Using a course blog to encourage critical reflection by students — HEA annual conference

hea-logo.gifMore on this theme — notes from my session at the Higher Education Academy annual conference in Harrogate are available here (PDF file).

If you’re reading this post without having seen anything previously about the project, you might find it useful to read the following outline (the abstract for my conference session). Then the notes from my presentation will probably make more sense. Either way, please add a comment to let me know what you make of the project — click on ‘add a comment’ above (under the title for this post) or, if you’re looking at this post on its own, use the comment box beneath it.

To encourage students on a postgraduate journalism programme to engage with their own learning, they were asked to contribute to a blog on three main themes: their own experiences as journalists; published articles/broadcasts etc, particularly to highlight what they were learning and putting in to practice; and contemporary developments in journalism.

The guidelines and assessment criteria explicitly encouraged students to reflect critically in their posts to the blog; to ‘add value’; and to make connections, particularly with their own experience, assignments and ideas.

This session will discuss the main findings of an evaluation of the blog, using an analysis of students’ contributions (more than 400) drawing on the literature of reflective journals and e-learning, and the results of a questionnaire to gauge students’ experience of using the blog as learners. Initial findings suggest the initiative has highlighted valuable potential for reflective learning, with some recommendations for improving its future application.

Readers who have read my previous post (and notes) on this project, based on my WJEC session, will note similarities! It’s mainly a shift of emphasis for the different participants: journalism educators at WJEC; lecturers from across disciplines, with a serious interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning at the HEA.

Teaching and learning for digital (multimedia) journalism

Reflections from a syndicate at the World Journalism Education Congress — I’ve been part of a group of journalism lecturers discussing adapting journalism education to a digital age. Guy Berger from Rhodes University has blogged about this (and other points from WJEC).

The content of what we teach and what students learn (including skills) has formed a large part of discussions — but today we’ve also focused on how: teaching and learning strategies (hooray!).

I argue that teaching and learning needs to reflect more of the characteristics of digital journalism (and Web 2.0). This involves plenty of approaches and methods that have much to recommend them on proven pedagogical grounds, such as:

  • collaborative and interactive student-led group projects
  • open-ended assignments that foster exploration
  • peer feedback and assessment
  • enquiry- (or problem-) based learning (EBL/PBL)
  • students negotiating their own assignments and assessment criteria
  • students as fellow-explorers (even teachers)
  • lecturers as facilitators of learning
  • learning to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information
  • business models for journalism (and ‘new media’)
  • entrepreneurship skills and understanding.

I hope some of this makes it to the final session at the WJEC…

Making every comment count: effective formative feedback to journalism students

This is the theme of my research paper at the World Journalism Education Congress — abstract below, and available here as a PDF.

Making every comment count: effective formative feedback to journalism students — Abstract

Effective formative feedback plays a crucial role in student learning, but it has received relatively little attention. Guidelines on policy or quality have rarely addressed formative feedback in depth, yet quality reviews have consistently highlighted concerns about it, as have student surveys. In addition, trends in assessment imply an increasing emphasis on lecturers providing formative feedback to students, as do other developments in policy (eg professional teaching standards) and practical concerns (eg staff workloads, student diversity).

A number of factors make the topic of feedback comments particularly pertinent to journalism educators.

First, journalism students often produce a high volume of work (as journalistic articles) compared to other disciplines – an approach that serves to replicate professional practice in the newsroom as well as providing the opportunity for intensive experiential learning. This makes for a high volume of work for lecturers to read and comment on.

Second, this work often requires detailed scrutiny, because accuracy and succinct writing are rightly emphasised as essential elements in journalism. So assessment and feedback in journalism arguably demand more time and more detailed comments than in other disciplines.

Third, many journalism educators (almost all in higher education in the UK) are journalists by profession and may not have much background in formal education. Despite the growing professionalisation of university teaching, some lecturers may thus lack in-depth prior experience and/or training in the provision of feedback to students.

Fourth, the application of a scholarly approach to journalism education, as a form of scholarship of teaching and learning in the discipline, appears to have been slow to develop.

This paper presents the findings of a study of the content and quality of formative feedback, which involved the development of indicators that were then used to categorise and analyse a sample of written feedback comments to postgraduate journalism students.

The research identified areas of good practice, as well as suggesting some gaps, which can grouped under four themes:

  • How far does the feedback make clear to students why/how they are succeeding or failing?
  • How far does it link students’ work with their wider progress and the module/course curriculum more generally?
  • Does the feedback encourage dialogue?
  • Does the feedback engage students with the content and with their own learning?

The research also raises questions about the availability of suitable tools to review feedback, for both individuals and institutions. More systematic reviews and support for good practice in feedback might help; encouraging lecturers to keep copies of feedback on which to reflect critically, for example, perhaps using indicators such as the ones from this project. They could discuss with colleagues what is often an individual process rarely seen by others. Some established institutional processes could take more systematic account of feedback, too, including programme evaluations, external examiners‚ reports, and student evaluations.

Using a blog to encourage critical reflection

This is the theme of my presentation to a Best Practices in Teaching workshop at the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC).

The project has involved using a blog not for students to publish their journalistic work but for them to reflect on their practical journalism — primarily as a tool for enhancing their learning.

Notes from my presentation are available as a PDF here — intended particularly for those at the WJEC teaching workshop. I’d be particularly interested in having your comments, whether you came to the WJEC session or not — please add them below.

World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) 2007

World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) 2007 logoThe first such gathering of journalism educators is taking place next week, in Singapore. It should prove an interesting gathering — with scope for some great discussions with those involved in teaching journalism from all over the world.

There is potential for some intriguing culture clashes (intercultural exchanges?), reflecting not only the different approaches to journalism in different countries but also how it is taught and learned. For each country, I suspect these approaches are influenced by the practice of journalism, of course — plus the tradition of training, education and recruitment in the industry or profession (there’s another debate — ‘sector’ might be more neutral), and the educational system(s) involved. Plus a few other factors…

The WJEC programme (pdf here) lists the many papers and sessions scheduled. It looks like an intensive week!

I’m contributing to a ‘best practices’ teaching workshop with the theme ‘Teaching Journalists in an Age of Ambiguity’ — discussing how I’ve been using a blog to encourage journalism students to engage in critical reflection — and presenting a research paper on formative feedback to journalism students.

Convergence in journalism — online video

A few thoughts on video, which more newspaper websites are carrying, from discussions at the AJE meeting (where the focus was primarily on regional/local papers online, not nationals). These are some pointers that I’ve taken from the seminar, as someone with a background in print journalism, with an eye on the practicalities of journalism education.

  • It’s not TV or radio, so think web and the specific context there — eg complementing online text and perhaps hyperlinks. If the story is going on paper, too, what extra does the online video offer?
  • For similar reasons, there are good reasons to keep the technology simple. The video isn’t destined for a 72″ plasma HD screen or whatever, so a half-decent camcorder (or even a regular digicam in movie mode).
  • Similarly for editing software: something to be said for using free software such as iMovie, Audacity (for audio), Windows Movie Maker. I can vouch for the first two, in terms of ease of use for the essentials.
  • Think of such software as the equivalent of Word for text etc.
  • Remember that good quality audio is crucial — location (background noise), decent microphone etc (a downside to regular digicams).
  • A slideshow might work well — still pics and audio might outdo video for some stories.
  • Emphasise journalism rather than top-end production values.
  • Concentrate on visual storytelling — think this way from the start.
  • But don’t throw out print priorities of grabbing readers’ attention, relevance, focus etc.

Much of this came from the session led by Andy Dickinson (UCLAN). A podcast featuring him and Andy Price (University of Teesside) is now on Paul Bradshaw’s blog.

Formative feedback for student learning — informed by philosophy?

Bizarre, perhaps, that it was research on effective feedback to students that led me to the work of Richard Rorty, philosopher who died last Friday. He introduced the term ‘final vocabulary:

These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes

(from Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, CUP, 1989).

For learning and teaching, this matters because using final vocabulary in feedback tends to close down discussion or reflection on the part of the student (or so the theory goes).

In any case, telling a student that their work is ‘good’ or ‘poor’ does little, on its own, to help them learn — explaining how and why, or pointing towards this, offers much more. I suspect that final vocabulary is prevalent in a great deal of feedback to students (including my own) — at some level it’s ‘natural’. But it’s worth keeping an eye on, if one takes Rorty, David Boud and others seriously.

The Telegraph obituary puts Rorty’s influence down to clarity — an essential in journalism, of course:

One of the reasons for Rorty’s popularity, and the esteem in which he was held, was his lucidity as a writer; even in technical works for an academic audience, he was at pains to spell out his analyses clearly, and not to duck their consequences. This alone made him stand out from almost all other writers and philosophers who adopted postmodernism.

Convergence in journalism (education)

Journalism educators met in Cornwall last week, amid sun, sea and… convergence. Newspapers developing online; teaching video; student-led journalism projects across print, broadcast and online media; blogging and social networks in journalism education — it was all there at the Association for Journalism Education seminar at University College Falmouth last week.

Plenty of interesting stuff — and it’s helped focus my thoughts, particularly about blogging and the use of video online. More posts about such things to come this week, including more on my blogging project, about which I spoke at the AJE seminar.

Meanwhile, here’s the line-up that we had at Falmouth:
• Teaching using new media: Blogging as a tool for critical reflection – Jonathan Hewett, City University
• Teaching convergence – a project at Westminster. Geoffrey Davies, Westminster University
• A video project – Andy Dickinson, University of Central Lancashire, Preston
• Newspapers online: Changing values, changing practices, changing staff – Chris Rushton, Sunderland University
• Convergence in the classroom Andy Price, Teesside University
• Convergence, where is it going and what should we be telling students? David Holmes and team on a project at Sheffield University
• New directions: where is journalism going? Jim Hall and the team at Falmouth University College