Using blogs for student reflection, content generation and just-in-time feedback


Summary

Dr Graham Low in the Department of Education set up individual blogs for his postgraduate students to reflect on their work each week, and then comment on other students’ blogs. It was a compulsory weekly task to provide academic writing practice and also provide an opportunity for ‘peer modelling’.

Keywords: blogs, collaboration, module design, formative tasks, assessment & feedback, student skills

Aims and Objectives

Overview: Use of blogs within a Masters Education module for weekly student reflection on the module and to extend the topic through research of examples or data.

Need: The MA group is new in October, the students are mostly international and they come with a very broad range of academic and critical analysis skills. The module is also intended to include “transition concepts” early on, designed to alter their thinking in key areas.

Aims:

  • Explicit aims:
    • Reflect on your experience during the week
    • Generate examples, data from your own experience
    • Query ideas (or practices) that you disagree with or have not understood.
  • Implicit aims:
    • Early identification of student problems
    • Developing cohesion within the group
    • Providing academic writing practice opportunity in a non threatening context
    • Providing an opportunity for “peer modelling” where less experienced writers are exposed to more experienced peers
    • Developing autonomy and self-directed learning skills
    • Fostering a sense of student ownership through individual contributions to online space.

Methodology

Individual blogs were made available within the VLE site populated with course resources relating to module topics. The Blogs area outlined the rationale of using the blogs (“You learn by engaging actively with ideas, making them your own and discussing them with colleagues…”), and explicitly outlined the weekly tasks for using the blogs:

  1. Complete an introductory post in week 1
  2. Write “at least one substantive entry every week” about “things you have read, learned, enjoyed (or not enjoyed), but primarily write down things that surprised you, things you did not know”
  3. Add three comments to other blogs each week

Weekly Blog entries were reviewed by the tutor and brief feedback was provided (c. 3 hours’ work a week for 15-17 students)

Reflections

The use of blogs in this module had a number of successful outcomes this year:

  • Student engagement – all but one student contributed fairly regularly through this medium
  • Autonomy and individuality – students generated / discovered a huge range of new resources (video, audio and paper-based), many of which have since been incorporated into the main module content
  • Addressing problems – many of the entries did in fact raise issues arising from face to face sessions that could then be addressed; the students were not put off by the fact that their peers could read the entries. Indeed peers were often very supportive and offered their own answers and solutions.
  • Cohesion – there is some tendency for students to comment on their friends work, resulting in “clustering” of comments.
  • Modelling – this was successful in cases where the gap between the higher and lower ends of student work was not too great. However, even the comment this year “How can I ever produce something like that?” did not stop the student concerned from trying.

Transferable lessons learned

  • Blogs can be used to support student reflection
  • Clear direction and regular feedback encourage student contributions
  • Regular sustained Individual feedback may not be possible for significantly larger cohorts
  • Students are capable of working autonomously and independent research, given the spaces to do so
  • Students who actively dislike this way of working and self-disclosure need to be taken seriously; alternative solutions need to be found where possible.

Next Steps

Cast Study last updated: April 2014

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