So, the blogging is over. Well, the assessed blogging anyway.
I mentioned in my very first post a couple of reasons why I chose to keep a reflective blog as part of the BOE course, and I have to say that both of them were proven time and again throughout the past 7 weeks.
Firstly, I mentioned that I am a terrible rote learner and that I need to digest, process and re-deliver information before it truly sinks into my stubborn brain. Throughout this module I’ve been constantly thinking about my next blog post and taking notes of various things to talk about. I’ve found, though, that even after taking notes and thinking about issues beforehand, when I begin writing about a subject I always seem to come up with new ideas mid-stream, and often I’ve changed tack on blog posts half way through and had to go back and change the start. I’ve learned that writing about issues and ideas is a very valuable process for me and prompts much deeper thinking than I would ever have imagined.
Secondly I mentioned that I hoped that this process would push me out of my strategic learner mindset. This was a less successful process than the first but I think it has certainly improved. I still find I’m doing my coursework ‘just-in-time’, but I have begun to pay more attention to the extra material that I might have skimmed over before. Because I have come to really enjoy writing the blog I have been pursuaded to follow up interesting looking links or references in the hope of finding good material to write about. I suppose the blog gives me an extra incentive to learn more and often as I gain the reward of writing good, informative posts, and I suspect this would work for almost anyone, rather than just me. Even if a learner didn’t enjoy writing as much, I wonder whether the pressure of having their work broadcast to the whole class would prompt wider research and deeper learning.
Moving on from the first post, there are a couple of other issues I can tie up a little more neatly now. One early post of mine was centred around the difficulties of group work, and was made in the first couple of weeks of our group work project. I mentioned the fact that we were having a lot of trouble with synchronous communication and, I have to admit, this problem hasn’t really improved. The trials and tribulations of getting 4 people together online at the same time have been far more numerous than I would have expected. Having talked face-to-face with my group in the intervening time we also agree that an hour online is probably equivalent to around a 15 minute face-to-face meeting, through both technical issues and practical limitations of the medium. I have noticed, however, that asynchronous communication has been continuing without any problem and the time-lag between posts has been causing no problem at all. One thing that may explain this is the fact that we agreed at an early stage to have a daily post by the group chair, even if just to say, “Hi all, hope you have a good day today.” This encouraged you to go online every day to check the board as there was always something there to read.
Overall, based on what I have learned on this module, I would say that any group project needs a solid stream of asynchronous communication to base collaboration on. Synchronous, if you can arrange it, certainly has some advantages, but it’s often frustrating and usually inefficient so I wouldn’t recommend reliance on it’s use.
Another area to tie up relates to my initial post about the group seminar that Martin and I worked on near the beginning of the course. The seminar was run as a role-playing game, with a back story and assigned sides, and going by the feedback I’ve had from some of my classmates it seems to have been a huge success! I commented initially that it had been a fair bit more work to set up the role-playing element and the setting than it would have for a standard debate. But I feel that those elements are what engaged the participants so much, and as a consequence, the extra time was well worth it. In any case, the materials that were created are very easily reused and hopefully with the same success, thus further justifying the time investment in the beginning. I think that this is an approach which I will definately be using again myself, and will be recommending to any lecturers that I work with. I’m quite interested in doing a little more research in the future on games for education and I feel this simple type of game is a good starting point.
The last post I want to comment on was my slight rant about writing style in academia, and how innaccessible it is. Well, my feelings on this have certainly not softened having read even more ridiculously worded papers since, but I’ve found my own writing improving as a consequence of that post. In writing materials for websites, seminars or blogs I’ve made an effort to simplify everything as much as possible. While not forgetting who my target audience is, I’ve made an effort to make everything as accessible as possible, and I have to admit it makes writing a little more enjoyable. When you forget about the idea of making your writing seem impressive and intelligent you begin to think more about the ideas and how to convey them clearly. It makes writing easier and I’m sure it makes it more pleasurable to read.
Overall, I’ve learned a huge amount about student support throughout this module, and I’m sure there’s plenty more to come before the end. I think the overriding idea that sticks in my mind, though, is that of invisible guidance and encouragement. I mentioned that writing a blog has helped me to overcome some of my learning weaknesses, and I think that this would be true of many, many learners. I also mentioned that constant, regular asynchronous communication has greatly helped the process of group work even if that communication isn’t directly related to the work itself. Next, I discussed how a little extra work on turning a standard activity into a game can improve engagement. And lastly, I discussed how writing for a much more high level audience doesn’t necessarily make your material more distinguished or intelligent, it can simply exclude a large part of your audience.
All of these are elements of guidance and student support that aren’t necessarily transparent, they may be hidden within your course design to push the student down the correct path. For example, blogging was a choice for me, and I took it despite the fact that I considered it the more difficult choice. Most students wouldn’t make that decision though, and so on a normal undergraduate course blogging could be a required, assessed part of the cirriculum. The students wouldn’t realise that in this you were supporting their learning, but they would benefit anyway. In group projects you could require a post per day, and most likely you couldn’t explain to the student’s satisfaction why this is necessary, but you know it works and so it could be assessed. And lastly, simply by writing in a more accessible manner you are supporting the student in a way which isn’t immediately obvious.
I think that obvious support mechanisms are clearly required, in the form of moderation, tutor presence, specific support tools and the like, but it is perhaps the more invisible methods of support, achieved by thinking deeply about student support when designing the course from the ground up, that really make the difference.
It’s easy to tack a problems forum on to existing material and call that support, but the far more difficult aim is to saturate your materials with invisible support mechanisms so that the student doesn’t even know that they’re there.