pensAdvocates of blogging will tell you it has all kinds of potential benefits: increased student engagement, increased student reflection, better student writing. But are these potential benefits actually realized in real examples of classroom blogs? MacBride and Luehmann use a case study of one math classroom blog to dig into this question.

Here’s the full citation for the article:

MacBride, R., & Lynn Luehmann, A. (2008). Capitalizing on emerging technologies: A case study of classroom blogging. School Science and Mathematics108(5), 173-183.

In the literature about blogging, there is plenty of advocacy literature – the type of stuff that says blogging is great. There is a lot less empirical research, where authors look at enacted classroom blogs and then use some type of analysis to determine whether or not they were successful. MacBride and Luehmann acknowledge this gap in the literature, and their study is designed to help fill it.

Reviewing the Literature

MacBride & Luehmann offer a nice review of the relevant literature about blogging. The lit review and the discussion section are both worth a read if you’re researching this topic, and I need to comb through it a bit more closely myself to see if I need to read any of the articles they cited.

They highlighted a handful of potential benefits from classroom blogging:

  1. It promotes reflection by students, and gives students easy access to older writing to reflect on.
  2. It lets students communicate and express themselves in a manner with which they are comfortable.
  3. It leads to more reading and more productive reading by students.
  4. It nurtures collaboration and relationship-building between students.
  5. It gives students an authentic audience and therefore increases the quality of student work.
  6. It encourages peer support for one another and helps students teach each other.
  7. It increases opportunities for students to receive feedback.
  8. It extends learning outside classroom walls.
  9. It allows and encourages interactions with experts and others outside the classroom.

Each of these has some evidence in the larger body of literature about blogging. MacBride and Luehmann were specifically interested the issues of reflection, forms of communication, reading, authenticity, peer support, and audience when they analyzed their case study.

The Teacher’s Blog

MacBride & Luehmann’s description of the classroom blog is useful for anyone thinking about utilizing a similar strategy in their class. They go into some level of detail about how the blog is set up, they provide examples of students’ posts, and they provide the link to the blog. Just as a random aside, I think it’s funny that they use a pseudonym for the teacher (Mr. K), but then identify the blog specifically. I know it’s the normal practice in research to ensure the anonymity of subjects, but this seems silly.

Here are a few characteristics about the blog:

  • It was a single, multiple user blog created on Blogger.
  • Although Mr. K posted things throughout, the emphasis was on having students post items. They posted far more than he did.
  • The blog incorporated a shoutbox / chatbox for students to have informal conversations about the subject.
  • One student was assigned each day to post a summary of the day’s learning.
  • Each student had to post a reflection during the course of the unit.
  • Mr. K posted a puzzle or game on a weekly basis. These were not mandatory assignments, but more like enrichment opportunities.
  • Each day’s post would include the student responsible for the next day’s post; this helped encourage student participation. You need to read to know if it’s your turn tomorrow.
  • Students received extra credit if they corrected another student’s post. Again, incentive to read carefully.

Findings / Conclusions

Ultimately, the authors thought that Mr. K’s blog was pretty successful. This was a qualitative case study, completed after the fact, so they didn’t actually measure any form of student learning. Instead, they based their conclusions off of Mr. K’s responses in an interview and the actual posts made on the blog itself. So, you can take it with a grain of salt. But, it’s also clear that the blog was pretty successful from the teacher’s point of view.

In short, they found that Mr. K did realize some of the benefits of blogging, like promoting student interaction, creating a community among the students, increasing students’ time with the content, and increasing student reflection. MacBride and Luehmann provide a useful caveat in their conclusion:

[T]he one example considered in this article showed that the realized benefits of classroom blogs depended largely on how a teacher choose[s] to structure and use the blog. While these results speak positively to the flexibility of classroom blogging as a pedagogical tool, they should also warn teachers that the benefits purported in the literature will not be automatic but rather will require thoughtful teacher planning and decision-making grounded in an ongoing awareness of students’ strengths and need. (p. 182)

I’d say that’s pretty good advice with any teaching method, but it’s essential to remember when dealing with educational reforms and innovations. There are no magic bullets or elixirs. You can’t blindly implement any kind of reform, method, or practice and hope it will work. You need to think about how to implement it in your context to best help your students.