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Supporting innovation in teaching, learning and learner development at Roehampton

eLearningMeet: Student Blogs as Assessed Coursework – A Case Study

John Price-History Lecturer-presenting

John Price presenting “Student Blogs as Assessed Coursework: a Case Study” at eLearningMeet, University of Roehampton – June 2015

Context

At our 2nd eLearningMeet attendees learnt that in the fall of 2014-15, John Price a Historian and academic at both Goldsmiths, University of London and the University of Roehampton introduced blogs as a form of summative assessment in two, of his half-year (one term, ten-week) modules in Goldsmiths’ Department of History.

As summarised on slide 3 in the embedded slideshow below, one module, “Nations, Nationalism and National Identity“, was delivered to 18 foundation-level undergraduate students enrolled on the Department’s four-year Integrated Degree programme. Students blogged individually during the last 5 weeks of the module and their blog contributed up to 50% of their overall grade, the remaining 50% coming from an essay.

The other module, “Social Movements and Popular Protest in London from 1830 to 2003“, was delivered to 50, 2nd and 3rd year undergraduate students. They blogged throughout the whole module and their blog contributed up to 40% of their overall grade, whilst the lion’s share of up to 60% was awarded for an essay.

e-learning-meeting-June-2015-2

In large part, for the reasons listed on slide 2 shown above, John believed that blogs were an innovative and a valuable form of assessment. This was the primary motivation behind his decision to use them in his modules, rather than explicitly wanting to research and/or test their pedagogical impact. However, as it was the first time blogging as a form of summative assessment was used in his Department and given that it was being utilised in two different modules for students at different levels, he determined to conduct a proper evaluation.

Learning Objectives Achieved

Foundation Level Students:

The learning outcomes in relation to grades for foundation students were disappointing to say the least, with 72% of the students failing the assignment (see slide 4). Admittedly, the vast majority of those who failed were just under the pass mark threshold but, nevertheless, this initially looks like a fairly catastrophic failure of blogging as a summative assessment tool.

Year 2 & 3 Level Students:

But, the results at this level are far more promising; only 4 students actually failed the assignment and nearly 50% of students who submitted achieved a grade of 60 or above. Two of the seven first-class students achieved a grade of 76 and the overall quality of the work was very good.

Student Feedback

The evaluation method entailed asking students to complete a rudimentary 12-question feedback form in which they rated, on a scale of 1-5 (one being low, five being high), a series of statements about the blog assignment. The survey was voluntary and formed part of the submission process, but 16 of the 18 foundation students completed it, as did 37 of the 41 2nd and 3rd year students who submitted work. For more on the survey questions and responses see slides 5 and 6.

The “overall rating of blogging as an assessment” given by the student respondents across all three levels is tabulated below:

Year/Level
Negative
(1-2 rating)
(3 rating)
Positive
(4-5 rating)
Foundation
38%
19%
43%
2nd & 3rd Year
8%
41%
49%

From this it is apparent that 2nd an 3rd year students tended to regard blogging for the purpose of assessment much more highly than the Foundation students.

Consequently, as you might imagine the comments made by students in the survey ranged from highly favourable to decidedly less so. (See slides 7 and 8 above for students comments). But, they were also quite insightful and provided John with useful information to guide his future use of blogs for assessment. Here are three:

‘I would have much preferred to have written an essay. After spending the year getting to grips with referencing correctly I found it almost like taking a step backwards’.

‘It was incredibly useful to try a different method of assessment aside from essays and I feel as though I have gained a transferable skill’.

‘The main thing that riled most people about the course was that for the amount of credits the course gives, you need to do twice the work as is normal to comparable courses’.

Lessons Learned and the Way Forward

Overall, John found that using blogs as a form of assessment was very gratifying and he was planning to continue the practice. He reported being,

“extremely impressed with much of the work that was completed.”

Problems encountered:
  • Assumptions regarding the ability of Foundation students specifically, to work independently with unfamiliar technology to develop a project of this kind proved to be overly optimistic.
  • The time and attention it took students to learn to use WordPress and to work on blogging itself detracted from their learning of the subject.
  • Students were concerned about the workload and 2nd and 3rd Year students questioned the weighting awarded the blog relative to the essay.
  • A few students felt that blogging wasn’t sufficiently academic as it did not require them to utilise hard won skills such as citing and referencing.
Ways to address them:
  • To make the blog a collaborative small group exercise for Foundation students rather than requiring each student to create their own blog. This approach can facilitate peer support and allow for the work to be distributed amongst group members.
  • The fact that students wrote substantially more than the minimum required number of words in their blogs, led John to conclude that his students were really enthusiastic about this assessment and that concerns about workload especially by 2nd and 3rd Year students were not widespread or particularly significant. Hence, he decided not to make any specific changes to the blog assignment in relation to workload for 2nd and 3rd Year students.
  • A consideration might be to ask students to cite from appropriate sources to give students an opportunity to utilise their new referencing skills.

Examples of Some of the Best Blogs

Foundation Student Blogs
2nd & 3rd Year Student Blogs

Source: This blog post is largely based, with John Price’s permission, on the notes he wrote for his presentation at our eLearningMeet.

For more on good practice in relation using blogs for assessment purposes and the the benefits of doing so you may find this article particularly interesting: Motivating Students by Giving Assignments a Public Audience.

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