Arriving at purposeful action: changing attitudes to course blogging as a pedagogic tool

I have been engaged on a fairly long-term project inspired by the use of course blogs I have seen in other disciplines. It is ongoing and I can’t say I have solved all of the problems that we have encountered along the way. The recent shift to online course delivery as a consequence of a worldwide pandemic has started me thinking again about how to better embed the use of course blogs into a media practice course. The biggest challenge is of course buy-in, from staff and students, but alongside that are lots of issues to do with contact time, models of summative assessment, misconceptions about the nature of media practice and above all student’s resistance to reading and writing. What follows is a sort of summary of a paper that has already been published which was originally written as a proposal for a book chapter. I don’t like to waste good writing (well it may not be that good) so I have posted it here. I use the blog as a writing sketch book so you can think of this as a sketch for a paper that was at that point still being written.

The paper, now published can be found here if it is of interest:

Hanney, R. & Skirkeviciutey, G. (2019), ‘Reflection, identity, community: Affordances of blogging for social interaction and reflective dialogue’, Education and Information Technologies, 1-17.

Introduction

The adoption of blogging as a pedagogic tool in Higher Education is widely explored in the learning and teaching literature (cf. Sim and Hew 2010) and is commonly thought to provide a range of benefits such as promoting the attainment of skills in researching, academic writing, critical reflection and professional identity formation. Notwithstanding some of the difficulties faced by educators wishing to employ blogging in an educational context (cf. Robertson 2011). There is a clear sense of an opportunity for learners to engage with acts of personal and critical reflection, identity building and community membership through the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as course blogs. This blog post explores some of these ideas through research undertaken into the implementation of course blogging on an undergraduate media production programme at an English university.

Rationale

The use of course blogs is valued as an example of ‘purposeful action’ (cf. Arendt 1998) that offers the potential for a transformative pedagogy. One that manifests as the students’ performance of a professional self in a public sphere. The research evaluates the effectiveness of the implementation through the framework of educational affordances (cf. Gaver 1991, Gibson 1979) in order to identify the social dimensions of the pedagogic environment and consider how action within this milieu might foster or inhibit engagement with course blogging. The research employs a qualitative approach drawing on the concept of ‘dwelling’ as a focus group methodology. The resulting data includes post-it notes, posters, ethnographic notes and transcriptions of recordings. Including data from students as well as a group of tutors tasked with implementing the use of course blogs. The production of two data sets, one from staff and one from the students allows for a comparison that aims to identify disconnectedness between the staff conception of blogging and that of the students. Thereby offering the possibility for determining the particular set of educational affordances required to achieve the aims of the project. Interim findings suggest that in the early stages of the implementation one of the biggest challenges to the use of course blogs are one of change management in relation to leadership of academic teams. While among students the core theme is around ownership and motivation.

Discussion

The research evidenced a disjunction between the aims of the implementation and its effectiveness. In particular it illustrated the need for a much clearer change management approach to support the implementation of any pedagogic innovation. The central issue of concern was not one of technological or functional affordances of blogging technologies. Although in one or two instances digital literacy of staff was identified as an obstacle to the implementation. Instead the discussion centred around a need for the development of a community of practice that included staff and students. With the aim of making apparent the social affordances that would enable a wholehearted engagement with the practice of blogging as a dialogic activity, undertaken by a community of practioners. An important factor in any socialisation process is the need for modelling of practice and the research identified that this was one of the key barriers to the implementation of course blogging. Lacking a process of socialisation, the aim of encouraging students to take ‘purposeful action’ (cf. Arendt 1998) flounders at the first hurdle. Taking on board this finding the course team initiated a number of changes to the ongoing course blog implementation. Changes that are designed to enhance and develop a community of practice approach.

Impact

Through the dissemination of the experience of researching and evaluating the implementation of a pedagogic innovation. It is hoped to share not only the vision for the use of blogging as an educational tool. But also, to communicate a reflection on change management and educational leadership at a course team level. The discussion evidences a need for a consideration of the social above and beyond that of the techno-functionality of educational technology. It also lays the groundwork for an exploration of a communities of practice model for change management. One that places collaborative approaches to teacher-student engagement at its heart.

References

Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition (2nd ed.). Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Gaver, W. W. (1991). Technology affordances. CHI ’91: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 79-84.

Gaver, W. W. (1996). The social is material for design. Ecological Psychology, 8(2), 111–129.

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston; London: Houghton Mifflin.

Robertson, J. (2011). The educational affordances of blogs for self-directed learning. Computers and Education.

Sim, J. W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2010). The use of weblogs in higher education settings: A review of empirical research.

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