Learning diary

Subject: Linguistics. Course title: Research workshop: Postcolonial Linguistics. Level:  Master. Course size: 10-15 students.

Motivation for the activity

In research workshops the challenge is often to get students to explore their own interests and focus on a topic. Learning diaries are suitable for feedback and give the lecturer an overview of the possibilities and challenges students are facing. 

Central learning outcomes for the course

The student must

  • have an understanding of basic concepts in postcolonial theory and their application to linguistic analysis.
  • formulate a research question, based on a specific linguistic problem, situation or phenomenon, and situate the study within a bigger picture of postcolonial linguistics.
  • undertake semantic, ethnopragmatic, or critical sociolinguistic analysis in a way that lives up to the intersubjective standards within these respective research communities.
  • identify and apply relevant and adequate research methods and literature.
  • display an understanding of the real life concerns of the speakers of languages in post-colonial situations.
  • conduct independent and original research, and reflect on the process.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

Learning diaries help students to reflect on the contents of the course and on their learning process. The specific learning outcomes are

  • a holistic understanding of the study matter.
  • better reflection and learning skills.

Description of the activity

We use the activity in the first part of the course to help the students to connect the new information to previously learned, and to get feedback on how our lectures are being received by the students.

During the first classes of our course on Postcolonial Linguistics, the students write three “Postcolonial Learning Diaries”: one on the integration of postcolonial theory with critical sociolinguistics, another on postcolonial semantics, and finally a report on a specific postcolonial language variety (e.g. Indian English, Greenlandic, Brazilian Portuguese, Tok Pisin).  

The length of each diary is about 900 words. The learning diaries are part of the required course tasks, but no grades are given for them. Each diary is to be handed in one or two weeks after the lecture it is written about.

The teacher gives instructions for writing the learning diary and encourages students to be reflective, critical and creative in their diaries.

The first two diaries should reflect the topic of the lecture but not be a mere repetition of what had been said in the lecture. Students' own thoughts, doubts and ideas are central.

The students are given the following questions to guide their writing of learning diaries:

  1. What did I learn? What was new to me? Was there something that changed my views and why? Focus on and analyze the themes important to you.
  2. What did I not understand? What went against my own ideas? Why? What was less comprehensible? Why? Focus on and analyze the questions that left you puzzled.
  3. What the course has taught is likely to have some relevance for you and your studies. Can you identify what this is? How are you able to apply this knowledge in your studies? How does this support your development as a student? Make note of and reflect on the thoughts that emerge as important.

The students hand the diary entries in one or two weeks after the lecture they were written about, depending on the course program. The lecturers give feedback on them (written and oral) before the autumn break, when students start to prepare their own research projects. 

Outcome of the activity

  • Students can practice using the conceptual framework and put their ideas into practice before starting their own research projects.
  • The teachers get immediate feedback on what the theoretical and conceptual part of the course has taught and meant for the students.
  • The practice develops the writing skills of the students.
  • The students reflect on their learning process both in the course and in their studies in general. 
  • More quiet students get to express their thoughts in writing, if they feel uncomfortable participating in the discussions in lectures.
  • Some students use parts of the research and writing of the learning diaries in their research papers. 

Reflections on the activity

  • It is useful to write a brief summary of the thoughts raised by the lecture soon after the class. It may prove hard to go back to the lecture notes weeks after the lecture.
  • Sometimes it is challenging to get the students to write about their own ideas, so it is helpful to provide them with help questions that guide the writing (See above).  It can be good to repeat the instructions a couple of times during the writing.
  • In our course the lecturers decided which lectures had to be written about, as we wanted feedback of the introductory lectures. Sometimes this can be left to the students.
  • In our course, each commentary was handed in individually because we wanted immediate feedback. Another option is to collect all the commentaries into one larger diary and include a summary, but then the immediate nature of the feedback is lost.
  • If used in a research workshop, it is useful to make a distinction between the writing styles used for learning diaries, and for scientific writing (e.g. expressions of opinions and emotions). 

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