Blogging & Literacy: A critical review of the literature

Introduction

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.

 

raifbadawi
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.

 

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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: http://web2play.pbworks.com/f/Post+Writing+with+Web+Logs+copy.pdf [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: http://www.oecd.org/publications/students-computers-and-learning-9789264239555-en.htm [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: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0013/001362/136246e.pdf [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.

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TEL for Numeracy in Context: Session Evaluation

IMG_4173

University of Essex Nursing programmes embed several TEL methods for supporting numeracy skills for drug calculations. Our ‘Numeracy in Context’ approach to drug calculation and administration is particularly popular with students. The sessions are team-taught: I teach the first part, covering the underpinning calculation skills required to solve medication dosage problems. Students then move to the Skill Labs to work through several drug administration activities with the Registered Nurse Teachers.

Screencasts & Worked Examples

I often use the Worked Example Principle (Renkl, 2005; Sweller, 2006) in my instruction. Worked examples were presented in a range of TEL and traditional formats, including:

  1. Screencasts
  2. Student volunteers transcribing problems to be solved by their peers, using direct/scaffolded questioning
  3. Printed workbook contains all examples and further problems.

Jordan et al (2012) assert that screencasts can improve student learning of mathematics. While many open resources, such as Khan Academy and MathsCasts provide screencasts for generic mathematical similar resources for nursing calculations are harder to find. One such example is Queen’s University Belfast’s Numeracy Skills for Drug Calculations site. The interactive questions are ideal for consolidating underpinning numeracy skills. However, students need to be aware that the examples are not clinically realistic, and therefore risk de-sensitising them to context clues that indicate a serious drug error (Wright, 2011).

In order to address this, I have begun to create my own bank of screencasts to demonstrate worked solutions to a range of problems. I use the Explain Everything  iPad app for this. The app is intuitive, and suitable for novice users. I eventually plan to move to a more professional screencasting method, possibly Camtasia or the Adobe software when the University is ready to roll this out beyond the specialist Technology Enhanced Learning team.

The screencasts are readily available to students via Moodle; however, during teaching, I often mute the recorded audio and talk through the problems in order to foster engagement and rapport.

Moodle

To support numeracy skills off-campus, I have developed a Moodle meta-course – Numeracy Skills for BSc Nursing, which offers a step-by-step approach, from refresher materials on basic arithmetic, to preparation for NHS recruitment tests. A difference in Moodle versions currently prevents me from duplicating the course to our open MoodleX site, but I hope to be able to do this in June. The site is very much a work in progress, requiring investigation into which resources are most likely to have impact before I spend time developing them.

In the week following the session, about 27% of the cohort accessed the online session materials; this is encouraging as our students tend to have a track record of accessing only resources relevant to imminent summative assessment.

 The Answer Pad

I included a ‘stretch and challenge’ question to test the most able students.

Complex question

I informed the students that this question appeared on the Year 3 exam paper in December 2015, and challenged them, as a cohort, to obtain a higher pass rate than their peers in Year 3. They were encouraged to submit their attempts to me via The AnswerPad.

This approach was intended to build on my use of Kahoot! quizzes which, while popular with students, do not allow response collection.

In theory, this approach would allow me to test the app with a limited number of students, to assess its usefulness as a BYOD tool. In practice, it diverted attention towards those students, as I had to help them navigate the site to input their answers. This did not have an adverse effect on the less able students, but might have done so, if there had been competing priorities for my attention on the day.

I did not have access to the full version for that session, but have subsequently acquired an upgrade until June 2016. This means that I can explore a wider range of strategies and approaches with this package, and attempt to find a satisfactory way of utilising it in sessions without disrupting the provision of targeted support to students who need it.

Conclusion

Embedding TEL in nursing numeracy presents a good opportunity to enhance learning. However, the reality presents several practical challenges. Our student cohorts are large and diverse. Students begin their courses with a variety of educational and digital experiences and readiness to learn at Levels 4. Additionally, many mathematical strategies are apparent, depending on when and where students attended school. It is important that TEL strategies do not seek to impose or dictate a particular way of working, and that all (valid) learning approaches and strategies are encouraged when solving these safety-critical calculations.

 

References

Ainsworth, H., Gilchrist, M., Grant, C., Hewitt, C., Ford, S., Petrie, M., Torgerson, C. and Torgerson, D. (2012) ‘Computer-based instruction for improving student nurses’ general numeracy: is it effective? Two randomised trials’ Educational Studies 38 2:151-163

Jordan, C., Loch, B., Lowe, T., Mestel, B. and Wilkins, C. (2012) ‘Do short screencasts improve student learning of mathematics?’ MSTOR Connections 12(1): 11-14 Online at: http://stan.cc.swin.edu.au/~lochb/download/Jordan_et_al_2012.pdf

Nursing and Midwifery Council (2007) Standards for Medicines Management Online at: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/standards/nmc-standards-for-medicines-management.pdf [Accessed on 8 February, 2016]

Renkl, A. (2005) ‘The Worked-Out Examples Principle in Multimedia Learning’ In: Mayer, R.E. (editor) The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Sweller, J. (2006) ‘The worked example effect and human cognition’ In: Learning and Instruction 16: 165 – 169

Wright, K. (2011) Drug Calculations for Nurses: Context for Practice Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan