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BLOGS IN EDUCATION January 27, 2007

Posted by stacey27 in blogs.
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Introduction

New learning technologies are emerging, which means that many questions are being raised and many walls must be broken down. As more people are adapting the blog to be used in education, it is important to understand what a blog is, how people are using blogs, what the challenges are with blogs, and why blogs should be used.

What Is A Blog?

Some say a blog, short for “web log,” is “a tool that serves as an online journal encouraging personal reflection” (Williams, 2004). However, a universal truth is that blogs are easy to use, do not require the user to install any software, offer plenty of control over the design and operation of the blog, instantly updated and available, and linkable (Armstrong). Thus, blogs are growing tremendously, gaining a dedicated readership. Educators are finding that blogs encourage students to further discuss topics and share up-to-date information (Williams, 2004).

Blogs possess a personality but most importantly, a point of view (Kennedy, 2003). This is evident through the writing on a blog. However, at first, writing a blog seems to be only a form of publishing. “But as time goes by, blogging resembles more and more a conversation. And for a conversation to be successful, it must be given a purpose and it must remain…unconstrained” (Downes, 2004).

Blogging is actually not about writing at all. Writing is just the end process that takes place if all else has been done properly. Blogging is about reading and engaging with the content and the authors (Downes, 2004). A blogger who does not know this ends up writing a quite boring blog. However, the blogger that is a reader understands that to write a good blog is to engage in a topic. Therefore, blogging has evolved from a simple tool to publish online diaries to a high traffic publication tool of the large industries (Williams, 2004).

In education, because blogs are becoming easier to use, they are more welcomed (O’Hear, 2006). And educators are finding that students hold and overwhelmingly positive view of blogs (Armstrong).

How Are Blogs Used?

It seems that the areas where blogs are being used most in educational applications is where journals have already proven to be a useful tool and thus, the transition to blogs met less resistance. However, just requiring students to write in a blog is not enough. Blogging in an educational environment is most effective when the students are given some direction at the beginning as to how to blog and what to expect from it (Williams, 2004). One professor of English, Jeff Golub, encourages his students, future teachers, to encourage personal authorship of students. He belives, “…students will write when they have something to say, when they have an audience, and when they get feedback” (Kennedy, 2003).

Blog use by students ranges from offering personal online space, posing questions, publishing work, and linking and commenting to other sources on the web (O’Hear, 2006). Blogs have benefit students by being a tool to document in-class discussions where participation credit is awarded for commenting on the blog (Downes, 2004). They can be used as a place to store a collection of important snippets of information gathered from lecture and notes (Armstrong). Also, great advantages can come when multiple people author a single blog and contribute to a unified purpose (Downes, 2004).

One way educators utilize blogs in education is for assignments. They will assign a specific reading and require students to post their responses on a blog (Carvin, 2006). Teachers also have been using blogs for their classes to create the class web site and post everything from the syllabi to assignment notifications. They may also use these class blogs to post links to relevant web pages on the internet in order to spark conversation or comments (Downes, 2004).

What Are The Challenges?

Despite the many ways that blogs can be used, there are challenges that must first be faced. These challenges range from technology to blog management to learning styles.

One downside to a blog is that there can be a technical barrier (Watrall, 2006). A blog is no good when a person cannot get past the learning curve to make use of the blog. Proper education about the blog must occur before benefiting from the blog if such a barrier exists. And just because a piece of technology can be used for education that does not mean that it will produce positive results for all aspects of education. As when using any technology with learning, the challenge always lies in the integration (Kennedy, 2003). One area of learning that blogs do not lend themselves very well to is memorization. Students using this method of learning do not require the self-organization and self-assessment that a blog offers (Homik).

“The social and peer contact and learning between students and face to face training is very difficult to replicate online,” even on a blog (Armstrong, Conclusions section, para. 4). For all that a blog can do, it is not able to do everything. Also, no matter how great of a tool a blog is, it is only effective if the learner wants to use it. That is when the most learning is harvested (Farmer, 2004). If a student does not want to take part in the blog, the value of a blog is lost.

“Students have long learned as much from each other as they have from an instructor or a text book – it’s just a question of finding an appropriate vehicle for facilitating this learning” (Williams, 2004, Summary section, para. 5). Could the appropriate vehicle be a blog? Quite possibly.

Why Use A Blog?

Each person could use a blog for a completely different reason. However, there are some known reasons that people blog. The most attractive characteristic of a blog is how easy it is to use (Downes, 2004). It is easy to locate, manage and access, and impossible to lose (Armstrong). And because a blog can be used for a number of reasons, “there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to use a blog.” It can be molded to fit an individual’s needs (Carvin, 2006, para. 11).

Another benefit of blogs is that the publication of personal thoughts for the public to read can prove to be uplifting and sometimes healing (Williams, 2004). It provides a venue for the release of feelings and makes a blogger feel more accomplished. In the recent past, bulletin boards and chatting capabilities have demonstrated a varying degree of effectiveness. However, blogs give the student a greater sense of control and a higher degree of satisfaction in online learning (Armstrong). Shy students respond very well to blogs and are able to show as much energy as more outgoing students usually do in class (Carvin, 2006). Thus, most all students seem to react very positively to using blogs in education (Armstrong).

In addition, blogs connect more people than just those in one class. They can reach across many classes or across the world (Carvin, 2006). This occurrence of, “collective knowledge generation can and should be applied to traditional educational environments” (Williams, 2004, Introduction section, para. 8). They provide benefits for students of a wide range of ages. One fifth-grade student, Dominic Ouellet-Tremblay, wrote, “the blogs give us a chance to communicate between us and motivate us to write more”. Because students, now in fifth grade, are utilizing blogs for learning, as these students enter high school and college, they will be expecting their educators to use similar technologies and will be well experienced at using blogs (Downes, 2004, para. 3).

Educators must begin to embrace this learning technology or lose out on many great opportunities for learning. The creative nature of blogging and open learning environment allows students to guide their own learning in a way that surpasses the traditional curriculum. In college, professors are expecting much more from their students. “If professors want students to become autonomous, creative, helpful, and cooperative, educational institutions must actually allow students to practice exactly these skills…by designing curriculums and courses that really value these courses” (Williams, 2004, The BSBG MBA Blog section, para. 11). The blog could greatly aid in the development of such skills.

In the traditional work that is produced for class, either individually or in a group, is completed knowing that the work will be under the scrutiny of the teacher. This assessment of the work is usually the sole motivation for the student (Farmer, 2004). The student’s work is done to satisfy the teacher. Because a blog’s audience is the public, the work on a blog is done with this wider audience in mind. A student is more compelled to produce higher quality work when a larger audience will be critiquing the work. Therefore, a greater learning experience is had by the student.

Not only does a blog give a student more of a sense of purpose, but it gives the student’s studying a sense of order and routine (Armstrong). Because of how a blog is structured, the posts are displayed in a reverse-chronological order. And the ease of use allows a student to post regularly. “The learner needs to articulate the connection between new information and what they already know” (Armstrong, Learning Journals section, para. 3). This order and routine makes it easier for a user to reflect on learned information. In the same respect, a blog allows a blogger to capture knowledge and catalog for access at a later time (Williams, 2004).

If a student does not play an active role in learning, the knowledge is quickly forgotten. Learning logs, or blogs, can help to lessen the lost knowledge by serving as the active learning element (Homik). Writing a blog helps a student to develop a confident and clear voice and develops higher level thinking because he or she must confront personal views and analyze how these views might be interpreted and judged by others. By doing so and engaging with the content, a student increases the success of the transfer of knowledge. Also, the “…learning through hypertext links to relevant material encourages revisiting and revising of learned concepts, enriching the learning experience.” This feature further adds to the engagement and active involvement with content. The power of blogs in the educational environment really lies in the heightened autonomy while at the same time encouraging more interaction with peers, thus making the blog a transformational technology (Williams, 2004).

“We read about the potential of online learning to bring learning to life, to engender workplace learning or life long learning…This is the sort of thing they mean: that the lessons we might expect to find in the classroom work their way through alternative means, into our day-to-day activities” (Downes, 2004).

Conclusion

Blogs provide educators with a supportive learning tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Blogs offer a learning experience that is unique and actively engages the student. Once past the technological barrier and in the appropriate learning situations, if blogs are incorporated into the learning activities, a greater transfer of knowledge will occur for the student and provide a richer learning experience. Thus, teachers and students alike must learn what a blog is, how blogs are being used, what the challenges with blogs are, and why blogs should be used.

References

Armstrong, Laurie, Dr. Marsha Berry, and Reece Lamshed. BLOGS AS ELECTRONIC LEARNING JOURNALS. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from http://www.usq.edu.au/electpub/e-jist/docs/Vol7_No1/CurrentPractice/Blogs.htm.

Carvin, Andy. (2006). Using Blogs as a Novel Approach to Engage Students. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from PBS TeacherSource learningnow.com Web Site: http://www.pbs.org/teachersource/learning.now/2006/06/using_blogs_as_a_novel_approac.html.

Downes, Stephen. (2004, September/October). Educational Blogging. EDUCAUSE Review, 39(5), 14-26.

Farmer, James. (2004, April). What’s the Blogging Point?: Can personal webpublishing have a qualitative impact on learning. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from incorporated subversion Web Site: http://radio.weblogs.com/0120501/2004/04/05.html#a625.

Homik, Martin and Erica Melis. USING BLOGS FOR LEARNING LOGS. Retrieved January 13, 2007, from ActiveMath Web Site: http://www.activemath.org/pubs/HomikMelis-ep2006.pdf.

Kennedy, Kristen. (2003). Writing With Web Logs. Retrieved January 13, 2007, from techLearning Web Site: http://www.techlearning.com/db_area/archives/TL/2003/02/blogs.php.

O’Hear, Steve. (2006). e-learning 2.0 – how Web technologies are shaping education. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from Read/WriteWeb Web Site: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/e-learning_20.php.

Watrall, Ethan and Nicole Ellison. (2006). Blogs for Learning: A case study. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from Higher Ed Blog Con 2006 Web Site: http://www.higheredblogcon.com/index.php/blogs-for-learning-a-case-study/.

Williams, Jeremy and Joanne Jacobs. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 232-247.

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