Today, I have been exploring the use of blogs in education. This is something I have been pondering for a while – can I ask my students to reflect on the work they are doing through blogs? I really enjoy blogging myself, and I think it’s really a excellent (and fun) tool that helps me verbalize some of all the thoughts and ideas that run through my head on an average work day that never makes it to a research paper or a project proposal. Blogging for me is a way to test ideas, elaborate on interesting materials and (if I’m lucky) engage in discussions and dialog with people from within and outside of my field of research all over the world. Very rewarding.
In one of the courses I teach, the students work in smaller groups throughout the course to analyze needs and requirements for a health informatics system of their choosing. It is very difficult to gain access to real stakeholders/end users during the 6 weeks the course is running and so the course (albeit being hands-on in the use of different analysis and modeling tools) becomes quite abstract and disconnected from reality. An idea I had today was that if the students were to describe their proposed systems and progress continuously on blogs, would it then be possible to get feedback from real stakeholders? By making the blogs public perhaps we could actually get healthcare professionals, patients and other stakeholders to access and comment on the proposed solutions. What do you think?
Other benefits of using the blog continuously throughout the course would be that the students can observe in retrospect the process they went through in working on their project. They would also be able to give each other feedback and reflect on difficulties and benefits of using the methods they do. These experiences were described by Tam Nguyen from The University of New South Wales as she explored the use of blogs in her teaching practice.
Some challenges I can foresee are that it will take time to introduce the concept and make sure that all students are actively blogging. It may be intimidating for some students to publicly publish their learning process. Since the course only lasts 6 weeks, it might not be enough to introduce such a concept. On the other hand, if it works out well in one course it is something we could use for the entire program.
In addition, giving feedback to the students will take time too, commenting on 40 blogs might be quite a task for one person. One solution could be to either let them blog in groups (i.e. one blog/project group), but this may be difficult to manage and could perhaps not be used throughout the program. Another would be to divide the students in peer-feedback-groups or pairs, where they are given the task to actively comment on each others blogs throughout the course.
I think you have a really good idea. If you can make the students create a real blog that gets comments from “the public” there is a good chance that you will get the connection to real life that you don’t always get. The problem can be to spread the blog outside the students “sphere” and reach people who can give proper feed-back.
Maria, this sounds great in reflecting learning to the whole world by sharing current students activities. I absolutely understand how hard it is to get stakeholders’ feedback and comments in one presentation for example but it is easy to get more through blogging. This will improve learning as more feedback is sent from different people with different experiences. May be it might more effective if 1 or 2 projects are recommended for blogging, you will need some criteria :),. Well, I have been there and sometime I wished to have direct users feedback instead of ‘abstract’ users.
By the way, I miss prototyping 🙂
Thank you Åsa and Godfrey for your comments! Yes, I do believe the biggest challenge in trying this approach would be to get others to feedback on their work. And if I don’t succeed in this – will it be motivating enough for the students to keep their blogs active? I believe that you can be quite pro-active in getting “the right people” to read and comment though – I in this case directly asked Godfrey to please read and comment, as I was interested in his opinions as a former student on the course (and knew he would probably oblige – thank you!). So it’s a question of building on (and actively engaging) my network and the students own network…
You are welcome Maria, I will be reading and give some feedback. That will keep refreshing my knowledge too. I’m sure students will be ready to share on their blog too, we had this earlier when the blog idea came, that students will share their projects. Please keep sharing on twitter as you blog 🙂
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