Blogging as a Learning Tool

A quiet time on my blog lately, but good news that I my second assignment went very well – huzzah!

One subject on that assignment was how my understanding of blogging as a learning tool. So, here’s some of my thoughts on that subject.

Glogoff (2005) refers to instructional blogging as…

“a knowledge-centered instructional tool. In this model the instructor involves students in research activities, engages them in discussions with practitioners, and leads them through developmental concepts of the discipline’s knowledge domain”

The blog is used as an outlet for the learner’s research findings, considerations and questioning, with the medium of the public blog extending the learner’s virtual classroom setting, offering interaction which can aide develop a learning community.

This may seem no different to an online forum, but the blog has several advantages over the forum model.

Blogs:

  • Offer learner centred feedback
  • Introduce the learner to a wider learning community both within their facility but wider, offering networking opportunities when the blog is public.
  • Offer a sense of ownership to the learner, it is ‘theirs’. Learners make an investment in their blog
  • Blogs are chronological and can capture the evolution of the learner’s research, stance and thought
  • Offer a technology and format that make embedding and sharing of information easy (hyperlinks, video etc)
  • Can offer greater accessibility opportunities to those with disabilities with text, video and audio being common functions.

Of these factors, learner centred feedback is an important feature. An active blog, with input from several areas can both further discussion, lead to debate and act as a growing repository of common knowledge. I have represented this in my diagram (Fig 1) which shows the many directions in which information and participation may flow. A learner may populate a blog with unrestricted (self-driven) or restricted (instructed by a tutor/course) posts (Deed and Edwards, 2011) which will elicit feedback from tutors, fellow students and/or the wider community which may in turn influence the direction of the discussion, provide alternative information sources or views. Not only is the interaction between the visitors and the blog author noteworthy, but the interactions between the commentators themselves. This ecosystem of information will in turn be reflected in the blogs of other students, so the diagram could be built out further to show the network effect.

Figure 1 The Input and Feedback Cycle of a Student Blog

Bennett et Al’s (2012) did both quantitative and qualitative research into the experience of journalism students using blogging as a publishing exercise. This study saw 42 students surveyed and 31 taking part in focus groups:

  • 79% had little or no previous blogging experience
  • 76% felt it improved their understanding
  • 92% felt it improved their technology skills for use in study
  • 79% felt it improved their thinking and writing skills
  • 92% felt it increased their research skills
  • 91% felt it was an activity that helped their studies

This shows a favourable learner experience of using blogging as a learning tool. However, as noted in Bennett et Al’s paper, given the subject matter, and prevalence of digital journalism, these results must be considered in terms of the alignment of the tool (blogging) and subject (Journalism) as a demonstration of situated/participation learning. As they noted:

“introducing students to blogging as a contemporary journalistic practice is arguably the most well-aligned and the most ‘authentic’ because developing Web 2.0 skills and knowledge is inherent in the activity…positive feedback suggests that students saw relevance in the skills and knowledge they developed.”

Practitioner’s must consider if blogging as a tool is inline with their learning objectives and, how the blogging is embedded into their wider studies and scaffolded.

Negative or ambivalent experience of using blogs often comes from the lack of structure and support for the learner. This highlights how practitioners must recognise the importance of participation on both theirs and the learners part.

Glogoff (2005) shares the results of a survey he completed with his students on their previous use of blogging:

“in a different course taken the previous semester, the professor had asked them to blog but did not require them to post entries. Nor did he comment on student entries. Because of this lack of attention, the students abandoned their blogs after the first week.”

Obtaining feedback and recognition, is a driving force for learners. Studies by Pena-Shaff et al (2005) and Kim (2008) showed that 94% of students check for feedback on their blog posts. This demonstrates that students are driven towards and hope for engagement.

When implementing blogging as a learning tool the practitioner must consider where on the scale the blog will be from unrestricted (students given minimal instruction, free reign to post and no tutor oversight) to restricted (students will be instructed on what to post, given mandatory posting and commenting goals).

Deed and Edwards (2011) reported that unrestricted blogging saw lack of cohesive structure between posts, a tendency to not thoroughly evaluate ideas, repeat or perpetuate misconceptions, use very informal language, and use posting more for arrangement making and emotive statements.

An interesting take from their paper:

“it is not enough to assume that because students currently are part of what is often referred to as the digital generation they will immediately be able to engage in blogs for academic ends.”

This lies at the crux of using blogging as a learning tool. To ensure a positive learning experience for both tutor and learners I agree with Brescia et Als (2004) summation that whilst the informal blog encourages exploration, practitioners must encourage students to actively question and discuss information.

I second Deed and Edwards (2011) conclusion:

“Educators need to provide support and scaffolding… Students must be allowed to explore different strategies and construct their own meaning. They must have scope for making choices. Further research needs to focus on online learning environments where there is a balance between providing scaffolding for co-construction of knowledge and providing students with a space to interact by building on their non-academic virtual experience.”

References:

Bennett, S., Bishop, A., Dalgarno, B., Waycott, J. and Kennedy, G. (2012). Implementing Web 2.0 technologies in higher education: A collective case study. Computers & Education, 59(2), pp.524-534.

Deed, C. and Edwards, A. (2011). Unrestricted student blogging: Implications for active learning in a virtual text-based environment. Active Learning in Higher Education, 12(1), pp.11-21.

Glogoff, S. (2005). Instructional Blogging: Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centered Learning, and Peer Input. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 1(5), Retrieved May 27, 2018 from https://www.learntechlib.org/p/107281/.

Kim, H. (2008). The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts. Computers and Education, 51(3), 1342–1352.

Pena-Shaff, J., Altman, W., Stephenson, H. (2005). Asynchronous online discussions as a tool for learning: Students’ attitudes, expectations, and perceptions. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(4), 409.

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