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Karen's Dissertation

Page history last edited by Karen 14 years, 6 months ago


Monitoring Student Engagement by Blogging.

 

Abstract

 

This paper examines the value of using weekly assessed blogging as a method to address inadequate student engagement and motivation on an undergraduate computing course.  The goal is to look at blogging from the student experience and consequent feedback.  It also presents the findings of a research project where student involvement and satisfaction were measured using feedback and monitored engagement and examines whether students felt there was an intrinsic benefit to the blogging other than marks towards their coursework.  Both research and theoretical background studies are discussed to help clarify the rationale of using this approach with students in higher education.

 

Keywords:  Blogging, Engagement, Assessment, Motivation, E-Pedagogy, E-learning 2.0, RSS, Weblogs, blogs, educational blogging  


1. Introduction

 

This research explores the question “By using technology that is already being exploited by students for social networking and for entertainment purposes, is it possible that we can harness this enthusiasm to our advantage?”  The emergence of Web 2.0 which has been defined by O’Reilly (O’Reilly, 2007, p. 17) as “an architecture of participation” has allowed educators to explore new methods of engaging and motivating students. 

 

Highly engaged and motivated students have been thought to be less likely to drop out of education and to have increased academic success (Blank, 1997). However, keeping students engaged and motivated is a challenge that most lecturers encounter. Student motivation "refers to a student's willingness, need, desire and compulsion to participate in, and be successful in, the learning process" (Bomia et al., 1997, p.1).   Research has shown that lecturers can influence student motivation and that there are methods to help make coursework and assignments more engaging and more effective for students (Anderman and Midgley, 1998).

 

This case study focuses on 154  first and second year computing students who are required to keep a weekly blog for eight weeks, from week four to week eleven of the first year, first semester, with the specific aim of promoting engagement and active participation.  The students were studying both computing and interface design.  The blogs were marked weekly and the total amount of marks available over the eight week period contributed 50% of the coursework total.  A marking guide was provided in advance so students could see how this part of the assignment would be assessed.

 

2. Aims and Objectives

 

2.1 Aims

 

The aim of this research project was to use weekly completed and assessed web logs (blogs) as a tool to follow the development of a piece of coursework, to monitor student engagement and to ascertain whether or not the depth or frequency of engagement had an effect on overall module marks.  A distinction will be drawn between measuring the quality and quantity of student engagement.

 

Students completed the journal online each week for eight consecutive weeks.  The journals could be viewed by everyone on the World Wide Web but not edited by anyone other than the student, and there was no opportunity for a third party to post a comment online.  The journals were marked each week and results and feedback were available during the following week’s lab class (if requested by the student) allowing students to quickly reflect and respond if necessary. 

 

The objective of the research project was to:

 

          add an extra dimension to existing criterion by which student achievement was measured i.e. coursework and examination, by asking students to write about their learning,

          measure student engagement on a weekly basis over an eight week period,

          ascertain if those students who engaged weekly gained a higher overall module mark,

          establish if the quality of the engagement led to different marks,

          compare the student’s marks with previous year’s marks when the blogs ran for six  weeks instead of eight and accounted for 30% of the coursework marks rather than 50%.

 

2.2 Educational objective

 

The educational objectives of the blog were to encourage students to work at a steady pace throughout the semester rather that leaving everything until the end, to provide students with examples of good practice and of good design which could inform their own design choices, and to engage the students in their own learning whilst helping them develop the writing skills many lacked.  It was hoped that the benefits to the students would include improved writing skills and more confidence in their own abilities.  The benefits to the module co-ordinator included an indication as to whether or not learning outcomes had been achieved and whether the module had met student expectations.

 

Learning outcomes for the module

 

Upon the successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

 

(i) Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamental multimedia

concepts,

 

(ii) Use such knowledge and understanding in the implementation of interactive

multimedia solutions using multimedia authoring software,

 

(iii) Effectively communicate and justify basic technical choices that were made    when implementing interactive multimedia solutions (COM149 module specification).

 

3. Literature Review

 

This review focuses on the main issue of this study, namely, are motivated students also engaged students?

 

Motivation can be divided into two categories, extrinsic and intrinsic (Deci and Ryan; 1980).

 

Noels and Clément (1999 p.24) further define intrinsic motivation as “… motivation to perform an activity simply for the pleasure and satisfaction that accompany the action” while extrinsically motivated students engage in learning “purely for the sake of attaining a reward or for avoiding some punishment” (Dev, 1997, p.18).  The importance of motivation to course attainment has been outlined by Fazey and Fazey (2001, p.357), who concluded that, “... students scored significantly higher on extrinsic motivation than on intrinsic motivation.”   Similarly, Lumsden (1994) suggests that not only do intrinsically motivated students achieve more but that using extrinsical motivators to engage students can have a detrimental effect on their learning and motivation.  Extrinsically motivated students risk exerting only enough effort to achieve the mark required, as Brooks et al. (1998) note, “[external rewards can] decrease interest in the task, thereby diminishing the likelihood that the task will be continued in the future’. This research therefore seeks to promote intrinsic motivation as a means to encouraging learning. 

 

Nystrand and Gamoran (1992) define two distinct types of student engagement. Firstly the student’s willingness to participate in everyday learning activities such as attending classes and submitting required assignments. The second focuses on the cognitive and behavioural engagement in specific tasks.  A cognitive approach could include students attempting to integrate new knowledge with existing, in order to understand more.  Students exhibiting a behavioural approach follow rules and participate in planned activities.  Skinner & Belmont (1993) suggest that the opposite of engagement is disaffection and that disaffected students give up easily in the face of challenges and can be bored by learning.  27% of this cohort dropped out during the first year.  If it could be proven that monitoring students using blogging worked on one module could it help increase retention rates if it were used across all first year modules?

 

The researcher has already introduced the concept of blogging to support motivation.  Described by Salmon (2002) as e-tivities, she describes them as a framework for enhancing active and participative online learning by individuals and groups. Salmon further elucidates the characteristics of e-tivities as:

 

·      Motivating, engaging and purposeful

·      Based on interaction between learners/students/participants mainly through written message contributions

·      Designed and led by an e-moderator

·      Asynchronous (i.e. take place over time)

(Salmon, 2002, p.102)

 

Key features of e-tivities

·      A small piece of information, stimulus or challenge (the ‘spark’)

·      Online activity which includes individual participants posting a contribution

·      An interactive or participative element- such as responding to the postings of others

·      Summary, feedback or critique from an e-moderator (the ‘plenary’)

·      All the instructions to take part are available in one online message.

(ibid.)

 

In this case study it is unlikely, given the amount of time and probable length of each weekly blog entry, that students will display any level of reflection.  The entries tend to be simply narrative based rather than an analysis and evaluation of ideas and arguments.  It was important to the study, therefore to demonstrate an extension of student learning and to encourage self-awareness as promoted by Salmon (p.102), she suggests that at the development stage of e-tivities students gain insights into their own engagement and that of others. These insights allow them to begin to make judgements on the educational benefits of the experience and to start to build knowledge.

 

It should be noted that the introduction of blogging into the module was based on Kolb’s model of learning (Experiential Learning, 1984). It is widely acknowledged that Kolb’s model forms fundamental concepts towards our understanding and explaining human learning behaviour, and towards helping others to learn.  Kolb's model sets out four distinct learning styles which are based on a four-stage learning cycle, namely; using concrete experiences, using abstract conceptualization, by active,  by reflective observation. It is generally accepted that students learn in many different ways and therefore as teachers we should teach and assess using various methods to allow for different strengths and talents.  Newmann and Wehlage (1992) in their ‘Five Standards of Authentic Instruction’ suggest that the following be measured;  firstly, higher-order thinking (Bloom et al., 1956) where students are required to manipulate information; secondly, students’ depth of knowledge and understanding;  thirdly, is the measurement of the extent to which the learning has value and meaning beyond the instructional context.  Substantive conversation, the fourth of Newmann and Wehlage’s standards,  assesses the extent of talking to learn and understand the substance of a subject.  This is supported by Courter, Wright, and Kwako’s paper ‘Work in Progress – Transforming College Teaching Courses into More Authentic Experiences’ (2005), where they conclude that;

“In substantive conversation, each person is trying to express a point of view, to understand why others have their viewpoints, or to arrive at a solution to a problem that neither has previously is the most difficult.” (p.?)

Finally Newmann and Wehlage support the idea that social support for student achievement is key to engagement and that the social support scale involves high expectations, respect, and inclusion of all students in the learning process.

4. Ethics

Whilst it is ethically important to inform the students on the module of the research project it has been considered that informed consent for the evaluation questionnaires was unnecessary in this situation (University of Ulster guidelines support this).  The research project has been running for three years and there is no risk to the student’s personal rights or possibility of the student being exposed to undue stress.  The blog is now one of the assessed aspects of the modules and as such deemed compulsory.  However, the Head of the School of Computing and Mathematics (appendix l) has been consulted and he believes this to be a worthy research project.  Informed consent was sought from the interviewees.  This was in writing and was obtained on the days of the meeting (appendix ll).  All students were given a frank and full account of the research project at the beginning of the semester and were given an opportunity to read the outcomes of the research (posted on the researcher’s web site).  Individual pieces of student’s work were anonymised and all information treated with the strictest confidentiality.  The research explored the value of using blogs as a tool to support student engagement.  It was hoped that the final report would be of benefit to both the School (of Computing and Mathematics, where the research took place) and those who took part.   The benefits to the school may be reflected in improved retention rates due to increased engagement.  Furthermore, because module coordinators can identify a lack of engagement from individual students very quickly (weekly) they could respond rapidly and intervene, again possibly improving retention rates.

5. Methods and Methodology

5.1 Methodology

 

Traditionally, Computing Science adopts a positivist philosophy to research.  The logical analysis of structured data sits well within the discipline, however this concept can cause problems for qualitative research.  Even though the use of qualitative methods can be challenging in science-based disciplines, they are appropriate when collecting opinions, beliefs and feelings, a key characteristic of blogging.  Jong et al (1998) point out that it is important to match the methods used to the problem being studied, and to the constraints imposed by the situation.  There is considerable deliberation about the nature of Computing Education research (Holmboe et al. 2001) because it requires a quantum shift in thinking for a scientist to accept the concept of subjective rather than objective research,  to accept that multiple answers add depth and breadth to participant responses.

5.2 Methods

The first step in the research process was to choose an appropriate method of collecting data. Based on the literature three methods of data collection were used;

·         Web questionnaire (quantitative and qualitative completed by students online)

·         Reflective diary – (researcher)

·         Content analysis of blogs – online (researcher)

 

5.2.1 The web questionnaire

 

            “The questionnaire is a widely used and useful instrument for collecting survey information, providing structured, often numerical data, being able to be administered without the presence of the researcher, and often being comparatively straightforward to analyse” (Wilson & McLean, 1994). The format of the web based questionnaire was a combination of open questions and closed questions.  Burgess (2001) suggests that open questions elicit a whole range of replies of varying length and articulation.  This can be useful when looking for very precise judgements.  However, closed questions can generate a large volume of information which can produce a profile of the audience.   The issue of open-versus close-ended questions has already been well researched in the case of traditional survey questionnaires (Dohrenwend, 1965; Schuman and Presser, 1979; Schuman and Scott, 1987; Schuman et al., 1986; Sudman and Bradburn, 1974) yet there is little research into the use of web questionnaires. Couper et al. (2001: 238) compared a close-ended question (using a radio button format) with an open-ended, and no significant differences were found in the time needed for completing the two question forms. However, the open-ended question resulted in significantly larger item non-response (including ‘Don’t know’ and blanks).  The researcher believed that the richness of the two types of questions would yield data that would better inform the research questions posed.

 

The questionnaire gave a more concrete bank of data for analysis than the narrative in the journals.  A draft survey was used to establish validity as suggested by Norland (1993).   This together with a readability test was used to enhance the questionnaire’s validity. The Gunning Fog Index (Tyler, 2007) designed to measure the readability of a sample of writing (English) was used to validate readability. 

 

5.2.2 Why a reflective diary?

Reflection includes such elements as recognizing educational dilemmas, framing and refraining the dilemma, experimenting with it to discover the implications of various solutions, and evaluating the consequences of the solution (Ross, 1990). 

The reflective diary was kept by the researcher to review the process, to improve on the areas where there were improvements to be made, and to note the areas that worked well for future reference.  Reflection is the thinking activity through which one sharpens and clarifies various ideas that form from one's many [pedagogical] experiences (Collen, 1996).

5.2.3 Content analysis of blogs

The narrative in the students’ blogs and in the researcher’s diary could expose individual experiences from which further insight into the learning experience could be gained.  This was recorded each week and would give a more immediate reaction to feedback and to the students’ opinions of the blogs.  All the students enrolled on the module were expected to participate for eight weeks as part of the module assessment.  Hoem and Schwebs (2004) state that “being responsible for one's own blog implies that a person writes for himself, but is aware that he also publishes for a public audience.  Godwin-Jones (2003) observed students’ writing in blogs and argued that “self-publishing encourages ownership and responsibility on the part of students, who may be more thoughtful (in content and structure) if they know they are writing for a real or finite audience.  It is open to question whether classmates in a formal course of study are in fact a ‘real audience’ or not. However, Cohen and Riel (1989) reported that the quality of their students’ work improved when preparing it for distribution beyond their class.

Downes (2004) argues that “despite obvious appearances, blogging isn’t really about writing at all; that’s just the end point of the process, the outcome that occurs more or less naturally if everything else has been done right. Blogging is primarily about,  reading but more importantly it is about reading what is of interest to you: your culture, your community, your ideas”. Richardson (2004) describes blogging as a genre of writing itself which has “great value in terms of developing all sorts of critical thinking skills, writing skills and information literacy among other things.” The elements of this new genre as he sees it include the ability to;

 “a) reflect on what they are writing and thinking as they write and think it, b) carry on writing about a topic over a sustained period of time, maybe a lifetime, and c) engage readers and audience in a sustained conversation that then leads to further writing and thinking.”

Downes (2004) and Richardson (2004), suggest that bloggers will reap the benefits of their use over time - becoming better readers, writers and better self-directed learners.

5.2.4 Triangulation of data

Data triangulation, combining, in the case of this research, qualitative and quantitative methodologies, was used as a means of strengthening the validity of the findings.  Russ-Eft and Preskill (2001, pp.155-156) describe a number of useful techniques for establishing the validity of quantitative and qualitative data, among them accuracy checking in data recording and encoding, persistent participant observation and member checking. One of the ultimate goals of a researcher is to design a study that has strong internal and external validity and reliability, a comprehensive multi perspective view (Boyd, 2000), and procedures to decrease potential biases within the research (Mitchell, 1986; Shih, 1998). “One way to increase the validity, strength, and interpretative potential of a study, decrease investigator biases, and provide multiple perspectives is to use methods involving triangulation” (Denzin, 1970). 

6. Procedures

 

Students were issued with their coursework and a comprehensive marking scheme in week 3 of the semester.  Fifty percent of the marks for the coursework were allocated for the completion of the blog, weekly.  The blog was marked weekly and students could ask for their marks each week in the lab classes.  The researcher kept a reflective journal for the same period of time for the purpose of reporting and observing progress.  Students could see each other’s work but not each other’s marks.  Plagiarism was discussed with students before the coursework began and any student suspected of plagiarism received no marks for that week’s work.  This is in line with University policy and is a gentle but firm introduction to the issue of academic plagiarism.  Data logs on the server could clarify the time and date of each entry and this information could be used in any suspected cases.  Students are shown how this works so were fully aware that this would be concrete proof of plagiarism.

 

A web questionnaire was posted online and the students were emailed and asked to complete it.  The survey stayed online for four weeks, after which it was removed and the data analysed.

 

The electronic survey was sent to all students enrolled on the module, previous experience from similar surveys sent to a similar cohort would lead the researcher to expect a response rate of between 30% and 40% (45 – 60 students).  The structure of the survey would comprise the following combination of question types;

 

          Rating scale – to build in a degree of sensitivity but still producing numbers for analysis

 

          Multiple choice – to try and gain some insight into the students’ understanding of the purpose of reflective learning 

 

          Open ended questions – To allow students free rein to discuss openly but anonymously their opinion of the process.

 

A draft survey was piloted beforehand to help establish validity, i.e. did the survey measure what it was intended to measure, did it represent the cohort, was it appropriate and finally was it comprehensive enough?

 

A url for the electronic survey was sent to all students on the module.

 

The results of the closed answers from the web based questionnaire were added to a spreadsheet.  The results from the open questions from the same questionnaire were text based.  These were analysed by plotting similarities in the narratives.  A similar approach was used on the content analysis of the blogs.  The purpose was to produce an account of the process which emerged from the data.

 

Seidel (1998) developed a useful model to explain the basic process of qualitative data analysis. The model consists of 3 parts: Noticing, Collecting, and Thinking about interesting things.  Seidel likens the process to solving a jigsaw puzzle.

 

 

 

Figure 1. The Data Analysis Process (Seidel, 1998)

 

 

7. Results

 

The results of the research measured student engagement in quantifiable terms but also calculated the depth of the student engagement measurable against the marking scheme.  A final comparative study using the total module marks how the student’s engagement with the blog had a beneficial effect on the overall module marks.

 

7.1 Blog marks evaluated against overall module marks

 

The final module marks were comprised of 50% available for the coursework and 50% available for the end of semester exam.  In comparing exam results against blog results (see fig. 2) at the end of the semester it was found that students who scored between 0 (no engagement at all) and 19 (poor engagement) on average achieved 50 – 52 in the January exam.  The engagement in the blogging process seemed to be reflected in the engagement in lectures and exam revision.  The students who scored the highest marks in the blogs had an average exam score of 71%. 

 

·         A total of 5 students had no engagement at all with the blogging process, 4 of the 5 failed the exam.

 

·         24 students had poor engagement scoring 1 – 9 out of a possible 50 marks.  21 of the 24 failed the exam.

 

·         26 students scored 10-19 out of a possible 50 marks, 2 failed the exam.

 

·         94 students scored more than 19 out of 50 in the blog, 2 failed the exam.

 

These results are not unexpected, it is realistic to expect students who engage in one aspect of the module to also engage in the rest of it. 

 

 

 

Figure 2. Exam marks compared against blog marks.

 

7.2 Electronic questionnaire results

The questionnaire was used to measure the student experience of the exercise.  Eighty three questionnaires were completed from a class of one hundred and fifty four.  The questionnaire was electronic (see appendix lll) and returned on an anonymous form.  Students were asked twelve questions, seven of which were about completing the blog.

The majority of students who responded to the questionnaire (82%) found the blog a useful way to record their research. One student wrote “although I scored dreadfully, it was an exciting new way of detailing the progress of a project”.  These students would be expected during their university careers to chart the design process of each part of their coursework.  Often it is left to the student to decide how best to do this, the introduction of a blog so early in their university life could establish good practice for further recording. 

In previous years students had been asked to write a report on the design process at the end of the coursework.  Students considered this to be an onerous task.  The blog replaced the report.  It was felt by 90% of the questionnaire respondents that the blog was more beneficial both at the time and possibly in the future.  One student noted “Although I struggled to fill it out due to a lack of discipline on my part I thought that it was far more beneficial than a report as it not only allows a far more expressive way of writing but will later on help to keep a track of work and design through blogs” another student said “it was my first time doing a blog and it was loads of fun”.  The researcher had never previously heard a student say that writing a report was loads of fun.  Ramsden (1992) said “learning should be pleasurable, there is no rule against hard work being fun”.

The week on week deliverables via the blog also meant that students’ time management was on schedule.  Often the day the coursework was due would see the computer labs packed with students finishing their work right up until the deadline (anecdotal).  This was no longer the case for the majority of students.  One of the respondents to the questionnaire said “doing the blog meant that I was forced to start early and I finished the assignment with time to spare”.

The students had been asked to write the blogs in HTML.  The researcher had hoped that a bi-product of this would be practice in hand coding and weekly revision of HTML.  8% of the students who returned the questionnaire said they would have preferred to use a text editor and not have to hand code, another 81% felt that although writing in HTML was more difficult than using an editor they understood that it was useful.  Evidence of this usefulness could be seen in the examination results.  The compulsory HTML exam question had an average mark of 21/25 against an average mark of 14/25 for all the other questions.

Qualitative evidence gleaned from the questionnaire gave a positive overall assessment of the module which was very useful for the module co-ordinator.  The students enjoyed the coursework and although they found it difficult to learn to use the software the tutorials supplied were of help as were the graduate demonstrators who were available in the computer labs.  24% of the students surveyed used the word ‘enjoyed’ when asked open ended questions.  These results pointed towards the module rather than the blogs however it was the use of the blogs which prompted the questions (to list 3 good things about the blogs and 3 bad things). 

 

7.3 Narrative in the blogs

 

The marking scheme allowed for the fact that students had a number of deadlines throughout the semester.  It would be unrealistic to expect all students to contribute to an extended blog every week.  Other modules also had coursework due throughout the semester and therefore students were expected to prioritise their time.  The marking scheme allowed a mark to be allocated to a student who had mentioned in their blog that they were working on a different assignment in that week but gave a brief description of what they hoped to achieve the following week.  This still monitored engagement and therefore the mark was deemed legitimate. 

 

The narrative in the blogs in the early weeks often made reference to the fact that students found it difficult to write their entries in HTML and bemoaned the fact that it would be easier to write in plain text.  These complaints became less frequent as the semester moved on and students found HTML easier to write. 

 

Also in the early weeks students regularly mentioned that they were finding it difficult to draw using the software package specified.  The result was that extra drawing tutorials were scheduled immediately.  The content of the blogs alluded to other aspects of the module that could be addressed instantly; for example students were finding it difficult to embed images and other files in the HTML.  Again tutorials were added to the module web site without delay.

 

Students would often write at great length about the problems they were having with their coursework one week, only to write at great length the following week about how they had solved the problems. 

 

7.4 Module co-ordinator’s reflective journal

 

The module co-ordinator also kept a reflective journal over the eight week period.  The previous year’s reflective journal from week four (week before the blog started) indicated that students were still unsure at the end of the class what they were expected to do and what bearing this had on the module.  To help combat this, this year started with a tutorial explaining to the students what was expected of them, looking at the marking scheme, giving the students access to the marking scheme for their own reference and explaining, in detail, the aims and learning outcomes of the exercise.  Students were also shown examples from previous cohorts’ work and it was made very clear how this piece of coursework would have a huge bearing (50%) on the overall coursework mark.  A synopsis of the instructions were also given at the start of weeks five and six, both for those who had missed it and for anyone who had not fully understood it.  The reflective journal in week 5 notes;

 

“Some students still look surprised when I ask them in lab classes if they would like to see their marks so far, they claim not to know that there were marks allocated each week!”

 

By week 6 (the second week of the blogging exercise) students in the practical sessions understood the process, however it was noted that;

 

“The students who are not engaging with the blogs are rarely in the lab classes either”

 

In week 6, all the students who had not started their blog entries were emailed (see below).

 

“I have noticed that you have not completed any blog entries for COM149J1.  As these contribute 50% of the marks to the second piece of coursework it is extremely difficult to pass the module without them.  Please contact me as soon as possible regarding this matter”

 

The diary noted that whilst most students were diligent in blogging a small minority seemed to have many excuses from;

 

“Hey Karen sorry yeah I have them done there on a flash drive i will upload them at some point today when i get a chance”

 

To

 

“karen I am so sorry about this I didn't realise that it was worth 50%, I will have evreything up to date for you on my blog by friday.  I hope I didn't cause you any inconvience” [sic]

 

8. Discussion

 

The rapid growth of social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace over the last two to three years and their incorporation into the daily lives of many young people has had a huge effect on the way these young people communicate and use computers and mobile phones.  Communication on social networking sites generally takes place in a chat room or by blogging.  It was this widespread use of social blogging that led to this investigation.  It was interesting to examine how students would embrace blogging in a formal learning environment.

 

Ofcom research shows that just over one fifth (22%) of adult internet users aged 16+ and almost half (49%) of children aged 8-17 who use the internet have set up their own profile on a social networking site. For adults, the likelihood of setting up a profile is highest among 16-24 year olds (54%) and decreases with age. (Ofcom, 2008)          

 

The average age of the cohort involved in this research was 19.  100% of these students already had a page and a profile on a social networking site. 

 

Traditionally, computing students write very little formally during their time at university and often it is not until the end of the first semester that academics see any written work from them at all.  Furthermore, they can complete their degrees without ever seeing any of their peer’s work.  However initially they did not see any similarities between writing on their social networking site and keeping a blog to follow the progress of their coursework.

 

The completion of weekly blogs gave students regular practice in writing for an audience as well as meeting a number of purposes.  Firstly there are marks attached to both the engagement and the quality of the engagement.  Secondly, the blogs could be seen by their peers.  Some students strived to be the best whilst others were content for their work to be seen as, at best, competent.  The questionnaire asked if they looked at other students’ blogs.  100% (54% response rate) of students said that they did. 

 

The formality of assessment was not ideal, nevertheless it ensured that students participated in the process.  Students were aware of the public nature of the blogs (they were hosted on the University server and available on the World Wide Web) and it must be noted that this may have influenced any potential reflection in their writing.  However, it was engagement rather than reflection that was being measured.

 

As computing undergraduates these students will be expected to be able to communicate their ideas and develop written commentaries on the design processes involved in their professional practice.  The experience of the blog could help lay the foundation of this practice.

 

The 1990’s saw the beginnings of many of the accepted views we have today of learning,

and several of these originated in Vygotsky’s socio-cultural psychology (1978).  Vygotsky recognized two distinct phases of learning.  The first where students encourage and support each other and the second where students come to their own conclusions based on experimental evidence.  Anecdotal evidence from the electronic questionnaires supports Vygotsky’s findings.  Although the blogs were individual assignments, students reported that they found it useful and reassuring to compare their blogs against others both to measure the quality and the quantity of their own work.  This was encouraging for the students who were in the first semester of their university careers and helped them to validate their work against the rest of the cohort.   

 

 

Jerome Bruner (1960) argues that learning is an active process.  Bruner, like Vygotsky, focuses on the social and cultural aspects of learning. He suggests that people learn with meaning and personal significance in mind, not just through attention to the facts. Knowledge and memory are therefore constructed. Learning must consequently be a process of discovery where learners build their own knowledge, with the active dialogue of teachers, building on their existing knowledge.  The blog provided students with an active learning strategy where they had to participate, not only in weekly entries but in order to have something to write about, in lectures and in practical classes.  This method ensured that coursework was developed iteratively each week.  Students who did not engage in the process were easily identified from the beginning of the process and were emailed each Monday to remind them that this was a part of their coursework and as such was assessed.  Most students responded and got back on track very quickly.  Of the seven students who did not participate at all, six have since dropped out of university.  The lack of engagement was reflected across the other two modules in the same semester however, the other module coordinators were unaware of the lack of engagement until the end of the semester when it was too late.  Perhaps a more synchronized approach to monitoring engagement across all three modules in first semester would have a positive affect not only on engagement, but by also motivating students and increasing retention rates.

9. Further research

 

This research did not investigate student’s opinions on how they viewed their social networking blogs as opposed to their university blog.  Would they have preferred to use Bebo etc for their coursework?  Would they feel we (university staff) were trespassing on their social lives if we used the same space as their friends?   Generally the responses showed that they enjoyed the experience but would it change the way they used their own blogs or the way that they documented progress of their coursework?  Would they have kept the blogs had there not have been an assessment element to it?  If we as educators can encourage students to keep a record of their progress through university perhaps in time students would start to reflect on their work from choice.  If it could be proven that monitoring students using blogging worked on one module could it help increase retention rates if it were used across all first year modules?

 

 


 

References

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Appendices

 

 

Comments (2)

Paul.W said

at 11:30 pm on Apr 9, 2008

Encouraging students to maintain a blog and report on their placement through the Wiki medium will help promote interest, motivation to develop and even a little healthy competition due to the nature of the service (public commenting, etc).

Just my $0.02

Elaine M said

at 1:33 pm on May 7, 2008

Hi Karen, Thanks for the feedback. I was wondering if the placement should be wrote in first person or third person because there seems to be a mixture of reports.

Thanks
Elaine

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