A Head Start: Using Theme Based Journals in the Classroom


This seminar will explore the role of the artist’s journal as a mechanism to enhance creative thinking and encourage a ‘deep’ approach to learning. The material to be presented is the result of an ongoing research project regarding the development of a ‘theme’ based journal. The project is run in the classroom with first year Visual Communication students at the University of South Australia. The study has been underway for two years and will continue this year.

In the South Australian School of Art (as in many Art and Design institutions) students have always been encouraged to keep journals. This practice is instilled by the compulsory use of journals in first (and sometimes second) year. While some students find this quite productive and consequently a journal becomes a creative tool they use for the rest of their careers, most just participate because they have to – once assessment is complete the journal is abandoned. Some even go as far as to resent the journal and wage a constant battle with lecturers and do little in their journals as they see no connection what so ever with the creative process. A very small fraction do not even keep a journal at all and are prepared to sacrifice 20% of their grade as a result.

At the beginning of the 2002 academic year a group of lecturers decided that perhaps a different approach was needed. It was hypothesised that if the students could make a stronger connection to journals and the creative process they would be more motivated to keep a journal. Further if the students could use the journal as a form of personal expression they might ‘bond’ with the journal and hence increase the chances of them adopting this as a life long learning process. This would reinforce the learning and depth of concept development as students had more ownership of the project. This corresponds with elements required for successful student learning as identified by Biggs (Biggs J, 1989) as key features to achieve a ‘deep’ level of learning.

The learning journal is also becoming an important tool for evidencing the depth of learning – very significant as scrutiny and accountability are key elements in the standards debate (Davies A, 1999). We cannot simply assess the artefact in isolation.

Debate in this seminar will have a strong focus on the role of the learning journal. In particular:

  • How do we get students to see the value of learning journals (what is the value of a learning journal)?
  • Can the learning journal lead to better creative thinking and deeper cognitive processes?
  • Can the learning journal form an effect tool for assessment?

This is a live and ‘hands-on’ project with genuine and exciting results. It raises questions about: teaching methodology; creative thinking and expression; the effectiveness of the learning journal; assessment criteria; teacher and student expectations; and ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ learning.

The seminar will explore the successes and failures of the project as well as the changes in assessment and curriculum developed to support this initiative.

Download A Head Start: Using Theme Based Journals in the Classroom (73.92 KB)


Matthew Hepplewhite is currently a Lecturer in Visual Communication at the South Australian School of Art, University of South Australia. His professional experience includes appointment as Coordinator of Design Foundation Studies as well as Director and Founder of Mango Chutney, a professional design consultancy. Previous lecturing appointments have included TAFE and the Ngapartji Multimedia Centre. Mr. Hepplewhite has also run professional development programs examining issues in relation to curriculum development and the new media.

Mr. Hepplewhite has been an active member of the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) and the Adelaide Art Directors Club (AADC). Research interests include: the use of learning journals; curriculum development in relation to the new media; motivation of students to achieve learning outcomes; exploration of the non-linear visual narrative; and theories and of design teaching and pedagogy.