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Expanding the Uses of Blogs in the Classroom
How blogs support self-directed learning and personal information management

By Yekyung Lisa Lee, Yeo Hwan Ik / December 2014

TYPE: INTERNATIONAL ONLINE EDUCATION, K-12 BLENDED AND ONLINE LEARNING
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The intersection of blogging and education is nothing new. Usually, blogs are used in the education field to have learners actively engage in their own learning process by creating and sharing their own content. Blogs are not only easy, simple, and convenient to create, but they also have educational benefits such as self-directed learning [1], peer collaboration [2], and skills development especially in language education [3] Blogs can be used as private learning spaces where students can actually take ownership of their own learning. The authority to create, upload, and share content is a powerful source for engaging students in their own learning and also a priority of constructivist-based pedagogy.

Recognizing that blogs can be an effective tool, my colleague and I have been implementing blogs in our classes for some time. Their versatility opened up possibilities to other educational uses, such as organizing information; and blogs could also facilitate learning by being used as a tool for personal information management (PIM). PIM refers to "the methods and procedures by which we handle, categorize and retrieve information on a day-to-day basis" [4]. PIM is not only important for adults, but for children since they too have to search, save, and organize information from the Internet. From my colleague and my experiences, children would usually "dump" their resources into one big folder, or lack the will to store them in a personally meaningful way. In the end, when the time comes for them to make use of their resources, they have difficulty finding the proper resources or do not clearly remember their intentions of saving their resources in the first place. Managing information has always been possible with conventional filing systems using storage devices, such as USBs. But USBs offer, at most, systematic filing. Blogs, unlike USBs, can be personalized. That is, since blogs have to be shared with other people, learners have to put some thought into how they are going to organize the content and link them to each other. And at the same time, instead of just pressing the "save" button as in regular filing systems, they have to provide some description for the content they are uploading. From a cognitive information processing perspective, when one analyzes and elaborates new information, the learner is actively engaging in his or her own learning. By organizing their outputs and materials, learners are creating a rich context that is important for retention in their long-term memory. Blogs used in this manner can support self-autonomy, which motivates learners to be more proactive in their studies, engage in challenging tasks, and become more confident [5]. However, since educators have usually focused on the self-reflective and interactive uses of blogs, the effects of PIM activities in blogging needs further research.

Studies on PIM suggest mental processes involved in PIM can facilitate learning. A study analyzing PIM strategies of adult learners indicates naming, classification, and categorization strategies are part of a "constructive cognitive process" enhancing learning [6]. Creating categories in blogs appears to help learning as those actions are similar to "external representation" of information [7], which requires the learner to make sense of the information. Also, when managing information one tends to relate it to the context of its search and future uses [8]. The implications of these studies are blogs used as PIM tools can facilitate basic cognitive processes. Naming, classifying, categorizing, and locating information are cognitive processes that make the learner process new information at a deeper level. Also, the annotations attached to the contents provide a rich context for information recall, recognition, and retrieval.

Other than the uses of blogs for PIM, my colleague and I postulated blogging promotes autonomous learning, and consequently will increase academic self-efficacy. Academic self-efficacy is a belief in one's ability to organize and implement necessary actions for achieving academic tasks successfully [9]. Learners with high academic self-efficacy tend to be more open to challenge, and invest much effort in challenging tasks persistently. Naturally, high self-efficacy is a good predictor of higher academic achievement [10]. Since blogs give ownership of learning to the student, they can increase the student's intrinsic motivation, and lead to higher academic self-efficacy. Baggeten and Wasson reported when learners reflect in public and monitor their own learning in public, the level of self-regulation, a beneficial factor for higher self-efficacy, increases [5]. That is, the experience of working independently in a positive environment should increase self-efficacy for that task in the future.

To summarize, based on previous literature, my colleague and I hypothesized since using blogs for information management can enhance the level of cognitive processing of the learner and heighten self-autonomy, having children create blogs and make use of its PIM features, children's academic achievement and self-efficacy would increase as well. However, research on PIM mostly concerns adults, and despite the potential values of blogging, it is difficult to find current research examining if blogs can actually become an autonomous learning environment for young learners in the first place, and can blogs bring about changes in their beliefs of their learning. As the search for methods or tools that motivate children to learn will always be important for educators, the issue of whether or not a social media tool, such as blogs, can influence academic self-efficacy, still needs to be examined. My colleague and I also hypothesized when children use blogs for PIM, various blog styles should emerge and by exploring these styles and children's perceptions of using blogs, we could gain some insight into how to integrate blogs more efficiently into learning. So the three main questions we asked to ourselves were:

  1. How do children develop their blogs for PIM?
  2. What are children's perceptions of using blogs for PIM?
  3. What is the effect of using blogs for PIM on academic self-efficacy?

The Experiment

In order to answer these questions, my colleague and I set up a research method as follows. First, we recruited two fourth grade (11 years old) classes at a public elementary school in Korea. The total number of students was 63, and the class consisting of 31 students (16 males and 15 females) was designated as the experimental group, and the other class with 32 students (16 males and 16 females) as the control group. Students were familiar with using class webpages and various social media tools. A subject test and a pre-survey for measuring academic self-efficacy were carried before the experiment to ensure both classes were similar. We did not find significant differences in subject and academic self-efficacy test scores between the two classes (subject test: t=.20, p=.54; academic self-efficacy: t=.22, p=.99; α=.05) The subject test was based on a teacher's manual published by the Korean Ministry of Education, Science, and Development (KMEST) for evaluating student achievement of the subject.

We then conducted an experiment in the children's social studies class for six weeks. The theme for this period was "exploring future career paths." The experiment group used blogs, and the control group used the class website for uploading assignments and managing resources collected during this period. The output was a final presentation on how they would imagine themselves as entrepreneurs and what would their ideal company be. A brief description of the lesson plan and assignments over the six-week period is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Lesson Plan

Lesson Contents Assignments
1 Introduction to project and topic
selection
Write plans for completing project
2 Choosing careers
3 The role of careers Conduct research on topic and complete project
4 Types of careers
5 Future jobs Presentation and sharing
6 What do businesses do?
7 Evaluation: Business plan and advertisement Presentation of final output
Corrective feedback
8

Both classes were given the same instructions on how assignments should be carried out. The control group was instructed to use the class webpage for uploading their materials to equalize the two classes' conditions as much as possible. For students in the experiment group, personal blogs were set up for each of them. So this group had the liberty of creating or structuring the links and content in any way that suited them. They could also access their peers' blogs through a webpage we set up for them. The control group had to post their materials on their class website, which uses a discussion board style interface for each student. This group had access to their peers' uploaded material as well. An example of the blog and class website used in this study is presented in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Pictures of personal blog (top) and personal space within class website (bottom).
[click to enlarge]

We then looked into all the postings from both the blogs and the class website. We first classified the blogs and labeled them accordingly. Blogs were categorized by structure or labeling methods used for managing information. We were particularly interested in how the blogs evolved from their original form, which had consisted of two links, "class assignments" and "learning resources." Next, quantitative data for both groups, such as the number of uploaded resources and annotations, were collected and compared. For comparison, the class website for the control group was also observed in terms of organization method and number of uploaded resources.

Perceptions about using blogs or the class website were collected through a short open-ended survey. Some of the questions asked were:

  • "Do blogs/class webpage help you learn the lessons?"
  • "What are the actual benefits of using blogs?"
  • "What were the difficulties you experienced when using blogs/class webpage?"
  • "Would you be willing to continue using blogs/class webpage for your own learning?"

We also wanted to know if blogs used for PIM had any impact on students' perceptions about their assignments, or benefits for completing tasks.

To find out if there was any advantage using blogs had on academic self-efficacy, we had all the participants complete an academic self-efficacy questionnaire consisting of 28 items before and after the experiment [11]. The questionnaire consisted of three subcomponents: task difficulty preference (α=.84), academic self-regulation efficacy (α=.76), and self-confidence (α=.74). This tool was developed to measure general academic self-efficacy rather than content specific self-efficacy. Participants rated their perceptions on a scale from 1 (Not at all) to 5 (very much) for various statements, such as:

  • "I enjoy solving challenging problems."
  • "I can identify clearly what I understand or don't understand during lessons."
  • "I can take notes of important things during class."
  • "I can remember what I learned during class very well."

The Results

After the six weeks of experiment we saw some interesting results. First, we identified three PIM styles:

  • A passive approach: There were no changes to the original links ("class assignment" and "learning resource"); students did not change anything and or store new information under existing links.
  • A task based approach: Students created new links with future tasks in mind. For instance, they might create links like "text" or "videos" under "learning resources." There is more activity than the first style, but students are still managing their information within the existing structure.
  • Redefine the use of blogs in a personally meaningful way: Students of this type created entries and links for managing all sorts of content. For example, not only did they create links for other subjects like math or language, but they also made entries for personal diaries and interesting materials they found online that might be useful for other classes.

The number of blogs for each style is presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Total Number of Blogs for Each PIM Style

Compliance to existing structure Task-based management Personalized management
3 17 11

In general, the experiment group played around with the look of their blogs and posted images showing their hobbies, while the group using the class website did not change the structure of their own space even if they were allowed to.

When we asked students how blogs helped them in their studies, the majority (n=18) answered that it was easier to search and use resources when using blogs. Students also mentioned they enjoyed using blogs because they could personalize their own learning space (n=10). Students who used blogs also mentioned it was easier to recall necessary information, because they had their own learning space where they could visually keep track of their progress. On the other hand, about a third (n=11) of the control group reported the discussion board style webpages were not helpful for learning. Only six in this group said it was useful. Some said the webpages were useful for improving their typing skills (n=5)

An interesting thing is students of both groups felt these online tools would be useful for managing their resources, but for different reasons. The experiment group said they would use it because learning was more fun, and the resources they managed in their blogs were of more use to their projects. While the control group said they would use the website again rather than writing things manually.

Content wise, the experiment groups exceed the control group in terms of quantity and engagement (Table 3). In other words, students who used blogs not only collected more resources for their assignments, but also posted more annotations than the other group. The annotations showed the students' ideas about the uses of the collected resources, reflections, and creative ideas about the assignment, etc.

Table 3. Number of Postings (resources, artifacts, annotations, etc.)

Group Less than 7 8 to 20 More than 20
Experiment 1 6 24
Control 2 27 3

A statistic analysis of the self-efficacy scores revealed there were significant differences between the two groups (t=1.55, p=.048, α=.05). That is, students who used blogs demonstrated higher academic self-efficacy after using blogs for managing information for their assignments.

Table 4. Comparison of Academic Self-efficacy Scores

Group N M SD p t α
Experiment (Blog) 31 100.35 13.46 .048 1.55 .05
Control (Class webpage) 32 94.06 18.4

Conclusion

Overall, my colleague and I concluded even though fourth graders might not be able to write lengthy elaborations on their ideas or deep reflections about themselves, blogs used for PIM can benefit them both cognitively and emotionally. The external representations help learners make sense of the new information [12], and possibly facilitate cognitive functions such as problem solving [13]. So blogs are not only tools for self-expression or social interaction, but they also have the potential to influence the cognitive processes of learning.

In terms of their perceptions about using blogs, overall the experiment group was more willing to utilize their resources than the control group. This may be due to the emotional effects of blogs allowing for self-expression and ownership of one's learning. The significant differences in academic self-efficacy between groups tell us that blogs can provide a space for self-directed learning and emotional freedom, thus leading to an increase in ones' confidence for learning. Also, when using blogs for PIM, planning schemes for branching out and restructuring information, annotating, and attaching emotions to information may have had the effect of elaboration [14] a positive factor for storing and retrieving information.

The increase in academic self-efficacy could be interpreted in light of cognitive information processing. Personalizing blogs may have enhanced memory through deeper processing of new information. That is, planning schemes for branching out and restructuring resources, annotating, and attaching emotions to resources (diaries), may have acted similarly to cognitive strategies, such as elaboration [14], and created a rich context for storing and retrieving information.

Lastly, although the teacher's comments are not purely scientific in the sense that a strict framework for analyzing the final presentations of the students using blogs was not employed, we would like to share his reflections after students made their presentations.

"The projects created by blog users definitely scored higher…they were basically more intent to do better…. It's strange, but the students who used blogs looked livelier when presenting…and did extra work compared to the other group. Even the children who were audiences were more responsive to presentations made by the blog users."

From a practical viewpoint, while blogs were widely used for older students or adults and mostly used for posting assignments, reflections, or comments to others, we suggest why not lower the age group and let them be playful with it, and then see if it helps their learning.

Acknowledgement

This article is based on, Yeo and Lee's 2013 paper for the British Journal of Educational Technology; "Exploring New Potentials of Blogs for Learning: Can children use blogs for Personal Information Management (PIM)?" (DOI: 10.1111/bjet.12117).

References

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[12] Dervin, B. From the mind's eye of the user: The sense-making qualitative-quantitative methodology. In J. Glazier and R. Powell (eds.), Qualitative Research in Information ManagementLibraries Unlimited, Englewood, CO, 1992, 61-84.

[13] Kotovsky, K., Hayes, J. R., and Simon, H. A. Why are some problems hard? Evidence from Tower of Hanoi. Cognitive Psychology 17, 2 (1985), 248-294.

[14] Gredler, M. E. Learning and instruction: Theory into practice (6th Ed.). Pearson, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2008.

About the Authors

Yekyung Lisa Lee is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education, Sogang University in Korea. Her research is in the areas of critical thinking skills, the decision making processes of teachers and learners, motivational interface design, and social cognition in digital learning environments.

Yeo Hwan Ik has been teaching elementary students for 10 years. He is interested in integrating interactive new technologies into classroom activities especially for social studies subjects. His goal is to create an interactive amd self-directed classroom environment.

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