Botany 431 - Physiological Plant Ecology

I will give you a sense of learning journals in a series of questions and answers:

What is a learning journal?

First what it is not. It is not a diary for private consumption, a log daily of activities, a summary of your readings in the course, a track of your psychological state and your inner feelings about life. On the other hand, it is an intellectual exercise in reflectively describing and explaining, in a form that can be shared with me, your own experiences and observations in terms of your overall perspective and feelings about the course. It is a record of your personal growth through the course. For example you might find you are suddenly placing more emphasis on the 'Materials and Methods' section rather than the 'Introduction' when reading a scientific paper. The fact that you had that original emphasis is worth noting. Can you think why you are making that change and articulate it in your journal? Can you explain the value to your learning of making that change?

Why are we using learning journals?

I wish to stimulate critical thinking. Journals provide you and I with an insight into your knowledge at the higher levels of learning involving analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information. They will also focus your attention on your own values, attitudes and ethical beliefs and help you make them explicit when they might previously have been implicit and unexamined. Journals encourage you to make your learning personal by thinking about and articulating your thoughts. That provides me with an opportunity to give you feedback on the comments, queries and concerns you express.

Journals also give you the opportunity to write about plant physiological ecology in a more personal, self-expressive way than the rest of your writing assignments. They also allow you to reflect on all your learning and identify areas that you wish to persue in more depth either inside or outside the formal education system.

How will journal assignments be structured?

There are several items that you can choose to include in your journal:
  1. Insights you have on how plants function. At what point did you finally understand a specific concept, especially one that you thought you understood from previous courses? What was it that gave you that understanding?

  2. Reflections on the class and small groups. How is your small group working? What is effective about the group? How do you think and feel about doing group projects? How could the functioning of the group be enhanced? How could your participation in the group be improved?

  3. How do you respond to self and peer assessment?

  4. The big picture. How does your learning in this course link to what you are learning in other courses?

  5. Readings you have been doing around the course material and its links to the course and to your own self.

  6. Anything you choose to include that you see as being appropriate. It is a good place to note thoughts that are not yet fully formed of which you want to keep track. You can then refine ideas over time before going public with them. Your feelings about the course and your progress in it could be included.

  7. Grammar, punctuation and sentence completion may be relaxed. This is all work in progress not a finished product for public consumption.

How much time should it take?

You should plan on writing journal entries at least twice a week. Over time as you gain more experience in the course you may find you make entries more often.

Will the journals be graded?

The journals will be graded on the basis of acceptable/unacceptable. No points will be awarded if a journal is not maintained, maximum points will be awarded if it is. You will be asked to submit a digital version of your journal several times during the term to facilitate a dialogue between you and me about your insights and reflections. The key point here is that the journal should be written for you not for me.

How to get started?

If you cannot think how you might start a journal, you could consider the following instructions.

Keep a journal of all the work you do in this course: books and articles read, action taken, decisions made, and also dead ends, apparently wasted effort etc. Your journal should contain sections specifying what you have understood about plant physiological ecology and your own learning from doing the coursework.

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