As one of the first social media web tools, blogs have been applied in educational settings since the mid-1990s. Different from forum/discussion boards, websites and wikis, blogs have evolved into a dynamic web-based vehicle for self-expression and creativity. Blogs do not require advanced technical skills, which have made them popular for teaching and learning in K-12 learning environments. Blogs offer an interactive presentation of learning material where the content can be offered as text or include multimedia applications such as video, audio, or graphics. As a web-based application, blogs are optimal for computer-mediated communication (CMC) in distance education (Lai & Chen, 2011).
Application to Learning and Education
Blogs and Learning Theories
Blogs are regularly used in a connectivist learning environment and promote distributed cognition. Connectivism refers to the process of learning through a network and creating what Bell (2009) refers to as “nodes” which are information sources created by individuals, groups, or communities in the online environment . Anderson (2010) notes that several network learning applications (or nodes) combine social networking applications, such as blogs and wikis. (as cited in the STRIDE Handbook, p. 96).
For e-learning applications, Anderson (2010) views social networking as serving three functions: “socializing, sharing and sojourning” (as cited in the STRIDE Handbook, p. 97). As the first function implies, there is opportunity for learners to find new friends in the class by browsing the profiles of other learners. This increases the socialization of learners during their online learning experience and decreases the sense of isolation that is commonly associated with e-learning or distance learning. The effective use of blogs can easily create classroom chatter, as learners become comfortable responding to posts and comments that their classmates have created. The second function assists in a positive learning experience by allowing for the storage and organization of network resources. If easily accessible, these shareable resources, including class blogs, can assist the learners in their research of a variety of topics. The final function is one of the most important elements of social networking applications as applied to learning and education: to work with others. Creating a collaborative and cooperative learning environment significantly impacts learner motivation and may lead to masterful learning. Blogs allow learners to engage collaboratively in a variety of learning activities.
Cultivating a Learning Environment
The type of collaborative and cooperative environment a blog creates promotes the concept of distributed cognition. This is the concept that knowledge is rarely attributed to one source but rather distributed among many, which requires learners to apply problem-solving and critical thinking skills to acquire knowledge and information from a variety of sources in an online environment (Garcia, Brown, & Elbeltagi, 2013). Students can interact with blog content and add to this information source by commenting or providing feedback. If students are the blog creators they are distributors of information and their voice is added to a greater pool of knowledge. As Anderson (2010) concludes, good guidance and facilitation of social networking applications, such as blogging, can “create largely self-supporting and cost effective learning communities” (as cited in the STRIDE Handbook, p. 99). The key is to make learners more efficient and self-sufficient. Blogs allow this to occur in a supportive learning environment.
How are Blogs Used by Educators?
Using blogs in a learning context can facilitate cognitive and social constructivism. Piaget’s (1970) theory of cognitive constructivism posits that learning is developed and constructed through assimilating new information and accommodating this information by combining it with prior experience. Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of social constructivism highlights the contribution of social interaction and engagement with peers and the environment to construct our reality. Blogs allow students to reflect on past experiences and see the process and development of their epistemology. The interactivity and peer feedback capabilities help students put their learning experience into a social context.
Blogs have become more sophisticated over the last decade, by simplifying the technology and making them relatively easy for low-tech users to create and add information. Several blogging platforms, such as Blogger, WordPress and Edublog, are available for free and provide easy instructions for the creation of a blog. However, these platforms differ in the tools they offer: wikis, surveys, quizzes. According to information from the Edublog website, other options such as forums and plugins are available for a fee from the blogging platforms. Blogging companies can also assist in the creation of a campus-wide institutional blog, which manages the network of hundreds or thousands of blogs that have been created by educators in a particular institution.
One potential use of blogs by an instructor is to create a classroom blog, which acts like a class website or learning management system. The instructor can publish assignments, calendar of events, resources and important news and announcements. This extends the classroom by providing a safe medium for learners to view class-related materials and publish their work from any device, including tablets and cell phones. Blogging sites also give the instructor complete control over their learners’ privacy settings and content. Inappropriate posts are monitored and can be deleted by the instructor. These blogs have also been used to inform parents on assignments and important dates and to keep them involved in their child’s learning process.
Example of a Blog in a Course
Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator writing in the Oxford University Press Blog, provides an example of how he used a blog to develop a web-based English language course. The following section is adapted from his article and focuses on his use of Posts, Pages and Widgets in blogs.
Using Posts on a Blog
Posts in blogs can be used to deliver the class modules and learning activities, with the current learning module always on top. Within the posts, Dowling uses hyperlinks to direct learners to the learning materials. For example, reading and listening texts on different websites or links to documents directly uploaded to the blog can be quickly accessed. Instructor and peer interaction is also easily facilitated through the comment feature of the posts.
Using Pages on a Blog
While posts can be used for weekly learning modules and changing information, Pages can be used to display information that does not change. For example, the course outline, schedule, assignment deadlines and assessment rubrics could all be included in Pages .Dowling also uses a facility where the instructor can compile all work completed by the learners. This enables them to quickly view and comment on other learners’ work or to access their collaborative presentations.
Using Widgets on a Blog
In addition to displaying information and getting feedback in the form of comments on the blog, other tools need to be used to make teaching and learning more effective. This can be done using widgets These are objects that allow tools to be embedded into blogs. For example, on his course’s home page Dowling uses a twitter feed widget to display the latest tweets by his students. Widgets allow his students to quickly access tools for taking quizzes, doing surveys, making their own blogs and podcasts, and accessing aggregated pages of student work.
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