Thursday, 20 November 2014

How can blogs enhance student learning?

What is a blog?


If you're not familiar with the term 'blog' it can be difficult to see how a blog can enhance learning. Think of a blog as a sketchbook or an exercise book. Each page constitutes a new entry in the book and each entry follows the previous entry. As a student makes more entries it becomes possible to see their progress over a period of time.

Imagine that the student has put a title at the top of each page, and underneath each title they have added a few key words to describe each page. If the student were to repeat this exercise on a blog these key words or 'tags' would be compiled into a sort of contents page or index which is usually displayed at the side of the screen (just like the list on the right). Clicking on a tag extracts all blog posts that have been tagged with the particular keyword and displays them in date order.

Blogs and formative feedback


The ability to view the student's blog posts in date order makes it possible to see their work over a given period of time. Perhaps the most important aspect of a blog is that it enables the tutor to provide targeted formative feedback on the student's work - this is achieved by adding comments underneath each blog post. In a traditional classroom setting it can be difficult to monitor the progress of each student and weeks can go by before a tutor discovers that a particular student is having difficulty with their work. But if a student is asked to add their work to a blog every week it is possible for the tutor to track their progress and quickly diagnose potential problems.

When it comes to summative assessment the tutor can accurately assess the progress that each student has made, safe in the knowledge that they haven't simply created all their work the night before.

Case study

Should you use an internal blog tool (on the LMS/VLE) or an external tool (Blogger / Wordpress / Tumblr)? 


Perhaps the most important decision to make before launching a blogging activity is to choose a tool with which you as a tutor feel comfortable. You will undoubtedly have students whose online skills range from novice to expert, but this shouldn't be your primary concern. Make sure you choose a blog tool that you are confident with, or that you feel you can learn very quickly. 

If you want the students' blogs to be openly visible on the internet then Blogger is a good tool to begin with. Blogger provides you with a useful dashboard - each time you click 'follow' on another blog hosted on Blogger you will receive an update on your Blogger dashboard. This is why, when starting a blogging activity, it is useful to oblige all students to use the same blog tool as it enables you to manage the activity more easily.

Most institutional LMS / VLEs also have a built-in blog tool and these are usually adequate to support a community of bloggers. Institutionally-hosted blogs are a good alternative if you believe that either you or your students will feel uncomfortable using 'open' blog tools, providing a safer, more secure learning space. One possibility is to begin by initiating a blogging activity using the LMS / VLE, then move on to an external tool once you or your students feel more comfortable.


10 tips and advice for educational blogging

With thanks to Phil Gomm from the Computer Arts & Animation course, University for the Creative Arts

 

1. Blog-based summer projects


Incoming students are sent induction packs and summer projects prior to the start of the academic year, of which ‘setting up your individual blog’ is an integral part. Having created their blog, students email the course tutor the blog URL and these are shared immediately via the main course blog. This encourages new students to interact with each other even before they meet, and enables them to be paired with their respective mentor.

2.  Encourage collaboration through 'creative partnerships'


All year one project briefs ask students to work within ‘creative partnerships’ in which they are required to work closely with designated classmates via their respective blogs. Project briefs culminate in individual outcomes, but an archive of the creative partnership is a ‘must have’ component of final submission.  Creative partners are changed for each unit.

3. Use a course blog 


Year 2 & 3 students are all assigned individual authorship permission on the course blog. Year 1 students publish content & queries via a year group password.  Selected alumni, technical tutors, graduate training assistants, artists in residence & part-time tutors are also authors.

4. Use regular features


Create ‘regular features’ to which students, staff & alumni are encouraged to contribute content on an ongoing basis. For example:
  • The tune (music – soundtrack, song)
  • Cinema (film recommendations & reviews)
  • Recommended reading (books, articles)

5. Introduce collaborative projects


A project requiring students to work collaboratively in the research and production of a final piece of work. In addition to maintaining their individual blogs, students are required to create, populate and maintain a branded ‘studio blog’ on which they are all authors. The studio blog is assessed.

 

6. Online 'greenlight' reviews


Online greenlight reviews represent timetabled interim deadlines. Before each review students are required to upload pitch-style presentations to their blogs summarizing their creative development for a project to-date. Tutors then provide formative feedback in the form of comments.

 

7. Mentoring 


Years 2, 3 and Alumni are asked to ‘adopt’ new first years at the beginning of the new academic year by paying dedicated attention to their blogs. Mentors are primed to advise on new students’ FAQs and general blogging etiquette.

8. Create blog-based community challenges 


For example, the CG Arts & Animation course at UCA Rochester introduced the ‘Speed Paint Challenge’. This invited students, alumni and teaching staff to engage with a daily creative challenge over the Christmas break – quick digital paintings generated in response to a different theme announced on the group blog every morning at 9am.  The resulting paintings were then showcased on the course blog in the evening.

9. The Post With The Most 


Exploit the public-facing characteristic of online blogs proactively. This can help students to grasp the importance of professionalism and self-promotion and integrate industry with academia. For example, the ‘Post With The Most’ is a monthly tutor’s selection of student work from across the community of student blogs. Participating industry blog-watchers are invited to feedback and review the students’ work.

10. Create a culture of visibility 


Allow students from all three years to see each other's workflow, process and final output. Everyone follows everyone's blog, including alumni and part-time tutors.


Further information on the benefits of educational blogging


The following links highlight some of the perceived benefits of educational blogging:

  • "Blogging is also a great way to put your writing skills into practice in the real world and develop stronger communication and organization skills" and "starting a blog while in college can help you in your specific industry niche". http://comluv.com/how-blogging-can-help-college-students/ 
  • "student comments suggest that blogging was associated with other specific instructional gains, such as exposure to more diverse viewpoints and increased commitment to writing and thinking". http://www.editlib.org/p/24310


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