Monday, January 10, 2011

IMU Student Blogging Project to Promote a Healthy Lifestyle!

"Every blog has a story behind it."

In late October 2010, Sheba DMani, the coordinator (facilitator) for the 'A Critical and Reflective Response to Media' (Medical Humanities Selective) course (at IMU) explored with me the idea of assigning students to work in groups to develop blogs addressing important issues and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Of course that made me excited, as I have been promoting the usage of web 2.0 and social media for learning ever since I joined IMU (June 2009). And having already been through one cycle assisting Prof. Khoo Suan Phaik with her students' project using Google Sites, I was quite confident it would be an inspiring and valuable learning experience.

Interestingly, both these inspiring lecturers are not exactly IT-savvy, but they were willing and open to explore possibilities, and with a bit of assistance they managed to get through both projects successfully without too much hassle. As today's Y-generation (Most IMU students) is already quite IT-savvy, you don't exactly need to train them, but instead explore and empower them with creative ideas and possibilities.

This module facilitated by Sheba DMani focuses on connections between media and health within socio-cultural contexts. Media in the form of text and graphic presented through visual and audio modes from magazines, television and internet will be explored. These may include advertisements, films and music videos related to themes on health and healthcare. Students will approach these media texts through critical interpretation, reflective thinking and creative presentations. Upon completing this course, students will have learned that the media constructs views of the real world and that these views have been mediated to provide filtered and partial meaning of health belief and behaviour.

So, instead of writing a group assignment (using Microsoft Word/PowerPoint) to impress the lecturer, students were assigned to create a blog and promote their mission to the world. Surely that is more inspiring and exciting, right?

The students were assigned randomly into groups (consisting of 10 or less) and had three weeks (29 Nov-17 Dec) to prepare the blog, before presenting their project to the class and a selected group of evaluators. The blogs purpose was to promote health information to a specific audience (i.e. children, teenagers, adults, special needs and pregnant women).

The blogs would be evaluated based on their originality and creativity (title, tag-line, content, etc.), and the blog had to include at least 3 articles/columns and/or editorials that convey messages on the chosen topic. Finally, each blog had to include at least one video or audio message developed by the group.

Strong emphasis was given on originality, and students were reminded the importance of avoiding plagiarism and dealing with risk communication. In other words, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate authors and sources (re)used to develop the content for the blogs.

Overall, the blogs were assessed for accuracy and relevance of information, creativity, interactive features and the use of media techniques. To make it more exciting and competitive, each group did not make their blogs available to the other groups (or public) before their group presentation on the 16th December (2010).

Each group was given 30 minutes to present and defend their blog on the 16 December. Interestingly, Assoc. Prof. Dr. SriKumar Chakravarthi (IMU lecturer) whom was one of the evaluators was in India during this period, but still managed to watch and participate in the evaluation process using Skype. In addition to getting feedback from other class mates and evaluators, students voted for their favorite blog (using the Moodle poll feature) after the group presentation.

So, what was my role besides being one of the evaluators? As Sheba DMani is not too familiar with blogging, I handled a Q&A session on creating a blog with the students on the 3rd December. No, I didn't present any PowerPoint slides! I simply came to class, asked them relevant questions, and explored possibilities from this awesome list of free learning tools they could use to create or reuse sizzling content for their blogs.

So, how much did this project cost? In terms of technology, all the online tools they used to spread their message to the world cost.... ZERO! Not bad!


"Healthy foods for a healthy baby"

This blog aims to guide pregnant women through the process of making a positive change in the diet. It discusses and explores nutrition tips, delicious recipes, common myths, pregnancy tips and no-nos, useful links, and a few cool widgets, including the 'Weekly Pregnancy Calendar'. Overall, the blog is well-designed providing the user with a visually soothing and user-friendly navigation experience, which is certainly a requirement for any pregnant woman.

The project team (Amelia, Melisa, Moushini, Natasha, Ray, Shahira, and Sharon) did a great collaborative effort. Congratulations!

In one word: Wonderful!

"Teenage Life is Never Black & White"

This blog focuses on adolescent issues aimed at the teenage population of 13-19. It explores in an emotionally creative, but informative way common youth challenges such as alcohol, drugs, relationships (family/friends/girlfriend/boyfriend), stress and smoking.

To really connect with the youth in an inspiring and engaging way, this hard working project team mashed-up their own original graphics, directed and recorded a short Abstinence Educational Video, set up a Facebook page, and used Xtranormal to create this cool animated video:

In one word: AWESOME!

"BIG or small, We Save them All"

This blog aims to provide a one stop avenue for information on breast cancer in an easy way to understand. Its' combination of stylish (pink) and interactive design, easy navigation, and relevant topics makes it a great place to discover more about breast cancer, which include symptoms, risk factors, preventive measures, test and diagnosis, and alternative medicine. In addition to developing a great website, the project team (Qi Quan, Melody, Wern Ching, Shariffa and Praveena) developed a very informative 'Breast Self-Examination' video...

This blog focuses on Asperger's Syndrome, which is often misunderstood among people. Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. The project team has done a good job in designing and structuring the few (identified), but relevant issues regarding this disability, which include helping people to recognize it, statistics and epidemiology, books and resources, and famous people with it. Did you know that Albert Einstein had Asperger's Syndrome? Now you know!

In one word: INTERESTING!

"Don't Forget to Brush Your Teeth"

This blog provides some useful tips on how to take care of your health, including brushing your teeth, eating oranges and carrots, and washing your hands. The highlight of this blog has to be the creatively designed video developed by the project team (view contributors), entitled "The story of Bluey and Pinky'.

In one word: CREATIVE!

From my experience working with students involved in projects requiring them to develop a website (using web 2.0), often complain that it is time consuming and that it requires a lot of work. But by knowing that their work will continue to live on (more meaning), and that they are publishing it to the world (instead of only to the lecturer), they are willing to take up the challenge and put in a greater effort. In other words, their motivation often goes beyond grades, and that is very exciting and encouraging.

Though, we still have to work on their fair use or reuse of external content and graphics, and teach them proper online referencing procedures, which is something we have to continue to work on. It is alright to quote and reuse (if permission is given), but we must appreciate and recognize other people's work. As such we have already setup a site for IMU staff and students (only) exploring project based learning (in the e-learning portal), including proper online referencing procedures.

Although, our e-learning portal (using Moodle) is wonderful for uploading and organizing course content, linking online resources, online discussions, assignment submissions, online quizzes, and so on, we should also encourage and empower students to use other web 2.0 and social media tools for creating creative content and informal learning. For example, several lecturers from the School of Pharmacy use Facebook for communicating online with their students, and have experimented with conducting Problem-Based Learning (PBL) sessions using Facebook Groups.

I have noticed that some Universities in Malaysia ban the usage of Facebook and YouTube at their campuses, and use the excuse that they encourage poor learning/working habits and clog up their network (bandwidth) for other usages. That might be true, but if staff and students learn how to discipline themselves using such tools (no choice!), they will actually have access to some of the most amazing learning resources on the planet (for free), and be able to interact with experts and students from all over the world through Facebook groups/pages (e.g. Harvard University - Facebook). I can't think of a better investment for learning than boosting the network (bandwidth) to support online learning in all forms. The Internet is the heart, blood circulation, and oxygen of learning in the 21st century.

More importantly, today more than ever, it is critical to encourage students to nurture their communication, collaboration, creative and analytical skills using the web and multimedia tools. Increasingly in the future, people in organizations will be working and collaborating online using the cloud, so it is important to encourage and necessary to prepare our students for this new world.

Also, it is important to highlight here that the quality of the students' output (results) at this stage is not as important as empowering their passionate and inquiring mindset to explore possibilities and ideas, and continuously reflect, learn and improve from these learning experiences. In short, focus more on the learning process than the output (results). Results will come as they learn. Some are early bloomers, others are late bloomers, and that is something we should never forget.

Can you imagine hiring a graduate that cannot communicate and collaborate online? Try asking that same question in four year's time :)

1 comment:

Velayudhan said...

I see this as a great idea that has been planned and implemented very impressively. Congratulations to all of you involved in this work. Your work will inspire others to use the Internet creatively.