Blogs as Reflective Writing Tools

kissmeBlogging is an activity which has exploded into the mainstream over the last seven or eight years. Blogs are personal websites, but designed so as to provide a chronological list of posts, somewhat like a journal. They are used by politicians, professional journalists, political activists, policemen, taxi drivers, pupils and a wide range of people between, providing a broad patchwork of opinions and views on life, society and the world. Blogs are used increasingly in education, both as teaching tools and as learning tools. They are excellent tools for reflection.

What is so special about blogging that sets it apart from what one might call ‘normal’ writing? Firstly, the technology used for blogging is the very latest – relevant, easy to use, attractive, exciting and engaging. They are easy to set up and use. The underpinning software provides a range of attractive templates and editing tools which allow one to insert different media, fine tune the finished product and publish it on-line easily. No knowledge of html and the nuts and bolts of web design is required.

Secondly, blogging provides one with ‘paid-up’ membership of an exciting world-wide, on-line community. Being a member of the ‘blogosphere’ bestows a special kudos, but also demands responsibilities with respect to thinking carefully about what we say, how we say it and taking care with things like sentence structure and spelling. One cannot be too careful when one’s potential audience numbers in the millions and where conversation is bi-polar in the sense that unknown readers are likely to comment on one’s posts.

Ahlness (in Bryant, 2007:11) has claimed that “Never in 25 years of teaching have I seen a more powerful motivator for writing than blogs. And that’s because of the audience. Writing is not just taped on the refrigerator and then put in the recycle bin. It’s out there for the world to see. Kids realise other people see what they write.”

Anthropologist Fox (2004:226) has suggested that “… cyberspace is a disinhibitor. The disinhibiting effect of cyberspace is a universal phenomenon…. people … find that they are more open, more chatty, less reticent than they are face-to-face or even on the telephone.

Blogs have  been used as platforms for reflection in a number of educational settings. Roberts (2007) claims that reflection is an essential element of a learning process where students need to achieve deep learning and that blogs are an ideal medium for this process. “The power of this medium occurs when we choose to make our entries public. By making our reflective thoughts public, we engage the social aspects of learning – of inviting others to comment on our thoughts, helping us to build on our ideas and enabling us to become aware of and understand other views. This provides us with a deeper learning experience and with practice this reflective thinking will become ever more natural.

In a study into the use of blogs as learning tools at the University of Birmingham, Beale (2007:4) found that blogs were “an effective tool for supporting students in reflective practice” and concluded that blogging is “an effective, engaging approach for supporting other educational practices.”

The ability to reflect on practice is an essential skill for teachers. Such reflection involves developing an awareness of what is happening around you so as to be aware of the level of engagement, tensions and other issues in the classroom and the ability to address specific problems quickly and effectively. At the end of the day, it involves being able to pick up on what works well, what does not and the ability to develop strategies to improve practice.

It is also useful to develop the ability to reflect on learning. Effective learning skills include the habit of going over material covered in class, to ensure that one understands it effectively. This could involve rewriting notes, looking up information on the web or in a book, and reflecting on what, exactly, one has learned. For the purpose of your own reflective blogs, you will need to think carefully about on your growing understanding of the impact of information and communications technology on the world, our society, your own practice, education generally and primary schools in particular. What we do during sessions will help you to do this, as will getting to grips with the supplied readings and the links to electronic sources on the relevant pages of the ICT website, this blog, the PGCE wiki and elsewhere.

Try this as an exercise. Think about all the ways in which you use ICT on a daily or perhaps weekly base. Which devices and tools do you use? How, and for what purpose? How does this use impact on your life?  Which uses are frivolous and unnecessary? Which have been life changing? Which would you be loath to give up… and why?

Finally… while blogs are very personal, they are designed as tools which encourage discussion via comments. It is a good idea to use this within your own ‘community’, be it the whole class, the group or a select number of friends, inside or outside the university. Looking at and commenting on one another’s blogs provides an an important extra boost to your writing and should help you to develop your ability to reflect effectively in a collaborative way.

This blog is no different, so please feel free to feed in your own ideas and to comment on the ideas expressed or claims made.

References:

Bryant, L. (2007) Emerging trends in social software for education. Becta, Coventry

Fox, K. (2004) Watching the English. The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour. Hodder, London.

See this post and  this post.

The Commoncraft Show – Blogs in Plain English by Lee Lefever

See also this clip -

Why let our students blog?

Reynard, R. (2005) Blogs in Higher Ed: Personal Voice as Part of Learning.

Blogging in the Primary Classroom

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