Use of Blogging as a pedagogical tool to foster student engagement and inform teaching practice

Siobhan O’ Sullivan

 University College Cork

Developments in technology present opportunities to change the way we teach. Educators have learned a great deal about the ability of the web to nurture, foster and enable community. In an online environment people share personal experience, ask for advice and initiate dialogue. Such activities encourage closeness and immediacy to say what they think and receive feedback quickly from others.
In an instructional environment online communication tools such as email, chatrooms and instant messaging cultivate personal bonds with and among students. Weblogs (Blogs) are increasingly popular as a fast and easy way to communicate with others on the internet. In teaching and learning, blogging (writing blogs) is seen as a novel tool with potential for students. Social constructivism provides a pedagogical paradigm that supports the use of blogs in educational settings.  Vygotsky demonstrated the importance of others as learning mediators. Learners need real opportunities for writing and publishing their learning and the knowledge they have accumulated over time, to publish their knowledge online, write/rewrite what they want to be able to get across and see other people’s opinions. Blogs offer online locations where students can express how they feel about what they learn, they can express difficulties they are having on a daily basis, reread previous posts and reflect. They can also interact with other students and share difficulties and concerns. The blog can be used as an on-line diary to discuss activities/materials covered in class thus extending the learning experience beyond the classroom.
Blogs with different year groups can serve various functions. In first year, blogs can improve student-student interaction in class. It can encourage and assist student engagement as the foundation for successful study in later years. Blogs can make us aware of student difficulties in subject areas and also identify students at risk of withdrawing from a course. Student engagement is a key factor in student retention and enhancing student engagement is a fundamental strategy for improving student retention, success and outcomes.
In senior classes, blogs serve a different purpose. As students become more comfortable in the college environment and with their class colleagues they can be more reflective in their writing, discussing difficulties in specific subject areas, discussing teaching methodologies in class and discussing their work loads. From an educator’s perspective, blogs can help us on our reflective practice. We can read blogs and see the students as they really are. Quiet students in class can be quite different in a blog and we get the opportunity to see, for example, their creative side and aspects of their personality not obvious in the classroom. We can also see difficulties students are having from peer-interaction and identify if teaching strategies are/are not working. By illustrating the value of blogging in two different educational settings this paper provides suggestions for instructors considering such technology.