Mini-series: Using the academic blogging service in the Clinical Education and Digital Cultures course

Photo credit: flickr, Luis Perez, CC0

In this contribution to the Mini-Series on Academic Blogging, Tim Fawns, Deputy Programme Director of the MSc in Clinical Education, explains how his time spent as a member of the Blogging Service project board has convinced him to re-introduce blogs into his teaching…

While use of WordPress and other blogging platforms has been going on for a number of years in various ways across the University, as Anne-Marie mentioned in last week’s post, October 2018 saw the launch of an integrated, centrally-supported service that allows teachers and students to use WordPress blogs without needing to seek special support and within a secure and well-thought-through infrastructure.

After a long information-gathering exercise in which staff and students across the University were asked about actual and desirable uses of blogging, the project team – along with the help of interested staff around the University – have been grappling with lots of tricky issues to do with ownership, copyright, moderation, deletion, ethics, etc. In doing so, they have negotiated complex legal, educational, and technological challenges in an effort to make this as useful, beneficial and unproblematic as they can. You can find more about these policies and processes here.

At the same time, thought has gone into how we can support staff and students to get the most out of their blogs for research, teaching, reflection, etc. Lorna Campbell has developed a great workshop, ‘Blogging to build your professional profile’,  with a wonderful, open blog used as course material. Karen Howie and Robert Chmielewski are putting the finishing touches to a workshop about blogging for teaching and learning. I can personally recommend both of these.

We had previously used a WordPress blog on my programme (MSc Clinical Education) for different purposes, including as a channel for our PG Certificate students to gain recognition as Fellows of Advance HE (formerly HEA). While many students found it helpful, it involved a significant administrative burden and there was an ongoing concern that it relied on an unusual support arrangement. The difference now is that the new platform is an integrated and centrally run service with both technical and pedagogical support, and a growing community of interested and knowledgeable staff who can make suggestions and give advice. The other aspects of this new blogs.ed platform that excite me the most are:

  • Granularity of permissions: You can set the visibility of the blog to different levels such as fully-public or course-only or share it only with the tutor or select student peers.
  • Domain-of-one’s-own (DOOO): We are planning to run a pilot project where students can have their own blog that is easy to setup and configure.
  • Centralised support: The service will provide support for bringing in new and updated themes and plugins to the platform over time, increasing the functionality in response to staff and student requirements

My time as a member of the project board for the blogging service has convinced me to re-introduce blogs into my teaching on the MSc Clinical Education, specifically on our new pilot course: Clinical Education and Digital Cultures, which is running from February to April 2019 (if you would like to know more about this course, please email me). The premise of the course is that there is a need in clinical education to pay attention to changes in digital technology and data. Pilot students are thinking about topics such as augmented reality, online professionalism, and big data in relation to their practice and profession and what it means to be a clinical educator and practitioner within an increasingly digitalised culture.

Each student will use their blog to think through the general and local implications of a particular theme for healthcare education and practice, and to engage in dialogue (e.g., via the comment function) with peers, tutors and guest experts. The blog will not be assessed, but will provide a rich channel for feedback that can be used to inform later summative work, as well as being a space for staff and students to explore and develop elements of academic digital literacy and professionalism.

My hope is that the use of a blog service with good technical and pedagogical support will provide students with a space over which they have a sense of ownership, and in which they can articulate, in-depth, their reflections on challenging issues.

Tim Fawns

Dr Tim Fawns is Deputy Programme Director of the MSc in Clinical Education and part-time tutor on the MSc in Digital Education. He is also the director of the international Edinburgh Summer School in Clinical Education. His main academic interests are in education, technology and memory.

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