Using blogs to facilitate and assess student learning

Andrew Ho and Reggie Kwan
Caritas Francis Hsu College
Hong Kong SAR, China

Web 2.0 refers to a new generation of Web-based services -- such as social networking sites, wikis, blogs, social software, RSS feeds, and folksonomies -- that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users (socialization) to generate new information and knowledge. Users in this new wave of development no longer just surf the Web but generate new waves for other users to engage and establish their presence on the Web.

Among the Web 2.0 technologies, weblogs (or blogs) have provided a Web-based personal publishing platform for anyone who wants to establish a unique presence on the Web and share his/her experience, profile, achievements etc. with everyone. A blog not only contains explicit knowledge about the user (or blogger), but also tacit knowledge about how the blogger goes about his/her daily business or tasks.

Apart from being an interesting technology for people to show off on the Web, blogs have also attracted academics to investigate how this technology can be applied to education to help students to learn. With its ability to record a full history of personal activities, blogs can actually provide a rich source of evidence to illustrate how students go about their learning and what they have actually learned. Assessment by evidence was pioneered in the use of portfolios and e-portfolios where artefacts are used to demonstrate students' competence. However, portfolio assessment tends to focus on the artefacts and provides only a limited view of how students have gone about their learning. In complementing portfolio assessment, blogs can provide insights necessary for teachers to understand students' learning difficulties, strategies and habits. With such a wealth of additional information on learning, assessment strategies will have to be adjusted to evaluate not only the students themselves but also their interaction with other students.

At Caritas Francis Hsu College, a pilot study into how blogs can facilitate and assess student learning is underway in two Year 2 Higher Diploma in Computing classes. Students are asked to use blogs to document and reflect their learning experiences and the problems they have encountered; and they are also required to explore the blogs of fellow students to learn from them, as well as provide constructive feedback. The teachers also have to document their feelings, observations and views on lectures and laboratory sessions to provide students with insights into learning from their perspectives. Apart from the final examination, many of the graded assignments will make use of blogs, and data on the entire blog experience will be gathered by means of questionnaires and interviews for analysis and the development of new teaching and assessment strategies for teaching in this new webspace.