Using blogging for assessment in a Cinema Studies subject: A case study

This was a ‘Reflective Journal’ written in the form of a blog worth 30% of the subject’s final grade. Students were marked individually on the entire blogs (rather than individual blog posts). The assignment was completed between Weeks 3 and 12 of a 12 week semester. The weekly blog tasks were aligned with the lectures and other subject materials to maximise content integration across all subject tasks and assessment activities.

Web 2.0 tool used: A blogging tool within Blackboard.

About the subject

This was an undergraduate 2nd year subject called "Global Screen Cultures" taught in a School of Culture and Communication in a Faculty of Arts. The 'Subject Information' on the university's Blackboard learning management system (LMS) described it as follows:

This subject introduces students to film and other screen-based media (that may include television, the internet, computer games and mobile media) as objects and commodities of global circulation. It will examine the history of theoretical frameworks developed to understand this phenomenon, covering paradigms that may include colonial discourse, neocolonialism, decolonisation, Third Cinema, national cinema, the Three Worlds model and the North/South model, core-periphery models, postcolonial theory, transnational cinema, and globalisation theory. Students completing the subject will be familiar with case studies including those from global Hollywood, international film festivals, world cinema, art house imports, regional and non-Western popular screen cultures that may include examples from Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea Thailand, India, Iran, Russia, Africa as well as socially-engaged video documentary.

The subject had been running for three years. In its earlier iterations, the subject was taught as a large ‘Interdisciplinary Foundation’ subject for first year Arts undergraduates and attracted a large number of students (approx. 400). In this iteration, the subject was offered as a 2nd year subject for students majoring in ‘Media and Communications’ or as an elective by students majoring in other Humanities and Social Science disciplines.

There were 90 students enrolled in the subject. One lecturer and one tutor taught the subject; the lecturer had been teaching this subject for two years.

Assignment tasks and timing

During weeks 3 to 12 of the 12-week semester students were required to maintain an individual student blog (weblog) using Blackboard's blogging tool on the subject LMS website. Each week, a discussion question was posted on the LMS which students were invited to respond to. It was not obligatory to respond to the question and students were permitted to pursue other themes and questions of interest, as long as they were relevant to the overall aims and objectives of the subject. Each week, students were expected to complete one post and make two comments on other students' blogs.

Intended learning outcomes

The ultimate academic objective of the exercise - and thus the major grounds for its assessment - was an active engagement with the conceptual content of the subject. The subject guide on the LMS described the aims of the assignment as follows:

Students are expected to express their thoughts on material presented in the subject and/or issues that are relevant to the broad topic of global media. Because blogging is by nature participatory and dialogic, students will be expected not only to maintain their own blogs, but read and comment on other students’ blogs as well.

Why Web 2.0?

The lecturer who spoke to us about his experiences on this assignment began teaching this subject after the blogging assignment had already been running for one year. Therefore, the lecturer did not implement the blogging assignment or specifically choose to use Web 2.0 activities in this subject. However, the lecturer believed that the interactivity that Web 2.0 social technologies facilitate was a key reason that blogging was used in this subject. He felt there were benefits in the "dialogic approach" of blogging, including the "informal peer assessment" that occurred when students commented on each other's blogs.

Setting up the assignment

Before introducing the assignment, the lecturer and tutor had to: choose the subject materials that would be made available for students and staff to comment on; review previous students' blogs; and schedule preliminary moderation sessions so that lecturers and students could compare how students were approaching the blogging task. The lecturer also needed to prepare guidelines and examples for students to follow.

In order to set up the blogs for the students, lecturers accessed the ‘blog’ function available through the blackboard system (i.e., the ‘LMS’).

Introducing the assignment to students

At the beginning of the semester, students were given a collection of readings for the subject; this included detailed information about the assignment. The lecturer also explained the task in lectures. During tutorials the lecturer/tutor reiterated this information and demonstrated to students how to create and maintain a blog. The lecturer and tutor encouraged students to treat the blogs as their personal online space and to be as “individual” and “creative” as they wanted. Students were given very specific information about the level of participation expected: one blog post and two comments per week.

The lecturer noted that sufficient guidelines at the start of semester were very important, as this might be the first time that a student has completed a blog for formal assessment purposes. In particular, the lecturer found that students needed specific instruction in 'netiquette': for example, in relation to how to provide constructive, yet critical peer feedback. Before undertaking the assignment, students were advised of guidelines on appropriate conduct and safeguards against inappropriate conduct in the use of blogging IT facilities and services. The Arts Faculty netiquette policy was made available to students through the LMS. In addition, students were advised of IT terms and conditions every time they logged on to a campus computer.

The subject website included sample blogs from previous years that had received high marks, to provide examples of what was expected in this assignment.

Students were given the following suggestions for "crafting" their blog entries, on the subject website. Students were told they could use their blogs to:

• critically assess one of the optional/further readings
• review a film from the recommended viewing list
• write a critical commentary
• review a non-English-language TV show on SBS
• visit a diasporic video store and write about their experience
• attend a film festival and write about their experience
• join an online fan forum for a TV show and write about their experience
• investigate the production history of a TV show/film
• follow up points or issues raised in the set readings

Supporting students through the assignment

The lecturer and tutor kept their own blogs, and commented on other students' blogs, to model the kind of entries they expected from students. This was particularly important in the early stages of the assignment. It was crucial in the early weeks of the blogging activity for staff to model how to be constructively critical. Staff therefore made a particular effort to comment on students' blogs in the early weeks of the assignment.

The lecturer monitored the blogs and posted comments in order to encourage students to contribute regularly. The lecturer noted that over the course of the semester, students needed many reminders and specific guidelines to ensure they persevered with the task. Students seemed to prefer to follow directions that provided less rather than more flexibility.

Students were given formative feedback on their work, through the comments that the lecturer/tutor and other students made on their blogs.

Marking the assignment

The lecturer and tutor marked students' blogs. Rather than marking individual blog posts, each blog was marked as an entire body of work. The following assessment criteria were used to mark the blogs:

• demonstrated knowledge of concepts, theories and arguments;
• evidence of critical thinking and reflection;
• evidence of continuous and substantial work throughout semester;
• quantity and quality of comments on other students’ blogs;
• respectful engagement with the ideas and opinions of other students.

The blogs were marked individually, according to students’ names. There was no anonymity/pseudonymity, although students could adopt a blogging "persona" if they wanted to. This allowed the students to choose alternative ‘blogging’ names for themselves, even though their blogs were linked to their student identification numbers and enrolment names.

The lecturer and tutor reviewed and finalised subject marks together.

Communicating the results

Students were provided with a grade sheet that communicated the assignment mark and any feedback comments from the lecturer/tutor. This was made available to students through the LMS.

Evaluating and improving the assignment

The subject and assignment are reviewed annually and modified as necessary. The lecturer noted that the pedagogical aims of the assignment have evolved over the two years that he has taught the subject. In previous years, teaching staff have given presentations about this assignment at conferences and completed journal articles on blogging as a form of assessed learning.

The lecturer believed that, in most cases, students achieved the learning objectives of this assignment. However, he noted that not all students appeared to like this assessment task; students tended to have polarised reactions. He felt that students who were good at writing essays often did not like writing blogs that were more public.

Reviewing the assignment, the lecturer noted a general developmental path with students’ blogs: Week 2 = ‘playing’; Week 3 = ‘testing the water/figuring out how the technology works’; Week 4 = more complex content and ideas begin to emerge; Week 5 = ‘up and running’ with exploration of multimedia links and peer-to-peer comments emerging more readily.

The lecturer noted that there had been some instances of plagiarism during the assignment, with some students cutting and pasting material in their blogs. The lecturer felt it was important, therefore, in future iterations of the assignment to emphasise the importance of academic integrity in an online learning environment when introducing the assignment to students.

Reflecting on how well the assignment worked, the lecturer noted that "Too much flexibility is not always positive: students in 1st and 2nd year need more guidance. The assessment shouldn’t be guided by the nature of the technology but by the learning objectives; sometimes staff designing the task are more enthusiastic about Web 2.0 possibilities than the students. Too much innovation on too many fronts simultaneously can be detrimental to learning and staff morale."

Selected documents from this case study

A screen shot of the lecturer's example blog: CinemaStudiesLecturer_example_blog_edited.PNG

Assessment criteria for this assignment: Assessment Criteria for Cinema Studies Blog Assignment.pdf

Page source:
Gray, K., Waycott, J., Thompson, C., Clerehan, R., Sheard, J., Hamilton, M., & Richardson, J. (2011) Using Social Web (Web 2.0) Activities for Student Assessment: Resources for University Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from https://web2assessmentresources.wikispaces.com