Blogs to Assess Learners

Blogs to Assess Learners

Dr Rachel ShanksDr Rachel Shanks, School of Education tells us about how she redesigned courses and uses blogs to assess learners.  

Below, hear how Dr Shanks responds to some questions about her interesting, innovative teaching practice.

What did you do?

I merged two 15 credit courses, ‘Professional Development 3’ and ‘Action Inquiry’ into a 30 credit course ‘Professional Learning and Inquiry’. The previous courses were both assessed through a 3000 word essay while the new course is assessed through 4000 words written in a series of 8 blog posts of 500 words each in the Blog tool in MyAberdeen. Topics and assessment criteria for the blog posts were provided to the students. They could all see each other’s posts and leave comments for each other, thus providing peer feedback. I provided a comment to the first version of each one of the blog posts as it was added until the week before the hand-in date. These comments were a form of formative feedback. Documents, weblinks and photographs could be inserted into the blogs within a post or as an appendix. The same academic writing standards were expected with references provided in the correct format. Students could edit or upload new versions of their blogposts up until the hand-in deadline. I marked each blog post separately using the CGS scale and then calculated the overall grade as an average of these marks.

Why did you do it?

One reason for doing this was to reduce the assessment burden on students. I had used blog posts as an assessment tool for another course and it had worked well. Feedback from students on the part-time BA in Professional Development included the observation that studying two 15 credit modules in their first semester was difficult alongside full-time work and other responsibilities. They often focused their efforts too much on one course to the detriment of the other. Writing two 3000 word essays at the beginning of their university studies was daunting for mature students who were sometimes returning to formal education for the first time in 20 or even 30 years.

This process incorporates peer learning and peer feedback as students on the course are meant to read each other’s posts and leave constructive comments.

I also had the aim of encouraging people to consider blogging in the future as part of their professional practice in order to disseminate their work. This was borne out by one student saying they were going to make time to explore blogging further.

How did you develop the idea?

Colleagues in the Teaching Qualification in Further Education programme had recently merged courses successfully. I asked previous students for their opinions and they liked the idea of having one course to study at a time and reducing both the overall assessment and moving it to smaller chunks which could be formative with comments from the tutor and other students until the end of the course.

What were the challenges?

Overcoming students’ reluctance to post their work in MyAberdeen as no one wanted to be the first person to post. However, by setting soft deadlines before face-to-face campus sessions this was resolved. It was also a challenge for everyone to learn how to access blog posts as this is not straightforward in the Blackboard blog tool at the moment.

The blog posts do not go through TurnitIN but as these are personal reflections and, therefore, not easy to copy from elsewhere, the School’s Teaching and Learning Committee has approved this and it has been noted at the Exam Board.

What were the benefits to you?

I could give formative feedback to students when they first uploaded blog posts, students then revised their blog posts and this improved the overall standard of their work. I would give feedback once on the first version of each blog post topic until the week before the assessment deadline. Students were much more timely in submitting their ethical approval forms (in the blog) for the action research they were to carry out in the next course.

What was the impact on student learning?

Students were able to do their work gradually rather than all at the end in two much longer essays. Informal feedback from students was that they preferred writing these shorter pieces of work. Students’ work was more focussed as they covered each topic they were meant to rather than writing too much for one part of an essay and not covering one of the criteria.

How did your students evaluate the experience?

Using Student Course Evaluation Forms (SCEFs), in a tutorial at the beginning of the next course we discussed it and via email to check that the changes to the course were helpful.

What did your students say?

Using blog posts to undertake the assessment worked well for me.  The framework of four blog posts helped me to structure my approach to the task.  The ability to break it down into sections was great not only for keeping me focussed on those points, but also made time management a little easier.  Taking each element as a stand-alone piece with the ability to connect them together as a fuller piece of writing also helped build my confidence for writing larger essays. (student 1)

I found it really helpful to be able to see other’s people submission, reassured me I was on the right track with my submissions. (student 2)

I thought the blog posts was a great assessment tool.  It made it clear and manageable and easy to upload. It was good that classmates could comment and give feedback on these also. (student 3)

Students also had suggestions on how to improve:

might be an idea to post one of our blogs next year to let students get an idea of what you are looking for. (student 4)

it was a bit clunky trying to add appendices etc. (student 4)

The opportunity to familiarise myself with the world of blogs in advance would have been useful.  It wasn’t until I started writing that I realised how each blog could be stand alone, yet drawn together as one piece. (student 1)

What hints/tips do you have for others in the future?

Provide examples within MyAberdeen and with web page references of similar blogs for students to look at before the course starts

Provide screenshots or use the Snipping Tool to show how to access your own and others’ blog posts and how to add photos and other files.

Further information

Please email Rachel Shanks