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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