Reflection V Soundbites

The Potential of VLEs to Enhance the Quality of Students’ Communication, Participation and Learning
Dr Eileen Berrington & Dr Helen Jones Manchester Metropolitan University;;

Internationalising the curriculum
Teaching, learning and assessment using discussion groups involved students from the following partner institutions:

Using assessment to improve the quality of discussion
Structured reflective assessment Students make 2 postings a week, three of which will be included in the coursework submission. An average of 300 words per posting equals 600 words per week plus a 1000-word reflective report. Showcasing Examples of different types of message were provided for guidance: N N N Good: articulate, referenced and reflective. Weak: personal opinion or vague, vacillating responses that are not supported by references or other evidence. Bad: Simplistic versions of previous postings and/or statements like ‘I agree with Joe’.

Asynchronous discussion enables students to plan their responses in a more reflective way. Synchronous discussion, like its in-class counterpart, does not offer this facility which may be of particular value to less-confident students.

Asynchronous discussion
N stimulates reflective learning necessary when dealing with complex issues; provides space for students to think through their own position and arguments; fosters dialogue; provokes questions; expands students’ understanding; can be fitted in around students’ work and family commitments.

Reflective summary Written coursework comprises a reflective account of students’ participation in the discussion. Students’ comments on the process “An excellent way of improving my ability to work independently and as a team member.” “The qualities gained from this project are great communication skills, efficient time management, studying a vast amount of material and the ability to conduct a constructive debate.” “Developed my communication and independent learning skills.”




Conducting online discussion
The 2004 pilot discussions used email. In 2006 the WebCT platform was used to conduct discussions supported by a repository of materials including readings, weblinks, podcasts and video extracts. Partner institutions accessed the site using WebCT, Blackboard and Desire to Learn. The resources repository kick-started discussion. Good students find and use additional materials to support their argument and to engage in academic critique. Categories of student responses The quality of student responses varied but can be roughly categorised into 3 classifications: Early responders get the discussion going, but may post soundbites rather than developed academic argument. Smash and grab, last-minute postings may use soundbites to summarise preceding material but late postings do not give others a chance to respond. Reflective learners READ around the topic, REFLECT on what they have read and PLAN their responses, moving the debate forwards. Student comment “It efficiently encouraged us to think and research around the set topics, allowing us to discuss our own argument and then develop it once others had commented on it. This development allowed me to critically examine my own answers as well as others’ arguments, therefore improving my analytical skills.”

Controversial topics stimulate interest and participation
2007 International Ecommunication Exchange discussions comprised 3 topics: N N N Gun ownership and control Victims and sentencing The death penalty

These topics were designed to explore similarities and differences in legislation and in popular and political perceptions across the different jurisdictions. There is significant value in debating cultural norms and challenging students’ own assumptions and beliefs. This leads to greater confidence in developing and articulating a critical analysis of contemporary social issues. Positive student evaluations Since 2004 student evaluations of this element of their studies have been consistently positive. They report greater confidence, feel better able to construct academically grounded debates and enabled to expand and develop their ICT skills. “I have valued this experience greatly. I believe this project has enhanced and developed my skills of communication, ability to argue a case and take part in a discussion in which views and ideas are consistent and conflicting. In the future, I would contribute to something similar if given the opportunity and would recommend this to others.”