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.

Trackbacks_Pingbacks_new-3

This is a new post to test Pingbacks

So, here we go, testing how pingbacks work. What are pingbacks? They are a form of RSS feed that exists as a tool in WordPress to allow bloggers to notify each other of a new blog post. It is an important tool for online community formation and will hopefully simplify the process of tracking student blogging. If you want the low down on pingbacks WordPress support has more to say on the subject.

What is: Pingback

Using PINGBACKS: The short version is…

1. Tutor posts a blog which includes the task instructions (ensure pingbacks are enabled on the post and your blog site)

2. Tutor emails the URL of the task instructions blog post to the students (don’t send a shortened version of the URL)

3. Students include the URL in their blog assignment (they can just paste it and make it a link anywhere in the post)

4. This generates a PINGBACK which appears in the comment section of the tutor’s blog.

5. The tutor can use the PINGBACK to click through to the student’s blog and add comments/feedback there.

 

natomy of an Academic Blogpost by Annika Nottebrock-FEATURED IMAGE

The Anatomy of an Academic Blog Post 2

Well, confounded by own amateurish design skills I put a call out on a course Facebook group for some help and wow! The Power of the crowd. The next morning I have two excellent designs which are so much better than my own. Information is king but design goes a long way towards making it more digestible. So, I have posted both versions on here as image files and as PDF’s and lets see if anyone is interested enough to comment and share.

DOWNLOAD: Anatomy of an Academic Blog Post by Annika Nottebrock PDF

Anatomy of an Academic Blogpost by Annika Nottebrock

DOWNLOAD: Anatomy of an Academic Blog Post by Paul Stevens PDF

Anatomy of an Academic Blogpost by Paul Stevens

If you have any comments, preferences, suggestions for things to add, corrections and so on please comment and we will see if we can incorporate them.

Blog Task Design and the 3C3R Model

I have been giving some thought to the task design aspect of course blogging and its a tricky one as if you don’t get it right then not only will students not be motivated but the results won’t necessarily address the planned learning outcome for the task. In other words the results of the task need to align clearly with the objectives of the course activity the blog is related to.

Good writing tasks require students to address messy, ill-structured problems that are highly motivating, interesting, realistic and relevant. However, there is no point in designing highly complex tasks if they are not going to be able to engage meaningfully with them. Also, the blogging is intended as a formative activity in as much as it is not the end goal. It is an opportunity to feedback on their work and provide students with the material to effectively reflect while making links between theory and their practice. So getting the task right will ideally set the students up with a body of material, plus feedback that will enable them to right their summatively assessed critical reflections at the end of the course unit.

In my literature searches I came across a useful resource referred to as the 3C3R model (Hung 2009) which I have drawn on extensively in the paper I am currently writing. I have presented below some notes and diagrams that are intended to illustrate the model in use.

journal.pone.0063412.g001

The model operates across two dimensions as below:

  • Content: what is the content of the learning that you want students to engage with, the topic, the subjects or learning outcomes.
  • Context: is the task relevant to the students, is it situated within their own practice, does it have a real world-ness to it that would give the task some authenticity in the eyes of the students?
  • Connection: how will students interleave sources of knowledge, identity relationships and interlink the concepts you want them to work with?
  • Researching: are the goals specified clearly and do they specifically address the topic domain you would like students to investigate? Does the research process mirror that undertaken by professionals in the student’s field?
  • Reasoning: will the students need to analyse, evaluate and synthesise the knowledge they gather?
  • Reflecting: how will this new knowledge be applied through their practice? What will change?

In practice it is perhaps easier to conceive of the model as linear process of students in which the task stimulates research (finding out), reasoning (analysis) and reflection (putting it all together). It sets up a conceptual framework for thinking about task design and a checklist of ensuring the task meets the planned learning outcomes.

3C3R linear process

I have designed a workshop activity based on the model with an example of a task I have designed, one which I have already used in action, which the participants can try out and evaluate. the question being does the task follow the rubric of the model. There will also be an opportunity for the workshop participants to have a go at their own task design which they will need to do anyway when they start using the course blogs a few weeks later. We will then see if the model helps or if it over conceptualises everything.

REFERENCE

Hung, W. (2009). The 9-step problem design process for problem-based learning: Application of the 3C3R model. Educational Research Review, 4(2), 118–141. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2008.12.001

 

The Anatomy of an Academic Blog Post

My first go at an infographic that puts together some of the best advice on the web about what goes into a good quality blog post. There is certainly a way of writing a blog, its not that dissimilar to writer an article for a newspaper just more rich media involved. The material I drew on came from a number of sources including Hubspot’s Sophia Bernazzani who has written an excellent article on the Anatomy of a Blog Post. Hubspot are a digital marketing agency that promotes itself extensively through giving away really useful information on how to do digital marketing. So a good place to start of you want to do a little quick learning on the topic.

Really all I added to her article was the need to include academic referencing following the standard, in the case Harvard. So I guess I need to find a designer now who can take my draft and turn it onto something that looks nice. Any volunteers?

ANATOMY OF A BLOG POST

The perfect anatomy of a Modern Web Writer

I came across this infographic while searching for other useful material that I could use for an infographic that described the main elements of an academic blog post. Couldn’t find one and I had to make my own in the end which is a shame since I am no designer. Meanwhile, I thought I would still post this infographic as it summarises the broad set of skills media graduates need these days. I know it is not common to think of media graduates as needing writing skills but actually, if you ask graduates when they are few years into their careers. They will tell you that there is a lot of writing involved in any entry level job. Plus, you never see media online without there being some writing wrapped around it. So it seems, writing is just as important as it ever has been if not more so.

Anatomy of a blog post 5

Case Study: blogging as a tool for early engagement in media practice education.

Executive Summary

This case study evaluates the use of blogging as a tool for promoting early engagement on a level 6 media production course. Based on an action research methodology the case study draws on qualitative interviews and blogged responses to explore the student experience of blogging as a tool for promoting formative assessment. It outlines the research findings and offers suggestions for ways in which others might implement a similar approach. The need for the research emerges from the need to integrate theory and practice into the curriculum so practice is informed by theory; and to ensure critical reflection on practice is located within an appropriate theoretical framework. The paper builds on previous work into approaches to project-based learning in media practice education in UK HEI’s.

What was Done

During the BA (hons) Media Production Top Up student’s welcome week I arranged for a staff member from the Learning Technology Unit to work with Laraine and myself on a session in which all of the students set up a personal blog. We used the free WordPress.com platform to do this and students were asked to write a short welcome post and to email a link to this to their tutor. Initially the aim was to pilot the use of blogging on Factual Production, a L6 unit for which I am the course leader. As part of the project I then scheduled a session which introduced students to the idea of blogging, the style of writing commonly adopted, the value of commenting on each other’s blogs and so on.

The blogging activity was initiated by a lecture on Documentary Modes (Nichols 1983) which I deliver as part of the course. The students were then set a first blogging task which required them to select a documentary video of their own choice from the Vimeo staff picks list[1] and to critically watch the video using a handout on Documentary Modes as a means of thinking about how the video functioned. The following week the students were asked to apply the concept of Documentary Modes in a short analysis and to use this as a basis for a short 300-500-word blog post. The aim was for students to determine the particular mode their chosen documentary fell into and say why. The task required them to use references and provide a bibliography as per normal academic requirements. The first writing task was started during class time and the students were given 30 minutes to begin their blog posts with an expectation that they would be finished in their own time. The following week the students were asked to comment on each other’s blog posts and the course tutor (me) also evaluated and gave written feedback in the form of a comment on each blog post. This process was then repeated a second time with a second blogging task organised in a similar fashion.

In order to evaluate the pilot, we ran a discussion group at a later point in the following semester which resulted in a number of short blogs being written by the participating students. These were captured via Survey Monkey and have formed the basis for the data collection phase of the research.

Motivation and Aims

It is possible to formulate Media practice education as a form of experiential learning following a claim often attributed to Aristotle (2001) that ‘the things we have to learn before doing them, we learn by doing them’. This idea is further expanded by Kolb (1994) who see learning as coming about through a cycle of experience and reflection-on-experience and by Schön (1983) with his concept of the reflective practioner. More recent literature (see Moon 2004) develops this idea further suggesting that experiential learning occurs through a process of reflection on the actions and interactions that come about through experience, leading towards a refinement of judgements of choice and future action. For Moon and others, experiential learning is analytical, immersive and requires learners to be participant both cognitively and affectively. It develops not only skills and knowledge but attitudes, values and behaviours (Hoover & Whitehead 1975, 25). So it would seem clear the reflection is a key means to developing the kinds of expertise that emerges from practice (Lave & Wenger 1991). This is further supported by Barnett (2007, 79) who suggests that if ‘performance is only to be valued through the material outcomes that it yields, [all it will reveal] is a warped and partial valuing of the students’ educational efforts’. Thus, it is possible to argue that critical reflection is a significant and important element in all practice-based teaching.

However, a number of issues arise when using critical reflection to assess project-based learning in media practice education. The first concerns the need to integrate theory and practice into the curriculum so practice is informed by theory. Secondly, there is a need to promote an engagement with critical concerns that circulate around ideas of practice so that critical reflection on practice is located within an appropriate theoretical framework. Finally, there is the need to promote an early engagement with critical reflection so that there can be a formative component to what is an act of looking back upon practice.

Thus, the project aimed to encourage student’s early engagement with theoretical concerns as they relate to their units of study. It aimed to do this through the introduction of a blogging activity that would encourage students to draw on theory to inform their own practice at a much earlier point in the teaching period. It aimed to encourage students to identify and utilise theoretical sources at a much earlier stage in the unit schedule, preparing them for the critical reflection at the end of the course. In addition, it aimed to build formative assessment of the student’s critical engagement with theory and practice into the course schedule at an earlier point in time. Thereby providing feed forward in support of the critical reflection at the end of the course.

Success and Lessons Learnt

The survey posted on Survey Monkey generated 8 responses from a total of 22 who took part in the pilot study. Initial findings support the use of blogging as a tool for promoting early engagement and even those students whose comments were largely negative responded that “it was good as it got me writing about a subject before the essays and this meant I wasn’t going into the essays completely cold” (Student E). Feedback suggested that in general the students found the tasks enjoyable and got them an early start on the research “so I wasn’t going into the essays completely cold” (Student E). Many identified the benefit of regular writing tasks that improved their writing and they also found that the tasks were a good basis for later critical reflection telling us that ”you engaged with the theoretical concepts and connect them with real life examples” (Student C). Some of the issues that were raised by the students included the need to ensure that their blog posts were reviewed and commented on by tutors. They said “I found my research useful when I came to write my critical reflection, however it became frustrating and I began to lack motivation to do it when my tutor did not look at it or provide relevant feedback” (Student F) and this feeling was echoed in other responses. They also wanted the blogging to be better integrated into course work and they wanted it to start right at the beginning of the course saying that they would like it to be a “more important part of the course and [tutors] to give regular feedback on it” (Student A).

It would seem then that there is a real value in using course blogs to stimulate critical thinking, kick start researching the topic and promote early theoretical engagement. Clearly though there are lessons to be learnt and the full and final evaluation of the research data which will include comparison of assessment statistics and debriefing the tutors involved will derive a range of indicators that can be turned into an effective model for rolling out the use of blogging as a means of embedding critical thinking at a much earlier stage of course units.

Scalability and Transferability

Having successfully piloted the use of blogging on one unit on our L6 Top Up programme there are plans to roll this out across all practice units for the Top Up and to also introduce the scheme for the incoming L4 cohort on the BA (Hons) Media Production. In order to do this the course team will need to be trained in the process and this will be part of a staff development session that is currently being planned for the end of this academic year. In particular, it is anticipated that staff will need a model to work to which we will be able to derive from the research findings. The feedback from tutors who have already participated formally and informally in the pilot (some took part informally making use of the blog tool in their own units as well) will be crucial in identifying exactly what support tutors will need if we are to successfully integrate the tool into all of our practice teaching. It is clear from the findings so far that tutors will need help to formulate tasks that have a critical component but at the same time relate directly to the students practice. The staff development workshops planned for the end of the year will address this through sharing of best practice and an outcomes led workshop process.

The research team have already submitted a proposal to present the interim findings to the SSU Learning and Teaching Conference in June 2017. There is a journal paper planned and the team are also planning on designing a workshop on the subject which will be available to other teams as a staff development session. It is also important to factor into the project the opportunity to review the introduction of the tool into the media programme at key stages during the next academic year. Staff, especially AL’s are likely to find it challenging at first and as with any form of change management they will need careful guidance and support if the roll out is to be successful. [word count 1724]

Bibliography

Barnett, R., 2007. A will to learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Press.

Biggs, J. B., 1999. Teaching for quality learning at university. Open University Press

Hatton, N. & Smith, D., 1995. Reflection in teacher education – towards definition and implementation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 11 (1) pp33-49

Hoover, D. & Whitehead, C., 1975. An Experiential-Cognitive Methodology in the First Course in Management: Some Preliminary Results. Simulation Games and Experiential Learning in Action. The Proceedings of the Second National ABSEL Conference, Bloomington, Indiana.

Kolb, D., 1994. Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E., 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moon, J. A., 2004. A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: theory and practice. London: Routledge Falmer. Non-fiction.

Moon, J., & Readman, M., 2014. Graduated scenarios as a means of helping students to produce effective critical analysis of media production work’, in Media Education Summit. Prague, 21st November 2014.

Nichols, B., 1983. The Voice of Documentary. Film Quarterly, 3, p. 17, JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 April 2017.

Schön, D.A., 1983. The reflective practitioner. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[1] https://vimeo.com/categories/documentary