Lauren McCann, Centre for Quality Support and Development

Chloe Houston, School of Literature and Languages

In the 2009 hit film ‘Julie et Julia’, real life American office worker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) spends a year cooking her way through culinary legend Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ and ‘blogs’ about it. Powell picks up a following and generates a dialogue with her readers who comment on her posts and offer her advice, from how to prepare a lobster to how to bone a duck. Blogs are, of course, more than just about French cooking. There are blogs about all sorts of things. They have never been bigger and have become an increasingly useful tool in education too. In this article, we’ll explore this tool and find out how it’s been used for summative assessment on the BA in English Literature.

What is a blog?

A blog – short for web log – is a personal online journal that can include various media and is intended for sharing with others, like an open web-based diary. Most blogs have some kind of commenting system so that people can share their thoughts on entries. Blogs encourage students to clearly express their ideas and engage in social learning.

In Blackboard Learn, instructors can create and manage blogs from within a course. Enrolled users can then view and create entries and comments in them. They can be used for various purposes and as a tool for both formative and summative assessment, providing an alternative to more traditional methods.

Case study: Using blogs in English Literature at the University of Reading

Dr Chloe Houston has used the blog tool this year in a new third year module, ‘Utopia: The Ideal Society in English and American Literature’. Chloe was interested in diversifying the assessment methods experienced by her students and in moving away from the conventional essay. Aware that after graduation, students could be expected to write in a variety of media for a range of audiences, she was keen to give them the opportunity to write in a different format and share their ideas with their peers.

In getting ready to use the tool, Chloe did a good deal of preparation which was key to her ultimate success, contacting TEL CQSD for advice and researching academic blogs. She set up a Blackboard blog to be used as 50% of the module’s assessment in which students were expected to post entries during the term. An inexperienced blogger, she made use of a post-graduate student with relevant experience to help prepare the students and provided support materials. Mid-term evaluation suggested students were enjoying working in this way and end of module evaluations confirmed this, with the additional benefit that Chloe found the assessments more varied and interesting to mark! When asked if she had any advice for other staff thinking about trying out blogging, she exclaimed, “Immerse yourself in the blogging culture and just do it!”

Student Josie Palmer was one of a number who reported positively on her experiences of using the blog tool: “With students having grown up around technology… I feel a blog is a positive step forward in the way work is assessed. It’s easy to access and manage, it’s interactive, as you can read other student’s work and comment on what they have written… This differs greatly from essays… [The blog] gives students the opportunity to upload work and receive feedback more frequently… We are given more of an opportunity to explore ideas in different ways, with a simple format, as opposed to putting all the work collected over a term into one final essay. I think that as a format of assessment the blog works brilliantly!”

In this short video, Chloe discusses her use of the blog in her module:

What next?

If this article has inspired you to find out more about using the blog tool in your own teaching, please see Blackboard’s Support for Staff tab and/or contact the TEL CQSD team for advice. You can also subscribe to the TEL team’s very own blog at


Salmon, G, 2013. E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning . 2nd ed. Abingdon: Routledge.

Downes, S, 2004. Educational Blogging . EDUCAUSE Review , [Online]. 39 (Number 5), 14-26. Available at: [Accessed 01 March 2016].

Hammond , M , (2006). Blogging within Formal and Informal Learning Contexts: Where are the Opportunities and Constraints?’  In Networked Learning. University of Warwick , 2006.

Julie et Julia , 2009. [DVD] Nora Ephron, USA: Sony Pictures.