Blogging: Reflecting the Past Right Now

deedmanAn interview with Dr. Cheryl Deedman, who is a lecturer and seminar tutor in the Department of History at Goldsmiths, University of London. By Suzan Koseoglu and Vanessa Smith, TaLIC. 

1. Thank you for participating in this interview, Cheryl. Can you tell us a bit about your role at Goldsmiths? 

I have been a tutor in the History department since 2009 teaching on a variety of undergraduate courses. I am currently employed as a lecturer/seminar tutor on a first year modern history module (Dictators, Wars and Revolutions) and two Foundation modules (Battle for the Ballot and Everyday History). I convene another year 1 module (Concepts and Methods in History), am the Joint-Degrees tutor for the department. I’m also responsible for the foundation programme Study Skills module.

The Study Skills module has been designed for students to get instruction and guidance on the skills they need to work effectively as history students, and it gives them the opportunity to practice them if necessary. It is planned to ensure they have prepared for the formative and summative tasks they need to complete, and it runs in parallel with the assessed modules and the programme of deadlines students have to meet. They record their skills development in a Study Skills Journal, and meet tutors for a one-to-one review four times a year.

2. Can you tell us a bit about the blogging assignment?

One of the term 2 assessed modules, From Local to Global, demands that students produce a group blog as part of the assessment (50% of their summative assessment for the module). Students are required to look at how Black/Asian migration has affected different forms of political and cultural expression in Britain, for example the influence on music, literature, youth culture, religious practice, political activism, etc. It is intended for them to think about what they experience now alongside what they have learnt about the past, and then consider similarities or differences, and think carefully about the influence the past has on today.

SSPL_10440959_HighRes
Image: Oral histories of migration, ethnicity and post-colonialism from the British Library.

3. What made your department decide to offer blogging as an assessment, as opposed to students turning in traditional essays? 

“Students are encouraged to make links between what they learn in the classroom and read in scholarship with what they see and experience outside of college. This reflection ideally happens in real time, and should form part of an on-going dialogue”

Blogging has been chosen as the form of assessment because this piece of work is intended to be a series of reflections on what students read, witness, see or feel during the course of the module. Students are encouraged to make links between what they learn in the classroom and read in scholarship with what they see and experience outside of college. This reflection ideally happens in real time, and should form part of an on-going dialogue; students should record responses as they happen and discuss these with the other members of their group. They have a VLE forum for this, and the blog posts to formalise the connections they have made between the past and present.

Blogging also enables the students to add images or hyperlinks in a way other forms of communication don’t, and enables other students to follow these links or engage with other media as part of the discussion.

4. Do you think that blogging assignments might become a more common type of assessment for future Goldsmiths students?

It is hard to know what platforms will be more popular in the future, but at the moment blogging is the most suitable method of communication for this piece of work, despite the technical difficulties staff and students have experienced. We think it is really important for students to engage with a current social media platform to understand the immediacy, permanence and power of an on-line platform. We also think it is important to learn to write something meaningful in 400 or 500 words – a skill that is not tested by traditional essays.

5. What kind of support do you think students generally need for this type of assignment? 

“[Students] need to learn how to think carefully about distilling their message down to fewer words, and how to maintain the interest of the reader using content other than text.”

Students need to be shown how to set up a blog, how to add links, images and other files, and how to make their blogs visible to the public. They also need to learn how to think carefully about distilling their message down to fewer words, and how to maintain the interest of the reader using content other than text. I think they also need to be reminded that this is a public document that can reflect on their views and ability to understand complex issues.

The help we have had from TaLIC this year has been invaluable. The experience staff have shared really helped students to get to grips with this piece of assessment.

Screenshot-A_WordPress_Weblog_with_TwentyTen_in_Epiphany
An example for a blog on WordPress.

6. Should we consider providing support to teaching faculty as well?

A training course for staff might increase the likelihood of more of us using it as a form of assessment. At the moment some of us are reluctant to introduce a form of assessment to students that we do not feel technically equipped to support.

7. What would you suggest to teaching staff who might consider using blogs in their classes?

Ask TaLIC for help! Staff need to feel there is someone they can send students to, or someone they can email, if they have a particular enquiry. When we are unfamiliar with a particular type of communication we can perhaps shy away from engaging with it – but there is help and expertise available. Some of this year’s blogs have been a joy to read.

 

 

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