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Best Practices | Implementing E-Journals into Your Course

Electronic journaling, or e-journaling, enhances traditional face-to-face classrooms and distance learning courses by providing an effective means of active learning through a process of questioning, reflection, and prompt feedback from others. Journaling has been found to be a valuable strategy for checking students' understanding of core concepts, promoting reflection on the connections between theory and practice, enhancing insight, and promoting critical thinking, as well as encouraging interaction between students and faculty, increasing time on task, and respecting diverse talents and ways of learning (King & LaRocco, 2006). Many of the downsides of traditional journaling, paper journals that are collected by the instructor to be graded, are overcome or improved upon with the added use of technology. The cumbersome task of collecting, carrying, and distributing the journals, trying to read students (and instructors) handwriting, and the absence of the journals being used during the time they are collected are eliminated with the use of e-journaling. Electronic submission also provides opportunity for more timely feedback to students.

In Practice

When implementing e-journals into a course, students will need detailed directions with the instructor's expectations clearly defined. Inform students of the type of journal being requested, the number of entries required, the minimum length of entries, and the criteria for grading submissions. When considering journal writing in the academics with the goal of improving critical thinking skills, Phipps (2005) describes the following types of reflective writing as the most powerful tools:

  • Professional journals: record the growth and development of the author in his or her specific field of study
  • Interactive reading logs: provide an opportunity for recording reactions to materials being read as the learner progress through a book or article; can include imaginary conversations with the author of the material being read, even questioning the ideas presented.
  • Theory logs: compel students to examine and interpret theoretical concepts and significant points, restating them in their own words and then recording how they are applied in practice.

Instructors may also give students choices as to how they will submit their e-journals. Canvas allows for different types of file submissions including a simple text entry box, file upload, or video/audio recordings. There are multiple ways to set up e-journals within the Canvas assignments tool. Two templates have been created by the ID team in CIRT and shared in the Canvas Commons for download. One template is designed for a recurring journal that allows for multiple submissions to the same assignment and communication between the instructor and student in one location. This technique allows for a more seamless view of past and present journal entries and only creates one column in the grade book. In the other template, students will only submit once to the journal assignment, requiring the creation of separate assignments for each journal entry but allowing for unique instructions and additional columns in the grade book. Sample grading rubrics have also been included with these journal templates. For help gaining access to these templates, contact an instructional designer in CIRT. Whether the instructor should assess students' journals is debatable. Brookfield (1995) suggested that journal entries should not be assessed, but that awarding credit for completion would suffice.

However, even if not assessing the quality of the writing, it is imperative to read the students' entries and make comments, otherwise, students will feel their writing is not valued and view the process as unimportant (Phipps, 2005). Prompt feedback also helps to establish a relationship between the instructor and a student, increasing student learning and satisfaction in the course.

Additional Resources

For more ideas on e-journals in Canvas, check out these links:

You may also be able to find an existing journal assignments in Canvas Commons that you can import into your course.


Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

King, F. B., & LaRocco, D. J. (2006). E-Journaling: A Strategy to Support Student Reflection and Understanding. Current Issues in Education,9(4).

Phipps, J. J. (2005). E-Journaling: Achieving Interactive Education Online. Educause Quarterly, 62-65. Retrieved January 4, 2017, from Online.pdf