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Engage, reflect, achieve: the blog as a learning tool in an undergraduate module


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Hazel Hall's paper, co-authored with Brian Davison, presented at Assessment for learning: designing strategies to engage students and enable learning, Napier University, Edinburgh, 21 June 2007. An associated full text journal paper is available in manuscript form from, and in published form from

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Engage, reflect, achieve: the blog as a learning tool in an undergraduate module

  1. 1. Engage, reflect, achieve: the blog as a learning tool in an undergraduate module Hazel Hall & Brian Davison, 2007
  2. 2. The rise of the blog people• Online diary – Entries displayed newest first – Readers can leave comments• 55,000,000 (28 March 2007)• 86,800,000 (17 June 2007)• eg • BBC 
  3. 3. Why blog?• Motivations 1. To provide commentary and opinions 2. To express deeply felt emotions 3. To articulate ideas through writing 4. To form and maintain community forums 5. To document one’s life online Nardi et al., 2004
  4. 4. Blogs as online learning journals• Journals – Provide time to reflect – Document development over time• Blogs – Expose ideas to external challenge – Protect the authority of the author• The ideal constructivist tool?
  5. 5. Aims of investigation• Lack of empirical evidence for benefits of blogs• Beware of the “access fallacy”• Aims – How can blogs encourage interaction? – What is the effect on peer learning and peer support? – Do blogs provide comparable benefits to journals?
  6. 6. Research context• 3rd year UG module, “Information Delivery” – Blogs appropriate to content – Large proportion of international students – Private learning journal used previously• Assessment task – 1 blog entry per week – 2 comments on other blogs – Weekly schedule – late posts lost marks – “Blog hints” provided each week
  7. 7. Research design• Corpus: 79 personal blogs plus comments• Unit of analysis: level 1 comments (905)• Content analysis on three dimensions: – Reflection – Propositional stance – Affective tone
  8. 8. Coding schemeDimension CategoriesReflection Reflective Unreflective Content-freePropositional stance Agree Mixed DisagreeAffective tone Positive Even Negative
  9. 9. Uncombined resultsDimension Categories ProportionReflection Reflective 21% Unreflective 36% Content-free 43%Propositional stance Agree 31% Mixed 63% Disagree 6%Affective tone Positive 46% Even 50% Negative 4%
  10. 10. Combining categoriesCategories (A/R/P) GroupPositive / Content-free / ? Supportive: 358 = 40%Positive / Unreflective / ?Even / Content-free / ? Trivial: 334 = 37%Even / Unreflective / ?? / Reflective / ? Reflective: 189 = 21 %Negative / Content-free / ? Destructive: 21 = 2%Negative / Unreflective / ?
  11. 11. Relative value of reflective commentsSupport Increasing value of contribution Challenge
  12. 12. Distribution of reflective comments Positive 13% 16% 2%Support Even 16% 36% 12% Negative 0% 2% 3% Agree Mixed Disagree Challenge
  13. 13. Conclusions• Blogs provide a naturally supportive environment – Encouragement – Peer support / learning – Improves on traditional learning journal• Study provides evidence of reflection – Does not endorse enthusiasm of technophiles – Only comments were analysed – 20% were reflective
  14. 14. Possible future work• Manipulate blog hints to encourage specific behaviours• Examine main blog entries for reflection• Investigate students’ perceptions• Conduct similar study to examine effects on development of literacy and analytical skills• Use social exchange theory (Molm, 2001) to analyse patterns of interaction (Jun-Aug, 2007)
  15. 15. Immediate implications• Deep understanding of tool characteristics required to realise theoretical benefits• WebCT – “blog” does not have characteristics discussed here – ePortfolio tool provides partial support• Beware the “access fallacy”
  16. 16. Coding for reflection Premise reflectionReflection Content reflection Process reflectionNon-reflection Introspection Thoughtful action Habitual action Categories of reflective and non-reflective behaviour (adapted from Kember et al. (1999, p. 25)).
  17. 17. References• Kember, D., Jones, A., Loke, A., McKay, J., Sinclair, K., Tse, H., Webb, C., Wong, F., Wong, M. and Yeung, E. (1999). Determining the level of reflective thinking from students’ written journals using a coding scheme based on the work of Mezirow. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 18(1), 18–30.• Nardi, B., Schiano, D.J., Gumbrecht, M., & Swartz, L. (2004). Why we blog. Communications of the ACM, 47(12), 41-46.• Molm, L. D. (2001). Theories of social exchange and exchange networks. In G. Ritzer & B. Smart (Eds.), Handbook of social theory (pp. 260-272). London: Sage.• Technorati (n.d.) Technorati. Retrieved March 28, 2007 from