According to its
perhaps best-known spokesperson, John Dewey, experiential learning involves the
cyclical yet progressive movement from theory to practice back to theory and
then again out to practice. Through a deliberately designed project, what one
thinks—one’s ideas, assumptions, beliefs and hypotheses—is put into practice
and tested in experience; what is learned from experience produces a
reconsideration and possible reformation of what one thinks, and future
practices are envisioned in line with new understanding. Well-designed Odyssey
projects, regardless of category, will have this movement from theory to
practice and back to theory with implications for future practice. In
well-executed Odyssey projects, the student will be reflective about the
process: what ideas am I designing this activity to test or examine? What makes this activity appropriate for
testing those ideas? How did the test
go; in light of this experience, are my previous ideas or theories more likely
to be true than not? What do I plan to
do about that in the future?
In some Odyssey
activities and categories, what is being tested most immediately are beliefs or
theories about things external to the engaged learner, e.g. the various
artifacts of the disciplines—chemicals, organisms, social organizations,
mathematical objects, historical or literary documents and so on. But every
Odyssey project also offers engaged learners the opportunity to put to the test
what is internal to the learner: the ideas they have about themselves, the
values they hold, the prejudices they keep, the talents they have, the
challenges they are up to, and the things they want to accomplish. This
self-reflection, this examination of the fundamental question of the liberal
arts “Who am I, what do I believe, and how shall I live?” is rightly a part of
every well-executed Odyssey project.
In certain of the Odyssey categories this
examination of self is so central that projects bearing credit in these
categories must include a substantial, well-delineated, reflection component.
These categories are: Global Awareness, Professional and Leadership Development,
Service to the World, and Special Projects. Sponsors of projects in the
Artistic Creativity and Undergraduate Research categories may also require
specific reflection activities. The typical form of required reflection in
these categories will be a writing assignment. For example your reflections may
be entered in a journal that you keep as you progress through the experience,
or it may take the form of a paper submitted at the end of the project. Other
forms of reflection, such as group discussions, photo journals and blogs must
be approved by your supervisor and the director of the Odyssey Program.
1. The Journal
Journal Is and Is Not
Keeping a journal may
be different from what you might expect. First, a journal is NOT a daily log of
things done. Second, it is NOT a private diary. A journal is not a daily log
because in a journal, you should analyze, interpret, and explore the broader
meaning of your experience, not simply record what has happened. A journal is
not a private diary because the journal should be written to communicate to
someone else what you have learned. Even so, in a journal you are encouraged to
think in deeply personal ways about your experience.
Lastly, a journal is
NOT a final reflection paper, although keeping one may be very helpful for
preparing to write a reflection paper. Journal entries should be made
throughout the relevant experience, not written retrospectively at the end of
an experiential project. Thus, you must discipline yourself to a regular
writing schedule. A journal entry for each day of involvement is a good aim,
but you don’t have to be rigid about it. Some days, too much has happened to
think coherently on paper!
Keeping a Journal
that unstructured journal writing, in which you have no guidelines, typically
stays at the level of a daily log and never leads to analysis and integration
of the experiences with your intellectual, moral, social, political, or
religious life. On the other hand, too much structure makes it hard to write
personally. To strike a balance, try one of the following two approaches (based
on information presented at a Service-Learning Workshop led by Joe Favazza and
Michael McLain of Rhodes College), or a combination of them both:
(1) In your daily writing during the experience,
think of yourself as writing a “What Journal.”
Structure your entries to answer:
What? So What? Now What?
What? In this
section, describe the things done, things observed, or other aspects of the
day’s experience that seem most important to remember or to tell about.
So What? Examine these aspects of the day more fully,
answering such questions as: Why are
these the events that mattered most to me today? Why did I react the way I did in that
situation? Did these things teach me
something surprising about myself, my society, or the world? Did they confirm things I have always
believed? Am I left puzzled by the
things that happened today, and if so, why?
Now What? Reflect on whether the events described and
analyzed should make a difference in your future conduct or beliefs. Questions
to reflect upon in this section include:
Is this experience changing how I think about things? Is it confirming what I have always believed?
Do I want it to change how I act in the future? Do the things I have liked or
not liked during this experience tell me anything about the sort of leader I
want to grow into, the sort of life I want to lead, or the ways I want to be of
service to others? Has this experience
been a spiritual journey for me?
(2) Keep a Directed Journal. By yourself, or
working with a faculty or administrative staff sponsor, identify key questions
that you will answer over the course of your experience. These questions will
generally have to do with applying your practical experience to key concepts,
theories, or readings relevant to the purpose of your experience; or they may
be more open-ended questions that require you to take stock of the broader
issues raised by the experience.
It is certainly the aim of journal writing to invite deep personal
exploration. Yet, for accountability purposes, a faculty or administrative
staff sponsor will usually read your journal. Here are two approaches that can
help you maintain your sense of privacy:
- you and your sponsor
can agree that he or she will be the only person reading the journal and that
personal details that you share will be kept confidential; or
- you and your mentor
may agree that you will turn down any pages you do not want read, and he or she
will not look at them.
With the spirit of trust that exists in a good student-mentor
relationship, one of these approaches should provide you with the freedom you
need to write your most intimate observations in your journal.
Falls-Corbitt, Professor of Philosophy
Associate Provost for
Hendrix-Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics and Calling
2. A Reflection
If you decide to
write a final reflection paper for an activity or project in one of the
categories that require a reflective component, you may still wish to keep a
personal journal (see above), or at least daily notes, while your Odyssey
experience is in progress. Doing so will prepare you well to write the final
A reflection paper is
very similar to a journal in many ways. It is NOT a simple enumeration of what
you did for your project. Instead it must go beyond a straightforward
description of the activity itself to delve into your personal reactions and
the growth that you experience as a result of the project. Also, like a
journal, the reflection paper must be written with the intent of communicating
your insights to someone else.
Both of the
approaches to journal writing suggested in the previous section also work well
as means of structuring a reflection paper. Similar to a “What Journal,” a
successful reflection paper could address the three questions: What? So What?
and Now What? (See fuller explanations of these questions in the previous
section.) The paper will differ from a journal in that you will be answering
these questions at the end of a project rather than while it is in progress.
This perspective will allow you the opportunity to ponder and synthesize your
responses and reactions to the overall experience.
might choose to write a Directed Reflection Paper. In this case, you and your
sponsor must develop in advance specific questions that you will consider as
you progress through your Odyssey experience. As in the case of a Directed
Journal, these questions will generally have to do with applying the practical
experience gained during your project to key concepts, theories, or readings
relevant to the purpose of your experience. They may also be more open-ended
questions that require you to take stock of the broader issues raised by the
you take, journal or reflection paper, the purpose of writing about your
Odyssey project is to help you reflect on your reactions and responses to it.
The exercise should help you better understand yourself and how you have grown
or changed during this Odyssey experience.