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BLOGGING IN TERTIARY EDUCATION
dr. Viktorija Sul!i!
University of Primorska Faculty of management Koper Cankarjeva 5, SI-6140 Koper, Slovenia
ABSTRACT Because blogging is spreading around the world we implemented it in a renewed e-business postgraduate course. In the paper, a short blog history is presented and its usage in education. At our faculty, blogging was implemented as a study activity to supports a postgraduate student research work. According to the survey results blogging helps students to become more familiar with blogging, which represent well known Web 2.0 technologies, to help them acquire materials for their research assignments and to extend their knowledge. Blogging also helps them to work online more efficiently. KEYWORDS blogging, higher education, blended learning, online study
Web 2.0 has attracted a lot of attention in the last three year (Nass and Levitt 2007, 4). The term arouse as the result of a brainstorming session between O’Reilly and MediaLive International in 2004 (O’Reilly, 2005). According to the Whatis.com (2007) Web 2.0 is a term for advanced Internet technology and applications including blogs, wikis, RSS and social bookmarking. Greater collaboration among Internet users, content providers and enterprises is exposed as the most significant difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 (Whatis.com 2007), even if the term Web 1.0 had not been used before the term Web 2.0 appeared. For Nass and Levitt (2007, 4) the common characteristic of Web 2.0 technologies/concepts is its user centre nature. Users can easily create the content, publish it on the Internet and share it with other users. Web 2.0 represents a different usage of Web, which is more collaborative and more interactive. New services and publishing methods required that new content have been developed. Blogging, for example, is a natural evolution of personal web pages on which different almost static information were presented. Creating web pages before blogs appeared was much more time consuming than using, for example, a Google service blogger.com. And not only this – almost everybody can post comment on the blogs if authors permit it. This Web 2.0 advantage is also a source for critics that opened discussions about credibility, ethics and legality of the web content. Web 2.0 defenders point out that these problems have existed before and that end users alone will state the final judgment (Whatis.com 2007). The Web 2.0 technologies are adopted by businesses as well. Blogs and wikis are useful to share unstructured information (Whatis.com 2007) and to support collaborative work in working environments. Structural information can be easily access by RSS (Really Simple Syndication for RSS 2.0; more about RSS on SearchWinDevelopment.com) that allows users to define their own information collection. Becoming familiar with modern technologies, their capability and their ways of using has been a demand for business school students and graduates. This is the reason why business informatics or e-business courses should be constantly updated. In our efforts to renew the courses in the academic year 2006/2007 we implemented Web 2.0 technologies. New technologies were involved not only as a course topic or as a source of information, but as a tool, which should be used in order to accomplish student activities. Especially blogs and wikis are becoming very useful to use in the learning process. Blogs are a useful tool to collect different resources, to collaborate and to develop new knowledge. Postgraduate study is more or less research oriented. Students study different classical or web accessible resources, collect primary or secondary accessible data, compile theories and connect them to their own research experience. Extended research work, irrespective if how it is done, individually or in a group, have to be supported by usable tools. We thought that a blog as a Web 2.0
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technology could fulfill this role efficiently. In the paper bellow, the research results gathered in the case of implementing blogging as a student activity at postgraduate study level are presented. We proposed that: H1: blogging offers students the possibility to become more familiar with the Web 2.0 technology. H2: blogging helps students extend their knowledge. H3: blogging supports student research work and should also be used by the next student generation. Blog implementation was carefully followed by weekly surveys and by a final questionnaire performed at the end of the course. Data collected by e-questionnaires were analyzed using SPSS program. The results are presented in the paper below in figures and tables.
2. THE BLOGS 2.1 Blog’s 10 Years or More?
Blog, initially known as a WebLog (web log or capitalized Web log are also common terms), is an online journal or newsletter that is accessible on the Internet (Columbia Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, McCullagh 2007a). A blog consists of several entries arranged in reverse chronological order. (Whatis.com). Entries can be made by a site owner – the blog author e. g. a blogger, who uses a blog as a media to record individual ideas, activities, thoughts, or beliefs. In this case a blog is a sort of a diary. A group can also maintain a blog, where group members talk about the same topic. Some blog discussions can also be moderated. A blog may combines text, images, videos and links to other blogs or web pages. Many blogs permit visitors to leave comments. Even though a blog is declared as a Web 2.0 tool (O’Reilly 2005) it was known and used before the term Web 2.0 has been introduced. There are many discussions about when the first blog was born. Some Internet experts named Dave Winer as the beginner, even though he did not use the term WebLog. Winer is a pioneer of Web syndication techniques (McCullagh 2007a). The UserLand as the first news aggregator was lately developed into RSS (Winer 2002). Barger and Joyce, who created RobotWisdom.com, in December 1997 first used the term WebLog. Their web page, which still exists (http://www.robotwisdom.com/), is a collection of personally interesting links to articles about politics, culture, books and technology (ibidem). In 1999, the term WebLog was abbreviated and de-capitalized to “blog” by Merholz on Peterme.com (ibidem). In the same year the term blog first appeared in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Pyra Labs established the most known blog web site blogger.com in this year, too (ibidem, Blogger). In 2001, first nominations for the so-called The Bloggies were announced (http://2001.bloggies.com/). The blogger.com had 1.1 million registered users in 2003 and became a Google property (Gillmor 2003). In 2003, the first official version of WordPress, the open source blogging software was announced. In 2004, Steve Garfield launched the first video blog (http://stevegarfield.com/Site/Welcome.html). In Wikipedia, the term vlog is used for video blog, but it has the term has not been entered in Merriam-Webster dictionary so far. Winer is important for the blogging blog history, not only as one of the founders of RSS, which is an essential blogging tool, but also as the author of the Weblogs.com which was acquired by VeriSign in 2005 (Weblogs.com). Weblogs.com is a ping server that automatically notifies a subscriber when new content is posted to a blog (ibidem). Even though the blog as we know it today is ten years old, its roots came from the early 70s, the time of bulletin boards, when the “.plan” file techniques were used. At that time Internet users included details of their personal life, work etc. in a “.plan” file which was a publicly visible text file (McCullagh 2007a, 2007b). This file could be attached to individual accounts on a Unix system. A reverse-chronological order was used to display content; similarly as in blogs used nowadays (ibidem). The so-called “.plan” files were read through “finger” command that dates to pre-Internet ARPAnet era and was developed by Les Earnest (ibidem). The basic differences between present blogs and “.plan” files is in comments that visitors can submit. In “.plan” file no comment was allowed (McCullagh 2007b). Classical “.plan” files were similar to present personal blogs. But blogs can be used for different purposes and with different reasons. In 2004, Forbes.com declared the best blogs, which were classified in the following blog categories: politics, travel,
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tech, economics, medical, photo, movie, sports, media, war and celebrity. The presentation, quality, relevance and reputation were the criteria on the basis of which blogs were evaluated (Forbes.com 2004).
2.2 Blog in Education
Blogs may be used in different ways in education. Kennedy (2003) presents its usage as an interactive and immediate publishing tool. No HTML knowledge is required to publish a blog so students can easily use blogs as well. As Kennedy reports in her article (2003) blogging was spread at different educational levels and in different study fields. Selingo (2004) reports about using blogs in the elementary, in the second-grade classes and by high school students. Blogs cover the elements of portfolio-driven courses, where student work is collected, edited and assessed (Kennedy 2003). Blogs offer the challenge of different assessments ways – from peer-to-peer assessments to teacher assessments. Her experience with using blogging is connected to English writing, where different elements of writing can be assessed (ibidem). According to Gill (2005) blogs can be used at different levels of education and for different purposes – to promote media literacy, to manage course information, to participate in class discussions, to facilitate usercentred learning, etc. The blogging activity in our course was implement as a tool, which will help postgraduate business students to collect sources for their research work and as a media of reflection about course/research topics.
3. BLOGGING IN A POSTGRADUATE COURSE 3.1 Student Characteristics and Blogging
E-learning blend with face-to-face meetings in real classrooms (blended learning) was firstly used at our Faculty in 2003/2004. So far school’s e-learning strategies had not forced teachers to move from a real classroom to an electronic classroom (e-classroom). Teachers made decisions about using e-classrooms to support their teaching or not, and to what extent – will the e-classroom be used only as a media for study materials delivery or to support the whole study process. An open source course management system Moodle (www.moodle.org) has been used at our Faculty from the beginning. The postgraduate course Management of e-business is an elective course. From the very beginning the course is supported by an e-classroom. During the previous academic year, after the course had been delivered twice, we started thinking about renewing it. The course deals with the topics of the contemporary technology usage and with the management perspective of its usage. Implementation of Web 2.0 technologies as a course topic, as a research topic and as a tool that supports student work was an anticipated decision when course for the academic year 2006/2007 were planned. The course was carried out in a blended learning manner. Two face-to-face meetings are usually organized for our e-business courses – one at the beginning of the course and the second, at the end of the course. In between the students worked online and were supported by a tutor. Because of the large number of students (76 students elected the course) two tutors were in charge for this course. Students attending the specialist study program and students in the master and doctoral study program could elect the course. The study in the first two years in the doctoral study program is performed in the same way as the study in the master study program, therefore students in both programs are working under the same study conditions. Thus, these students are treated in our research as the same student group – as a group of the master/doctoral study. Despite the fact that students do not particularly like working in groups, as this kind of work requires from them to be adaptive and to coordinate their activities, the students enrolled in the specialist study program (60 students) were divided in small groups. Not only is the group work more economical, it is also more suitable for real situations in which working in small or a large group is a frequently used working method. Because of that, students need to acquire competences for successful group work. The master/doctoral study program is more research oriented than the specialist study program. During their study students have to present at least one paper to the conference audience or publish a paper in a professional magazine. Therefore, we offered them the possibility to make a research assignment during the course and, if they wished to develop it in a paper or even in the master thesis. There were only 16 master/doctoral students
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enrolled in the course, so individual work was easily accepted. Much easier than it would be in the larger group of the specialist study program. Blogging was introduced in the course to support the student research work, which was presented in the research assignment. The final course grade was determined by the blog assignments (30 %), the research assignment grade (64 %) and student participation in the course evaluation process (6 %). With fulfilling different questionnaires offered to the students through the web-learning environment the students participated in the course evaluation. Students were writing their blogs on a weekly basis – students of the special study program wrote them in groups and master/doctoral students individually. At the beginning of the course an e-business topic that would be researched in the final research paper had been selected by a student or by a group. Students had to read at least one (group two) paper connected to the selected e-business topic weekly and were obliged to reflect on it in their blogs. Students read blogs of other groups weekly – each student of the specialist study program read blog publications of the other group and then wrote a report about group activities. Master/doctoral students read blogs of their colleagues at the master/doctoral study, chose one of them and wrote a comment about it. Students of both groups weekly reported about progress in their research. Groups have to describe how the work dynamics is going on. Each week tutors assessed the blogs. Moodle, which is used to support blended learning at our Faculty, offers blog features, but the blog interface is slightly rigid and not particularly user-friendly. Therefore we decided to use a Google application blogger.com, which offers a user-friendly interface, can be easily modified and personalized. Afterwards, a blog can be open only to selected students (to a group and both tutors).
3.2 Data Analyzes
Before the course enrollment, 32.4 % of students did not know what a blog is. The same portion of students knew what a blog is and after the course had ended they had the same opinion with regard to the blog. 35.1 % of the students with their own blog change their opinion about blogs. Different resources were used when writing blogs – a half of them (48.6 %) were in a foreign language. It was expected that more foreign language resources would be used, because few resources in the e-business field were available in the local language. Because blogging, as a student activity, was introduced in the course for the first time, students were asked about blog usefulness. Students could answer one or more questions. Through blogging students discovered a lot of interesting web sources (82.4 % respondents) and acquired additional knowledge from the research paper field (70.3 %). 60.8 % of respondents acquired knowledge from the topics that were investigated by their fellow students as well. For more than a half (54.1 %) blogging supported them to prepare a research assignment and to almost one third of respondents (31.1 %) a blog helped them to improve writing skills. Student opinion about blogging is presented in the Figure 1.
By reading other blogs help me to know my fellow students better. I acquired additional knowledge in the field of other research assignments. I acquired additional knowledge in my research field. Blogging helped me find a lot of interesting web pages and other sources. Blogging helped me prepare the research paper. Writing a blog improve my writing skills. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
Figure 1. Impact of blogging
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Some statistically significant differences were found between the two groups of students – blogging helped more the master/doctoral students to accomplish a research than it helped the students in the specialist study program. The same differences were found in the opinion about acquiring additional knowledge in their research field and in the research field of their fellow students. The master/doctoral students found more interesting web pages and other useful sources that their fellow students in the specialist study program. The reason for these differences probably lies in the way blogging was carried out. The master/doctoral students maintained blogs individually, while in the specialist study program blogs were maintained in groups. After the conclusion of the course, blogging did not attract only one fifth of the students (20 %), thus they are not willing to maintain their blogs in the future. On the other hand, for 44 % of students the blogging attracted them so much that they will try to maintain their blogs in the future, despite the fact that this is not obligatory. 16 % of surveyed students were thinking to start their own blog after the course had ended. Google’s blogger.com offers the possibility to design a blog according to the user preferences. Students were asked about their satisfaction with the blog design. They assessed their satisfaction on a 5-degree scale (5=very satisfied, 1=not satisfied) with an average grade 4.0. In the Table 1, student opinion about the blog appropriateness as a course activity is presented.
Table 1. The blog appropriateness The blog appropriateness as a course activity Next year students should have the opportunity to maintain a blog. Next year students may have the opportunity to maintain the blog, but the requirements need to be change (a number of posts or topics). The blog should replace some of other study activities (e. g. maintaining a blog instead of preparing a research assignment). Each student should have a possibility to select another activity instead of blogging (e. g. writing a research assignment). Blogging is not an adequate activity for this course. Blogging is too demanding. fk 19 20 20 11 4 0 fk% 25.7 27.0 27.0 14.9 5.4 0.0
Blogging as a study activity was positively accepted by a half (52.7 %) of the students enrolled in the course. For 27.0 % of students blogs can replace other study activities like, for instance, a research assignment. This means that writing a research assignment is more difficult for them than maintaining a blog. No more than 5.4 % of students believed that blogging is not an adequate activity for the postgraduate course. During the course the students complained a lot about blog requirements – each week at least three posts should have been posted to individually maintained blogs, but in the end no students believed that blogging is too demanding. With regard to this question only one item could be selected. At the end of the questionnaires about student blogging experiences two open questions were asked – the students have to write what they liked or disliked about blogging. The most frequently exposed positive part of blogging was the possibility to comment on posts. Students liked to read the comments they have received from their fellow students. Students liked the idea of expressing their thought and reflecting on them freely as well. The possibility to design a blog according to their needs and to express their thoughts them was also well accepted. There were more positive than negative features exposed. Students did not like if their fellow students did not comment on their blogs. Students were not full of enthusiasm about the weekly demanded number of posts and their frequency. Especially because each student had to post an evaluation of the fellow student’s work and if their work had not been done in due time, they could not have written the weekly blog evaluation in time as well. The unsynchronized group work was the source of many complaints during the course. We tested if there were any correlations between the research variables on the blog usage evaluation. The variables that express positive blog impact (Figure 1) were transformed in a new variable and we found out that more skilled students in word processor usage noticed a less positive blog impact (-0.24). The correlation was statistically significant. Students who were more satisfied with their blog design used the web better (0.28), were more motivated for their study (0.24) and they believed that they had better study skills than their fellow students (0.33). These students are more creative (0.25) and have better leadership skills (0.36). In our research, attitude to teaching and learning methods were also investigated, so that we could get a picture about students who were more satisfied with the final blog design and its content. These students have no problem with working in
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larger groups (0.26) and preparing group assignments (0.25), with reading paper-based study materials (0.23) and using interactive study materials (0.28). The blog design and content satisfaction was in a statistic correlation with oral presentations (0.24), role playing (0.24), a case study (0.24) and using research approach as study methods (0.29). As we can see students who are more flexible are also more satisfied with the final blog design and content. We tested correlated variables with a regression analysis (Stepwise regression method). The results are presented in Table 2.
Table 2. Variables with impact on blog design and content satisfaction – regression analysis Included variables B T P Leadership skills 0.42 2.856 0.01 Reading paper-based study materials 0.31 2.459 0.02 Working in a large group 0.24 2.319 0.02 F = 7.019; P = 0.00; Adjusted R2 = 0.207 Excluded variables: Web usage skills, Study motivation, Study skills, Creative skills, Interactive materials acceptance, Group assignments, Presentations, Role-playing, Case study, Research assignment
Even if the positive impacts of the three variables extracted with a Stepwise analysis are small – only 20.7 % variability of the blog design and content satisfaction was explained by 20.7 % with the variability of the variables: leadership skills, reading paper-based study materials and working in large groups. The impact is statistically significant. They influence statistically significant variables: leadership skills, reading paperbased study materials and working in large groups, so the correlation between blog design and content satisfaction and the way of study is not surprising. The students in special study program who maintained a group blog were more satisfied with the final blog design and its content.
During the previous academic year, blogging was implemented in the education process for the first time, to connect theory with practice. Taking into account that the course deals with new technology topics, the Web 2.0 principles were implement in the course. According to the surveys results, 67.5 % of students changed their opinion about blogs after their own blogging experience, thus we can confirm our first hypothesis stated at the beginning of the paper, that blogging offers students the possibility to become more familiar with the Web 2.0 technology. This hypothesis can be confirmed with the fact that 44 % of surveyed students keep maintaining blogs after they have accomplished the course, even though this was not obligatory any more, and an additional 16 % of students think of starting their own blog. It is interesting that after we encouraged students to work online they started searching for different possibilities to work online efficiently. They started to use GoogleDocs as a tool to write group assignments and Skype for a synchronic way of communication. Even if they were skeptical about online group work at the beginning of the course, some groups really discovered many possibilities that ICT offers offer to them to work online as, or even more, efficiently than they can work in classical environments; especially if the students come from different locations or study on a part-time basis. Blogging helps students to extend their knowledge as we stated in the second hypothesis presented in the first section of our paper. This hypothesis could be confirmed by 70.3 % of surveyed students who believed that blogging helped them to acquire knowledge in their research field. More than a half of surveyed students (60.8 %) also acquired knowledge from their fellow student’s research fields. Blogging usefulness was confirmed by 79.7 % of students who recommended blogging for the next student generations because of its appropriateness for the postgraduate study. Only 5.4 % of students did not like blogging as a study activity. Implementing blogging at a postgraduate course was a good decision that should also be developed for the next generation of students. Most importantly, it should be decided if blogging should be performed individually or in groups. Our students did not like a lot of group work even if they were aware that this skill was a desired competence on the labor market. Our first research about blogging in postgraduate study showed that students who liked group work were more satisfied with the final blog appearance. Leadership skills were important as well.
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This year we will continue to improve blog implementation in the postgraduate course and carry out the survey as well. Some modifications in the questionnaire should also be made, especially if we would like to discover some more significant correlations.
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