Thursday, July 28, 2011

From Boring to Blogging: An Educational Experiment, part 2

In the first of a series of 3 postings (see here) I related my idea of implementing a performance assignment through a wiki and blog in an online Microbiology course. This post describes how did it work.
What worked
Regarding blogging: three students became regular and sometimes passionate bloggers. Two students only posted the one graded post, and the last  two never posted.
Wikis: Except the expected formatting issues in the beginning there were no major difficulties creating the wiki pages.
The “learning journey and reflection” idea: of the seven students, one changed her original topic completely, from antibiotics to an African parasitic disease. She attributed her change to a Discussion Board thread about neglected tropical diseases that seemed to be an eye-opener for most students. While the others worked on their original topic, there were changes in how they approached it. This was particularly true for the blogging students, who also tended to be the ones who sought most feedback and advice from me and the others. Interestingly, while several students stated in the beginning they were to write a paper on their topic, all went for either a wiki page or a powerpoint presentation.
What needs improvement?
  1. Having to log in and work in two different sites was probably confusing and cumbersome for students.  Although I had a Discussion Board for general questions in the official site, students would sometime request help/feedback in their wikis or blogs...and left waiting. I had to  monitor  all corners of the two sites regularly, and could still miss some postings.
  2. Grading rubrics that were not precise enough brought variable quality of both blogs and wikis. Some wiki pages had high quality content but could be too dry, with predominance of text, while other pages were more light-weight in content but visually attractive. 
The “social” aspects of collaboration.
I had a couple of issues with overzealous students editing other students’ wikis before the submission deadlines in spite of posted “etiquette” rules, and I could sense a generational difference.

And this is what students said regarding the assignment in their evaluations: 
The format of using discussion boards and class wikis to have the class engage with one another worked very well and the instructor provided excellent topics to encourage that interaction. I would have liked to have seen more timely feedback from the instructor on the discussion to guide class and raise the level of the discussion among some of the class members- perhaps some leading questions that would provide the opportunity for follow up and clarification among the group would encourage non-participants to engage; non-participants are always a struggle and so I am sympathetic with that challenge.   
Another student (one of the power users) said: 
It felt very beta for where the rest of the software for online publishing is now. The HTML coding is very limited and did not allow for common coding to make presentations clear and visually stimulating in a multimedia web environment. Not being able to embed from web sources is a major shortcoming.

In a summary, it was a good experience, with all the shortcomings included.  I am taking now a course on how to design effective online assessments, so I have some ideas as how to improve it (more on the next post). What are your experiences with online collaborative assignments, dear Readers? I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.

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