Article Critique: Identifying Edubloggers
L. Kerawalla, 2008. An Empirically grounded framework to guide blogging in higher education
This article makes a significant contribution to exploratory research on edublogging.
The framework they describe is limited in scope, however. I question the usefulness of research that describes research study after research study citing the benefits of blogging, only to follow up with dismal practical results. Enough time has been spent identifying behaviors of inexperienced edubloggers operating within a virtual pedagogical vacuum.
In this case, the case study consisted of a very small group (9 learners). The one standalone structured blogging activity consisted of doing four summaries of articles and sharing their summaries with others in their blogs. This activity lasted five weeks, followed by no subsequent structured activities, leaving learners to blog however they wished. The learners were not provided with any expectations on how well, how many, or on how often they were supposed to blog for the rest of the 17 weeks of the course.
Six of the learners had previous experience blogging, one learner used a blog for his own students, two had not blogged before, and one had tried blogging but had since stopped. Several learners had started their own social blogs, but were not considered part of the study.
In this case, the authors identify four elements that provide structure for design, as well as three other lesser elements.
Distinct role of blogs for learning
Functionality of blogging software
Pedagogical context, or type of activities
The researchers identified four types of edublogging behavior among the learners:
Course-directed activities to share
Course-directed activities for oneself
Blogging as self-motivation
These descriptions of the different types of learners aided me to formulate a more comprehensive, practical framework identifying types of edubloggers and their ideal learning environments.
Those learners who sought primarily to share their ideas are what I consider to be embedded, or social, learners, who need to write for others, share their reflections and exchange ideas. An additional observation was that the learners became demotivated by a lack of reflective activity, eventually stopping blogging after the fifth week. Although these learners interacted with one another before in a previous course, they could not step beyond the unstructured learning environment and create their own sustained conversations and generate their own nurturing sharing space without guidance and support. These learners were unprepared to interact with others in a formal, academic setting, and were more comfortable with the use of casual, social, informal language when exchanging personal thoughts and impressions with others.
One learner carried on with blogging in the absence of any support or feedback from others made a strong personal impression on me. This learner embodies the autonomous, solitary learner, unconcerned with audience or social interaction or praise from the instructor. He essentially blogged for his own purposes. He did not receive comments from his peers but persisted six weeks longer than the social bloggers.
Another learner had previously blogged in a sharing space of peers who offered both social and academic support. However, this blogging experience was less interactive and social, so he shifted expectations, and adjusted his purposes to using the blog as a journal or notebook, which was open to peers, but contained ideas of interests and importance to him. Like the autonomous blogger, he did not rely on his audience for motivation, and blogged throughout the whole course. This was the one learner who had received comments on most of his blog posts, largely from other learners he had met earlier from outside of the course who were following his posts. These interactions were largely casual in nature. It is interesting to note that this edublogger adjusted the strategies to suit the conditions, and was successfully blogging regardless of the context, and could shift from a social environment, and then shift easily between a structured activity to an unstructured one, independently building one’s own sharing community.
One learner mentioned the motivating role her blog played in keeping her on track with her studies. Though this learner also sought to engage with a larger audience and interact with peers, she was unable to do so. Her blog was “a way of talking to herself”. In addition, she used the blog to relate personal life events, particularly her challenges and concerns. She blogged throughout the entire course. Here is another learner who was able to transform the conditions to suit her own needs, and re-purpose the blog to her own requirements. Though disappointed by the lack of audience and social interaction, she created an audience of one, constructing a virtual mirror to motivate her, and to express personal thoughts. The blog was used for therapeutic reasons, and she had received supportive comments from other learners.
I think the list of questions are useful as part of an ongoing assessment tool used in stages, rather than as a planning tool for student bloggers new to blogging in an educational context. Although I agree that the series of questions on audience and comments are critical, community and presentation style are less important. My view is that different edublogging contexts hold different answers to these questions, and it is important to provide learners a comprehensive training in all edublog learning contexts.
Providing well-designed activities that require learners to participate in a number of ways, and offering support for learners uncomfortable with shifting between the boundaries, or thresholds, that separate the different types of edublogs, requires a series of assessment tools.