The transition from high school to college is challenging for most students. There is a lot happening during the first semester that make it difficult for them to spend time thinking about and reflecting on their new academic experiences. Yet, this is a critical time for students to learn how to be a good engineering student. In our Introduction to Civil Engineering course, we use a series of journal assignments to provide students with an authentic space for their personal thoughts. The journal is designed on the belief that students need to (1) consider their own expectations for personal learning in their courses; (2) practice establishing and monitoring academic, personal, and/or professional goals; and (3) engage in real and honest self-reflection.
This paper describes and discusses what we have learned from student responses to goal-setting reflection prompts in this course. The assignments represent a small but important piece of the course. Students are expected to complete four reflection responses for 5% of their course grade. Since our institutional LMS is Blackboard, we use its journal function for online submissions. Each response is assessed for completeness in answering all parts of the prompt. We emphasize that there is no right or wrong answer; rather, each response should be unique to each student. The course instructor, not a teaching assistant, reads and grades each submission. Written feedback is included to let students know that their responses have, indeed, been read.
The wording of each prompt is important and has evolved over time. The first prompt focuses on what students know that is relevant to the course, which is designed to learn more about each person’s prior knowledge of and/or experience with engineering. The second prompt asks them to set three specific goals for the course. To that end, we introduce and practice the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) model for setting goals. These two assignments are given in the first two weeks of class. The third journal assignment is a progress check on their goals, which occurs at mid-semester. In the final assignment at the end of the semester, students complete a self-evaluation of achievements, or lack thereof, associated with their goals.
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