Using blogging to support students to grasp new ways of thinking and practising

Dr Velda McCune, Deputy Director, Institute for Academic Development, University of Edinburgh, UK

In the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice at the University of Edinburgh I lead the course about ‘Designing Courses’. The programme is aimed at new academic staff in higher education and this course supports them to reflect on effective ways to design courses for their students. I teach this course wholly online as I wanted to make participation more accessible for colleagues with busy diaries and perhaps also caring responsibilities. Participants can engage in the activities for each part of the course at any time within each two-week block, giving a lot of flexibility.
One of the key things that I was aware of in designing that course was that participants would be coming from a wide range of subject area backgrounds and few would have a background in educational development or research. Thus I was expecting participants to take on board very new and unfamiliar ways of thinking and practising (Hounsell and McCune, 2005). As I know that regular formative feedback is particularly important when learners are grasping new and potentially tacit practices, I designed formative feedback strongly into the course (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Hattie and Timperley, 2007). I achieved this by asking participants to keep a blog in WordPress from the start of the course. The blog was to focus on a particular course that the participant wanted to design or redesign. In each two week block, participants were given several tasks to write in their blog and they were required to comment on at least two other blogs from their peers. I and my co-tutor also commented regularly on the blogs. The final assessment also involved adding to the blog, to provide continuity. What this meant was that course participants got a lot of regular formative feedback to shape their understanding of the required ways of thinking and practising. This feedback was also highly relevant to the final assignment.
I’m pleased to say that the participants wrote excellent reflective blogs, exceeding my expectations. Most of the feedback from participants on the course was also positive. I think that this approach could be applied with undergraduate students just as well as the postgraduates I was teaching here.
Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

References

Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research 77(1), 81-112.
McCune, V. and Hounsell, D. (2005). The development of students' ways of thinking and practising in three final-year biology courses. Higher Education 49(3), 255-289.