Digital literacy in the Wilderness

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) in flower

A Bee Orchid flower

Over the past two weeks I’ve been working with my colleague, Jonathan Mitchley, to guide an MSc group of 24 students thorugh the writing of their first blog on the Whiteknights biodiversity site.  The rather ambitious setting of an assessed blog on ‘a plant family from Whiteknights campus’ has given me experience and insight into the very varied levels of digital literacy in this group.

Step 1 of training was to demonstrate the public face of the blog to the students, to discuss what made a good blog entry, and to show them how a blog was written in (or pasted in) the university WordPress blogging system.

Step 2 was to sign each student in as an author.  This was done in class during a practical session and students were told there would be an email waiting in their inbox to allow them to activate their account.

A week later we demonstrated more blogs that had been written and suggested some useful background sources, got the students to suggest which plants they would blog about and promised troubleshooting support as needed.  Then followed a reminder that these blogs would be published and that other people’s copyright material could not be used without written permission. The students then had a clear week to write their blog.

On Thursday – one day before submission – some students suddenly noticed that they didn’t have access to the blog to write anything!  Others had already submitted their blog to draft.  Those that couldn’t access the blog fell largely in to the category of not actually reading their email and therefore hadn’t used the link to activate their account.  A small number had other problems.  All problems raised were solved.

On Friday – the deadline for submission – we still picked up a student who couldn’t access their account but hadn’t raised it on the previous day.

So, of 24 possible submissions of draft blogs to Whiteknightsbiodiversity there were 22 completed in Word press and 2 submitted via other routes.

What have we learned from the exercise?

1) The technological barrier for writing blogs is not a great one for students of mixed origins and ages to overcome providing adequate support is in place and the stduents have the enthusiasm to engage.

2) Individual support for a class of 24 added up to about 2 hours (5 minutes per student).

3) The quality of the blogs submitted is sometimes very high indeed and the variety of written styles will make the collection of blogs interesting to read.

4) A high level of trust in the students is needed – to author a blog also gives access to the publish button which can be used, even by mistake.  Once published the world can see what is written.

5) Feedback from the stduents has been very positive already.  They are looking forward to their first real publications and to something that can go on a CV!

Overall this exploration into biodiversity blogging has interested and excited the students and provided a novel challenge to us staff.  We now look forward to seeing the comments on these blogs as they are rolled out over the next few weeks.

About Alastair Culham

A professional botanist and biologist with an interest in promoting biological knowledge and awareness to all.
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