New Blog Series
I’m excited to introduce to you a new FCLT News Bytes series on authentic assessments! Each post in this series will delve into a different type of authentic assessment. Katie’s post last week, Teaching & Learning Experts @ the FCLT, touched on authentic assessments as a strategy for reducing cheating, but authentic assessments are also an essential tool to add to your equity tool kit.
About Authentic Assessments
Let me give a brief overview of authentic assessments in case you are new to these types of assessments. As Jon Mueller (2018) explains, authentic assessments are “a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills…[and which] usually [include]…a rubric by which their performance on the task will be evaluated.” Grant Wiggins (2014) elaborates that “a real-world task might ask the student to apply for a real or simulated job, perform for the local community, raise funds and grow a business as part of a business class, make simulated travel reservations in French to a native French speaker on the phone, etc.”
Well-structured authentic assessments challenge students to think more critically and achieve deeper learning versus traditional exams. You may notice that authentic assessments are rooted in Blooms Taxonomy and Constructivism in that these assessments aim to target higher-order thinking skills that can be difficult to achieve via traditional exams and also challenge students to actively engage with each other and draw on their collective prior knowledge to build new knowledge. Although authentic assessments can be used in combination with traditional exams, there is a growing DEISA movement in online higher education away from traditional exams (even in STEM courses) and against online proctoring; as such, many professors are exploring using authentic assessments exclusively in their online courses. Thus, especially when combined with other equitable teaching practices, such as humanizing and ungrading, authentic assessments are a powerful tool to give students agency over their learning, keep them engaged, and tap into their intrinsic motivation. What’s more, as noted in Silverman et al. (2021),
Authentic assessments help motivate students because they connect the course material to real-world applications (Svinicki, 2004) and also do not pose the same challenges with respect to academic integrity as exams because each student’s submission is unique to them and difficult to copy from another source. Furthermore, these assessments can be beneficial for students under stress because they can help students avoid the test anxiety and cognitive overload that often accompany traditional, timed exams (Carter et al., 2008; Dodeen, 2008).
Whether you use authentic assessments in part or in full, there are a multitude of options to choose from that are adaptable to a variety of subject area and topics. Examples of authentic assessments include but are not limited to blogs, portfolios, journals, interviews, role plays, peer-evaluations, and self-evaluations.
Blogs as Authentic Assessments
The first type of authentic assessment in this new blog series is, quite intentionally, blogs! Given that we recently moved FCLT News Bytes from Blogger to Edublogs, I thought it opportune to write about how you can use blogging in your teaching. There are numerous ways to structure blogs in your course, so a good place to start is by examining your learning objectives and ask yourself some guiding questions to help your blogging assignments take shape:
- What do you want your students to feel, think, do, or say by the end of each post and by the end of their last post?
- Which level of Bloom’s Taxonomy will you target?
- What real-world application do you want your students to experience or practice?
- Will students work together for any portion of the blogging: brainstorming, writing, presenting, leading a discussion, providing feedback, etc.?
- Which, if any, outside sources may they use: textbook, articles, videos, etc.?
- How will each student’s blog posts build on each other?
- With whom will students share their posts: with small groups or with the whole class?
- If you use Canvas Discussions for sharing of posts, should students comment on each other’s posts in the Canvas Discussion or in the blog post itself?
As you mull over how to structure your students’ blogging, consider giving them choices to increase their engagement and sense of control over their learning; for example, you might allow them to select the blogging platform that they prefer and/or to select their blogging topic(s). Be creative, and allow your students to be creative. You may be surprised at the quality of the work that you receive especially if you have provided a rubric with clear expectations.
English professor, Annette Vee (2020) presents additional suggestions for teaching with blogs, such as “[deciding] what blogs will be replacing from your previous course design.” You don’t want to add blogs to already existing course work and create more work for you and the students; rather think about how blogging can be a more effective way of achieving your learning objectives and which assignments or assessments you can swap out. Read her full list of suggestions in Using Blogs for Online, Hybrid or HyFlex Teaching; although she excludes face-to-face courses from this article, blogging can certainly be adapted for in-person courses.
Another great resource is Vanderbilt University’s page on Teaching with Blogs, which includes examples of course blogs and videos of professors explaining their use of blogs. The video below by Mathematics professor, Dr. Derek Bruff, is a powerful testament to using blogs in a course. Take a look!
Selecting Your Blogging Platform
If you are looking for something integrated into Canvas, you can use Canvas-native Discussions as your blogging platform for students. To do so, you would either create a Discussion thread for each student or allow students to create their own discussion posts. Each thread would be each student’s “blog.” This is a good option if you want to avoid external platforms that will not seamlessly integrate into Canvas.
Beyond Canvas are multiple blogging platforms specifically made for blogging. They are searchable, more customizable, and. I will only focus on Blogger and Edublogs as those are the two that we have experience with through FCLT News Bytes. In selecting a platform for our blog, we considered several options. Our requirements were that they be 1) free to use and 2) free from ads. Both Blogger and Edublogs have met these two criteria, but there are a few key differences that we’ve learned along the way.
Blogger is powered by Google, so it is easy to learn and good for beginners. Laura Gibbs (2020) , online professor since 2002 and blogger with her students, wrote Be There with Blogging: A Guide for Teachers in which she explains why she chose Blogger as her platform. However, the biggest drawback that we discovered with FCLT News Bytes is that Blogger only allows videos from YouTube to be embedded in posts. We sometimes found a useful video on Vimeo or created a video to share in Screencast-O-Matic but could not embed them in Blogger. We found work arounds, but they were not ideal. We also took issue with links redirecting to a default blogger page for creating an account anytime we copied and pasted text to and from the blog.
After over a year of working in Blogger, we decided to move to Edublogs, a WordPress-powered blogging platform for education which is also free and ad-free but with many more features. The benefits of Edublogs are that it includes more eye-catching customization options with built-in themes, allows embedding of any iframe, and keeps links in tact when copying and pasting to and from the blog, to name a few. However, due to its feature-rich functionality, it is more complicated to learn.
Another difference worth noting in comparing the two platforms is that Blogger can embed into Canvas, but Edublogs cannot. We were surprised to learn this, but it is probably so that Edublogs can more accurately track blog analytics. Canvas does allow RSS feeds in Announcements if you wanted to use that feature with either Blogger or Edublogs. These may be considerations for you in selecting a blogging platform for you and/or for your students, or in helping students select the platform that they prefer. Below is a comparison chart summary of these two blogging platforms.
|Feature||Blogger (Google)||Edublogs (WordPress)|
|Free||Yes||Yes; paid plans also available|
|Ease of Use||Low learning curve||High learning curve|
|Look and Feel||Limited customization||Many themes to choose from|
Images in Google Photos or Blogger
Edublogs media library
Videos on YouTube
|Links||Copied links redirect to Blogger||Copied links stay in tact|
|Embeds into Canvas||Yes||No|
|Good for||Beginners||Advanced users|
Are you already using blogs in your teaching? Are you inspired to try it out? Do you have questions about how to use them in your course? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Gibbs, Laura. (2020, March 7). “Be There with Blogging: A Guide for Teachers.” OU Digital Teaching: Thoughts about teaching online from an online instructor at the University of Oklahoma, https://oudigitools.blogspot.com/2020/03/be-there-with-blogging-guide-for.html
Mueller, Jon. (2018). “What is Authentic Assessment?” Authentic Assessment Toolbox, https://jfmueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/whatisit.htm.
Silverman, S., Caines, A., Casey, C., Garcia de Hurtado, B., Riviere, J., Sintjago, A., & Vecchiola, C. (2021). What Happens When You Close the Door on Remote Proctoring? Moving Toward Authentic Assessments with a People-Centered Approach. To Improve the Academy: A Journal of Educational Development, 39(3), 115-131. https://doi.org/10.3998/tia.17063888.0039.308
Vee, Annette. (2020, September 16). “Using Blogs for Online, Hybrid or HyFlex Teaching.” Inside Higher Ed, https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/09/16/advantages-blogs-and-how-effectively-incorporate-them-your-courses-opinion
Wiggins, Grant. (2014, January 26). “Authenticity in assessment, (re-)defined and explained.” Granted, and…~ thoughts on education by Grant Wiggins, https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/authenticity-in-assessment-re-defined-and-explained/.