Tools and pilots
Prior to the introduction of the University’s institutional blogging platform, myblog.arts, online reflective practice was carried out by a small number of individual staff members and isolated groups of students. The earliest adopter we know of was Pete Maloney, who introduced the use of blogs as digital reflective sketchbooks to his BA and MA Motion Graphics students at Chelsea College of Art in 2006 [see example: Heidi Coleman’s blog. Also see our video recording of Pete talking about the project in November 2009]. In the absence of an institutional blogging platform, Pete advised and supported his students in setting up their own blogs through open tools such as Blogger, and was keen to take part in the myblog.arts pilot that commenced in October 2010 [see e-team blog June 2010]. The nature of the Motion Graphics students’ blog activity is typical of the course-related blogging practice that has since become widespread at UAL, which includes:
- Community building
- Overseas collaborations
- Assessed essay
[Categorisation from myblog.arts service pilot report, 20 September 2011]
We have evidence of activity and interest in independent student blogging prior to the implementation of myblog.arts; this blog post from February 2010 documents a session led by a student technology advisor (STA) for London College of Fashion students on using Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and Twitter; however, the primary focus of this appeared to be for showcasing and networking rather than reflection. The myblog.arts service pilot report indicates that 54.5% of student respondents involved in the myblog.arts pilot already had a blog of their own, while 18% had never used (to include reading and commenting on) blogs before.
In November 2010 the myblog.arts service – a customised platform built from a combination of WordPress and Buddypress – went live with an open pilot that included approximately 150 students across a small range of courses. As shown in Figure 1, approximately two thirds of student respondents involved in the myblog.arts pilot reported that they were using the blog for ‘documenting and reflecting’ on work and practice.
In August 2011 the myblog.arts service was officially launched along with a programme of training and support. Since then, users have increased more than tenfold; there are currently 2,321 active members (Figure 2) using 1,390 blogs (many members use group blogs or spaces administered by other members).
High level strategic support for the incorporation of online reflective practice into curricula is hard to find. The UAL Elearning Strategy 2007-2010 focused primarily on the use of the institutional VLE, although it acknowledged the anticipation of “an increasing use of ‘Web 2’ (i.e. interactive technologies, such a blogs, wikis and discussion boards) as part of our daily lives alongside ‘Web1’ (information providing) technologies”. In response to Objective 6 of the Strategy for Student Learning (“Increase opportunities for flexible and personalised learning for students”), the 2007-10 ELearning Strategy stated: “In addition to the basic functionality which enables students to access course documentation at any time from any location, [ELearning] also provides essential tools for supporting students recording their achievements, working collaboratively online, and reflecting on their learning.”
This statement gave rise to a series of objectives, two of which relate to online reflective practice and the availability of the tools needed for implementing this in curricula:
- Objective 23: Use interactive technologies to support students exploring and sharing their own experiences as part of the curriculum, building on research and development projects currently being undertaken across UAL.
- Objective 27: Increase access to Web 2.0 applications for learning and teaching across UAL
In 2011 UAL’s ELearning strategy was subsumed by the Learning and Teaching Strategy 2011-2015, which builds on the new UAL Medium-Term Strategy 2010-2015 and its aim to:
“offer high quality teaching and an innovative curriculum that responds to cultural, economic and technological change and enhances graduate employability”
The current Learning and Teaching Strategy identifies nine strategic goals, none of which directly refer to reflective practice. One refers to the extension of “uses of elearning” to support “the delivery of the curriculum”. Others focus on general strategic priorities such as sustainability, disciplinary research, internationalisation and enterprise and employability, and on addressing the ongoing challenge of course organisation and management.
It is arguably the Medium Term Strategy itself that comes closest to providing direct strategic support for the integration of online reflective practice into University life, with its focus on “producing graduates who have the skills to play influential roles in the creative and cultural sectors and the self-awareness and independence of mind to become responsible global citizens”.
Role Models in Senior Management
Notably, around the same time as the myblog.arts launch, the Rector started his own blog as a conduit for two-way communication with staff and students across UAL. Whether this truly constitutes online reflective practice is debatable; however, the blog is proving worthwhile as a space for dialogue and could therefore be cited as an example of a senior manager acting as a role model in this type of activity.