Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Supporting learning - FOS Day 3

Today's scenario centres on a student who is unsure of the value of maintaining a blog in connection with her course. She writes her reflections but is never really sure whether anyone looks at them and she therefore wonders whether it is worth actually publishing them to a blog as opposed to just writing up notes in a Word document.

As on the previous two days, I have some sympathy with the views of the student. It is hard to maintain the motivation for writing blog entries when you don't think anyone is actually reading your posts. It can seem like simply writing for ourselves rather than a wider audience. In response to this, I think I would make two points:

  1. Firstly, the act of writing is itself valuable in forcing us to reflect on our experiences and synthesise ideas from various different sources. This aids our learning significantly.
  2. Secondly, whether we realise it or not, we do generally write in a different style when we know it is going to be published to a wider audience, whether this is public or just, for example. the other students in a tutor group. We thus tend to articulate our views more clearly, and the process of distilling complex ideas into words which can be read by others (as opposed to just ourselves) can be quite productive in terms of our own understanding.
So - I would encourage the student to persevere. How about looking at other students' blogs and commenting on them, and using the opportunity to invite them to comment on yours? Get the dialogue going yourself.

(Confession: I don't necessarily practice what I preach!)

I know from bitter personal experience how difficult it is to get students to engage effectively online. I have used discussion boards, blogs and wikis, all with limited success. I refer again to comments I made in response to yesterday's activities: learning design is critical. The online learning activities have to be designed as an integral part of the curriculum rather than an optional add-on. When I  did my course with the OU the most effective online discussions were typically linked to an assessment. For example, the assessed work was required to draw on (and specifically cite) discussion board entries. 

Some people think that John Biggs' concept of constructive alignment is a bit 'old hat' now, but I firmly believe that it holds true whether we are designing for face-to-face or online. Essentially, the learning outcomes, the learning activities and the assessment & feedback all need to be aligned. Far too often students are presented with learning outcomes at the start of a course or a module, but are given no guidance as to how those learning outcomes are to be achieved.

When a 'constructive alignment' approach is adopted, the learning activities and the assessment and feedback provide the scaffolding which enables students to reach the learning outcomes.

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  1. Good post Tony, I agree with your points 1 and 2. I used to worry a lot about my style and the content in my blog posts when I first started, some of mine are written fairly formally with references and others I just write for myself and I don't really care any more whether anyone reads them - the value in the act is primarily for me and relates to this: "the act of writing is itself valuable in forcing us to reflect on our experiences and synthesise ideas from various different sources. " Putting thoughts into writing and reading them back helps me reconceptualise what I think I know. Its like looking at myself through someone else's eyes. Recording thoughts into audio does it in a different way but, like many people, I hate listening to myself!

    Great to hear constructive alignment - this needs to go deep and wide when designing learning. Student reading and activities need to help them meet the learning outcomes and align their output with task specific assessment criteria. The there is the whole raft of requirements such as Harvard referencing, standards of English, good scholarly practice and context specific competence development. Its a good feeling getting it all aligned and really helps the students make sense of what they are being asked to do and create. Also maximises their chance of success as well.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ian. Agree with your points on constructive alignment.