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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 Study 2 Study 3 Study 4
Degree Educational Social Education Social Education Social Education
Multimedia (University of (Pere Tarrés (Pere Tarrés
Doctorate Barcelona) University) University)
Program
Context Course of Course of Social Students in their Distance
instructional abilities. By groups, Student Teaching education course.
design. Students students will must carry on the The topic is Life
must do two develop each practice journal. Long Learning.
mandatory tasks ability.
and present it to
the others.
Learning Face to face Face to face Blended (face to e-learning (using
Environment (supported with face + online an VLE)
VLE) tutoring with VLE)
Use of 1. To share with Collaborative blog, Individual and Blog used by
weblog other students where each group personal blog that professor to deal
their activities will explain the collects reflections with the reflective
and comment on ability and other and notes about side of the
other’s. students will the Student subject, in
comment and teaching. Professor combination with
2. To set up a
express their will post comments an online
blog as a
opinions, with the and will interact discussion board
bibliography
guidance and with students as a for the theoretical
manager and as
supervision of the tutoring process. side.
a research diary.
professor.
Example [11] [12] [13] [14]

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), 413-
446.
[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]