While online learning has transformed how instruction is delivered, it has had less of an impact on assessment methods. Most online courses still use traditional assessments such as papers and exams. But the digital revolution opens a myriad of ways to assess student learning beyond the traditional methods, and student publications in the form of e-magazines constitute one of the more exciting possibilities.
An e-magazine is simply an online version of a print magazine. Instead of producing a research paper in a traditional college format, students can be assigned to produce an e-magazine that teaches others about the topic. Instead of a narrow analysis written for the instructor in academic prose, students provide a variety of articles on different aspects of the topic, written for a less technical audience and illustrated with imagery or even videos. Students make this magazine public on the Internet for others to review or offer feedback on.
There are a number of benefits of e-magazines. First, we tend to put more care into something that is public rather than seen by just one other person. A student who knows that minimal effort will get an adequate grade has no incentive to work beyond that. But when the work is made public, the student is more likely to put in greater time researching the topic and developing the articles, thus likely learning more.
Second, studies have found that students tend to take more intellectual risks when they know that their work will be viewed publicly (Foster, 2015). This can be seen in individual blogs over group discussions. Students take more ownership of the product, and thus will put more of themselves into it.
Third, digital literacy has been identified as a critical work skill students will need in the near future (Niemi, 2014). Students will need the ability to find, understand, and create digital artifacts, yet they are still being asked to produce traditional academic papers for college. In developing the publication, they will need to consider what makes the topic interesting and how to communicate that interest to a broad audience in a persuasive format. Thus the exercise helps prepare them for communication in today's world.
The instructor will need to decide whether to require each student to produce his or her own magazine, or instead create a single class-wide magazine that is produced monthly. A class-wide magazine on a regular publication schedule would better mimic a real magazine. In this case, the class can be divided into groups, with each assigned to a month. The instructor can then require the group to produce an issue related to the topics covered in the course that month. This would encourage all class members to look at each issue, which will extend readership beyond what might be found with individual magazines. Plus, an ongoing class magazine could become known by people outside the course.
The instructor will also need to decide how much to scaffold the magazine for the students. A nice feature of e-magazine software is that you can choose from a wide variety of very attractive templates. The instructor might pick a template, define the topics that must be covered in each part, and then have the students replace the template fields with their content. This would be preferable if the instructor wants to track the students' work into particular channels. Alternatively, the instructor can give the students the freedom to choose their own templates, with only general requirements about what must be in the outcome.
A digital magazine requires the instructor to develop assessment metrics related to the digital format, which is new territory for most, but guidance can be found in the four literacies that have been proposed to measure digital competence (Gallardo-Echenique, 2015). These literacies ensure that the exercise will produce skills that can be transferred to future endeavors.
Each literacy identifies a skill, and with it suggests an assessment criterion for that skill. The first is information literacy, which is the ability to find good information. The evaluation criterion is “What is the quality of the sources used to research the work?” The second is computer literacy, which is the technical skill of developing digital content. The criterion is “How well does the work demonstrate proficiency in use of common digital elements such as images, videos, etc.?” The third is media literacy, which is the ability to develop visually appealing work. The criterion is “How attractive is the work?” The fourth is communication literacy, which is the ability to convey a message. The criterion is “How well does the work convey the author's message to the audience?” The instructor can then define different levels of proficiency within each criterion to create an assessment rubric.
E-magazines need not be restricted to the classroom. The format is ideal for student organizations. For instance, students in a civil engineering club can produce a monthly magazine on important developments within the profession, student projects, etc. A department could also publish a monthly e-magazine for students, alumni, and others with news about the department. Students could be the writers and editors, which will help connect them to faculty and bring them into discussions about topics within the field.
There are a number of publishing systems that make creating an e-magazine surprisingly easy. My favorite is Lucidpress (www.lucidpress.com). Lucidpress offers a number of professional-looking templates from which to choose. All you need to do is pick a template and then swap out the elements with your own content using cut and paste. This could be swapping out text for an article or inserting images, videos, and the like. You can also move content around, resize it, and modify background images, shapes, colors, and any other element by choosing from drop-down menus.
One nice thing about Lucidpress is that it allows for shared editing and commenting. All of the magazine contributors in a class, club, or department can be given editing access so that they can directly add features to the magazine until a decision is made to publish it. LucidPress also connects to your Drive account so that you can directly draw content from Drive into the work.
Like anything on the Web, Lucidpress uses a “freemium” pricing model that allows users to make an e-magazine for free with limited templates, or pay for more templates and features. The premium price is still fairly cheap, and probably worth it if you are making an ongoing publication. But if your institution has signed up for the free Google Apps for Education program (and it should), then the premium functions come free. If you would like to compare Lucidpress with other systems, consider Simplebooklet, Glossi, Joomag, Scribd, Zinepal, or Calameo.
I created the first few pages of a monthly e-newsletter for my department as an example (http://bit.ly/1Pp0YiT). It took me all of one hour to build. Consider what could be done when a person, or group of people, put some real thought into it.
Foster, D. (2015). Private journals versus public blogs: The impact of peer readership on low-stakes reflective writing. Teaching Sociology, 43 (2), 104-114.
Gallardo-Echenique, E., Minelli de Oliveira, J., Marqués-Molias, L., Esteve-Mon, F. (2015). Digital competence in the knowledge society. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, v. 11, n. 1.
Niemi, H.; Harju, V., Vivitsou, M.; Viitanen, K., Multisilta, J., Kuokkanen, A. (2014). Digital storytelling for 21st-century skills in virtual learning environments. Creative Education, v. 5, 657-671.
John Orlando is an associate director for the Northcentral University Faculty Resource Center.