Stephen Downe’s ‘Educational Blogging’ review explores the motivational and social affordances of blogging in an educational context. The benefits he suggests are; ease of use (for both teacher and pupils), the incentive to write and be heard by an audience that extends beyond the walls of the education institution and the opportunity for more reflective,deeper learning prompted by feedback from readers. In contrast, he also argues that schools can be intransigent in their views about the use of blogging, referring to pupil disengagement and prescriptive curriculum as setbacks to widespread usage among schools.
I share the view that blogging is a wonderful social practice that can inspire pupils to think in new ways and experiment with their writing. However, I am not inclined to believe that blogging holds the key to transforming education (Downe alludes to this at the end of the review). Young people are not a homogeneous group; not all will be excited by the prospect of putting their ideas ‘out there’ for everyone to see; in fact for some the sheer concept may bring about feelings of anxiousness. This may seem a bit extreme, but in a learning space where ‘students post the results of their work’ for students and others to comment on, subsequently highlighting ‘weaknesses and talents,’ I think it’s quite realistic. It is therefore logical to assume that a possible reason for why some students lack the enthusiasm to post is due to social comparison, or more specifically the results of their ‘frame of reference’ (Liem et al, 2012). Students who possess low academic self-concepts may see posts written by their peers who they perceive as more articulately able and lose the motivation to write, as their own ideas may not seem adequate. I am aware that social comparison happens offline in classrooms too but I would imagine blogging increases the amount of times students evaluate their work against others’.
Of course, this problem is inevitable and might only be dealt with in the way teachers intervene. This brings me to Anne Bartlett Bragg’s article; ‘Blogging to Learn’ which conceptualizes blogging as a ‘5-stage process’ and (out of the two articles discussed here) is an account of blogging I have an affinity for most. I think these steps portray her (the writer) as very aware of the different mind frames people may approach the act of blogging with. The temporal aspect of each stage is not mentioned, however it is easy to interpret from the details of the stages that she sees blogging as a gradual process. She is sensitive and shows empathy towards the needs of the learners by allowing them to document their emotions and by giving them the freedom to make their blog open or closed to other members of the group. Where as Downe assumed that making blogs interest led would enhance student motivation to write, Bragg found that as soon as learners were given autonomy and the responsibility to choose what they wanted to write about, for some it extinguished enthusiasm to proceed. Perhaps this means that self-directed learning should be introduced at an earlier stage of the blogging experience?
I have realised that conditions for blogging in schools are optimal when teachers adopt the right attitude. It is not just about having the right software to facilitate publishing online; the tactics teachers use to instruct are just as important. Students need to be instilled with the confidence to record their thoughts and feelings openly, but the learning atmosphere is key to achieving this.
Liem, G., Marsh, H., Martin, A., Mclnerney, D., and Yeung, A. (2012) The Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect and a National Policy of Within-School Ability Streaming: Alternative Frames of Reference. American Educational Research Journal, 50 (2) pp 326-370.