Invited by the University of Glasgow to present at the ‘Blogging for Historians’ workshop (September 2014), LJMU students Jade Barber, Elliot McGaffney, and Victoria Hoffman shared their experiences of conducting original historical research by using online digital archives.
Here, Elliot introduces the new Blogging Beyond the Classroom mentorship scheme in which final-year English students mentor Level 5 students on the module, ‘Prison Voices: Crime, Conviction and Confession C.1700-1900’.
Background to the Mentorship scheme:
The mentorship scheme was born out of our experiences working on the Level 5 Prison Voices module, which I undertook last year. Our aim was to assist Helen’s teaching role in the IT suite by providing classroom support for students, enabling them to keep their own blogs. During the course of the last module, a lot of content was produced for a website that was unfinished due to the simple and basic install guide offered by WordPress. Feeling confident after recently making a self-hosted food blog site (using WordPress.org) I offered up my help to complete the design of the Prison Voices website and tidy up some features of its functionality. During this time, conversation between Helen and I revolved around how to better engage students in the practical elements of maintaining a blog. I found that having a hand in every part of the blog – from conception to production – helped in understanding the workings of the content management system better, and knowing how to produce good looking content. These conversations led Helen to devise a module that asked students to start their own blogs, as well as contributing to a main class blog.
Enabling every student, regardless of technical ability, to setup and maintain their own individual blog in an IT suite that was not designed for group work, raises its own problems when overseeing the entire class. These difficulties include the provision of adequate support to each individual, for each aspect of their blog maintenance. These issues can be divided into three main areas.
• Setting up and starting your blog
Setting up a blog can be difficult for the technophobic or uninitiated. Some students literally do not know where to start, so having the support of those Level 6 student mentors who have recently taken the course and have already established knowledge of content management, is helpful when trying to ensure everyone in the class is progressing at the same speed. Any student struggling with limited IT skills can be helped by a mentor, whilst those who are more proficient, can learn at their own pace.
• Writing content
As Jade Barber alluded to in her earlier post, finding a voice when writing content can be difficult, as writing a blog is completely different to writing academically. Having mentors in class will help give advice to students regarding these difficulties. Peer-reviewed editing of work will also be easier to attribute to each student, as the mentors will be able to undertake some of these duties ensuring a higher standard of work is submitted and Helen can concentrate more on the content of posts rather than the grammar.
• Conveying your image and message and maintaining a social media presence
Some students last year had success when disseminating their posts, notably Aaron Molyneux and Jade Barber, who both had their posts feature on other websites and blogs. This also gained lots of interest on Twitter. All the mentors have had experience with social media and success getting their blog posts noticed on different platforms. The mentors can offer invaluable advice regarding who to submit their posts to in the hope of gaining more recognition.
How does the mentoring scheme make me more employable?
• It can be added to a CV as skills and experience. This is important as quite often immediately after graduating it is difficult to demonstrate past experience when applying for a career focused internship or entry level job.
• The scheme makes the mentors stand out because only a select number of people are chosen to be representatives.
• Mentoring requires people skills, and having the scheme as past experience shows that the individual has had to communicate with people from varying levels.
• The skill set shown from being a mentor is adaptable to suit different careers, such as media, communications, teaching and social work.
• Mentoring schemes show a level of responsibility because they prove that the individual can multitask with a heavy third-year university workload while also taking part in the scheme.