Using Blogs and Twitter to Encourage Student Engagement

Using Blogs and Twitter to Encourage Student Engagement

TARGET AUDIENCE: Stage 1 Geography students

The context was a stage 1 semester 1 module in Geography with 360 students and a focus on skills development. GEOG 10020 examined the nature and character of cities within a wide historical sweep.  There were three assessments and no terminal examination. Small group work was a key aspect of the learning environment, with extensive use being made of on-line resources, augmented by a small number of tutorials where the students met in person.

The use of Blogs, and to a lesser extent Twitter, was explored to see how student engagement with assessments and the module in general could be improved.

The Blog facility in the virtual learning environment was used to engage with students about assessments or other aspects of the module.

Students had access to two blogs.  The first was specific to their small group and was designed to maintain interaction between them, their tutors and me.  This was the personal space for the small group and students were encouraged to use this for general chat as well as specific questions.

The second was a general blog, accessible by the whole student group.  Everyone had equal access to the blog in terms of creating entries and commenting.  The purpose was to encourage discussion on topics related to the module, for students to ask questions and for answers to be shared with the group.

The idea to use Twitter was an extension of the general blog.  Students were invited to sign up to a Twitter site for the module.  It was used in the same way as the general blog.

The blogs worked well.  The small group blogs generated more inter-student discussion than the general blog.  This latter was used much more as a means of communicating with me, asking questions about assessments and the module.  However, while I would have liked to have seen more general discussion, I found this use extremely useful. It gave me an excellent insight into what was of concern to students and gave me the platform to communicate with the entire group, knowing that the discussion was easily available.

The key was that the Blogging tool was in the virtual learning enviroment.  While the Twitter tool was found to be useful, it was not used as much.  The fact that students had to make the effort to sign up was a step too far for many.  However, this is likely to be only a temporary problem as Twitter and other similar forms of communication become integrated into most platforms.