Blogging as a practice shows great potential for students and teachers to redefine science classrooms. When implemented thoughtfully, blogs can empower students and expand the classroom through interactions with outside learning communities. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards call for 21st century science students to be creative communicators and global collaborators, and blogging may be a practice that helps students become both.
The metacognitive nature of this post is not lost on me. I am, after all, blogging about blogging. In fact, my own use of this blogging portfolio (or bPortfolio) spurred me to research blogs in middle school science classrooms. As I learn about learning in a school of education, I have found these blog posts to be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the entire experience.
Our instructors provide topics and facilitate conversations with colleagues. Then, we are sent off on our own to develop a question we are interested in learning about. Our research and further discussion with colleagues helps to refine our question and polish our purpose as we venture forth to post a blog about what we have discovered. Finally we read each other’s blogs and share final thoughts.
Throughout this process, I have felt supported, motivated and free. The built-in feedback processes provide excellent support from instructors and colleagues, so even when I am working independently, I am guided by the support of my instructors and peers. The public nature of blog posts allow a broader audience to access my work, which motivates me to do my best. Within this structure, I have been free to explore my own values, seek answers to the questions I care about most and to find my voice through blog writing.
The ISTE standards for creative communicators calls students to “communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations” (ISTE Standards for Students, 6c). Student bloggers can link and embed rich online content in their work to engage their readers with a variety of content. Luehmann & Frink (2009) argue that “extending scientific understanding through engagement with content in multimodal format, across geography and time” is one of the learning affordances for science classroom blogs (p. 277). Please see their full table below of learning affordances for blogs in science classrooms:
Luehmann and Frink’s (2009) results of aligning learning affordances of blogging with reform-based science education goals (p. 277, Table 1).
The ISTE standards for global collaborators calls for students to “use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints” (ISTE Standards for Students, 7c). Blogs can connect students to each other, and virtually break open the walls of the classroom when students engage their own communities in scientific exploration, dialogue and argumentation, redefining the traditional classroom writing task. In redefinition, as described by Puenterdura’s (2006) SAMR model, “technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.”
SAMR infographic by Lefflerd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47961924
It is true that blogging is a tool that offers many learning affordances and may even redefine writing tasks for students, but neither would be possible without thoughtful implementation in the classroom. Kolb (2017) reminds us that “technology integration is more complex than simply using a technology tool; pedagogical and instructional strategies around the tool are essential for successful learning outcomes (p. 10). Going further, Cope et al. (2005) argues:
“The thing about all these tecnologyies is that any device which gives human beings another capacity to communicate increases their capacity to do good things and to do bad and silly things. Technology doesn’t drive it. It just opens new possibilities, new depths and new shallowness… Like all technology, it just opens up human capacity to do things better and to do things worse” (p. 203, as cited in Luehmann & Frink, 2009).
What may seem like a grim view of the use of technology is, in fact, supported by research. Petko, Egger & Graber (2014) tested multiple hypotheses around the efficacy of blogging versus a traditional paper and pencil writing assignment and on the use of prompts (e.g., “What key points in today’s lesson did you understand? What key points haven’t you understood yet? Reasons?”) versus no prompts, and found that “the choice of writing medium – weblog versus paper and pencil – had no effect on learning gains as long as writing was supported by prompts,” and, without prompts, students writing on paper performed better than those who wrote online (p. 13). One important limitation of their study was that students did not mutually comment on each other’s blog entries, which is an important social aspect of the blogging experience.
Luehmann and Frink (2009) claim that, while the instructional design of the blog is important, we must also consider practices and culture of the classroom. There needs to be a shift, according to Luehmann and Frink, toward more student agency “through, in part, shared access to learning goals and objectives” (p. 281). Luehmann and Frink recognize the challenge facing teachers: “it is likely challenging to create new activity structures that both upset this positioning, placing students as key contributors to science knowledge construction, and to do so in ways that capitalize on the social networking afforded by blogs” (p. 284).
Lankshear and Knobel (2006) see this as a shift from “Mindset 1 (in which authority and expertise are centralized in the person of the teacher) to Mindset 2 (a distributed and collective authority in which there are ‘hybrid experts’)” (as cited in Luehmann & Frink, p. 289). By using guiding questions and teaching students to fact check each other’s work, teachers can build a culture where students co-construct knowledge and meaning.
To foster inquiry practices with science students in the middle grades, Grant, Lapp, Fisher, Johnson & Frey (2012) recommend the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) framework (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983, as cited in Grant et al., p. 46). Fisher and Frey (2008) have built on the original “I do, we do, you do” gradual release structure to build a more flexible and adaptable model including four components: 1.) purpose and modeling, 2.) guided instruction, 3.) productive group work and 4.) independent tasks
Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework (Grant et al., 2012, p. 47, Fig 1)
Grant et al. (2012) go on to argue that the components of the model can be implemented linearly or recursively among the framework’s components (p. 46). Teachers can take a similar approach with blogging. Teachers should write their own blogs and model appropriate research and writing strategies. Teachers should also provide guided instruction and allow opportunities for group work, but the components need not occur in order before reaching the final goal of independent blogging. Students will then have had sufficient scaffolded exercise to feel capable to write their blogs independently.
We have seen that blogging is a powerful tool that can empower students when implemented thoughtfully. Blogging also has the potential to connect students to communities outside of the classroom. With the a teacher-centered classroom culture or mindset, or without the proper initial support, we have seen that blogging in science classrooms may fail. With a student-centered mindset and with a gradual release of responsibility, we can offer students a chance to co-construct meaning and expand the science classroom through blogging.
Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., Lankshear, C. (2005) A contemporary project: An interview. E-Learning 2(2): 192-207
Grant, M. m., Lapp, D. l., Fisher, D. d., Johnson, K. k., & Frey, N. n. (2012). Purposeful Instruction: Mixing Up The ‘I,’ ‘We,’ and ‘You’. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(1), 45-55. doi:10.1002/JAAL.00101
Kolb, L. (2017) Learning first, technology second: The educator’s guide to designing authentic lessons. Portland, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.
Lankshear, C., Knobel, M. (2006) New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning. Open University Press, New York: NY.
Luehmann, A. a., & Frink, J. (2009). How Can Blogging Help Teachers Realize the Goals of Reform-based Science Instruction? A Study of Nine Classroom Blogs. Journal Of Science Education & Technology, 18(3), 275-290. doi:10.1007/s10956-009-9150-x
Petko, D. d., Egger, N. n., & Graber, M. m. (2014). Supporting learning with weblogs in science education: A comparison of blogging and hand-written reflective writing with and without prompts. Themes In Science & Technology Education, 7(1), 3-17.