More evaluation research

This evaluation report from a University of Arizona course, Learning, Reading and Culture, provides interesting feedback on the blog experience

The survey used was an informal instrument to see how the blog was viewed as a part of this course. Thirteen students (of 17 present) responded to a survey that was distributed on the last night of class with the University Student Evaluation Forms for the course. Most respondents had not had experience in Web publishing. Only one person indicated that she had participated in “something like a blog” before. Six individuals indicated that they wanted to continue using blog551, although in point of fact, no messages were posted the following semester. Responding to a question about whether they would use a blog in a future class (either teaching or taking), five said “yes,” and three indicated “maybe.” Students in LRC551 were asked what they liked most about using the LRC551 blogs. Comments included: “It was an opportunity to participate,” it was “easily accessible” and “user friendly.” The blog “extended class discussions …without taking class time.” It was a “‘safe’ way to participate.” One student noted that she liked being able to “participate in writing, not necessarily verbally.” Asked how they might use a blog themselves, responses included: “as a journal,” “for notes,” and “to post examples.” One student wrote that she saw it as a way to introduce “new technology as a way to study new literacies.” Another suggested using blogs as “a way for scholars to discuss articles.” Several mentioned that it could be a “place for students” that could promote “interactivity.” A small number of students were negative on the value of blogging as a good way to learn or to participate in class. One student wrote that blogs invaded her privacy.

And the evaluation from another U of A course, Decision Making for Information Professionals, is even more interesting:

The end-of-course survey revealed that although the vast majority (95 percent) of students responding were novice blog users, 90 percent agreed that the “Technology News Web log was a good way for me to learn more about technology.” Twenty-nine percent reported that they joined another blog since the course began, 70 percent of the students planned to join at least one blog in the coming six months, and 76 percent “would like to continue using the Technology News Web log.” One student commented that the best thing about using a blog was its “casual sharing of information.” She wrote: “I almost got the feeling I was sitting in a coffee shop somewhere and the person next to me poring over the newspaper casually said, ‘Hey, did you hear about this new thing that just came out…?'” This is the sort of sense of place that we do not realize fully with threaded discussion forums, e-mails and chatrooms.

This notion that a blog can sustain a sense of place that does not occur within a discussion board context is a very interesting insight. This relates to some thoughts I have been having about the blog as a “publication”. Both blog as “place” and blog as “publication” require the development of a strong sense of identity. In journalism we talk about magazine identities which are really personalised brands that combine the different elements of content, design, visual style and more amorphous things like the “attitude” of the writing. I think that the best blogs build this very strong individual sense of identity.

This may seem very individualistic and contrary to my previous posts about blogs as conversational/collaborative spaces, but I don’t think this is really the case. A well developed publication identity actually encourages interaction because the familiarity encourages a sense of comfort and identification.

This ability to create a particular sense of blog space, to create a specific publication identity has implications for many course related blogs but is particularly important for journalism and writing students. Blogs may be a good way of helping them to develop a real sense of individual style and purpose, which are often the type of amorphous but essential qualities which are overlooked in the traditional curricula.

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