Blogs and Videos for Group Work


Summary

Engineering Design is a core year one module in the Department of Electronic Engineering typically attended by circa 120 students.  The cohort was divided into 25 groups with each group working to develop an electronic project centred on a device pre-selected for that year (such as a Raspberry Pi or BBC Micro:bit).   Students were tasked with tracking their project development using a WordPress blog and with demonstrating/explaining their project via development of a short video clip.

Thanks to Noel Jackson for featuring in our video.

Aims and Objectives

  • To establish fundamental skills in gathering and presenting information from reliable sources and technical writing, recognising issues of plagiarism and collusion
  • To develop the transferable skills typically used in the engineering industry through group working that involves the use of management tools and techniques that will be supported through lectures
  • To provide experience in subject analysis and synthesis in a technical requirements context, application of knowledge to practice, planning and time management, project design and management, basic team-working, research processes and understanding of ethical working practices
  • To provide knowledge of the basics of project management, including project requirements specifications, work breakdown structure and risk management
  • Increase exposure to engineering soft/transferable skills
  • Reduce assessment load on staff

Overview

The Engineering Design project module was introduced as a core module for all year one students as a consequence of totally re-designing the Electronics’ year one programme (for 2016-17 onwards).

The redesign included addressing an identified lack of student team working opportunities and the need to expose students to project management techniques much earlier in the programme.  Project management basics were moved from year three to year one, with these themes flowing through to year two from the year one project module.

Methodology

From a learning technology point of view, the module was implemented with two main strands.

Strand 1: Blog

Tasking each group with the development of a (WordPress) blog was primarily designed to increase student exposure to engineering soft and transferable skills.  In particular, the need for students to record details of their project development as well as reflections on that development and its progress, skill requirements that the industry had identified as lacking in graduates.

The blog activity was also designed to foster a culture of analysis, assessment and judgement by group members; judgement on their peers, their learning and their knowledge.

The recording of project development was an activity also designed to play a significant supporting role for the written component of their summative assessment, which took the form of a reflective essay.

Students attended a face-to-face session inducting them on how to set-up and use WordPress.

Strand 2: Video

The development of a short video clip, by each group, to outline their project was an activity primarily targeted at developing students’ communication skills.  Secondary outcomes for the video creation activity extended to transferable digital literacy skills.

Students attended a face-to-face session introducing them to the basics of video development including concepts, basic shooting skills and editing considerations.

Each group submitted their video project work via the VLE and Replay.

Reflections

The module implementation worked very well overall with the lecture and lab time working as they would normally.  The mean pass rate for the module on its first run was 62% and there were no fails, which Noel noted was a respectable outcome.

It was suggested to students that they record their project development endeavours by posting to their blog regularly.  This would allow them to capture their thoughts, analysis and reflections while they were fresh in their minds.  In turn it was felt that this would potentially allow them to review how their thoughts and solutions then changed over time in reaction to ongoing developments.  Noel noted that, although some teams did post regularly, there were groups who completed their blog towards the end of the project.

Noel observed that the blogs, although targeted at forming a project ‘information’ store, were broadly used by students to achieve assessment credibility rather than as a tool for recording information and issues.  Reflecting on this, Noel noted that this was a logical outcome of the assessment criteria as the blog itself was summatively assessed.

The content posted across all the blogs was generally good however.

The project videos were, on the whole, well produced and informative if, in some cases, a little quirky.  Most student groups notably left the development of their video to the last minute.

Noel observed that the student groups did engage with the tools, both the blog and video development tools, but that it remains to be seen whether they will continue to use them in their practise if they are not relevant to assessment.

Feedback volunteered by students indicated that they found the use of both blog and video to be interesting and, importantly, that the early exposure to team work and working issues was appreciated.

Noel was also keen to note that the standard of the summatively assessed reflective writing was much better than anticipated.

Transferable lessons learned

What is assessed, and the assessment criteria used for that assessment, needs to be carefully considered in order to appropriately invite the desired student interaction and engagement with an activity.  This was particularly noted in how students ultimately developed their blogs.

With video development there is a danger for each group that one person ends up with the technical aspects of the development (i.e. editing the video together) and that, although provided with a video basics session, video editing isn’t as easy as students might anticipate.

The marking process for the various aspects of this module (blog, video, reflective writing) was ultimately felt to need more moderation and to be more transparent for the markers (rather than for the students).  The marking process will be simplified for the 2018/19 run of the module.

Further changes envisaged for the 3rd run of Engineeering Design will mainly target inclusion of ‘good practice’ examples from the previous year (blog use/video examples/lab budgets etc.).  There will also be more active teaching sessions scheduled.  These will be designed to further involve students in discussion of critical issues and themes during the lecture sessions taking place before the Christmas break.

In light of the assessment submission requirements (students are required to harvest material from their blog for more formal submission), and taking into account feedback from students on this process, the use of WordPress will also be reviewed.  Google Tools provide options for further exploration where supporting this kind of assessed group-work is concerned and may prove to be a useful alternative to WordPress in this context.

Next Steps

Published July 2018.