Blogging tasks and assessments for your uni class

As the session gets underway, we’ve had some interesting new blog requests for new teaching blogs. I have been asked for information on how to get students writing good blog posts, and how these can be assessed.

Read on for my reply…

Academic Blogging

In an academic setting, student’s blog postings are often made in response to the various educational resources presented ie lectures, readings, or case studies. Word length ranges are usually specified ie 250-750 words. The aim of the activity often has a component of “demonstrate that you have read and understood the materials” and often asks student to write a reflective c500 words blog post explaining whether they agreed or disagreed with material presented, or to compare and contrast theories presented, or to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of a case.

A different blog-related task is to ask the student to locate 3 other articles on a class topic and blog about those new resources – it could een extend to posting a draft annotated bibliography to support a larger essay or assignment. I have also seen blogging used to host on online debate, where students in teams wrote for or against a topic, and guest/expert markers judged who won the debate. Feedback was made to each team via the blog commenting feature.

As you can see, for each different type of blogging task – the marking criteria is subtly different as it flows from what is asked of the students in the task. So for ease of writing good marking criteria, first you need to design and write up a good blogging task!

Marking criteria examples

For example, if the activity is to “demonstrate that you have read and understood the materials” – and to write a reflective c500 words (ie blog post) explaining whether students agreed or disagreed with points of views taken in readings required for that week, then the marking criteria would be around  how clearly they have taken a position, how well they have explained and justified that position, referring to (all/some/few) the materials presented.

If the blog post was a compare and contrast type of writing activity, then the marking criteria might ask for a certain number eg 3-5 similarities which are noted and justified, and a certain number of differences noted and justified.

You might want the students to summarise the material, or take a certain point of view in which case the marking criteria would be about synthesising the different sources into a cohesive argument. For an annotated bibliography, it would be about the number, variety and quality of each source, and perhaps the succinctness or helpfulness of the annotation.

Giving marks for commenting on students’ posts

Similarly, if you want the students to read and comment on each other’s work, there should be an aim for this which can be used to shape the marking criteria. For example, if there’s an international perspective focus in your task, the students might be asked to find 3 posts where the situation described in the blog post is different to how things are done in their country/culture – and be asked to write a 350 word reply (ie comment) to each explaining how things are done in their country/culture and to offer an opinion as to the pros and cons of doing it this way.

If the purpose of the post is to write up a project proposal and the purpose of the comments is to provide feedback and constructive criticisms to students as to their proposal, then there might be 0-5 marks offered for the quality of the feedback over  three criteria ie research question, research method, quality of sources.

When students need to learn and practice public blogging and social media integration

Where you have journalism, communication, media or PR students, they really need to practice being media/comms professionals. They would benefit from getting up to speed with both public blogging and twitter use as communication channels. You could try what Dr. Ted Mitew (Arts) does in his “Convergent Media” class (BCM112 ie first year subject!). The students have to use Twitter “tweets” with links to material, and blog postings every week. This is called their “learning portfolio” and they submit a selection of their posts and tweets with reflective commentary twice during semester. The submission is done via the Assignment tool in the eLearning space ie formally. The students are also encouraged to share and learn from each others’ discoveries, so they use a twitter hashtag #bcm112, which creates a feed of the students links to their discovered resources. It also teaches them how to use hashtags and twitter properly for best social media practice. Essential comms skills for some professions!

Another great public/media assessment is to swap a group presentation for a group produced YouTube Video presentation/story (3-4mins). The students have to create a YouTube account, make a YouTube clip, upload it, post it to the blog. Then view other students videos and use the facebook “like” button  or a voting/poll tool to vote for their favourites. There can be  some  marks (maybe 5-10 marks for example) given in the assessment criteria that comes from how many votes they got. But you still might want the majority of marks coming from teacher’s mark or formal peer review using assessment criteria matrix.  See for a sample of a video competition in the blog.

I hope this is helfpul, and if you have any questions you can email me at Sarah Lambert –


Can i learn to conduct online?

Whilst on holidays I wondered if anybody offered a diploma or certificate course focusing on conducting music ensembles, since I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, and I’m mostly self taught. I did find a few options – including a Masters level program at the Sydney Conservatorium (that the University of Sydney these days), and also a few overseas. I also found a place that offers Certificate level courses, fully online, in a huge range of music topics including arranging, orchestration, composition. And then i began to wonder, could i learn music online? I think of it as a pretty ‘hand’s on’ activity.

Today, as i read Prof. Steven Schwarz’s blog (VC of Macquarie University) posting regarding the disruptive powers of open education – i discovered Udacity – a new online university that has just started offering free courses, with many more planned. They are currently offering a course called “CS373: Programming a Robotic car” On the webpage, you can see a YouTube clip of the teacher riding in his fully robotic car – the thing was driving by itself!!! And he reckons he can teach me how to do the same in 7 weeks. Yes please! I mean, this really got my inner-nerd very excited.

But seriously, if i can learn to program a robotic car online, then i reckon i probably can learn to conduct online. And arrange compositions for orchestras.
Which one should i try first? Has anybody learnt anything fully online lately?

Oui oui! Le Skype is working!

After months of planning and testing, the Skype pilot kicked off today. With slick new high definition web cams, and the help of the “how to” login sheet, the french language students connected with other students in Noumea. And the French conversations began to flow.

While many staff members have had Skype installed and working fine in their offices on their individual managed desktop machines (ie supported centrally by ITS), up until know it has been impossible to intall and use them “en masse” for use by students in an ITS managed teaching computer lab. But, thanks to the hard work of everybody involved (especially Krstan Risteski, ITS Labs Manager and Liz Burns, ITS System team) a special ‘software package’ was developed, tested, tweaked, and re-tested. Now Skype can be remotely installed in labs by ITS Support staff, with the correct network and software settings so that it actually works within the confines of a teaching lab. The only last minute hitch was that each new web-cam purchased by Arts (they are for use in the new Bld 19 Language labs) needed to have the software drivers manually installed, but thanks to Krstan, this was achieved in time also.

OpenSource software in labs: pilot progress

This pilot project over in the new Digital Media Centre labs at iC is going very well. Ably supported by lab support technician Glenn Alexander, research into tweaking the lab setup is underway to ensure that when students logoff in the labs their software is re-set to an appropriate “clean-slate settings” state on the shared lab machines, and their data is saved on their USB or portable hard-drives.
I visited the class yesterday in person, and saw the colour animated graphics that the students were creating in the Ubuntu/Linux operating system using the Scala programming language. Look forward to seeing how the student projects develop.

ETC and Randy Pausch (The Masters Degree I want to do!)

I was watching a TED Talk Talk by Randy Pausch. He based his talk on his childhood dreams, but by about 40mins it in turns into a discussion about ETC. A great University course he helped develop after being a Disney Imagineer. It is so great and he speaks so enthusiastically about it. The course brings together Design, arts and engineering students initially, then opens up to a broader audience.

This guys has had some amazing opportunities, but I really like that someone else has picked up the ball for the ‘Masters Degree’. I really wish we could have something similar to offer students here at UOW.
There is more information about ETC here.

Wk 6 Progress: VM Ware /open source tools pilot

Generally, we seem to have ironed out most of the hiccups (mainly linked to people having problems copying the system to Mac formatted disks or by locking the VM system by not shutting it down properly (have to throw out the lock file to restart in those circumstances). Other issues are mainly about the overall technical complexity of having to load up another operating system and then engage with complex set of programming APIs – a real challenge for many of the students.

Testing VMWare player in labs with FCA staff

Been working with Brogan Bunt and Peter Goodall to get an open-source applications pilot up and running. Brogan wants to run his classes in the ITS labs, but with open-source software. The solution has been to install VMWare player in the labs, which allows other operating systems to be used. THen the students bring in a USB specially formatted with Ubuntu (Linux) operating system and a suite of open-source or freeware applications on it. They create a range of sound/media products with them. Then they take it home and use exactly the same software to do their homework and projects. No need for them to purchase expensive proprietory software at home, nor to treck in to uni just to use software. Let’s hope the pilot works well. Cos so far, it sounds fantastic!IMG_4708IMG_4709IMG_4710

digital voice recorder

olympus dvr CC Hickey 08obviously not a ‘new’ technology, but if I had to name the one techi thing that changed life in my corner  it was the nifty usb recorder I started using five years ago…. what it means in practice is that the linguistically vulnerable student seeking advice about their writing (those using English as an additional language, for example) can instantly get a copy of the consultation (no cables, just pull it apart, stick it in their laptop) which they can listen to repeatedly at their own pace, and thereby  learn so much more than from a single exposure which they may or may not well recall when back at their desk trying to put into practice the pearls of linguistic wisdom showered upon them… their feedback assures me this was the best investment for teaching I ever made…

Grad Diploma Education

 I met with Sharon Tindall-Ford from Faculty of Education today regarding  The Grad Diploma Ed. It’s an intensive 10 month program with about 350 students in each intake ie per year. It is taught across 4 different campus: Wollongong, BB, SH and Bega.

The students spend 55 days in the classroom – about 20% of the total learning time.

Their program consists of core subjects from Wgong in the main plus eduStream for large classes and some video conferencing (vcf). Sharon said they are moving away from co-ordinators in each location, hence they have an ESDF project to harness appropriate technologies for Multi-location teaching, and ongoing professional development for interactive teaching ie 2-way approach even in the large classes. Richard Caladine working on this aspect with Tess Snowball. They are looking to move from eduStream to interactive vcf even for the large classes.

New requirement: Sharon wants to offer scheduled syncronous staff/student consultations to facilitate feedback and reflection on the classroom prac experience. Could be one-on-one, could be scheduled for tutor to whole tutorial, could be opt-in sessions on key topics eg Maths lesson plans, Classroom management. Also good for interventions for students struggling and under strees, to keep them in the program.

Who else wants this kind of facility?