Do You Even Blog, Bro?
I am not above a little Internet humor and meme referencing, as you can see, readers. Today’s post, quite amusingly, deals with blogging and whether blogs have a place in the realm of education or whether they are best kept out of the classroom. I will argue for the former while going over some of the research on the subject that I found both relevant and interesting. Of course, there are several ways to use a blog to begin with. Some people never get around to writing a blog and merely read those of other people. Up until seven weeks or so ago (as of the time of writing this post), I was certainly one of those people. Those that write blogs can also do so in a variety of ways. Most people choose to write solo, whether on one blog or multiple, while others co-author blogs with friends or colleagues with the same interests, much in the same way that most of the papers that I have reflected upon have been co-authored by two or more people. So what does the research have to say about blogs?
Divitini et. al. (2005) found that blogs were ineffective for enhancing interactivity amongst students, with only six out of 31 students posting any content to either their personal blog or the common blog shared amongst all students (Usage of the blog section, ¶1). I find this to be a result of how the blog was introduced to the students in the first place. The blog, in this research, was just another optional tool for communication between students that existed in addition to other forms of communication, such as the university’s Learning Management System (LMS). Indeed, students cited the fact that the blog was just another system that they would have to learn to navigate on top of the LMS and, with a heavy workload, they simply did not have time to devote to the blog as well (Motivations section, ¶1). I believe that unless students are required to use a blog, results such as this are inevitable. While many students are likely more aware of what a blog is nowadays than they were back in 2005, the majority probably have never written one and likely would not unless prompted to as part of their coursework.
Kim (2008) found that blogs have many advantages over other computer-mediated communication (SMC) systems such as email and Blackboard. First, systems such as Blackboard require that students visit a website that acts as a central hub in order to participate in any sort of discussion, or to even become aware that one is taking place. This means students may completely miss out on a discussion or lose interest (p. 1343). The authors compare this to the RSS feed system used by blogs that sends an updated list of information to students that they can easily check at their convenience (p. 1344). Of course, with Blackboard and other similar systems now having smartphone applications, receiving notifications is not necessarily an issue so perhaps this grievance may not have the same weight it did when the authors wrote this paper.
Perhaps more important are the next several issues raised. The author noted that current CMC systems do not promote any sense of ownership and may actually cause some students to feel anxiety over participating in online discussions. With a blog, however, students take ownership over the content that they produce, which can help lower anxiety about posting while increasing motivation at the same time. Unlike posting in communal areas where students may be afraid that their opinion is in the minority, having a personal blog to post on gives a sense of safety to the owner about posting their thoughts on a subject. Also contrary to the CMC systems is the fact that teachers are not the ones disseminating information. Blogs are a decentralized system of communication that students can tailor to their own preferences. This makes for a more relaxed atmosphere that encourages commenting and intercommunication. Blogs also have the advantage of being filed in chronological order, with comments and discussions attached to the blog entry themselves rather than appearing at the top of a thread, as is the case with online message boards where you see the newest comment before seeing the original post. This means that anyone can read a blog post and then follow the attached discussion from start to finish in the comments attached to that piece (p. 1344).
Indeed I have found all of these things to be true when writing this blog and reading those of my fellow classmates. Certainly the sense of ownership motivates me to produce my best work and RSS activity feeds helped me to keep track of my classmates’ progress on their blogs as well. Seeing what my peers were producing also helped to increase my motivation and so I believe that in an educational context, personal blogs rather than community blogs are to be preferred if we wish for student adoption rates to be high. While I cannot say that I have ever had anxiety over posting in communal spaces such as message boards, as I have spent a considerable amount of time doing so in the past, having something that is entirely attributed to me is a completely different experience and so extra effort goes into ensuring the quality of my writing, which is what I would want out of my students as well.
Finally, in the research by Halic et. al. (2010), results showed that sense of community was directly related to perceived learning. When students felt a strong sense of community by connecting with their peers using blogs, they reported more satisfactory learning experiences. They also found that interaction with the instructor via the blogs was important to the level of perceived learning by the students. They go on to mention that while unstructured blogging can facilitate communication between students and still foster a sense of community, the presence of the instructor can help to focus discussions and keep students from veering off from course-specific issues (p. 211). As someone who has always valued feedback, I would say that getting comments from an instructor on what is being produced is, indeed, a critical factor in the success of blog utilization in education. Peer feedback also helps me to reflect and reconsider my own ideas, although the research by Halic et. al. indicated that only 25% of those surveyed said that they valued peer feedback. Not everyone is comfortable with receiving peer feedback, particularly if it is negative. Thus, instructors that wish to use blogs as part of their assigned coursework may want to consider a structure for comments made by peers, such as having students comment on one post that they find interesting each week, while leaving other praise and criticism to the instructor to write in their comments.
To wrap things up, I can say that I personally find blogs to be a fantastic tool for helping students to reflect on and think more deeply about what they have learned or read about in a given class. Being able to read and comment on the blogs of peers also opens us up to new opinions and viewpoints that we may not have considered, which further enhances our learning. Blogs can also be used as a form of journal as well, with students publishing their works to their blog, effectively creating a portfolio that they can then go back and reflect upon and which documents their progress as they grow as writers. Students might be surprised after keeping a blog for a one-year course as they compare their first entry to their last. This also lets instructors utilize methods of dynamic assessment (DA), evaluating students on not only the writing they produce, but how well they adapt and change their writing strategies based on feedback given by the instructor. Most courses evaluate students by comparing their work to that of others, but by using portfolios via the medium of blogs, instructors can evaluate students on their growth and how well they overcame individual issues and problem areas. Of course, DA can be utilized with standard, hard copy portfolios, but having peer and instructor feedback and instant availability of the portfolio (provided there is Internet access) makes blogging a more powerful tool, in my opinion.
Divitini, M., Haugalokken, O., & Morken, E. M. (2005). Blog to support learning in the field: Lessons learned from a fiasco. In
Proceedings of the Fifth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’ 05).
Halic, O., Lee, D., Paulus, T., & Spence, M. (2010). To blog or not to blog: Student perceptions of blog effectiveness for learning in a college-level course. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(4), 206-213. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2010.04.001
Kim, H. K. (2008). The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts. Computer & Education, 51, 1342−1352.