In Response...Designing an Online Journal

With the emergence of theInternet, university students have access to the latest form ofcommunication with others. The Internet, e-mail, discussion groupsand newsgroups are tools used daily by students on many campusesacross the country. But are these communication tools used foreducational purposes?

The National Council forthe Social Studies (NCSS 1994; NCSS 1997) and the InternationalSociety for Technology in Education (ISTE 1998) guidelines foreducation recommend the infusion of technology into the curriculum.The technology is available and educational guidelines expecttechnology to be integrated into the curriculum, so it is up to theteacher to design ways to successfully integrate technology intoeducation. The creativity, skill and determination of the teacherwill determine the quality of the partnership between usingtechnology in a course and the curriculum.

An online form provides a forum for students, educators, or the community to discuss current topics and issues in education. It also gives a structured environment for students to write, react, respond and reflect.

In response to currenttrends for the integration of technology into the curriculum, I havedesigned an online reflection journal. Using the computer for journalwriting engages technology as an intellectual partner (Anders andBrook 1994; Jonassen 1995). Students use the Internet to shareinformation, ask questions, discuss problems and expound on issues.Students who use technology can develop higher order thinking skills,problem solving skills and critical thinking skills (Baron and Golman1994; Office of Technology Assessment 1995).

An online form provides aforum for students, educators, or the community to discuss currenttopics and issues in education. It also gives a structuredenvironment for students to write, react, respond and reflect. TheInternet provides a convenient means of accessing the reflectivejournal and a quick way to turn in the assignment.

The online reflectivejournal I designed is for use in an elementary social studieseducation course for preservice teachers. As outlined in tables 1, 2and 3, I will discuss how I designed, implemented and assessed onlineforms, and provide an example of an online reflective journal. Thisis one model of how technology can be used to communicate ideas foreducational purposes.

Table 1 Questions for Planning a Web Form

When developing an online form, consider the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the form? (communicate, survey, questionnaire, etc.)
  • Who is the primary audience? (students, teachers, parents, etc.)
  • Will you use open-ended statements, questions or a checklist?
  • What personal data will be included? (name, ID, e-mail, etc.)
  • Will a location and a time be allocated to completing the form?
  • When will the form be submitted?
  • Will the entries of an individual be made accessible to others?
  • Are computers and the Internet easily accessible to all participants?
  • Has the layout and design been developed to meet the needs of the participants? (i.e., the space to write answers, special needs of students, etc.)
  • What are the security and confidentiality issues for an online form? (i.e., revealing student identities, access to people outside of the course, etc.)
  • D'es the form avoid biases or stereotypes? (i.e., gender, ethnic, abilities, etc.)
  • D'es the form promote thought? (critical thinking, problem-solving, etc.)
  • Will there be expectations related to editing, appropriate language and quality responses?
  • Who will lead and monitor the responses? (i.e., webmaster, teacher, students)
  • How will you model appropriate submissions? (i.e., in class, online)
  • How will the form be maintained and updated?


The designer of the formmust decide what needs to be included in an online form. It isdifficult and time consuming for a teacher to learn how to get a formonline without technical assistance or a Web program. Several Webauthoring tools such as Net Objects Fusion and Microsoft FrontPageallow the designer to create a form template (the visual form). Thesetwo authoring tools also include the CGI script which make the formfunction on the Web. Web Course in a Box or Courseinfo are Webmanagement tools that are easy to use and the designer d'esn't needto know CGI script.

To learn how to design areflective journal form for the elementary school social studiescourse, I attended a University of Missouri Institute forInstructional Technology Institute. One of my goals for the institutewas to design an online reflective journal so students could doweekly reflections about social studies in the elementary school.During the technology institute, I learned to design the template forthe form and had a technical assistant work with me on the CGIscript. By the end of the two week institute, I had the form ready touse. I have been using it for the past two years with only one minorrevision. I added one new question to the form: "How can I use what Ilearned as an elementary social studies teacher?"

When planning an onlineform, the designer is responsible for making decisions about how theform will be developed, the audience for the form and how the formwill be submitted.

Why was the formdeveloped? A goals statement should be written to describe thepurpose of the online form. The purpose of the form could be tocollect data, share information or reflect on the course. My goal forthe social studies in the elementary school course was to receiveweekly feedback so I could meet the needs of the students.

An online form is betterthan presenting a written journal to the instructor. The online formallows everyone to submit weekly journals at any time. Printeddocuments are a waste of paper, easily misplaced, and weekly journalsare not kept in a sequence. The online forms are always accessiblewhere a printed copy would be difficult for other participants toread.

Who will be the primaryactive participants? The students in a course, program of study,teachers, administrators, parents, the community or anyone who wishesto complete the form. The items on the form should be written for aspecific audience so the individual can understand and respond toeach item. When designing the form consider such things as age,gender, ethnicity and reading or writing abilities. The audience formy form is approximately 50 preservice elementary education studentseach semester.

What should be included inthe form? The personal data on the form will vary. If it is importantto identify a student then the student's name, e-mail or studentidentification number might be requested. The designer can also havea list of choices for items such as the topic, date, time or locationfor the student to select, or the respondent can type in theappropriate answers in a space for any of these items. I prefer toidentify the students by name so I can respond to them and answerindividual questions. The students select the topic for the weeklyjournal.

The last factor in designing a form is the technical aspect. The visual appearance of the form can encourage or discourage the respondent to complete the form.

How will the form bewritten? Online forms can be written where students complete achecklist, respond to open-ended statements or answer questions. Thepurpose of the form and the audience will determine the format. Ihave used open-ended statements with a box for each response. Theopen-ended statements provide a sentence starter for students tofocus their responses. I selected the statements so students couldwrite about one topic. The students respond to:

  1. I learned...
  2. I would have liked to learn...
  3. My goal for the future is to...
  4. How will I use what I learned as an elementary social studies teacher?
  5. Comments, suggestions, notes, etc.

How will the respondentuse the form? The individuals responding to the form need establishedguidelines for accessing the form and responding to the form. Thedesigner needs to decide if the form will be password protected. Ifthe form has confidential information or if the information that thestudents submit should be private then the students should be given apassword to access the form. For example, if the student isdiscussing a child in a school setting or a personal social issue,the forms may need to be accessible only to the student andinstructor. The respondents should read the guidelines beforesubmitting a form. The guidelines will state who can access and readthe responses to the form and the expectations for the quality ofresponses.

The last factor indesigning a form is the technical aspect. The visual appearance ofthe form can encourage or discourage the respondent to complete theform. The layout design needs to be organized and easy to follow. Theform needs to be easy to find on the Internet, easy to complete andreadable. In designing the form the size of the response box shouldbe large enough for the respondent to visually see most of theresponse. Small spaces to write will not encourage a student todevelop a long response. The questions or statements on the formshould encourage the respondent to think.

Meaningful integration of technology into education is essential, and online forms are one method to share information, collect data and reflect on experiences.

Computers with Internetaccess must be accessible to the students so that they can completethe form in diverse locations and times. The students need to knowhow to get assistance if there is a problem with a computer or usingthe form. For example, we meet in a computer laboratory once a weekand during the first class there is an introduction to the form andtime for the students to complete the first entry. After that, thestudents can do the online reflective journal anytime during theweek. If the students have a problem with the form, they can e-mailme. If the technology isn't working they see the technical supportstaff. Rarely do we have problems with either.

The next step to usingonline forms is to determine how to implement the form within thecourse. I have developed a list of questions to ask when implementinga Web form (see table 2).

Table 2 Questions for Implementing a Web Form

When implementing an online form, consider:

  • When will the students complete the task?
  • How long will it take to complete the form?
  • Will you provide instructions on completing the form?
  • Will you provide class time to complete the form?
  • Where is an optimal location for completing the form?
  • How often should the student do the form?
  • D'es the instructor or student decide on the location and time for completing the task?
  • Will you require students to complete the form or will it be optional?
  • Will the form be graded?

Table 3 Questions for Assessing a Form

For assessment consider:

  • Will the instructor or students respond to each other's form?
  • How regularly will the student receive feedback?
  • What types of response will the individual, peers or instructor provide?
  • Will the students receive participation points or credit for the entries?
  • Will the student use the information to develop a summative reflective document for a portfolio review?
  • How will the instructor use the feedback to meet the needs of students in the course or develop the course?
  • Do the advantages of using technology outweigh the disadvantages?


Klemm (1998) provideseight ways to engage students in online conferencing: 1) requireparticipation, 2) form learning teams, 3) make the activityinteresting, 4) don't settle for just opinions, 5) structure theactivity, 6) require a hand-in assignment (deliverable), 7) know whatyou are looking for and involve yourself to help make it happen, and8) peer grading. When developing an online form, there are at leastsix of his points that I used. The forms for my course weren't forconferencing so the students are not in teams and they didn't peergrade.

The form I developed forthe social studies in the elementary school course includedopen-ended statements that the students were required to complete ona weekly basis. The students selected the theme or topic to discussfor the week and wrote about the course, their experiences withteaching, and viewpoints about social studies. I send e-mailresponses to individuals to clarify ideas, promote other viewpointsor share new information.

After a due date isdetermined, the students make the decision when and where to completethe form. The learner can process information in their selectedlocation, at any time, and take as long as needed to complete theform. Students who are impulsive can write comments on everything andanswer every question. A reflective learner can take more time toprocess the question or information before responding (Karayan andCrowe 1997).

If the quality ofresponses is an issue then I recommend that the student write theresponses in a word processing document first. Unless students arerequired to do work in a word processing document before putting itonline, they will probably not do it. I have begun requiring someassignments to be saved on a disk before putting it online. Thestudent can edit, revise, spell check and determine an appropriatelength. The message can be cut and pasted into the form. The studentwill have a copy of all of their responses for later review andrevisions.


Is the online form thebest method for reflection? The instructor must assess the students'needs to determine if an online form is the best way to receiveinformation from the students. If the answer is yes, the instructormust be committed to actively participating by reading and respondingto the students' submissions. The instructor will determine ifcompleting a form is required and if it will be graded.

The student selects a"send" button at the bottom of the form so the form will be sent to adesignated location. The CGI script can be written so the form willbe sent to an e-mail address or logged in an online file ofresponses. The CGI script can be written to categorize the responsesby student, date or topic. I have the responses to the reflectivejournal sent to a URL address where each student's responses are heldin chronological order.

When the students submitthe journal, I read each student's response and use e-mail to respondto individual needs. I made sure I read the responses on a weeklybasis to determine how the course was going and, based on feedbackfrom the students, I made changes in assignments or course content.At the end of the term, I would give participation points forcompleting the form for a designated number of weeks.

The students' responses tothe Web form can be used for research and analysis. It is possible towrite a program for finding key words in students' responses oridentifying common themes. You would use Perl scripts (2 UNIX tool)which is a kind of CGI-BIN (common gateway interface binary[program]) to put the data in a file and manipulateit.



Meaningful integration oftechnology into education is essential, and online forms are onemethod to share information, collect data and reflect on experiences.Online forms can transform the way students and teachers communicate.With online forms, the student is an active member of the communityand contributes to the dialogue.

The integration oftechnology assists in developing a community of learners within aconstructivist classroom (Boyer and Semrau 1995; White 1996; Wilsonand Marsh 1995). Technology provides a link to the world throughe-mail, discussion groups, bulletin boards, response forms, catalog,or key-pals. Find a way to link your students as a community oflearners.



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Karayan, S., and Crowe, J.1997. "Student Perceptions of Electronic Discussion Groups." T.H.E.Journal (April, 1997): 69-71.

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Office of TechnologyAssessment. 1995. U.S. Congress. Teachers & Technology: Makingthe Connection. Washington DC: U.S. Government PrintingOffice.

White, C. 1996. "RelevantSocial Studies Education: Integrating Technology and Constructivism."Journal of Technology and Teacher Education 4(1): 69-76.

Wilson, E. K., and Marsh,G. E. 1995. "Social Studies and the Internet Revolution." SocialEducation 59(4): 198-202.

Linda Baird Bennett, an Assistant Professor in Curriculum and Instruction at theUniversity of Missouri-Columbia. She teaches both graduate andundergraduate elementary social studies education. Dr. Bennett serveson the MU Institute for Instructional Technology Board. Her researchinterests are the integration of technology in teacher education andusing the Web to promote civic responsibilities.

E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.