Can be about blogs in general or blogs for teaching and learning.
The past couple of years an increasing number of LSE academics started integrating blogging in their courses. This took various forms, from using the blog feature on Moodle as an added activity to creating individual blogs for students as part of a course summative assessment. One thing that all these projects shared is the rationale for using blogs in an educational context: encouraging student engagement, making learning more student-centred and diversifying assessment with the view to making it more relevant to the course and developing students’ transferable skills.
A good example of such initiative is Anthropology’s Dr Walker AN300 student blogs project. Dr Walker applied for a SPARK Grant last year in order to support his project to “develop the use of student blogs as one component of the summative assessment for AN300 Advanced Theory of Social Anthropology”.
Below is a summary of the project and its outcomes, with quotes form Dr Walker’s application and project report, whose full version can be found on his project page.
What was done
AN300 is an intensive reading course focusing on full-length books rather than journal articles. There are three ‘cycles’ per term, each devoted to a different book […] Each student was required to produce his/her own blog. […]Students were expected to make one post each week for the first two weeks of each book cycle (12 posts for the course overall). Every third week was dedicated to commenting on the posts of others. The final mark consisted of the average of each student’s best eight posts.[…]The posts were assessed weekly by a GTA who was also in charge of providing feedback.
Students also attended a session on writing for blog run by LTI at the beginning of their course.
Developing students’ academic and life skills
The aim of this project was to encourage students to develop their own original ideas and critical responses to key texts in social anthropology, as well as to cultivate their capacity to respond thoughtfully and diplomatically to the ideas of others. Making regular blog entries was also meant to encourage students to keep abreast of the required readings for each week, partly in order to positively impact the overall quality of class discussions. The project was also intended to cultivate students’ digital literacy, providing them with training in an increasingly widespread form of disseminating information.
[The course format] is sometimes described as an advanced reading group. This makes it ill suited to exams as a mode of assessment. The blogs, by contrast, allowed students to develop their own ideas about the books they were reading as they went along.
Students appreciated the opportunity the blogs provided […] to work in a medium other than an essay or exam.
In general, the trial can be considered a success. […] The posts that resulted were often highly original and creative. Students appreciated the opportunity the blogs provided to be more experimental with their ideas and arguments, and less formal in their writing. […] Having to write a post prior to class gave students an opportunity to critically reflect on the readings, and to bring to the class ideas they had developed in their blogs
Clarity was identified as a key area for improvement in the project, as its absence seems to have caused some frustration among students. The main aspects that were identified as critical were clear guidance and expectations, grading criteria and feedback on the blog posts.
It is also worth noting that it was the first year blogs were tried in the department. The fact that students were not (yet) familiar with this type of activity made it even more important to provide them with extra guidance.
You can find a detailed evaluation report on the project’s dedicated web pages. The report includes guidance given to students at the start of term along with marking criteria, and examples of student posts and comments.
This project was funded by LTI’s SPARK Grant. More info on similar teaching innovation projects and how to apply on our website.
The results are in!
In March the SPARK! Committee reviewed applications from our first call and approved three projects aimed at improving the student learning experience through the use of technology and innovative pedagogical approaches.
The projects include an extension of a very successful students-as-producers project to further develop students filmmaking skills, the use of specialist software to create interactive assessment in Maths and a student-owned digital platform to produce and disseminate student research.
Find out more about these and previously-funded projects on our webpages.
It’s not too late to apply!
Our second call will be closing on Friday 5th May at 12 noon. This means you still have time to talk to us about your ideas and submit your application!
Edgar Whitley from the department of Management tells us about using Mahara as a tool for blogging and peer assessment and its benefits to teaching, learning and assessment.
How do you use digital tools? Are you constantly online and using social media or management tools to record your every action, or do you just dip in and out of online resources using them as and when you need?
LSE students who have recently taken part in the Students Ambassadors for Digital Literacy project were asked to map their digital footprint to find out more about how they fitted on the Digital Visitors and Residents model (V&R).
The students found significant difference in their use of institutional tools, such as Moodle, LSEforYou, LSE email and their library accounts and personal tools such as Google, Skype and Dropbox.
The exercise encouraged students to think about the overlap with these tools and perhaps how they could utilise them more effectively.
“Drawing a pair of axis, one ranging from Visitor to Resident and the other outlining the nature- Personal or Institutional, we populated the graph with various tools- social media, organisational, entertainment and fitness- from all realms of our being and analysing where we stand for each of them. This method of analysis offers a refreshing way of looking at digital engagement- capturing both the extent and the nature. It allows for subjective interpretation of each tool and hence is not limited by strict definitions. For example, I could put in Microsoft OneNote which I exclusively use for work related documentation.”
However, it may still be too simplistic since it does not account for overlaps well and does not factor in the nature of some tools that are only meant for visitor purposes- eg Moodle. No tool could be on two extremes of a dimension without sketching it in twice- making the chart less succinct. Furthermore, there are other characteristics of engagement that could be factored in with more dimensions: regulated use, open source, within the personal space (entertainment or personal development). These are things we take as banalities and its not until we stop, think and categorise that we can alter and optimise our use of these tools and this would be the biggest takeaway for me from the task”
“This process was stimulating as it was good to take a step back from our normal online activities and to understand the extent to which we personally interact with these services. By creating the map, it was significant for me as I noted how we do not always need to act either as a “Visitor” or “Resident”, but rather, this model should be viewed as a continuum. For instance, in my map, I noted how Facebook, even as used as a residential tool, both was within the personal and institutional category due to the fact that I have joined LSE specific groups whilst also having a personal interaction with it.
One point that I came away with from this task was the questioning the extent to which it is possible to be off the scale on the map (i.e. is it possible to be anonymous). However, thinking about this, even for users who may not login to services at all, they will still be classed as a “Visitor” on this model. Therefore, perhaps it is not possible to be completely anonymous whilst we are using online services.”
Most of the maps showed that students were more likely to act in a visitor mode when accessing institutional tools and behave as residents when using tools to manage their personal lives. This indicates something about how students are engaging and learning at the LSE but also how these tools are presented to them by the School. There is a wider debate about the place of personal tools such as social media in teaching, but perhaps some of the institutional tools are not being used to their full potential. For example Simran mentions in her post that Moodle is “only meant for visitor purposes” yet in fact Moodle is designed using social constructionist pedagogy with the idea that learning is a collaborative cultural event which would encourage ‘resident’ use. Moodle supports the use of discussion forums, peer assessment and feedback, collaborative writing, group submissions, anonymous Q&A, Wiki’s, blogs, and many more activities. If designed well a Moodle course can encourage an online community which supports and extends beyond face to face work carried out in the classroom.
The maps raise several questions about how we separate out our behaviours and identities online. LSE students appeared to leaving a large digital footprint with their use of external applications in their personal life but did not seem as comfortable in creating a professional persona on apps like Linked In or Twitter. One of the aims of the SADL project is to work with students in order to discuss strategies to build a positive online presence and expand their networks. Workshops involve sharing and testing online tools to see how they can be adapted from personal use to manage their academic work.
The student blogs about the workshop and more information about the SADL project can be found on the SADL blog.
In advance of an Academic Development Programme workshop on this subject next Wednesday (see the booking link at the end of the post), during which participants will explore the concepts of information and digital literacies, how they relate to student learning and how they can be incorporated into courses and programmes, Jane Secker, Copyright and Digital Literacy Advisor in LSE’s Learning Technology and Innovation, shares her views on various aspects of these literacies with Claudine Provencher, Senior Academic Developer in LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre. This post originates from the TLC blog where you can find further articles on projects, innovative teaching practices and upcoming events at LSE.
What is your definition of information and digital literacies?
Information and digital literacies are key players in the knowledge, skills and behaviours that underpin learning, and part of what you could call ‘learning literacies’, which also include media and academic literacies. Information literacy is a term that was first coined over 40 years ago and it’s widely used by librarians. Its importance has been recognized by UNESCO as essential for lifelong learning and a human right. It’s about knowing how to find, evaluate, manage and use information in all its forms, and it extends way beyond simply finding the right information to complete an assignment at LSE. It is also about being able to evaluate the information you find and how to use it to construct new knowledge. Meanwhile digital literacy is a more recent term, but the two overlap considerably. Digital literacy is more than just IT skills: it’s about knowing how to use technology appropriately, knowing which sources to trust online and how to manage your digital identity and wellbeing (which means knowing when to switch off technology sometimes!). In both digital and information literacy, ethics are really important, so knowing how to use other people’s ideas appropriately, understanding citation conventions and respecting intellectual property and copyright are significant issues of concern as well.
What are the main challenges involved in integrating information and digital literacies into course curriculum?
One of the biggest challenges is getting time in the curriculum to help students develop these abilities in the context of their studies. Many academic colleagues expect LSE students to have these skills in place when they arrive at LSE, forgetting that our students come from all around the world and may not have learned how to find and evaluate information or use technology for academic purposes. There is also a challenge because the notion that all students are very ‘tech savvy’ persists, despite much evidence to the contrary.
While there exist some generic information and digital literacy skills, there are many that are closely related to academic practices within a discipline and so, to be meaningful to students, information and digital literacies should ideally be developed as part of their studies, not in optional extra sessions.
One of the other challenges is how these literacies are assessed in a course, particularly if the main form of assessment is an end of year exam. One of the best ways of developing and assessing them may be through independent research, opportunities for which exist both within departments, when students are tasked with undertaking an extended essay or dissertation, and through initiatives like the Teaching and Learning Centre’s LSE GROUPS.
Another challenge, which may not be as explicit, comes from the way reading lists are developed. Typically, at LSE, we provide students with highly structured reading lists, which means that learning how to evaluate and select resources is already done for them. This is not the case everywhere and other universities privilege alternative approaches such as inquiry based learning, for which students are given more project based work where they have to come up with a topic, carry out research and perhaps present an annotated bibliography, discussing why particular sources are valuable.
Should academics think about it at course level or at programme level?
I think both are important, and the best way to develop these abilities in undergraduate students is to embed them across the three years of a degree. In the first year, students need guidance on what good quality sources are, and how to use highly structured reading lists but, as they progress through their studies, they can be set assignments that help them learn to do research for themselves and select their own sources of information. Some disciplines lend themselves more easily to the development of information and digital literacies: history, for example, where it’s vital that students learn how to evaluate sources. However, there are opportunities in all subjects to teach students about how knowledge and information is structured within their discipline, and about specific conventions such as citing and referencing sources correctly.
Could you provide us with a few examples of successful integration of these literacies?
At LSE undergraduate students who undertake a dissertation or long essay often get an opportunity to develop their information literacy skills; however, this often comes relatively late in the course of their studies. I’ve worked with Dr Wicher Bergsma in Statistics to integrate information and digital literacies into an undergraduate statistics course he teaches (ST312, Applied Statistics), where students have to undertake a critical investigation and collate statistical data on a topic of their own interest. In the course, there are now three sessions taught by library colleagues and me where students learn how to undertake a literature search, going beyond simply a Google Scholar search, find data sets and learn how to cite and reference.
Also at LSE, it’s worth mentioning the Library’s role in supporting and developing digital and information literacies – academic staff can contact their Academic Support Librarian for advice – and the Student Ambassadors for Digital Literacy project (SADL), which has 45 undergraduate student ambassadors involved in participatory workshops and initiatives designed to share and embed good practices across the student community.
Finally, if I can insert an extra-LSE note, there’s a project I’ve been involved with in my capacity as Chair of the Information Literacy Group which has some relevance. TeenTech brings school students together to work in teams on projects and we’ve built research and information literacy skills into the judging criteria for these projects. So here students are expected at an early age to find and evaluate information and show how their idea builds on the work of others.
There are several interesting ideas in what you have just said. To conclude, could you say a few words about what you think could be the main benefits of a closer integration of information and digital literacies into course and programme curricula?
Students with highly developed information and digital literacies will get better marks and be able to develop more effective critical thinking skills. There will be fewer incidents of plagiarism and students will be better equipped when the time comes for them to undertake independent research. Last but not least, students with good information and digital literacies are highly valued by employers, as they know how to research a topic when they are not given a reading list!
The Integrating information and digital literacies in the curriculum workshop takes place on Wednesday 10 February, 12:30-14:00.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a techy person in fact I’m not techy at all so I did wonder what I had let myself in for when I started my new role as an assistant learning technologist here at LSE.
Although I am new to the LTI department I had already dipped my toe into the world of learning technology in my previous job on LSE100 (the large compulsory interdisciplinary undergraduate course).While working as a course administrator and then course manager for LSE100 I enjoyed working with lecturers and GTA’s to create interactive resources and I discovered that I was interested in using technology to enhance teaching and learning and to explore different approaches to lectures and classes.
So what are my initial impressions after the first few weeks?
- Obviously I am pleased that I will be working with a group of highly intelligent, funny, and wonderful colleagues : )
- I like the way my colleagues encourage people (including myself) to move out of their comfort zones and try out new things.
- I’ve realised that it’s about showing not doing, LTI try to give people the skills to use the technology and solve the problem themselves.
- I appreciate the fact that the team don’t always agree on what technology works best as different people work in different ways but they all use technology themselves to communicate and work collaboratively.
As I nervously publish my first ever blog post I am starting to realise that I shouldn’t fear technology, you have to engage and experiment to find out what works for you and what doesn’t. It will be a learning process but working with people to find out their needs and requirements is the most crucial step.