Understanding management students’ reflective practice through blogging

The following is a summary and perhaps some reflection upon Osman and Koh (2013). It’s part of the thinking and reading behind the re-design of the ICTs and pedagogy course I help teach to pre-service teachers.

Abstract

65 business (MBA/Egyptian) students participated in collaborative blogging over 5 weeks. Analysis (content analysis for critical thinking and theory/practice links) support the potential of blogs as a tool “for reflection and learning in practitioner-oriented courses. Implications for the design of blogging tasks are discussed.

Thoughts and todo

Provides some empirical evidence for the use of blogs for reflection and connecting theory and practice. Though the findings are generally what people would expect.

The task for these students was somewhat like a forced connection. You must post 1 topic and comment on two others. I wonder if this was more open/flexible/student controlled more contributions would arise? Perhaps only if appropriate support/connection made.

To do

  • Look at Ho and Richards (1993) for a framework specific to journals of student teachers.
  • Look at framework of Greenlaw and DeLoach (2003) and also Osman & Duffy (2010)
  • Look at Osman & Duffy (2010) for the idea that theories are not actively taken up by students and remain detached areas of knowledge, not integrated into decision-making.
  • Loving et al (2007) another framework for evaluating evaluation.

Introduction

Problems in practitioner courses in combining theory and practice. Need to encourage reflection etc.

Reflection has some plusses. Uses Moon’s (1999, p. 155) definition

a mental process purpose and/or outcome in which manipulation of meaning is applied to relatively complicated or unstructured ideas in learning or to problems for which there is no obvious solution”

Blogs are a recent tool for this, benefits of blogs from the literature are listed and referenced

  • empowering students by giving a voice and venue for self-expression.
  • increasing sense of ownership, engagement and interest in learning.
  • may facilitate enriched opportunities for communication, challenge, cognitive conflict, deeper thinking and knowledge construction.

But scarcity of studies that investigate “empirically”. Many relying on self-report data or anecdotal evidence. Few studies critically examine the quality of students’ reflection, especially in management education. Few provide explanations and thus limit guidelines that suport the design of blogging tasks to facilitate reflection and learning.

Literature review

Starts with references to the problem of MBA programs problem of combining academic rigor and practical application. A problem that teaching programs have had for a long time. Critical reflection is seen as a way to bridge this.

The rest is broken into the following sections

  1. Blogging and reflection.
    Individual journals a common approach. Privacy provides a sheltered place but limits sharing/collaboration etc. Blogging provides some affordances that address this. Value is accepted by enthusiasts, but limited analysis. Some studies mentioned. A few using coding frameworks are mentioned. One shows blogging has a positive impact on reflection, but peer comments has a negative impact.
  2. Critical thinking through blogging.
    Critical thinking defined as “development of a habit of continuous reflection and questioning”. Few studies of blogging looking at critical thinking.
  3. Fostering theory-practice linkages in management education.
    Explains the use Kolb’s learning cycle in this study.

Research questions

  1. How critically evaluative were the reflections of graduate business students when they engaged in blogging?
  2. In their reflections, to what extent did these students link theory and practice? What phases of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle did these students focus on?

Methods

Students blogged for last 5 weeks of 10 week term. 20% of assessment for the task. Guidelines kept to a minimum. Graded on the quantity and quality of postings. Students introduced to reflective practice and Kolb’s cycle prior.

Blogging groups (max 8) were self-assigned and access to the blogs limited to the group. During first week the instructor moderated blog posts. Discontinued as a threat to student ownership.

Students had the opportunity of opting out of their blog contributions from being analysed for the research. 54 provided signed consent.

Blog archives coded by two independent coders.

Results

The assessment task required students to initiate one topic and comment on two posts submitted by other groups per week. 65 students expected to make 325 posts and 650 comments. In the end 144 topics and 399 comments. Students only posted 543 times, 44% less than anticipated.

RQ #1 – how critically evaluative were posts

A peak at simplistic alternatives/argument (30%) and basic analysis (26%). About 14% theoretical inference i.e. building arguments around theory. Apparently this was the expected level.

No significant differences between posts and comments.

RQ #2 – To what extent did students link theory and practice

Focused on higher level critical thinking posts. Used a “Kolb-based framework”.

Significant differences between posts in types of reflection. Students seemed more comfortable considering theory with experience, observation or experimentation.

Discussion

Results support use of blogging as a tool to encourage reflection. Mmm, not sure it’s innate to the technology, though the affordance is there.

Few posts off task – but I think that’s probably a result of asking those questions in other areas. But author’s compare this with content oriented posts in discussion forums only being 40/50% of posts. Again, possibly the design of blogs in this context suggesting it’s not the place to raise non-content questions. Authors do point out that this was a blended context, the discussion forum references were totally online. And they pick up my point.

Surprising level of students reflecting on their learning via blogs. Mostly positive, but a prominent concern was a desire for feedback, especially from the instructor. Suggests some reasons: novelty of reflection requiring reassurance; a by-product of culture.

Some suggestions around student confusion because of reasons from the literature: what to write in a blog post, low self-efficacy re: the worthiness of their contribution; difficulty generating topics.

In this study students wanted instructor to post discussion questions. i.e. the instructor needs to be more active in scaffolding struggling students.

Guidelines for designing blogging tasks

The article closes with the following list of guidelines (p. 30)

  1. Explain the importance of reflection a vehicle for learning and continued professional development.
  2. Provide different forms of scaffolding. Many students are new to reflection and critical thinking as a more formal activity. In addition to giving them a framework and guidelines to inform their reflections, examples that illustrate quality reflection and critical thinking might be necessary. Students in this context seemed to especially need help with building theory based arguments, evaluating theories, and addressing ethical concerns for business issues.
  3. Give prompts to encourage reflections. Some students are often apprehensive about initiating reflections.
  4. Promote reflection and critical thinking over longer durations. A reflection task that extends for part of the semester might not be sufficient to adequately develop students’ reflective and critical thinking skills.
  5. Relate students’ reflections to class topic so that students see the value of reflection as an integral and legitimate ingredient of learning.
  6. Provide technical orientation at the beginning of the session. Although we assume that our students are tech savvy, they might not be.

Nothing to surprising there, it’s what I’ve done in the past and will aim to do next year.

References

Osman, G., & Koh, J. H. L. (2013). Understanding management students’ reflective practice through blogging. The Internet and Higher Education, 16, 23–31. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2012.07.001

Ho, B., & Richards, J. C. (1993). Reflective thinking through teacher journal writing: Myths and realities. Prospect, 8, 7–24.

Greenlaw, S. A., & DeLoach, S. B. (2003). Teaching critical thinking with electronic discussion. The Journal of Economic Education, 34(1), 36–52.

Loving, C. C., Schroeder, C., Kang, R., Shimek, C., & Herbert, B. (2007). Blogs: Enhancing links in a professional learning community of science and mathematics teachers. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 178–198.

Osman, G., & Duffy, T. (2010). Scaffolding critical discourse in online problem-based scenarios: The role of articulation and evaluative feedback. In M. B. Nunes, & M. McPherson (Eds.), IADIS International Conference e-Learning 2010: Vol 1 (pp. 156–160). International Association for Development of the Information Society.

3 thoughts on “Understanding management students’ reflective practice through blogging

  1. Hi David, This sounds interesting to me. Blogging could be part of personal reflection tool and is most valuable when the blogger creates posts which helps him or her to grow and develop critical thinking with a deep sense of reflection. I also think that it would be better for the blogger to suggest his/her way of blogging, in terms of frequency of posting or commenting, rather than guidance through a quota of posts or comments. This allows a novice blogger to exercise his/her autonomy rather than imposing certain forms of “tyranny” or authority over them. I like to read and comment of blogs, not because I have to comply with any formal academic requirements, but because of my personal interests. This is my preference, and I don’t think it would necessarily apply to others. Thanks again for this useful information. John

    1. My interest in this article and in returning to the use of blogging by students in my courses is sparked by the problems I see. The assessment in many courses doesn’t encourage reflection and generally thinking in ways that makes it explicit and enables feedback and discussions. Too often the assessment is summative and not surprisingly the contributions of many students suffers because of shallow engagement.

      Many of the students aren’t engaging critically or reflectively. Especially the case with many pre-service teachers and the role of theory in informing and understanding their practice. The best students do this almost automatically. But there is a large part of the cohort that could benefit from some encouragement and scaffolding.

      And that’s what I’m aiming to achieve. Introduce blogging into my course in a way that allows all students to develop the type of practice you engage in very effectively. There will have to be some scaffolding, but finding the balance between being explicit and allowing the space for the really interesting practices to develop is not easy

      In fact, perhaps a research question here isn’t how effectively blogging is used within the course, but how long and effectively blogging (and the other practices I’m considering) continues after the course has finished. Does blogging – as a form of reflection and critical thinking – become something the students continue to engage in?

  2. Pingback: The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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