Start the day with a TEL Breakfast

finger pointing to the word blog
image from

There’s no better way to start the day than breakfast with the TEL Team and invited speakers. This week the bacon and sausage butties were accompanied by Dr Helga Bartels-Hardege from the School of Biological, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences who talked about student blogs.

Blogging is being used to encourage students on school placements to reflect on their experiences. The expectation is one blog per week over 20 weeks and to comment on the postings of their peers. The first thing most students do is turn off the commenting function. Helga’s question was how to encourage science students to engage in reflection. It’s an interesting question.

While most (but not all) students were making posts, they were more descriptive than reflective, as in ‘this is what happened’ rather than a ‘what I did, why I did it and what I might do differently next time’ approach. Science students are used to dealing with facts but should this preclude the self-directed process of analysing and evaluating understanding of individual learning processes.

What always works well are opportunities to get together and share practice and points of view. Suggestions from the TEL Breakfast included putting students into smaller groups, mixing school ages within the groups (primary, secondary, 6th form) and using model comparisons of stronger and weaker examples of reflection. If changing from summative to formative assessment mighty encourage students to share their posts was discussed and if changing from a flat text-based environment to a more multimedia supported blog might create an increased sense of value and ownership.

Reflection seems to be a bit like technology enhanced learning. Promise and expectation don’t quite match the reality. It’s one thing to theorise about the strengths of TEL or reflective practice from an academic or learning development perspective, but another thing to transfer the potential value where the prerequisite digital capabilities are absent or students are unused to the processes of personal review. Mindset is a powerful predictor of behaviour and perceptions of higher education can be firmly fixed. These are the real challenges to be faced.