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MMU’s Blogging Initiative April 10, 2007

Posted by Tim in Literary, Malaysia.
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MMU introduces a twist in its Engineers and Society course this year: as an assignment, all students are given MMU-hosted blogs, and have to update them regularly, as well as read their classmates’ posts. Link here [Might only be accessible from Malaysia].

This project is the brainchild of Pau Kiu Nai, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan Tech and a Masters of Management from IIUM, and has been an MMU lecturer since 1999. When asked how he came up with the idea, he said that having taught the subject for a number of years, he observed that students needed to interact more. He was also worried about the non-technical skills of MMU graduates. “From the feedback from industries, our students are weak in reporting or writing”, he observed. “Blog(ging) is the best way to encourage them to write”.

Mr. Pau’s class, like many others, comprises students from varying majors and years of study. By enforcing a system where students are required to blog regularly, and receive bonus points for commenting and rating fellow bloggers’ posts, students learn more about their peers – and maybe themselves as well.

To date the students have logged about 3,000 posts and more than 35,000 comments – not bad for a 10-mark assignment! Yes, there are the uncooperative ones who plagiarize articles off the Net and form “I rate you high, you rate me high” conspiracies. And the general level of English is hardly stellar. But by and large the students seem to be embracing the idea. Nearly all of them have uploaded photo avatars, and are posting on practically every subject under the sun: pet hedgehogs, stacking Pizza Hut salads, mountain hiking, stringing for a local paper, university events, becoming a cowboy, baby pictures, the ubiquitous love stories, and many more. Lecturers and tutors are regularly reading their students’ blogs – not merely to criticize or grade, but to know them better. Pau says the posts that are “written from the heart” are particularly memorable. He also pays attention to any complaints and posts that need moderating.

Some students have requested that their blogs be made permanent and retained in the system even after they finish the subject. Pau is also considering converting the existing system into a more formal one for all MMU students if the response is good enough.

The blog system is based on a modified WordPress engine and is hosted in MMU. Popular blog posts, as well as blogs that have not been “peer-reviewed” are highlighted. Various tweaks were also made to tailor it to the assignment needs and to make it run faster.

Pau says that blogging can be a new teaching tool. “I’ve always believed learning can be fun”.

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