Monday, March 26, 2007

Blogs, reflection and assessment

Another issue that kept nagging at me throughout the Shock of the Social conference was the way blogs are being used in some Universities.

I was quite shocked to find that informal, reflective tools were being used in a very controlled manner: Writing blogs would form part of the assessment process and in some instances their use would be very much controlled by the tutor: make people write a mini-essay posting and make other students comment.

In my view this takes away the strength of the tool: instead of fostering individual reflection and critical thinking about certain subjects that the student is interested in, it makes a blog into another tool to satisfy the needs of the tutor and the institution.

The writing by Boud and Walker (2002, p94) would suggest that reflection on demand does not work. Although they emphasise the importance of reflection in context, embedded in the learning activities, they point towards a carefully balanced process in which reflection is linked to conceptual frameworks and learning outcomes, but is not prescribed by the tutor. In their view, 'writing a 'reflective journal' [, which a blog is,] and the 'expectation that they will be read by an assessor leads some students to censor their reflections so much that they fail to engage with their felt experience and avoid learning'. The role of the tutor would be to balance between 'recipe - following' and providing enough guidance to avoid students losing focus.

The argument for including blogs as assessment at the conference was that if not linked to assessment, people would not use them.

You would have to question if blogs were right for purpose to the activity in which they were being used.
I am an educator with first hand experience of how students used asynchronous discussion boards while the activity was included and not included in the assessment process. I know that including them ensured that people used the tools, but not in the way I would have liked them to: It made them write mini-essays for me, rather than that they communicated with each-other over course concepts.

I think it would be a shame for blogs to be used in this way as in my view it destroys their potential for reflection. Perhaps it would work to only make the use of blogs compulsory, but to not prescribe and control the way they were being used.
Boud and Walker referred to papers in which it was advocated to assess reflective journals in terms of reflective writing, rather than in terms of standard academic writing. This might be another option to make them part of the formal educational structure.

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