Specialist Spotlight: Blogs

The latest Case study on a subject close to my research interests:

Blogs or ‘web logs’ are a form of private and/or public self-publishing. Bloggers create ‘posts’ which can by written, audio, image, video, URL links and re-blogged content from other sources. Content can be sourced from the World Wide Web, directly formed on the blog itself or uploaded from other digital devices. Creative Arts students can use blogs as digital sketchbooks, research repositories and digital portfolios for their practical work. Popular blogging platforms are Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger .

This case study has been formed through conversations with Jamie Holman, course leader for the University of the Arts, London (UAL) Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, and students, Melissa Houghton and Sarah Smith, both fine art students on the UAL Foundation course.

The Creative Arts team in FE have been using blogs with their students over a period of a few years now, each year building on how they are integrated into the course and used by staff and students. Students on the UAL Foundation Diploma in Art and Design specialise in a range of disciplines including moving image, audio production, photography, graphics, fashion and textiles, fine art and three-dimensional design.

They are introduced to the concept of blogs at the start of their course, which is important in terms of students documenting their work effectively from the start and them being open to different forms and ways of working. The blogs are constructed by the students and accessible to staff. The blogs are viewed by staff and used to help construct feedback, which is given verbally, face to face to students in tutorials. From this exchange students are encouraged to write their own feedback onto their blog in the form of a reflective and target setting post. Kylie Budge describes blogs as a ‘socially-wise approach to creativity’ and  blogging as a ‘form of social media where young creatives have a very active voice’ (2012). This type of process further encourages students to have more ownership of their work, partly because the feedback becomes ‘their own language’ as well as developing important reflective and target setting skills. The social aspect is an important feature ‘I see a social approach to creativity as being inextricably linked to the need fro developing creativity with wisdom…when linked, offer a powerful dynamic to stimulate, nurture and develop creativity (ibid p.46). The wider social context includes other stakeholders: external moderators are sent the links to blogs in advance, which gives the moderator a direct link to the students and a transparency to the process. The students are aware that the blogs will need to be read by different audiences and are encouraged to develop their reflective language as if speaking to the moderator.

The use of blogs needs to be seen in a wider context of how the course operates: importantly the blogs are not seen in isolation of other technology tools, students also use the course Facebook page to communicate with the arts team and peer group as well as gain feedback on work in a closed forum. Facebook is moderated by staff and also performs as a static repository for key course information. Vimeo, the public forum for uploading videos is also used for a wider audience and more open feedback on work. Students also use ipads for interviews at HE institutions where they can select and show images of their work as well as their blogs to interviewers. The ipad becomes a digital portfolio device, a platform, which is capable of showing many facets of the students work and process and something that students have more ‘control and input’ over.

Concerns over whether a student is confident and competent with technology might deter staff from using blogs with their students. Staff confidence and competency might also be a barrier here as well. The FE arts team introduce the blogs at the start of the course and show exemplar blogs to inspire and help students engage with blogging as a viable additional or alternative process to documenting and reflecting on their work, ‘a distinct characteristic of academic blogs is the fusion of personal narratives and critical reflection’ (Deng and Yuen 2012 p.450), it is this ‘fusion’ or juxtaposition of reflection, research and own work that is so clear on a blog.  How students use their blogs might depend on their specialism, a student studying digital media based subjects may find this form of sketchbook more naturally aligned to their practice where as a fine art student may have a preference for containing their work and reflection in a sketchbook. However, the two students I spoke to were fine art students both deeply engaged in their painting specialism and both enthusiastic advocates for using blogs on their course. Melissa and Sarah were aware of blogs prior to starting on the course, mainly through following bloggers and using them for informal chatting and sharing. When the course blogs were shown to them they were excited to use this method with their first impressions being that they could ‘see everything’ and ‘put materials that can’t go into sketchbooks’. They were keen to use something that would make you stand out at interview; both were aware that at tough interviews, interviewers were looking for something more. They also wanted to use something that would help them move on from A Level.

We had an interesting conversation about the process of writing in a sketchbook compared to typing for a blog, whether blog writing makes reflective writing and analysis easier, which I hope will form the basis of further research and case studies, ‘it has been suggested that more creative forms of reflection/learning can empower learners for whom writing is not their preferred way of learning’ ( Kirk and Pitches, 2012). The main benefits the students had experienced through using the blogs was that the blogs were an efficient way to research, document and write reflection and that they did not experience that sense of ‘being behind’ that had been common in a linear sketchbook. The sketchbook still had its place but a shift had occurred and the role of the sketchbook for these two students had changed. Their aim was no longer to fill the sketchbook, it was now one aspect of a bigger process. The students liked that they had control over which posts were visible and public and those they could make private, and although they found compiling research and documenting their work on the blogs easier, they were still selective of what went on. Being able to tag posts with key words enables students to catergorise and organise the content on their blogs; they can also revisit earlier work in new contexts with ease compared to the more linear sketchbook process.

The students saw the connection between their blogs, facebook and face to face crits and tutorials and that each served to enhance and support the other. This is important for the creative arts team as they want their students to be able to access important course information and manage their students learning in an effective way. An article by Chris Follows (2011), focuses on the processes of implementing blogs in the curriculum for students who work with video and animation because they ‘tend not to work in the formal arts studio environment and over time can become ‘less visible’ to staff and their peers’. This highlights how the use of blogs alongside creative practice: enable enhanced communication, make the students practice more visible, introduce open practice and ‘encourage students to reflect and explore how they operate online’ (ibid). and arguably for any student across any discipline.

Sarah’s blog: srhsmith.tumblr.com

Melissa’s blog: melissahoughtonart.blogspot.co.uk

Benefits

  • Student ownership over working process
  • Professional repository of work
  • Instant research
  • Useful for collaboration
  • Encourage an anywhere, anytime approach to learning and therefore blurring boundaries
  • Fun to use

Try it out: Top 10 Free Online Blogging Platforms: http://sixrevisions.com/tools/top-free-online-blogging/

Acknowledgements

With thanks to Melissa Houghton and Sarah Smith for permission to use their comments

References

Budge, K. (2012), ‘Art and Design Blogs: a Socially-Wise Approach to Creativity’, International Journal of Art & Design Education, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 44-52.

Deng, L. & Yuen, A.H.K. (2011), ‘Towards a framework for educational affordances of blogs’, Computers & Education, vol. 56, no. 2, pp. 441-451.

Follows, C.  (2011), Striking a balance between practice and open practice? University of the arts London http://process.arts.ac.uk/content/striking-balance-between-practice-and-open-practice (accessed  9th March 2013)

Kirk, C. & Pitches, J. (2013), ‘Digital reflection: using digital technologies to enhance and embed creative processes’, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, pp. 1-18.

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Reflecting on Reflection

This post includes a resource I put together for a teaching session with my Year 2 BA and FdA students this week. For their research projects they are using blogs rather than paper based files to document their research. There are two main purposes of the module, firstly they are researching so that they can put together a proposal and design their own brief for their next project, secondly, they need to show evidence and analyse the research methods they have used.

Last week we focused on the mechanics of setting up a blog, the different research methods they might use and using a template to analyse them. Last week I encouraged them to reflect on this session as a first post on their blogs and found myself explaining their posts as falling into two main categories. Their posts might ‘propel’ forward and evidence what they have found or done and/or they might be reflective posts that consider and ‘discuss’ where they are at.

I could tell that the students were comfortable with seeking and acquiring information (and we revisited Harvard referencing so they could credit and reference their findings correctly) but less comfortable with the idea of reflective. pause for thought posts. This week I addressed this by looking at the affordances of blogging, with them, as well as some practical help on reflection and writing reflective posts. This was followed by a ‘Skills Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats’ activity which got them to consider reflection in more depth. The resource I put together was developed form notes I had taken from Jenny Moon’s (2005) paper as well as an article/podcast by Jill Walker Rettberg (2009);

Blogging as a Tool for Reflection and Learning

*      Frequent writing can help you become more confident about your research

*      I can give you more documented formative feedback

*      It is more obvious when you are on the right or wrong track

*      Others in your ‘network’ can contribute to your research and forming of ideas

*      You can research as part of a much larger community

*      You will develop a clearer ‘voice’ of your own, which will give you confidence that can be carried through into dissertation writing.

*      Feedback is fast

*      Blogging combines aspects of ‘thinking-writing’ with aspects of ‘presentation-writing’

What is reflection?

We reflect on the things that we have no immediate answer to.

We construct knowledge through making connections and relating things we know to the new things we encounter.

Rethinking what we know – thinking about what we know in a new or revisited context enables deeper learning to take place which is not the same as taking on new information without forming links.

Reflection can demonstrate learning.

Embed reflection in assessed tasks leads to better reflection and deeper learning.

Reflection gives the right conditions for learning

  • Slows down the activity
  • Ownership and ‘student voice’ in learning process
  • Metacognition – an awareness of ones own learning
  • Reflect on challenging material

Notes from Jenny moon (2005)

‘“thinking-writing” and “presentation writing”

Thinking writing is the kind of writing we do when we’re thinking through problems or topics, when we’re writing for ourselves and not for an audience…writing can actually help us think. Presentation writing is the kind of writing you do in order to communicate a message. When you use presentation writing you always have a reader in mind.

In a personal blog, each post is usually written quite quickly, and you publish each post immediately. Rather than drafting and revising until each piece of writing is perfect, bloggers tend to publish more frequently and with less perfectionism. You blog your immediate impressions and your first responses to ideas you have read about, or you blog about your experiences or about discussions that are going on in other blogs.’ (Walker Rettberg 2009)

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There was more to the resource in terms of pointers for the tone and style of writing but I think the explanation of what they were being asked to do and why was helpful. I have been able to examine my own learning through teaching and the learning of others, the different context or perspective shift has given me a more refined idea of what reflection is and hopefully my students.

References

Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc

Walker Rettberg, J. 2009, Virtual book e-pedagogy for teachers in higher education, weblog, accessed 05 October 2012, <http://www.virclass.net/eped/index.php?action=static&id=29&gt;

Introducing research methods

Today I introduced students to different research methodologies for their creative research project module on their BA (hons) Design course.  We did this using templates I had constructed for them, templates that will enable them to select and use appropriate methodologies for their research as well as analyse the methods themselves. The templates will hopefully give them the structure they need to gain confidence in exploring new territories.

The students have been asked to set up a specific blog for their Research project and the blog will be their evidence for the research journey they go on. They added their blog addresses to a group Wiki on the course VLE Moodle while I was talking about the benefits of co-constructing information. This particular wiki became a convenient link directory but hopefully planted a seed in terms of how they might use this as a method to collaboratively research. The next task – their answers to ‘Why research?’ on post-it notes that they stuck on the whiteboard became an interesting visualisation of a real life wiki. Pointing this out to them hopefully reinforced what a wiki could be.

We discussed how the blog would have posts that showed evidence of the research process  propelling them forward (and in other directions too) as well as having posts that were reflective, pauses, taking stock. This made some uneasy; that the documentation might pull in different directions, so to speak, but I reassured them that this was all part of the research process. Their blogs will be repositories for their research, evidence that they have experienced a process, one that I can give formative feedback on through re-blogging, adding comments and ‘hearting’. My blog for this project is here- http://feltlikeit2.tumblr.com/

My description of today is here because my experiences made me think about my own blogging as well as the ‘push’ , ‘pull’ and ‘pause’ of the research process and the role reflection has in that process.