Equitable Course Design Through Journal Writing

Amanda Zunner-Keating
5 min readAug 23, 2021


The following is a tip for educators seeking more equitable course design. The material is available for use under Creative Commons License ShareALike (CC BY-SA 4.0). For more details, visit this instructional page.

We can create a level playing field in higher education by rewarding the original ideas of students who are able to connect our course material to their personal lives and experiences. While some learners thrive with traditional memorization and examination, others best solidify their new knowledge by reframing what they’ve learned in a personal context.

To create a journal assignment on Canvas, follow these steps:

  1. Go to “People” in the lefthand navigation bar
  2. Create a new group by clicking on “+ Group Set”
  3. Title the new group “Journals”
  4. Under “Group Structure,” split students into 100 groups (if you have more than 100 students, please create 200+ groups)
  5. Your students will be automatically split into private groups where only you and the student are able to see their work
  6. Click on “Discussions” in the lefthand navigation bar and create a new discussion with “+ Discussion”
  7. Create a journal prompt on this discussion board
  8. Check the box “This is a group discussion” and select the group titled “Journals”
  9. Now, your students will be able to reply privately to this discussion board and only you and the student will be able to see their responses

NOTE: If a student adds your class late, they will not be automatically added into a private journal group and they might be able to see other students’ private journals. It’s important to manually move these added students into their own private journal groups after they’ve joined the class.

Below is the text for a sample journal assignment; feel free to adopt this language in your own courses.

Canvas users, it’s recommended that you upload this assignment page directly from Canvas Commons; you can find the content on Canvas Commons.

Journal Assignment

🕒 In lieu of a research paper, you’ll add to this journal at the end of every module. For each question, please try to spend no more than 10–20 minutes. These journal entries are designed to help you connect the course material to your life without requiring burdensome academic research.

👍 Focus on journaling your personal opinions, thoughts, and feelings. Use these questions to brainstorm, draft, and outline your overall impressions of this course. Complete sentences are not necessary here, but thoughtful reflection is required.


❗️There is a new prompt for each module. Please remember to return every week to respond to any outstanding journal questions.

Journal #1 — Introduction to Anthropology

Reflect on the principle of cultural relativism and identify an occasion in your life where cultural relativism might have helped overcome a conflict. Explain how understanding another person’s worldview using their own, culturally specific logic can lead to a better understanding of the human experience.

Journal #2 — Cannibalism

Now that you more intimately understand cannibalism, has your opinion changed on the matter?

Does your culture have a practice that other people think is “disgusting” or “immoral” but that actually makes sense in your own, culturally-specific logic?

Journal #3 Culture Wars

How have the culture wars impacted your personal life? Consider addressing any of the following:

  • Is there something in your life that has become unexpectedly political?
  • What is most frequently misunderstood about your political group?
  • How can you better express your group’s ideas using anthropological tools?

Journal #4 — Language and Reality

In this module, you learned about two theoretical approaches: “The Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis” (which argues that language shapes our sense of reality) and “Symbolic Anthropology (which views culture as a set of symbols used to convey meaning). Do you like either of these theoretical approaches? Is either applicable to your life?

What words exist in your culture that do not exist elsewhere? How does this specific language reveal something important about your group’s cultural values?

Journal #5 — Forms of Social Control

Describe a cultural performance in your life. You can consider your gendered role, ethnic/racial role, religious role, roles at work, roles in the classroom, etc. Describe how you perform the role, what type of performance is expected by society, and how shame/embarrassment manifests when the role isn’t performed “correctly.”

Journal #6 — Rituals

What is a rite of passage in your community? Did you participate in that ritual? How does the ritual feel to participants? What does it mean to participants?

Journal #7 — Anthropology and Religion

Before you completed this module, how did you define “religion?” How has your understanding of religion changed since completing this material?

Journal #8 — Voodoo

How is Haitian history connected to American history? What similarities and differences can you identify between the two nation’s colonization, racism, slavery, and revolution? What other similarities can you find?

Journal #9 — Race and Racism

What elements of racial identity are important in your community? How are these ideas constructed and reinforced in your community?

What has your lived experience been with race and racism in our society? Please share your own lived experience so that I can continue improving my course in a way that best represents the diverse experiences of all types of people.

Journal #10 — Gender, Sex, and Feminist Anthropology

How do you perform your gender? In 3–5 sentences, please consider any of the following: clothing, grooming, activities, hobbies, familial roles, language/speaking, etc.

Journal #11 — Kinship Systems

How is labor divided in your family? Is it based on gender? Age? Does everyone in your family have equal power? Explain?

Journal #12 — The Incest Taboo

How has your understanding of “the incest taboo” changed throughout this module?


Reply to the questions each week.

Length and Content

  • Please write 3–4, complete and thoughtful sentences.
  • Please directly cite lectures, texts, or other reliable resources whenever relevant.
  • Remember to think critically! Examine the evidence presented, consider the speaker, consider the arguments coming from your professor and classmates and, ultimately, decide for yourself!

📹 Video Option: Consider filming your response!

Academic Integrity

  • The ideas in your response must be your own. Do not take ideas verbatim from any “study” or plagiarism websites.
  • You’re always encouraged to tie in elements from other readings or lessons. If you incorporate ideas from our lectures or other readings, please remember to properly cite the source in-text. If you need help with citations, please refer to Purdue Online Writing Lab (Links to an external site.).


This is a graded journal (you are not graded on your ideas, you are graded on participation). Each journal entry earns 20 points.


Need help using Canvas Discussions? If so, please review the following guide:

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash