EXPLORATORY STUDIES ABOUT THE USE OF WEBLOGS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Francesc Balagué
Universitat de Barcelona info@blocdeblocs.net

Abstract
These are changing times in higher education. The use of ICTs and Higher Education System in European Converge will imply changes in the way students learn and also the way professors teach. The new professor’s role will demand an active participation and the use of more resources and new strategies to attend to the emerging needs. They will also need a lot of support to succeed in this process. Prior studies have shown the lack of support in the resources’ area for professors. Institutions will have to take a more active role giving facilities to them, so it will be very important to work in the direction of setting up new resources database and facilitating professors’ access to these resources. To fully achieve the integration of technology, efficient training is needed. Professors have to know how to put these new resources to good use, what constitutes good pedagogical applications of ICTs, etc. Training must respond to the real necessities of professors, be flexible and well promoted. To better understand the current usage of resources in higher education, we reviewed numerous sources, created by other professors or by university’s excellence centres. In our research we have decided to focus in the use of weblogs. We want to analyse this tool, which was not initially designed for use in educational environments, and explore its potential for higher education. As a collaborative learning tool, it lets student interact with other students or with professors, so it offers many possibilities. For example, PhD students can use it as a bibliography and quotes manager or as a personal research diary, professors can use weblogs to give complementary information and foster online discussion outside the class, and degree students, can use weblogs to write reflections about their own learning process and share them with others.

Keywords
Higher education, technological resources, university teaching, weblogs

1. INTRODUCTION
The use of ICTs and the convergence process to the European Higher Education System will imply changes in the way students learn and also the way professors teach. The new professor’s role will demand an active participation and the use of more resources and new strategies to attend to the emerging needs. They will also need a lot of support to succeed in this process. Prior studies have shown the lack of support in the resources’ area for professors. Institutions will have to take a role giving facilities to them, so it will be very important to work in the direction of setting up new resources database and facilitating professors’ access to these resources.

To fully achieve the integration of technology training is needed. Professors have to know how to put these new resources to good use, what constitutes good pedagogical applications of ICTs, etc. Training must respond to the real necessities of professors, be flexible and well promoted. To better understand the current usage in higher education, we reviewed numerous sources, created by other professors or by university’s excellence centres. In our research we have decided to focus in the use of weblogs. We want to analyse this tool, which was not initially designed for use in educational environments, and explore its potential for higher education. As a collaborative learning tool, it lets student interact with other students or with professors, so it offers many possibilities. For example, PhD students can use it as a bibliography and quotes manager or as a personal research diary, professors can use weblogs to give complementary information and foster online discussion outside the class, and degree students, can use weblogs to write reflections about their own learning process and share them with others.

2. TECHNOLOGICAL RESOURCES IN HIGHER EDUCATION TEACHING The convergence process to European Higher Educational System has many implications at many levels. The main one is the change in the teaching and learning model. Students will be at the centre of that process, and professors will have to use new strategies and new resources to adapt to this new situation. It has an impact because it implies a change in the traditional understanding of the teaching and learning process. Benedito (in Goñi [1]) summarizes the way professors will have to teach: - Will get a new role as the organizer of the learning process. - Will have to decide the students' workload - Will be responsible for defining the common knowledge focus on order to configure the curriculum at an interdisciplinary level. - Will need to promote tutorial activities - Will need to set up assessment systems to evaluate students' progress in their learning process. - Will need to use, elaborate and share materials, resources, etc. - Will need to get students' involved and committed, both at individual and group level, in the development of their learning process. All these changes will require a global reorganization of the university system: more institutional support to professors (Gibbs & Coffey [2]; Berg & Hofman[3]), training adapted to their necessities (Gros & Romañá [4]; Zabalza [5]), and more access to resources and technological support. We must keep in mind that, as Ramsden [6] notes, the use of resources and new strategies does not imply an improvement in teaching quality. Reflection about the teaching approach is needed. Trigwell & Prosser [7] link the professors' approach with the quality of teaching and the process of student’s learning. The European convergence process will imply a new role for the professors. They will have to use new strategies, new materials and more resources. To guarantee the success of the process, institutions will have to offer all kind of resources and adapted training. In our previous still unpublished research, professors told us of their difficulties in knowing what training programs were available but, also, trainers told us that most of the professors came to the training programs just looking to increase the number of certificates in their vita. There appears to be a real break between the training offered and the professors’ interests and needs. As an example of good practices in the use of technological resources in higher education, we want to mention Digit@le Did@ctiek [8], a project carried out in Holland dedicated to offer resources to professors who want to introduce ICTs in their teaching. The main objective of this project is to promote ICTs use in higher education, and it does it through:

-

Offering support to university teaching using ICTs Bringing to professors the didactic application of ICTs. Creating and keeping a professors net, to share their knowledge and experiences using these resources.

This is only one example but we can find many others, from centres for learning and teaching excellence to online discussion communities on the use of Moodle, wikis, etc. where professors are sharing and reflecting on how to improve their teaching using these technologies. Currently, we want to focus on a specific tool, weblogs, which we will develop in the next point.

3. USE OF WEBLOGS IN EDUCATION 3.1 Introduction to weblogs
The definition of weblog started being a kind of web page that collected links, selected by the author, to other sites, but it has evolved into something more complex. In a weblog, the author or authors can create new contents, debate news or trendy topics, etc. Weblogs can deal with very different subjects, some refer to more general fields and others deal with very specific issues. One of the basic aspects of weblogs is their structure, with reversed chronological order. They used to be updated frequently, and visitors could see the newest post at the top of the page. Content is arranged by categories and can also be managed through the calendar or the search engine. It is important to emphasize the fact that usually weblogs allow the posting of comments in each post. This is the key to creating interaction and facilitate building collaboratively knowledge and reflecting on different topics. Setting up a weblog has become easier, and new free weblogs hosting and plug-ins services are appearing constantly. Although they where not specifically created to use as an academic resource, all of these characteristics lead us to consider the use of weblogs in higher education as a tool that can help us improve our teaching and develop a better learning environment.

3.2 Uses in higher education
If we refer to the European Higher Education Area, where students workload count not only the time spent attending classes, but also the time that students spend working together, working at home, etc. Weblogs can be used by professors to follow students learning process. One possibility is the use of weblog as a learning journal, where students reflect about what they are learning, what they are reading, what they are working on with colleagues, etc. Students can share this space and learn from each other, and this tool lets professors know how they are doing, what is the learning rhythm of the class, etc. To motivate students to have a blog, it is not recommended that it be mandatory, or at least, not to mandate a blog for the purpose of using a blog. We can invite students to present their activities in theirs blogs, so that their work can be shared, evaluated (by professors or by mates), etc. The important thing is to use the blog as a tool. Using blogs has to be beneficial for students and we have to show them these benefits. If we do not do this, some students will reject using it (it will require more time, it will be difficult to set up and administrate, etc.). It is strongly recommended that professors also have their own weblogs. They can give complementary information; promote new discussions, debates and reflections. And help students in the intrinsic use of the blog.

3.3 Using weblogs with PhD students
With PhD students, weblogs can be a very useful tool that, if learned during the first year of the doctorate program, will be profitable for the upcoming years. In the first year, during the research training classes, weblogs can be used as a personal space where students post their activities, sharing them and discussing them with classmates. They can also be used as a place to post notes, citation and references about what they are reading. Taking advantage of the calendar organizing tool will allow students, in the future, to review what their thoughts were months or years before, and to find out who said what, in which book they read that, etc. Tagging posts by categories will help them organize information by author, books, topics, activities, etc. Focusing specifically on the use of weblogs as a researcher journal’s tool, we are carrying on a research where PhD students are using weblogs to write their own research process, their thoughts about their readings, and also to make notes and reflections, Weblog can be a good bibliography manager, allowing them to write references and quotes about what they are reading, and make later reviews easy. Information will be easily shared with other researchers, promoting the exchange of information and learning from each other. This tool also will be useful for tutors, because it is easy to follow students' process, and give them feedback and advice. Tutors or research directors can follow the research line, redirect it if necessary, introduce new items to think about, reopen new lines, etc. To support professors to use blogs in their university courses, we set up a weblog [9] where we are establishing links in the educational blogosphere, recommending papers and bibliography about the use of weblogs in education, and promoting professors’ feedback to show their interests and worries about the use of this tool. We try to connect professors who are using this tool, to share their experiences with the other ones that want to start using it. Organizing by categories, we deal with different topics, as legal and privacy, best practices, writing, blogging, educational practice, etc.

4. EXPLORATORY STUDIES
The use of weblogs in Higher Education is a recently created field, which implies a lack of research about its use. During our analysis of the state of the question we found some references about it for example Will Richardson since July, 2002 [10]. Our investigation is currently in its firsts steps. We have not yet collected data, but we are conducting 4 exploratory studies in different situations (explained below). Our main objective is to get information about the use of weblogs in higher education in order to set up a complete research project next year.

Table 1. Exploratory studies’ description Study 1 Degree Educational Multimedia Doctorate Program Course of instructional Study 2 Social Education (University of Barcelona) Course of Social abilities. By groups, Study 3 Social Education (Pere Tarrés University) Students in their Student Teaching Study 4 Social Education (Pere Tarrés University) Distance education course.

Context

design. Students must do two mandatory tasks and present it to the others. Learning Environment Use of weblog Face to face

students will develop each ability.

must carry on the practice journal.

The topic is Life Long Learning.

Face to face (supported with VLE) Collaborative blog, where each group will explain the ability and other students will comment and express their opinions, with the guidance and supervision of the professor. [12]

Blended (face to face + online tutoring with VLE) Individual and personal blog that collects reflections and notes about the Student teaching. Professor will post comments and will interact with students as a tutoring process. [13]

e-learning (using an VLE) Blog used by professor to deal with the reflective side of the subject, in combination with an online discussion board for the theoretical side. [14]

1. To share with other students their activities and comment on other’s. 2. To set up a blog as a bibliography manager and as a research diary.

Example

[11]

At the end of this year we will ask students and professors about their impressions and experiences using weblogs (benefits, new possibilities, impact on their learning, etc.). To control for the influence of digital literacy on these results, the first day all the students answered a poll about the knowledge of technologies, their abilities, etc.

5. CONCLUSIONS
The convergence process to the European Higher Educational Area has to be taken as an opportunity to reflect about the changing process and what role technologies will have in the new teaching and learning process model. This change will also imply a new role for professors, for students, and will require an adequate training process to the new demands. Although there are a lot of different technologies suitable for use in higher education classes, we specifically propose the use of weblog as one more, not the one. Our aim is to explore the benefits of this tool as a learning organizing tool, as a bibliography manager, as a collaborative knowledge building place, etc. We strongly recommend its use in a contextualised situation, with a previous reflection process about its use (what we want to get by using it, how will it improve students learning, etc.). And we also recommend the use of these tools in combination with others, more appropriate for other specific tasks as debates (discussions forums) or collaborative work (wikis), for example.

References
[1] Goñi, J. M. (2005). El espacio europeo de educación superior, un reto para la universidad. Barcelona: Octaedro / ICE-UB. [2] Gibbs, G., & Coffey, M. (2004). The Impact of Training of University Teachers on their Teaching Skills, their Approach to Teaching and the Approach to Learning of their Students. Active Learning in Higher Education, vol. 5(No. 1), 87-100. [3] Berg, M., & Hofman, W. (2005). Student Success in University Education: A Multi-measurement Study of the Impact of Student and Faculty Factors on Study Progress. Higher Education, 50(3), 413446.

[4] Gros, B., & Romañá, T. (2004). Ser Profesor. Palabras sobre la docencia Universitaria. Barcelona: Octaedro - ICE UB. [5] Zabalza, M. (2002). La enseñanza universitaria. El escenario y sus protagonistas. Madrid: Narcea. [6] Ramsden, P. (2005). Learning to teach in higher education (2n edition ed.). London: RoutledgeFalmer. [7] Trigwell, K., & Prosser, M. (2004). Development and use of the approaches to teaching inventory. Educational Psychology Review, 16(4), 409-424. [8] Digit@le Did@ctiek <http://www.digitaledidactiek.nl/> [Access on February 2nd, 2007] [9] Richardson, W. Weblog <http://weblogg-ed.com/> [Access on February 2nd, 2007] [10] Weblog to support professors <http://www.blocdeblocs.net> [Access on February 2nd, 2007] [11] Weblog as a PhD student’s journal <http://quotes.internetl.net/> [Access on February 2nd, 2007] [12] Weblog as a course online space <http://magmoreno.blogspot.com/> [Access on February 2nd, 2007] [13] Weblog as a practices journal <http://diariodepracticasescolares.blogspot.com/> [Access on February 2nd, 2007] [14] Professor’s weblog < http://novastecnoloxias.blogia.com/> [Access on February 2nd, 2007]

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