Blogging & Literacy: A critical review of the literature


This post critically evaluates some of the available literature on blogging as literacy form from an HE perspective. Considerations include: definitions of literacy, a brief history of blogging and its incorporation into education including known benefits and potential drawbacks to its uncritical adoption.

Definitions of ‘Literacy’

Over the past two decades, researchers have addressed the changing definitions of ‘literacy’ that accompanied the development of affordable and accessible technology. Allen (2001) reminds us of an early definition; signing one’s name, as opposed to simply making a mark. UNESCO (2004) discussed an evolving plurality of definitions, including the literacy skills required to function and to participate in 21C society. UNESCO (2004) also suggested the emergence of a ‘continuum of reading and writing skills’, ranging from Early Years mark-making to the complex meta-cognitive abilities required to navigate, engage with and produce multimodal media. This continuum provides a good starting point for a consideration of the ‘new literacies’ and how such skills can be supported, developed, assessed and accredited for a range of personal, educational and professional purposes.

blogging handsFrom Social Tool to Research Topic

Cottrell and Morris (2012) note that blogs began to emerge in the 1990s, becoming a mainstream social tool by 2000. More recently, they have become of interest to educators, resulting in a proliferation of research from the mid-2000s. Initial research into educational blogs focussed on the potential of Web 2.0 technologies for adding interactivity to traditional reflective learning journals.

Bouldin et al (2006) references some early small-scale studies and articles, citing Kennedy 2003, who refers to educators starting to use ‘web logs’ in their practice. Farmer et al (2008) reference an emerging body of literature on blogging, including its potential for supporting metacognitive development, higher order and critical thinking skills. Initial student feedback from these studies suggests that many found blogging engaging and informative, but with a significant minority suggesting a detrimental effect on rigorous academic writing skills.

Further studies emerged from the English as an Additional Language (EAL) field. Sun (2010), Vurdien (2013) and Lee (2015) argued that blogging promoted extended reading and writing for language acquisition. He developed a model detailing the link between blogging and extensive reading (below). The principles emerging from EAL literature may be transferable to other student populations in the context of academic discourse as a form of language acquisition.


Lee 2015 model of reading supported by blogging
Lee (2015): A model of extensive reading supported by blogging

Lin, Lin and Hsu (2011) challenged such studies for their failure to include a Control Group using a traditional written method, in order to generate a reliable comparison of effect sizes. With due reference to technology-related motivational effects (Sung and Mayer, 2013), they concluded that impact on students’ learning was broadly similar between the Control and Experimental Groups. They suggest that, whilst blogs work in improving writing skills, any benefits are likely to be outweighed by the time cost to the teacher. They conclude it is “doubtful that classroom blogging is worth pursuing as an approach for promoting students’ writing abilities, despite what previous studies have suggested” and “the entire blogging format failed to achieve its goal in the context of the ESL writing classroom.” (Lin, Lin and Hsu, 2011: E150).

Returning to the links between blogging and 21C literacy, Knoebel and Lankshear (2014:98) identified a significant overlap between ‘conventional’ and ‘new’ literacies, summarised as follows: “As practices, literacies — all literacies, “new” or conventional — involve bringing technology, knowledge, and skills together within contexts of social purpose.” This echoes the view of Allen (2001:252), who noted the increasing acceptance of a definition of literacy “in relative terms as competency at specific tasks within particular contexts”. However, Stordy (2015:458) believes the number of terms used to define precise literacies may be reaching an unsustainable point: “It is as if scholars and organisations have developed their conception of literacy without reference to others or they have “cherry-picked” ideas to form their own conception”. He also outlines a distinction between autonomous and ideological models of literacy, citing Lonsdale and McCurry’s (2004) description of the two positions. As educators, we must be secure in our own ideology (Murphy et al, 2009) and aware of underlying social and historical contexts when identifying new tools to promote literacy skills.


Creative Commons Free Raif Badawi by Amnesty Finland is licensed under CC by 2.0

Social and Political Implications

As noted by Freire (1972), literacy can be an effective tool for liberation and for criticising oppressive structures and regimes. Four decades later, blogging has become a potentially subversive and dangerous activity. Stordy (2015: 464) continues this theme, noting that when combined with a drive to improve political, cultural and critical literacy, blogging can “empower individuals as opposed to promoting a protectionist and regulatory agenda”. In certain circumstances, this can result in far reaching, even fatal consequences when blogging is used to criticise oppressive or fervently religious regimes (Ex-Muslim, 2015; Raif Badawi, 2016).

Implications for Higher Education Policy and Practice

Within UK HEIs, rationales for blog use (Cottrell and Morris, 2012) could be criticised as simply using new technologies to support established assessment strategies. When considering blogging for assessment of learning, educators must consider whether it adds new pedagogic enhancements, or whether it simply enables an established pedagogy to be applied in a new way. This is not to imply that either approach is superior; rather to acknowledge differences and promote the application of effective pedagogy.

Several studies discuss blogging’s benefits for social integration by quickly and directly involving students in their learning communities (Cottrell and Morris 2012; Top, 2012; Lee, 2015). However, these benefits were well-documented and modelled by Tinto (1975) in his work on student attrition in HE. While blogging may be an efficient means of supporting such aims, it does not yet appear to be charting undiscovered territory.



Further Discussion

This review has focussed on blogging and literacy from a Higher Education perspective. Further research could explore how, and at what age the so-called ‘new literacies’ can be developed alongside basic reading and writing skills. The OECD (2015) return to UNESCO’s (2004) idea of a continuum, arguing that “all students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitised societies of the 21st century.”

Institution leaders must prevent technology from contributing to the marginalisation of traditional academic and literacy skills – reading, analysing and writing extended critical texts. Failing to do so risks extending existing inequalities between state- and privately-educated students (including privately-tutored state students) allowing traditional literacy to become the preserve of a social and financial elite (Solga, 2014).

In conclusion, blogging is now well established in the standard repertoire of assessment strategies. With thoughtful application, it has the potential to extend students’ ability to write for a range of audiences, to build resilience and to give and receive effective feedback; all essential skills for participation in 21C society.

Reference List

Allen, L. (2001). “Toward a definition of technical literacy.” Ipcc 2001: Ieee International Professional Communication Conference, Proceedings: 251-254.

Bouldin, A. S., et al. (2006). “”Blogging” about course concepts: Using technology for reflective journaling in a communications class.” American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 70(4).

Cottrell, S. and Morris, N. (2012). Study skills connected : using technology to support your studies. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Davies, J. and G. Merchant (2008). Looking from the Inside Out: Academic Blogging as New Literacy. A New Literacies Sampler. M. Knoebel and C. Lankshear (editors). New York, Peter Lang: 177 – 207.

Farmer, B., et al. (2008). “Using blogging for higher order learning in large cohort university teaching: A case study.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 24(2): 123-136.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. S.l., Sheed and Ward.

Kennedy, K. (2003) Writing With Web Logs Online at: [Accessed on 9 March, 2016]

Knobel, M. and C. Lankshear (2014). “Studying New Literacies.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(2): 97-101.

Lee, S. Y. (2015). “Joining the ‘literacy club’: when reading meets blogging.” ELT Journal 69(4): 373-382.

Lin, M. H., Lin, C. Y. and Hsu, P. Y. (2011). “The unrealistic claims for the effects of classroom blogging on English as a second language, students’ writing performance.” British Journal of Educational Technology 42(6): E148-E151.

Murphy, L. Mufti, E. and Kassem, D. (2009) Education Studies: An introduction Maidenhead: Open University Press

OECD (2015). Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection. Online at: [Accessed on 9 March, 2016]

Ranker, J. (2015). “The Affordances of Blogs and Digital Video NEW POTENTIALS FOR EXPLORING TOPICS AND REPRESENTING MEANING.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(7): 568-578.

Solga, H. (2014). “Education, economic inequality and the promises of the social investment state.” Socio-Economic Review 12(2): 269-297.

Stordy, P. H. (2015). “Taxonomy of literacies.” Journal of Documentation 71(3): 456-476.

Sun, Y. C. (2010). “Extensive writing in foreign-language classrooms: a blogging approach.” Innovations in Education and Teaching International 47(3): 327-339.

Sung, E. and Mayer, R.E. (2013) ‘Online multimedia learning with mobile devices and desktop computers: an experimental test of Clark’s methods-not-media hypothesis’ In Computers in Human Behavior 29:639 – 647

Tinto, V. (1975). “Dropout from Higher Education – Theoretical Synthesis of Recent Research.” Review of Educational Research 45(1): 89-125.

Top, E. (2012). “Blogging as a social medium in undergraduate courses: Sense of community best predictor of perceived learning.” Internet and Higher Education 15(1): 24-28.

UNESCO (2004)  The Plurality of Literacy and its Implications for Policies and Programmes Online at: [Accessed on 8 March, 2016]

Vurdien, R. (2013). “Enhancing writing skills through blogging in an advanced English as a Foreign Language class in Spain.” Computer Assisted Language Learning 26(2): 126-143.

Critical Review: Tower et al (2014)


Tower, M., Latimer, S. and Hewitt, J. (2014) ‘Social networking as a learning tool: Nursing students’ perception of efficacy’ In: Nurse Education Today 34: 1012 – 1017


Social media and social networking have become ubiquitous marketing tools over the past decade (Rapp et al, 2013). However, Bal et al (2015) highlight that, although many undergraduates are very familiar with these platforms for social and entertainment purposes, their use as learning tools can present challenges. The current evidence base does not suggest a consensus on its value for this purpose.


Tower et al (2014) investigated Facebook usage as a targeted, short-term intervention for supporting nursing students with revision for a biosciences exam. Student nurses perceive biosciences to be difficult; exam-related anxiety is commonplace (McVicar et al, 2014). An investigation into how best to support and motivate students while revising off-campus led to a student suggestion that a Facebook group would be a good choice, due to ease of access, and the common use of this platform to procrastinate during revision.

The study highlights the potential for Facebook to promote staff-student interaction in a supportive extracurricular environment, whilst identifying several drawbacks which should be considered before attempting replication.

Similarities exist between the reported perceptions of difficulty and anxieties biosciences exams, and those experienced in the Medication Dosage Calculations exams at the University of Essex. The findings are therefore relevant to my potential future practice in supporting students with exam revision.


The study is informal and observational and does not always follow standard structure and methodology as outlined by Coughlan et al (2007) and Ryan et al (2007). It aims to measure students’ perceptions of Facebook as a revision tool; however, it does not address the question of how student satisfaction metrics compare with other valid indicators of quality learning. Follow-up research could include a cross-sectional or longitudinal cohort study in which exam results of students who used the intervention are compared with those who did not. Alternatively, a phenomenological study linking student perceptions to the impact of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977) and other learning theories described in the literature review might be valuable.

The study highlights some of the advantages of Facebook as a learning tool, along with drawbacks and a good analysis of its limitations. However, the literature review does not specify the search parameters; there is no reference to key words or databases. The most recent citation is from 2010; a more clearly structured and current literature review might have promoted a more refined research question, exploring impact on learning as well as student satisfaction.

No theoretical framework is described, nor statistical tools identified. This is in keeping with the informal, inductive nature of the study, although arguably, it undermines its credibility in terms of rigour.

Data were collected via a descriptive, online survey, released after the students received their exam results; it contained both quantitative and qualitative elements. Survey questions were not available for scrutiny, which again, undermines the credibility of this paper as a robust and rigorous inquiry. Qualitative comments from students highlight several advantages, including the pragmatic observation that students use Facebook to procrastinate, and this intervention helps to keep them focussed and motivated. However, a more nuanced analysis of the well-documented problems involving motivation and technology (Clark and Feldon, 2005) might also have been appropriate. Arguably, by providing students with ever-increasingly accessible and informal methods of learning, we may be undermining the development of sustained, critical engagement with complex material (Kirschner and van Merriënboer, 2013).

Several limitations are identified. All posts were replicated on an official VLE to include non-Facebook users. The authors also suggest a possible reluctance to engage due to concerns about appearing to lack knowledge, and potential impact on grades. Finally, a low response rate (24%) is noted, which, whilst not uncommon in student perception surveys, might have been mitigated by running the survey in term-time.


In conclusion, this study raises, but does not adequately answer, several questions surrounding the potential use of Facebook and other social networking platforms as self-directed learning tools. Future research should include:

  • Structured and replicable literature reviews, defining prominent and emerging themes
  • Fully developed research questions, with potential to develop hypotheses for future investigations
  • Justified, established research methodologies, including a data collection approach designed to generate a high response rate.
  • Structured approach to quantitative data analysis

Further research into the pedagogical value of social networking tools is needed. In the current educational and political climate, it is tempting to pursue innovative strategies to attract high student satisfaction ratings. However, current evidence exploring the complex relationship between student satisfaction and student achievement indicate that this is unlikely to be an effective long-term approach. Quality research could also evaluate the potential of informal social networking platforms for supporting retention and transfer of learning.

 Reference List

Bal, A.S., Grewal, D., Mills, A. and Ottley, G. (2015) ‘Engaging students with social media’ In: Journal of Marketing Education 37(3): 190 – 203

Bandura, A. (1977) ‘Self-efficacy: towards a unifying theory of behavioural change’ In: Pscyhological Review 84(2): 191 – 215

Clark, R.E. and Feldon, D.F. (2005) ‘Five Common but Questionable Principles of Multimedia Learning’ In: Mayer, R.E. (ed) The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (97- 116) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Coughlan, M., Cronin, P. and Ryan, F. (2007) ‘Step-by-step guide to critiquing research. Part 1: quantitative research’ In: British Journal of Nursing 16(11): 658 – 663

Kirschner, P.A. and van Merriënboer, J.J.G. (2013) ‘Do Learners Really Know Best? Urban Legends in Education’ In: Educational Psychologist  48(3): 169-183 Online at:
McVicar, A., Andrew, S, Kemble. R, (2014)  ‘Biosciences within the pre registration (pre-requisite) curriculum: An integrative literature review of curriculum interventions 1990-2012’ In: Nurse Education Today 34 (4):560-568

Rapp, A., Bietelspacher, L., Grewal, D. and Hughes, D. (2013) ‘Understanding social media effects across seller, retailer, and consumer interactions’ In: Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 41(5): 547-566

Ryan, F., Coughlan, M. and Cronin, P. (2007) ‘Step-by-step guide to critiquing research. Part 2: qualitative research’ In: British Journal of Nursing 16(12): 738 – 744

Critical Review – McCutcheon et al (2015)

McCutcheon, K., Lohan, M., Traynor, M. and Martin, D. (2015) ‘A systematic review evaluating the impact of online or blended learning vs. face-to-face learning of clinical skills in undergraduate nurse education’ In: Journal of Advanced Nursing 71(2): 255 – 270


The UK Higher Education Sector has seen a rapid increase in the use of online and blended methods to deliver course content and to support learning (O’Neil et al 2014). McCutcheon et al (2015) conducted a systematic review of the literature to compare the effectiveness of online- or blended-learning approaches, in comparison with face-to-face teaching of clinical skills for pre-registration nurse education. The review highlights an ongoing lack of high-quality research into the effects of blended learning in this field, and the urgent need to address this in light of current policies and drivers affecting student nurses’ ability to learn clinical skills effectively in their practice placements.


McCutcheon et al (2015) identify a clear need for nurse educators in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to develop innovative and effective methods of delivering pre-registration education and training. A key component of nurse training is the requirement for 50% of the course to be spent developing practical skills involving direct patient care in a range of clinical settings (Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) 2010). However, several drivers, including current government austerity measures, staff shortages and high levels of staff turnover, have led to a reduction in the ability of qualified nurse mentors to deliver high quality learning experiences to student nurses on placement. (Traynor et al, 2010). The aim of this systematic review therefore, is to identify whether online and/or blended-learning approaches might have the potential to meet this shortfall and deliver effective training in practical clinical skills.

Key findings include a lack of consistency in the types of online and blended-learning approaches, and a lack of sufficient robust evidence with which to reach a conclusive position on the effectiveness of either approach.


The authors appear to have used a thorough search methodology, with reasoned justification for the parameters selected, which would make replication possible. The methodology included a review of ongoing research projects and unpublished literature, including student dissertations. This may help to mitigate some of the quality control issues associated with the current peer-review system (da Silva and Dobránszki, 2015). Inclusion and exclusion criteria were clearly stated, and justified. However, the authors excluded studies where the online teaching strategy used was for the primary development of theoretical knowledge. For areas such as drug calculations, for example, the theoretical knowledge is inextricably linked with the practical skills, which would be entirely unsafe without the underpinning numeracy skills. This parameter may, therefore, have excluded some relevant studies.

Two critical appraisal tools  were used to identify the study’s risk of bias. These were based on the JBI_MAStARI tool for the quantitative studies, and JBI-QARI for the qualitative studies. These appear to be appropriate and robust although access to the tools is restricted beyond the user guide cited in the review.

Data synthesis was designed to address key learning outcomes for clinical skills education, including knowledge, performance, self-efficacy and student satisfaction. It is difficult to ascertain the quality of the performance metrics for each study. Some studies clearly state that students were assessed via Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE); a well-established and highly-regarded clinical assessment tool (Meskell et al, 2015) however, many seemed to use written assessments, which are arguably an invalid tool for the assessment of practical skills (Wright, 2007). The use of student satisfaction data as an indicator of high quality and high impact instruction and learning is also questionable (Jones et al, 2014).

The review concludes that online learning appeared to deliver a similar benefit to traditional teaching methods in 10 of the 13 studies. These findings are consistent with the ‘no significant difference’ phenomenon (Russell, 2001, cited in Hattie, 2009) and possibly lend further credibility to the ‘methods not media’ hypothesis (Clark, 2005, cited in Sung and Mayer, 2013), as it does not appear to be possible to separate the impact of the media used from that of the pedagogic techniques utilised.

The paper takes a realistic view of its own limitations, the most significant of these being the lack of a minimum quality threshold, which might have excluded some poor quality studies. Additionally, the authors acknowledge that only one of the studies reviewed reported medium-term post-intervention recall; the results and findings cannot, therefore be generalised to indicate a high quality of long-term retention of information or higher order transfer of skills into new situations.


This systematic review clearly identifies the need for nurse educators to identify areas in which online and blended learning approaches can be used to support student nurses in developing clinical skills.  It presents a well-structured review and critique of the current evidence base, along with clear recommendations for the use of this evidence to influence not only the pedagogic decisions of individual educators, but also future developments for policy and practice in nursing research and education. In conclusion, it makes a worthwhile and valid contribution to the emerging knowledge base in this field.


da Silva, J.A.T. and Dobránszki, J. (2015) ‘Problems with Traditional Science Publishing and Finding a Wider Niche for Post-Publication Peer Review’ In: Accountability in Research 22: 22 – 40

Hattie, J. A. C. (2009) Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses related to achievement  New York: Routledge

Jones, J.,  Gaffney-Rhys, R. and Jones, E. (2014) ‘Handle with care! An exploration of the potential risks associated with the publication and summative usage of student evaluation of teaching (SET) results’ In: Journal of Further and Higher Education 38(1): 37 – 56

McCutcheon, K., Lohan, M., Traynor, M. and Martin, D. (2015) ‘A systematic review evaluating the impact of online or blended learning vs. face-to-face learning of clinical skills in undergraduate nurse education’ In: Journal of Advanced Nursing 71(2), 255 – 270

Meskell, P., Burke, E., Kropmans, T.J.B., Byrne, E., Setyonugroho, W. and Kennedy, K.M. (2015) ‘Back to the future: An online OSCE Managemenr Information System for nursing OSCEs’ In: Nurse Education Today 35: 1091 – 1096

Nursing and Midwifery Council (2010) Standards for pre-registration nursing education Online at: [Accessed on  30 January 2016]

O’Neil, C.A., Fisher, C.A. and Rietschel, M.J. (2014) Developing Online Learning Environments in Nurse Education (3rd edition) New York: Springer

Sung, E. and Mayer, R.E. (2013) ‘Online multimedia learning with mobile devices and desktop computers: an experimental test of Clark’s methods-not-media hypothesis’ In: Computers in Human Behavior 29: 639 – 647

Traynor, M., Gallagher, A., Martin, L. and Smyth, S. (2010) ‘From novice to expert: using simulators to enhance practical skill’ In: British Journal of Nursing 19(22), 1422 – 1426

Wright, K. (2007) ‘A written assessment is an invalid test of numeracy skills’ In: British Journal of Nursing 16(13):28-30