I've just been in a rather heated team meeting during which a colleague and I presented on this new My Sunderland space, in which we highlighted the potential benefits of engaging with students in forms like online blogs. We suggested that they are great for posting information, files, starting discussions, pointing to related links, etc. Also, strong students tend to appreciate the capacity for engaging in online discussions that pique their interest, and past experience has proven that they can often assist their peers (by working through complex issues of by pointing to relevant online resources).
We pointed out that student lifestyles and the ways they engage with academic content have changed, and that we can adapt to these changes without having to change our current practices too much. Data form our Virtual Learning Environment shows that students are accessing online notes at rather unusual hours and on unexpected days (including Christmas Day!).
Currently, as the module leader for a module (MAC201) with a large cohort I find myself dealing with multiple student questions on the same topic, and that I encounter an awful lot of repetition in my workload as I attempt to fend these off. This was one of the reasons why I have, in the past, created student help files and provided annotated student essays as example resources. Student feedback on my modules have been quite positive about providing these kinds of tools/resources. One problem though is that the VLE is rather stilted and clunky place for hosting discussions.
There was quiet a bit of resistance to the idea that staff can create blogs or communities around the material they teach. Some of the concerns that were vocalised coalesced around the following points
- Additional workload burden for staff - who polices the space or ensures that students are on the right track? How much extra time will this take staff to get familiar with posting content?
- No evidence that students benefit from online discussion space
- Fear of technology - Not all staff are technologically au fait so this might require staff development
- Anxiety that online replaces physical - staff were fearful that students would abandon physical sessions for 'inane' online 'status updates' that were poor replacements for engagement with staff