As well as trying to re-create the story of BIM from various publications, email archives and presentations the aim of the following is also to identify the challenges faced while developing BIM. This will be the first in a sequence of posts as I attempt to re-create the history.
Origins: Blogs and minute papers
I’d first used blogs in teaching around 2004. Had been aware of them for a while. By the end of 2005 I was back teaching first year programming in courses that were taken by distance education students, traditional on-campus students and international students at capital city, commercial campuses. I was directly responsible for the on-campus and distance education students.
For a long time (going back to the early 90s) I’ve been concerned with the plight of distance education students and the limited support they receive. In an attempt to achieve a couple of aims I wrote a paper titled “Enhancing the learning journey for distance education students in an introductory programming course”. It was intended to try and reinvigorate the REACT process while at the same time giving me the reason to reflect on how I might support the distance education students better and reduce the failure rate in the first year programming courses.
A part of the considerations was the use of blogs. Especially in combination with the idea of minute papers (Murphy & Wolff, 2005). The idea was described as this (Jones, 2005)
The author has used minute papers in face-to-face teaching and found them to be useful. It is thought that asking distance education students to blog a minute paper each time they do some study will provide a minimal level of structure and help the coordinator be aware of how each student is progressing.
I implemented some of the ideas, including the use of blogs, described in Jones (2005) in the first term of 2006 in a course called Procedural Programming. Before the start of term I emailed all of the distance education students taking the course explaining how and why I wanted to use the blogs to support them. The reward to students for blogging minute papers was that I would be responding directly to their quotes. This included the offer of a pre-submission check of their assignments. i.e. before they submitted, I would look at their assignment and give them feedback.
There were only 17 or so distance education students, so while it was more work, I didn’t think it would be that great. However, I did recognise that it would be additional work, I thought it worthwhile as it would help the students, but there was no way to get recognition for this extra workload. Even though the rationale for doing was sound.
CHALLENGE #1: Organisational processes and policies, especially workload, don’t easily respond to changes in workload balance.
Checking my email archives for the course, I find the first mention of this blog. Apparently, I set up this blog to serve as an example for the students in this course. Here’s the first post reflecting on the early stages of this process.
Those same email archives reveal 3 students sending me the URLs for their blogs.
1 of those blogs is empty, no posts. Another has a couple of posts from the student and some comments from me. I remember this student. We ended up moving discussions to email and those discussions were quite extensive. The last blog had a regular post each week, for most weeks, and also had a comment from me on each one. Is that a 33% success rate? Of the students one failed (no posts), one got a credit (2 posts) and one got a HD (lots of posts). Is that a correlation between engagement on the blog and final result? It’s been since suggested that blogs are a good predictor of student results for high and low achievers.
Another student at this stage commented in an email
I dont know anyone who uses Blogs, and i have never read or used one myself.
CHALLENGE #2 Blogs are novel to many students. Students are conservative, getting them to try something new is a challenge.
Other comments from the same student
If you were offering me presubmission checks in return for a weekly minute sheet/blog i would do it. I can see how a student that was lacking confidence would feel more secure posting a message that only the lecturer would read. The only problem that i see with not having a communal learning environment is that if the lecturer cant perform their duties in a timely manner there is no one else that is aware of the students problems. The onus is fairly heavily on the lecturer to perform.
CHALLENGE #3 A design that relies on the academic to perform, will create a workload and a single point of failure.
CHALLENGE #4 Students are pragmatic. There needs to be reason for them to do something, especially something new.
CHALLENGE #5 The open nature of blogs can create some fear, especially for those who are less confident (this may/could be linked to what is known about shy students posting to discussion forums i.e. they tend not to)
The same student commented
The thing that i found that reduced the “transactional distance” was simply having an email/post/message from someone that called me by my name. The feeling that someone knows your name rather than your student number made a more profound difference to my study experience than i would have thought likely.
One of the points to remember is that under this model the distance education students were receiving a different type of support than the on-campus students.
At the moment, it appears that CQU’s course evaluation system has no record of any evaluations for this course. Will have to dig into that.
On the whole, this use of blogs was not a great success in terms of overall numbers. However, it did provide an opportunity to experiment, to test the waters. Obviously this experiment was largely positive because of what came next.
Jones, D. (2005). “Enhancing the learning journey for distance education students in an introductory programming course.” from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/?attachment_id=496.
Murphy, L. and D. Wolff (2005). “Take a minute to complete the loop: using electronic Classroom Assessment Techniques in computer science labs.” Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges 21(1): 150-159.