More evaluation research

This evaluation report from a University of Arizona course, Learning, Reading and Culture, provides interesting feedback on the blog experience

The survey used was an informal instrument to see how the blog was viewed as a part of this course. Thirteen students (of 17 present) responded to a survey that was distributed on the last night of class with the University Student Evaluation Forms for the course. Most respondents had not had experience in Web publishing. Only one person indicated that she had participated in “something like a blog” before. Six individuals indicated that they wanted to continue using blog551, although in point of fact, no messages were posted the following semester. Responding to a question about whether they would use a blog in a future class (either teaching or taking), five said “yes,” and three indicated “maybe.” Students in LRC551 were asked what they liked most about using the LRC551 blogs. Comments included: “It was an opportunity to participate,” it was “easily accessible” and “user friendly.” The blog “extended class discussions …without taking class time.” It was a “‘safe’ way to participate.” One student noted that she liked being able to “participate in writing, not necessarily verbally.” Asked how they might use a blog themselves, responses included: “as a journal,” “for notes,” and “to post examples.” One student wrote that she saw it as a way to introduce “new technology as a way to study new literacies.” Another suggested using blogs as “a way for scholars to discuss articles.” Several mentioned that it could be a “place for students” that could promote “interactivity.” A small number of students were negative on the value of blogging as a good way to learn or to participate in class. One student wrote that blogs invaded her privacy.

And the evaluation from another U of A course, Decision Making for Information Professionals, is even more interesting:

The end-of-course survey revealed that although the vast majority (95 percent) of students responding were novice blog users, 90 percent agreed that the “Technology News Web log was a good way for me to learn more about technology.” Twenty-nine percent reported that they joined another blog since the course began, 70 percent of the students planned to join at least one blog in the coming six months, and 76 percent “would like to continue using the Technology News Web log.” One student commented that the best thing about using a blog was its “casual sharing of information.” She wrote: “I almost got the feeling I was sitting in a coffee shop somewhere and the person next to me poring over the newspaper casually said, ‘Hey, did you hear about this new thing that just came out…?’” This is the sort of sense of place that we do not realize fully with threaded discussion forums, e-mails and chatrooms.

This notion that a blog can sustain a sense of place that does not occur within a discussion board context is a very interesting insight. This relates to some thoughts I have been having about the blog as a “publication”. Both blog as “place” and blog as “publication” require the development of a strong sense of identity. In journalism we talk about magazine identities which are really personalised brands that combine the different elements of content, design, visual style and more amorphous things like the “attitude” of the writing. I think that the best blogs build this very strong individual sense of identity.

This may seem very individualistic and contrary to my previous posts about blogs as conversational/collaborative spaces, but I don’t think this is really the case. A well developed publication identity actually encourages interaction because the familiarity encourages a sense of comfort and identification.

This ability to create a particular sense of blog space, to create a specific publication identity has implications for many course related blogs but is particularly important for journalism and writing students. Blogs may be a good way of helping them to develop a real sense of individual style and purpose, which are often the type of amorphous but essential qualities which are overlooked in the traditional curricula.

More blog research

One study, by Jeremy Williams and Joanne Jacobs, which does provide an empirical evaluation of blogs as a learning experience comes from the MBA program at the Brisbane Graduate School of Management in Queensland. The results are general but quite encouraging. In the six week course students in the course were encouraged to participate in a class blog. Although it was optional five “meaningful” posts in the six week period earned five marks for the course. About half the students in the course participated in an online survey. About half of those who responded (24) indicated they had not taken part in the blog. The major reasons were “For the marks available, it wasn’t worth the effort.” (33%) and “I would have liked to participate, but I wasn’t sure I’d have anything valuable to contribute.”

Of those who did contribute (27) the response was very positive: “some two thirds of blog participants either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the MBA blog assisted their learning (only 12% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing).”

On interactivity: There was stronger endorsement for the view that the MBA Blog increased student interactivity, some 77% of students either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the MBA blog increased the level of meaningful intellectual exchange between students (only 3% or one person disagreeing with this statement).

Even more encouragingly 69% of the students said they would participate in a class blog again even if it had no marks attached. 57% said blogs should be used in all or most MBA units and a further 37% said they should be used in some.

I think some of the student comments are even more interesting than the numerical data:

‘Even though at first people were afraid to take the risk and blog, I found it a good way to discuss concepts and participate in further discussion. It also allowed the sharing of up-todate information that would not have been possible in lecture time.’

‘I spent time prior to each blog constructing an entry. To do that I did need to have a good understanding of what I wanted to blog about. I also spent time reading and considering the blogs of other students and found their comments and perspectives thought provoking.’

‘Students could put forth their ideas on topics after a little thought. The only other avenue available most of the time is in-class comments, for which you do not have much time to really think about them in detail. When new to a subject, the extra thought time that blogging provides can really help students sort through some of the issues in our own head, before providing them for all to see.’

These students are full-paying MBA students doing an intensive six week course so they are likely to be fairly highly motivated learners. But I think the comments are interesting in that they indicate that blogs can provide a new and different mode of reflective learning that is different to class discussion or private assignments.

Some of the dynamics of this “learning space” emerging from the student comments include,

- it provides up-to-date, real time commentary on a week to week basis

- participants need to take a “risk” to really become involved

- it encourages focused thinking in that participants feel they have to think about what they want to say before making their comments public

- reading and thinking about other contributions is as important as posting comments

- it encourages extra “thought-time”

Download paper here: Exploring the Use of Blogs as Learning Spaces in the Higher Education Sector

Another discovery

I found another more recent teaching site for one of Adrian Miles’ classes in Network Media. This class seems to working very well with many students producing interesting weblogs.

This post is a very interesting example of Miles assessment notes with links to the student sites and how students in this course combines site construction and a related online academic essay.

He also links to Into the Blogsphere a collection of commissioned/reviewed academic essays on blogs which look fascinating. All set up as a blog with a comment function for each essay. Can’t wait to take a deeper look at some of these essays.