. For example, when I teach group practice courses, I provide a short lecture on specific group leadership skills and then students practice these skills
during a weekly demonstration process group. Students learn to work together to build a cohesive interpersonal environment, a vital skill they will need to develop in order to successfully lead groups for clients.
The ICM teaching approach follows Kolb’s four-mode cycle explicitly. For example, each week students participate
in a demonstration group, write a reflection journal entry, apply their experiences to course content, and set new interpersonal goals for the next demonstration group meeting. In this manner, the online reflection journal plays a significant role in experiential learning theory application.
Any instructor can incorporate reflection journals into their pedagogy. Reflection journals provide instructors with a feasible way to hear from each student on a weekly basis. When students reflect on what they learn at the end of each week of class, it provides an opportunity for them to connect classroom experiences with personal insights in a meaningful way. This may increase the likelihood students will remember what they learned in our class when our time together is over.
Kolb, D. A. (2015). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.