Boy with an F grade
1-1-1, Best Practices, instructional technology, TLT

Guest Post: I Flunked Blogging…But Learned A Lot In the Process

Our guest blogger this week is Louise Ackerman from Health and Human Performance.


That might be a slight exaggeration. My experiment with blogging wasn’t a total failure, but it also was not the resounding success I envisioned.


As the faculty coordinator for Public Health Internships one of the challenges I face is finding ways for students to share insights as they navigate their field experience. Internships by nature require students rarely to be in the same place at the same time. Yet on the few occasions when they do get together they benefit greatly from comparing notes and “talking shop.” After learning about blogging at the Summer 2014 Faculty Technology Institute, I though I had found a way to bridge the gap.

Over the subsequent two semesters I implemented a class blog, the purpose of which was to provide students with a virtual “space to share experiences—discuss issues and ideas relevant to young professionals, help one another manage field-related problems, raise work-related concerns, and fill each other in on information and opportunities in the Pubic Health arena.”

Public or Private? 

I knew what I was aiming for, but was not clear which platform would be most suitable. With the help of TLT consultant, Laura Plotts, I settled on Google Blogger. Because internships are about preparing students for the real world, I wanted a platform they could easily adapt to life and/or work after graduation.

Google Blogger allows you to create a public blog, accessible to anyone with an internet connection, or a private blog, which is accessible only to invited viewers. I opted for the latter for two reasons: I thought students might speak more freely knowing the blog was for class eyes only, plus I was concerned that some might unthinkingly post comments that could jeopardize their internship should co-workers or a supervisor see them.

Lesson #1: I now recommend not going private. If you’re going to ask students to blog, let them get used to the idea that what they post may be read by anyone, anytime, and blog responsibly. Better to learn that lesson now than when a real job is on the line.

Lesson #2: If you want to have private conversations, you don’t need a blogging platform. The OAKS Discussion tool will likely work just as well.

If I Build It, Will They Come?

Developing the assignment was the next task. Normally when it comes to classwork, I’m all about crossing t’s, dotting i’s, and leaving nothing to interpretation. This assignment, however, seemed to call for a more free-wheeling paradigm. After all, blogging is essentially about finding your voice: having something to say, and saying it in a way that engages others. I wanted authenticity, and I had hoped that providing less-than-my-usual structure would spur honest, interesting, creative, provocative, and/or helpful posts.

It didn’t.

After a couple rounds of vapid posts I revised the assignment, taking topic selection out of the hands of students, and instead provided prompts to which they were required to respond. While the quality of posts improved immensely, I sacrificed the authenticity I was looking for. The blog went from student-focused to teacher-led (exactly what I wanted to avoid).

Lesson #3: A student blog should be student-directed. In a traditional class setting students would have time to develop a blog that reflected their interests and concerns within the confines of the course. The structure of this course made that unfeasible.

Topic Selection

Over the course of two semesters I played around with types of prompts, trying to find the ideal mix. I was never able to come up with a topic that generated a true discussion—a back and forth similar to what takes place in a classroom. At best students posted well-thought out comments; beyond that they rarely challenged each other or dug deeply into issues, despite grade incentives to do so.

Lesson #4: The prompts that led to the best posts were inspirational, thought-provoking, and/or relevant to students at this time in their lives. (TED Talks were a great resource.). Prompts requiring free writing yielded the least interesting posts. (Students simply followed the lead of the person who responded first.). I had medium success with prompts that asked for helpful information (e.g. job search strategies and exploring solutions to common internship problems).

Lesson #5: Given the lack of meaningful back and forth, simple reflection assignments would be a viable alternative.


To earn the minimum credit students had to respond to my prompts; they could earn additional credit by responding to their classmates’ posts, which was my way of encouraging discussion. They were given guidelines for what constituted acceptable original posts and reply posts.

Lesson #6: Grading blog posts is challenging but doable. It’s wise to set an approximate word length (I used a minimum of 250 words for an original post and 150 for subsequent posts), and details for what constitutes quality comments. For me that was:

  • Thoughtful and/or provocative
  • On-topic
  • Well-articulated
  • Add to the discussion (e.g. comments such as, “I agree” or “I had the same experience” do not count as moving the discussion forward)
  • Respectful

Bottom Line

I’m not sure if I’ll revise the assignment and try again. While there is plenty of tweaking that could be done, I’m not convinced that blogging is suitable to my objectives for the Internship class. I am, however, thinking of ways I can utilize the technology in a traditional classroom setting.

Make Over
Assessment, Faculty Showcase, Innovative Instruction, social networking, TLT

Activity Makeover – Transforming a Current Events Assignment

Twitter? Tweet? Hash tag?  What does it all mean?  Well to Louise Ackerman, in Health & Human Performance, it means a way to transform a traditional current events assignment into something more fluid and relevant using Twitter *. 

The Old Assignment

So here’s the old assignment:  The goal is for the students to stay abreast of what is happening in global health.  Before each class period students must:
  • Find a health related current event in a reputable publication.
  • Read it.
  • Copy it, print it, or cut it out and bring it to class.
  • At the beginning of each class, if called upon, come to the front of the class and talk about the event or article.
  • Class will discuss the issues from the article.
Sound familiar?  Given that the field of public health is ever changing this method was feeling stale to Professor Ackerman.  In addition, most of the students were going to the same publications (Washington Post, New York Times, etc.) so there wasn’t much breadth in the articles and topics being discussed.  It just wasn’t delivering her desired outcomes.

The New Assignment

When Professor Ackeman decided to revamp the assignment to make it more current she selected Twitter as the vehicle.  Here’s the new assignment:
  • Each student must establish a Twitter account
  • Each student must follow 8-10 people (experts) or organizations in the health field (see Twitter Tips and Getting Started) – those followed can (and should) change over the semester as the student’s interests evolved. (Students were not required to Tweet, only Follow.)
  • Each student must check their Twitter feed daily.  They could set up notifications if they desired to keep them informed when new items were posted.
  • At the beginning of each class, if called upon, the student must speak for 2-3 minutes, from their seat, about what they learned from the their Twitter feed. (3-5 students were randomly selected each class).
Louise was thrilled with the results of the makeover.   The amazing discussions, sparked from these topics, were so engaging that she often had to stop them in order to continue with the class. She states, “(Stopping the discussion) was killing me because it was exactly what I wanted to happen.”  Only one student over the entire semester was not prepared when called upon.  All the rest were ready and waiting to be selected.  As the semester went on, she found that the students branched out from the obvious organizations, such as the World Health Organization, into specialized areas and were really able to expand their knowledge.  They began choosing articles and events that related to the topics currently being discussed in the class and made connections between the two.
She didn’t give a lot of direction on who to follow as she didn’t want to influence their choices.  She instead gave direction on how to search for appropriate people to follow.  This resulted in a much broader collection of articles and topics.  In addition, they were able to follow subjects and organizations that interested them so it made the assignment more relevant to the students.  As the class progressed Professor Ackerman would mention people in her lectures and encourage the students that were interested in the topic to follow them on Twitter.    In addition, as they did research for other assignments in the class they would follow more people based on that research.  The current events assignment became relevant to the students in a way that the old assignment never did.
It’s important to note that Louise had never used Twitter before embarking on this adventure.  She tried it and felt that it was easy to use so she had no qualms about asking her students to do it.  When asked what she thought of her assignment makeover she said, “Twitter made it straightforward and simple.  I loved it, just loved it.”


Original and Made over Assignments:  ASSIGNMENT_MAKEOVER_ACKERMAN
Twitter Tips and Getting Started:
Twitter Basics
Twitter Glossary:
*Twitter is an online, social, microblogging application that allows people to read and “tweet” short 140-character messages.
Dr. Bill Barfield
1-1-1, Faculty Technology Institute

Guest Post: Dr. Bill Barfield

Dr. Barfield is a professor in Health & Human Performance.  As a result of the 2013 Faculty Technology Institute he implemented AirSketch in his classes.

I use Air Sketch in kinesiology and personal and community health (summers) and plan to begin using in biomechanics class.  The Air Sketch (app) allows me to make notes on PowerPoint slides in real time and can even have the students participate (by having them write on the slides). It is especially helpful when I walk around the room and can make points from anywhere (without being tethered to the teacher station by a cable).  I think the students think it is cool too the I can actually use technology, simple as it may be.