Using blogging for assessment in a Media Studies subject

In this assignment, students created individual blogs and published regular blog posts over the course of the semester. The blog postings were worth 40% of students' final mark in this subject. In addition, at the beginning of semester students created a "learning contract," which they published on their blogs. This was worth 15% of students' subject mark. The blog assignment was designed to complement the other major assessment task in this subject (worth 45%) in which students created an online documentary and published it in a social software environment (e.g., YouTube). As students were creating this documentary, they used their blogs to reflect on the learning process and to document the challenges and personal development opportunities they faced while completing the documentary.

Web 2.0 tool/s used: Wordpress http://wordpress.org/

About the subject

The subject was called "Participatory Media" and was offered as part of a Masters degree in Media and Communication.

There were 19 students enrolled in the subject. All were postgraduate students in the final year of their studies.

The subject was taught by one lecturer.

Assignment tasks and timing

Students created their blogs at the beginning of the semester, then wrote and published a "learning contract" on their blog (outlining, for example, what they intended to achieve in this subject). Students were then expected to write weekly blog posts detailing their learning experiences while creating an online documentary, over the course of the semester.

Intended learning outcomes

This assignment was designed to develop student's digital literacy, research skills, project management skills, problem solving techniques, and independent learning skills. In addition, the Course Guide stated that one of the intended learning outcomes was for students to develop their own approach to networked documentary.

Why Web 2.0?

Because this subject was focused on participatory media and offered as part of a media and communications degree, it was assumed that students who enrolled would have an interest and skills in at least one form of media production (other than writing), for example video production, audio production or photography. Students were also expected to have basic literacy in using the Internet.

The course content focused on issues of identity and community, which are increasingly explored and represented in user-generated content on social software websites. The Course Guide described the course content as follows:

Tensions also surround a perceived 'loss of community' in our cities. We will consider themes and tensions surrounding identity and community in late capitalism, with reference to a variety of sociological theorists. We will consider user-generated 'identity media' which is common on social software websites such as Facebook, Myspace and Youtube. Finally, we will use social software ourselves. What is it good for? What types of relationships does it establish?

Setting up the assignment

At the beginning of the semester, the lecturer set up the blog tools and created accounts for students.Students could choose whether they wanted to creat a public blog, or keep their blog inside the university's learning management system. In either case, all students had to use Wordpress to create their blogs. Students were advised that if they chose to keep a blog inside the university's LMS, then it would cease to be available to them when they were no longer enrolled at the university.

Introducing the assignment to students

The lecturer discussed how to use a blog during lectures, and provided examples and explanations to students in class. This was an individual assignment - each student kept his/her own blog. However, students were encouraged to comment on other students' blogs; this was part of the assessment, in the hope of building a community of independent scholars.

Supporting students through the assignment

During the weekly tutorial classes, students were given the opportunity to explore blogging, often in a semi-supervised way. This made it possible for the lecturer to respond to the various levels of sophistication within the student group. The lecturer personally commented on blog contributions, and encouraged each student to look at other relevant student contributions. The lecturer gave regular formative feedback on the blog assignment: she checked the blogs at three particular points during the semester, to make sure that everyone was keeping up with requirements and contributing regularly, and to check that feedback had indeed been given.

Marking the assignment

The lecturer marked the blogs individually, against the assessment criteria that were specified at the start of the semester. The blog assessment criteria were provided to students as follows:

You have been blogging consistently throughout the course (several entries per week).
Your blog entries reflect the evolution of your ideas.
Your blog entries reflect the way you worked through problems and complexities arising from your documentary project. (ie, if your blog seems to say you have had no problems, this will seem superficial. There are always problems when you are making a documentary. Some are practical, but the most significant ones are philosophical and ethical.)
You demonstrate your own research in your blog. (This might include theory about community, research about your documentary subject, research about documentary styles, research about publishing your documentary online using social software. Your research should extend beyond what is presented in lectures and tutes.)
Your research includes online and off-line sources, and engagement with each other’s blogs.
Your research is more than just presenting a summary of information that you have found. It includes your critical reaction to that information.
While you may write in an informal style, you have good grammar and spelling.
You pay appropriate attention to copyright and plagiarism and referencing.

Marking standards were relatively easy to police as there was only one teacher.

Communicating the results

Students were given a final mark for the blog and documentary assignments at the end of semester. The lecturer provided additional feedback on the final mark. Marks were explained to students with reference to the assessment criteria.

Evaluating and improving the assignment

The lecturer has been teaching this subject for several years, and has reviewed and made changes to the assignment over that time. The lecturer noted that students on this course typically come from many different backgrounds. Over several years, the lecturer has found the way to cope with this is to operate in ‘mini-supervisor’ mode rather than as a tutor: spending less time with the whole group in tutorials, and more time with individual students. However, the lecturer noted that this means "group dynamics become rather difficult, as students tend to be absorbed in their own projects, or stick with those they perceive to be at the same level of sophistication." Reflecting on how well the assignment worked, the lecturer noted that it was difficult to foster a scholarly community using a blog: the tendency for students to be absorbed in their own projects was "exacerbated by the blog, which, despite having space for comments and discussion, is a very individualistic, even self-obsessed, from of communication."

The lecturer suggested that this problem would be difficult to overcome, but considered one way of improving the assignment would be to use a different Web 2.0 environment that is necessarily collaborative (e.g., a wiki).

Selected Documents Collected in this Case Study

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