In my first blog post I suggested that keeping a blog would be akin to contributing to the discussions in module 1: that it would structure a routine of reading and critical reflection on themes developing in the module. To some extent this is true, but just four weeks ago when I wrote my first post I hadn’t appreciated just how unconstrained blogging is and how challenging this would be.
In module 1, the discussion forums carefully scaffolded our learning through a range of topics chosen by the tutors as relevant for us at that stage of learning. I was answering the same questions as my peers and by reading their work I had a benchmark against which to compare my own writing. In contrast, in this assessment I am free to write about whatever aspect of the unit I choose. With so many possibilities I feel like the rabbit caught in the headlights, overwhelmed by not only the choice of options but also the responsibility to choose appropriate subject matter. I have little prior experience of blogging and I find myself asking whether a post will be good enough or of the right level for a Master’s assessment, and I wonder whether my choice of topics is haphazard. Three half-finished posts lie abandoned as my thoughts develop and I think of another idea or theme which seems more interesting or important.
Although this choice feels unstructured and incredibly open, this is a good thing and is an important process to work through. González (2010) found that using technology to support knowledge building tasks allowed students to develop high levels of understanding. Blogs were seen as a good tool to do this and the point here is that they are less formal, less structured. Blogging allows learners to cultivate their own autonomous voice (Kerawalla et al, 2009) and give their own personal opinion about things that they can’t do in essays and without a lot of formality (González, 2010, p69). This task is challenging, but not too much so; it’s pitched at just the right level for this stage of the course.
Implications for my practice
There are some key points here, which I will use to support colleagues with course and activity design.
1. Scaffold the activity: With little experience of blogging and Master’s level writing, if I had been asked to do this just five months ago at the start of the course it would have been extremely daunting and I wonder how well I would have been able to rise to the challenge; it may even have put me off completing the module. From this vantage point, it’s clear to see how we have been supported in the lead up to this task and how the assessment has been crafted into the course design. For the best chance of learner success, blogging (and any learning activity) should make pedagogical sense to the learners and should be achievable.
2. Make it count: There are two things motivating me to keep going with this blog. Primarily it’s because it’s part of the assessment for this module, and there are clear assessment criteria so I know what’s expected. I’m also publicising posts through social media and amongst my peer group so I’m motivated to take care with each post and write as thoughtfully as I can.
3. Let go: It’s a bit like learning to walk. In module 1, the activities were designed to teach us how to learn online and to foster critical thinking within the safe private space of the VLE. In module 2, our academic skills are developing and confidence levels rising which allows tutors to do less hand-holding. Blogging helps to develop our sense of autonomy and has been chosen as an activity not only to facilitate acquisition of knowledge, but to support the development of higher level academic skills.
4. But be there for your learners: As a learner, I’m not quite running yet! In the first few weeks of blogging I really needed reassurance that I was on the right track. The formative feedback provided by the tutors to confirm that my posts were pitched at the right level and to indicate where I could improve was vital.
With careful scaffolding, blogging as a learning activity and skill development process can be really effective and motivating for learners. The principles discussed are not unique to supporting blogging for learning; they are true for many learning activities.
I’m not a rabbit in the headlights, I’m learning to run.
González, C. (2010) What do university teachers think eLearning is good for in their teaching? Studies in Higher Education, 35(1), 61-78. Available from doi:10.1080/03075070902874632 [Accessed 5 March 2016].
Kerawalla, L., Minocha, S., Kirkup, G., & Conole, G. (2009) An empirically grounded framework to guide blogging in higher education. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 25 (1), 31-42. Available from doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00286.x [Accessed 4 March 2016].
Paloff, R. & Pratt, K. (2013) Lessons from the virtual classroom : The realities of online teaching (2nd ed., The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series). United Kingdom: Dawson Books.
Learning to walk illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco