This blog introduces a new blog series written by students in the ‘Program Evaluation in Professional Practice’ and ‘Child and Youth Work in Community Recreation’ courses at Brock University. Drawing on research evidence and their own experiences, students in both classes wrote blogs focused on the application of course-related concepts, such as how to implement a program evaluation in a sport setting. The top blogs were published by SIRC—which can be viewed here and here.
To kick off the series, course instructors Drs. Meghan Harlow and Corliss Bean describe how they used blog writing as a powerful teaching tool to reinforce student learning and mobilize sport and recreation research.
Blog writing and knowledge mobilization
With no shortage of sport-related research published each year, it is increasingly important that research evidence be tailored and accessible to knowledge users—including sport and recreation leaders, coaches, staff, volunteers, athletes, and policymakers. Knowledge mobilization is the process of translating academic research into easily accessible resources and products for knowledge users (Heilig & Brewer, 2019). By emphasizing clear, non-academic language, blog writing is one way of mobilizing knowledge.
Blogs are increasingly recognized as an effective platform to share research information with diverse audiences (Phipps et al., 2012). When used in academia, the publication of blogs through credible organizations can increase the likelihood that evidence-based research be delivered to those who can benefit from it most. With COVID-19 restrictions limiting in-person learning opportunities, blogging has become an innovative, yet accessible learning tool throughout the pandemic.
Blogging could be considered part of an online ecosystem—a system of interconnecting and interacting social media platforms that empower researchers and practitioners to connect, share and collaborate.(Stoneham & Kite, 2017, p. 333)
The blog assignment
Throughout each course, students were tasked with writing two blogs. The first blog required students to use academic literature to support the application of key course-related concepts in practice (e.g., how to implement a program evaluation in a sport setting, best practices for fostering youth development in a youth recreation context). The second blog required students to reflect on their personal, professional, and academic development through their placement experiences in a sport and/or recreation context. For example, two students worked with Niagara Penguins, an organization that provides recreational and competitive sport programs for youth and young adults with disabilities, while another student worked with Start2Finish, a youth-serving organization that promotes the health and wellness of children through literacy and fitness education.
The top student contributions were selected, submitted to, and published by community sport and recreation knowledge brokers across the country, including Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange (YouthREX), Tamarack Institute, and SIRC.
The benefits of blog writing
Blog writing can enhance students’ learning of course concepts through opportunities to self-reflect and put research into their own words (Chretien et al., 2008). Blog writing can also develop students’ personal and professional skills, including written communication, critical thinking and reflection, and the application of research to practice. For example, one student described the blog writing assignment as a “really important exercise to explore my writing skills and get comfortable with using academic language or processes in casual or ‘plain language’ settings.”
Through the process of publishing student blogs with knowledge brokers such as SIRC, top students were provided with opportunities to collaborate with their instructors and people working in the sport and recreation sectors. Such initiatives can also benefit sport and recreation communities by working to bridge research and practice, and reinforcing the value of student experiential education experiences in sport and recreation settings.
3 steps to using blog writing in the classroom
Considering the potential value of blog writing for both students and the broader sport community, we reflect on three steps that instructors can use to integrate blog writing into their own classrooms.
1. Prepare the assignment: Create a blog writing assignment outline and decide on the desired structure of the blog(s), including length, focus, and topic. Consider what blog platforms (e.g., Wix, WordPress) could be used to host and share blogs for the purpose of the assignment. When introducing the assignment to students, discuss the mechanics of effective blog writing by reviewing examples of quality blogs for formatting, style, word count, and audience, while connecting them with plain-language writing tools.
2. Connect with potential partners: Reach out to organizations with blog platforms that complement your course learning objectives. Instructors who engage in community-based research may consider starting this process by leveraging existing relationships that they have within the community. Sharing student blogs from a class-based blog platform—giving partners an idea of what the student blogs might look like—may be a good place to start. Take the time to determine the desired parameters of the organization’s blog (e.g., timelines, scope, and formatting), and consider how you can make the partnership beneficial for all parties involved (i.e., organizations, students, and instructors).
3. Work with students: Be prepared to work with students to enhance, refine, and format their blogs to ensure they are high quality before forwarding them to partners for review, sharing, and publication. Organizations may also help amplify the blogs through sharing on their social media platforms.
At the end of both courses, students were asked about their experience with blog writing. Several students described blog writing as an attractive exercise to engage in creative, personal, and plain-language writing:
I like the opportunity for creativity in writing! …You can get across the same information in a blog assignment as an academic paper assignment but you can incorporate so much more of your tone, voice and personality!
Writing about my experience in plain language allowed me to share my experience more authentically.
It’s not often that I get to include my own personal thoughts and opinions rather than regurgitating what someone wrote in a published journal. It seems much less daunting to write an 800-word blog than an 800-word paper, something I appreciate during the chaos of fourth year and the pandemic.
With benefits for students, instructors, and knowledge users, blog writing is an innovative and accessible way to enhance student learning and mobilize research to sport and recreation communities.