400-Level Food Science 430: Food Chemistry (Writing-Intensive)

JOURNAL WRITING IN FOOD SCIENCE

Professor Wayne Iwaoka and two colleagues recently published a paper exploring the shift in higher education from the "paradigm of providing instruction to the paradigm of producing learning." [See Iwaoka, W. T., P. Britten and F.M. Dong. "The changing face of food science education." Trends in Food Science & Technology 7 (April 1996): 105-112.] Iwaoka's UH Mānoa writing-intensive course, Food Science 430, Food Chemistry, illustrates some of the consequences of this shift, particularly in the prominence it gives to the use of student journals.

Iwaoka finds that regular journal writing encourages students to become better analysts and to increase their awareness of their own learning processes. Iwaoka believes many of today's food chemistry and food engineering facts will be outdated by the time students enter the job market. The ability to discover and analyze information, on the other hand, seems likely to be increasingly in demand.

Journal keeping is a central activity from the beginning until the end of Iwaoka's course. Iwaoka finds these journals:

  • increase student learning of course content
  • help students become better critical thinkers and problem solvers
  • develop skills that can be applied to the more formal writing assignments students also do in the class
  • provide regular feedback to the instructor revealing when students are having problems understanding aspects of the course

A review of some of Iwaoka's journal writing strategies will likely be helpful to instructors in other classes who are seeking additional effective ways to use writing.


Getting Started

Iwaoka provides a detailed handout explaining his expectations for the journals. This handout, Academic Journals (below), adapted from Toby Fulwiler, informs students:

A journal is a place to practice writing and thinking. It differs from a diary in that it should not be merely a personal recording of the day's events. It differs from your class notes in that it should not be merely an objective recording of academic data. Rather, think of your journal as a personal record of your educational experience in this class.

Iwaoka collects the journals once a week and writes responses. He finds that his comments in the early weeks of the course are especially important in guiding students toward beginning to understand the difference between writing personal reactions and undertaking a critical analysis of ideas.

Students write from two to three times per week. Iwaoka's handout also contains detailed practical specifications, concerning length, titles, preferred format, etc (see "Academic Journals" below).

Journal Topics

At the beginning of the semester students may be asked to "Write a very brief summary of the contents of the lecture or group discussion, reading material or activities of that day." Student may also be encouraged to include their notes about "ideas, theories, concepts or problems" raised by the course. These writing prompts encourage students to think and to begin selecting journal topics on their own.

Expectations for the depth of thinking required in the journals increase as the weeks proceed. As Iwaoka suggests in his handout, students may then be expected to use their journals to "argue with the ideas and readings in the course and argue with me, express confusion, and explore possible solutions to problems raised in the course." Iwaoka informs students they should use their writing to "record new insights/problem solving strategies realized during discussions with fellow students, instructors and/or guest speakers."

Expectations are highest for the culminating journal activity Iwaoka requires at the end of the semester. Students then re-examine all of their journal writing for the course to "write an introduction to the journal and write an evaluation of its worth to you." In this introduction and evaluation students are expected both to reflect on what they have discovered about themselves as learners and to examine some further issues raised in the course in order to display the critical thinking skills they have acquired.

Student evaluations suggest that consistent regular journal-keeping is an effective means of sparking student learning. Here are some comments Iwaoka received from students in his most recently completed class:


I really learned more in this format that I would in a traditional classroom. I needed to be forced to prepare and to use my own brain to apply everything I had learned."

"Actually having to form an opinion on the topics is a learning experience in itself. Many times these journal entries made it more concrete for me."

"In a typical class (unlike this one), I generally do not remember exactly what we did and how I felt about it after a few days have passed. However, this class kept me on my toes because I knew that I had to be organized and jot down notes in class to help me write these entries."

"Many of the critical thinking skills I have developed this semester have influenced the thinking process in other classes also."

Guiding Student Practice

Iwaoka utilizes four strategies in guiding students toward composing increasingly sophisticated responses. These strategies are:

  • written instructor responses;
  • group work;
  • class discussions; and
  • reading assignments.

Instructor responses: Iwaoka collects journals once a week and writes responses to each student. His responses vary in length and content, depending on each student's needs. Longer instructor responses seem necessary early in the semester to steer students away from personal reactions and move them toward thinking more critically.

Reading journals can be time-consuming, Iwaoka acknowledges, but he says:


From what I've noticed, students really want feedback. In the teaching journals, I've read about studies which indicate that students really respond and learn critical thinking skills more quickly when feedback is given by faculty.

To use his time efficiency, once it is clear that students understand what is expected, sometimes Iwaoka skims the entries and writes only such brief comments as "I agree" or "I disagree" or "Have you thought about . . ." To ease their load, other instructors who use journals sometimes find it helpful to ask students at regular intervals to choose among their many journal entries the one or two they wish the instructor to read more carefully.

Iwaoka rarely marks mechanical or grammatical errors. Iwaoka explains, "I know there is an emphasis on mechanical skills in the general community but I think students can learn that on their own. What is more important is helping them learn to think, which they can't do as well on their own."

Even though there is no correction of grammar and mechanics in the journals, Iwaoka finds that the opportunity to write regularly and at length gives students a chance to improve in these areas as well as in their critical thinking skills. (For additional perspectives on the issue of grammar and mechanics, see Overcoming Writing Errors.)

Group work and class discussions: Class time is often spent providing students with opportunities to practice the analytical skills required in their journals. Students work in groups to solve problems that involve applying familiar knowledge to unfamiliar situations. Groups compose written solutions and these are shared with the entire class.

Iwaoka believes it is best to explicitly teach students some techniques for successful group work. He leads class discussions about the importance of teams in the work world and helps students anticipate methods for dealing with problems. A brief handout, Roles in Group Discussions (below), helps students become aware of some of the complexity of group dynamics. Iwaoka requires students to practice different roles in their groups on different days so they can increase their understanding of how successful groups operate.

Reading assignments: Many of the course reading assignments model the types of analysis Iwaoka hopes to find in student journals. Others aim to provoke students to think about topics in new ways. For example, Iwaoka assigns students articles to read that describe the dangers of certain food additives. He then assigns articles that argue the opposite view, that these additives are safe. Students are instructed to use their journals to suggest analyses that attempt to resolve the discrepancies.

Learning more about using Journals

Iwaoka's approach is but one of many techniques that integrates journal writing into college instruction. For information on other uses that UH Mānoa instructors have found for journals, see the Mānoa Writing Program's Teaching with Journals.

Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
FSHN 430 - Food Chemistry
Spring, 1997

Academic Journals

(Adapted from Teaching with Writing by Toby Fulwiler, Boynton/Cook Publishers, Portsmouth, NH, 1987)

What is an academic journal? A journal is a place to practice writing and thinking (Use your class notes to refresh your memory). It differs from a diary in that it should not be merely a personal recording of the day's events. It differs from your class notes in that it should not be merely an objective recording of academic data. Rather, think of your journal as a personal record of your educational experience in this class.

What to Write. First, write a very brief summary of the contents of a lecture or group discussion, reading material or activities of the day. Then, record personal reactions to speakers, activities, student responses, etc. Make notes to yourself about ideas, theories, concepts, problems. Record your thoughts, feelings, moods, experiences. Use your journal to argue with the ideas and readings in the course and to argue with me, express confusion, and explore possible solutions to problems raised in the course. Most important, report or record new insights/problem solving strategies realized during discussions with fellow students, instructors and/or guest speakers.

When to Write. A good journal will be full of lots of long entries and reflect active, regular use. Write a journal entry as soon as possible after a class session or after you have completed your reading assignment. It is important to develop the habit of writing a journal entry even when you are not in an academic environment. Good ideas, questions, etc., don't always wait for convenient times for you to record them.

How to Write. You should write using whatever style with which you feel comfortable. The point is to think on paper without worrying about the mechanics of writing. The quantity you write is as important as the quality.

  1. Use a new sheet for each entry. I would like for you to use a word processor for each entry.
  2. Develop your thoughts as fully as possible. Decide upon a creative title for that entry. You should have a minimum of one page per entry, double spaced with a maximum of a one inch margin on each side, top and bottom.
  3. The journal entries must be a response to what was covered in class, textbook reading assignments, popular articles about food, class activities or anything related to food chemistry.
  4. Store the returned journal entries in a 3-hole report folder.

Mechanics. Staple two journal entries written for the previous week and hand them in each Monday (there are 15 weeks of instruction so you need to end up with a total of 30 entries). I or a classmate will read and comment on selected entries and none of the dialogue with you will affect how much your journal is "worth". There will be no docking of points for poor writing or grammar. Good journal entries are characterized by effort and thinking. Effort means you must invest yourself and give the journal writing full attention. Thinking means that you have figured something out or put a lot of reasoning into what you said. You analyzed it this way or that way and came up with the best solution or decision possible. It doesn't mean you have to agree with the instructor or that your answer be 100% "correct." It can be dead wrong as far as I am concerned. But what is important is that you showed that you thought about the issue.

Final requirements for the journal. To complete your journal

(1) put page numbers in your journal,

(2) make a table of contents for each entry,

(3) write an introduction to the journal, and

(4) write an evaluation of its worth to you (This should be on the last page of the journal).

Be sure to turn in these with all of your journal entries you wrote for the semester on the last day of class in a folder.

(Up to Food Science 430 Getting Started)

Roles in Group Discussions

Facilitator: does not participate in the solution of the problem (as much as possible).

  • Encourages every group member to participate in the discussion.
  • Summarizes what was proposed and makes sure everyone in the group understands what has been leaned.
  • Keeps track of how well the group is collaborating or cooperating.

Proposer: proposes solutions to the problem.

  • Must know the information and come up with a recommendation (answer) which is an complete as possible.

Opposer: tries to find weaknesses and flaws in the proposed solution.

  • Must know the information and tries to poke holes in the solution (why it is not the best, etc).

Recorder: records group decision and puts solution on board.

(Up to Food Science 430 Group Work and Class Discussions