Friday, March 21, 2008

Article Note: On blogs in LIS courses as reflective tools

Citation for the article:

Hall, Hazel and Brian Davison. "Social Software as Support in Hybrid Learning Environments: The Value of the Blog as a Tool for Reflective Learning and Peer Support." Library and Information Science Research 29 (2007): 163-187.

Read via ScienceDirect.

Over time, I have discovered the value of writing as a reflection tool. Very often I use writing in my journal or one of my blogs as a way to clarify my thinking. Thus, I often find interest in articles that look a blogging as a reflective learning tool. This is that kind of article.

The authors begin by looking at the literature. They look at the claims that students who blog improve their skills in writing and debating and that blogs can support learning communities in the classroom. However, they point out that there is little empirical work to substantially prove these claims. In other words, it seems most of the claims are based on anecdotal evidence. That is what the authors are trying to find. The context is an LIS class requirement where the students have to keep a blog with entries related to the class.

The authors then take a look at blogging and LIS. They point out that there has been interest in blogging for knowledge management (166), which is something that the corporate world has picked up on. The KM element is something that has intrigued me given the potential to use a blog as a way to preserve stories and institutional memory. From keeping track of reference answers and transactions to changes in policies to common questions, a blog can be a good KM tool. Then again, for some of those things, a wiki may be useful as well, though a blog may have the advantage of simplicity in set-up. Also, as seen in the blogosphere, many libraries use blogs to provide information to their communities. We do this with our library blog, which we just implemented in the past year. As most blogs, including mine, it is still a work in progress. Also, a good number of librarians use their blogs as information management tools as well, especially the ones that put out aggregates of news and developments in the profession.

Anyways, the authors move on to look at reflective learning and how blogs and journals contribute to that. From experience, I know my journal has allowed me to look at my thinking over time. Actually I have been rereading some of my older journals, and I find it fascinating how some of my thinking and ideas have evolved over time (that's another post). Citing an article by C. Park, the authors see the blog as a successor of learning journal. I can see that to an extent, but I still keep and use my written private journal. Overall, here is why learning journals are important:

"Traditional learning journals provide learners with a mechanism for documenting their own understanding and behavior as it develops. This activity captures qualitative information about the developmental process that might otherwise be lost, which the learner can use to compare past and current behavior" (167).

Goes along with what I said. Of course, an open blog does invite more scrutiny than a private journal. In fact, that was part of the value of a closed journal in a class, that the student would feel free to write and share more since only the instructor would read it. A blog throws that in the open, but it does add the element of a community looking in and participating through responses and dialogue. So, here is the possible benefits of the community interaction:

"Giving learners access to each to each others' work exposes them to a ranged of different perspectives on the same subject matter, thus providing additional opportunities to challenge their own understanding. Allowing learners opportunities to give one another comments and feedback further enhances the possibilities around a subject area; it opens the further possibility of peer learning and peer support" (168).

Though the article looks at an LIS class, this is certainly applicable to any class that can benefit from writing and reflection as part of the learning process.

The authors looked at a total of 79 blogs written over 15 weeks. You can read the article to look at the specific assignment requirements. The authors used then content analysis to extract the data, focusing on the content of comments responding to entries; they used a coding system to determine types of responses (reflective, non-reflective, and content-free). The rationale for this is to focus on the interactive nature of the activity in order to judge reflectiveness.

Some highlights from the discussion of findings:

  • "It can be seen that the deployment of blogs in this particular module created a very supportive environment for communication among the students: the largest single category of first-level comments served no other purpose than to encourage other participants" (183).
  • "As far as reflective learning is concerned, this study has not generated evidence to match the levels of enthusiasm of previous publications which champion the value of blogs as mechanisms to boost levels of reflective learning" (184). However, the authors do point out their limitation to the comments rather than the blog posts. Yet, this lack of evidence for reflective element in the blogs could be interpreted by those who give this a casual look as a motive to question the idea of blog use in classrooms. What they did find was that a social/community element was present. I still think that blogging in the classroom setting has its value, as long as it is done in a thoughtful way and not because it is part of some 2.0 fad. Clearly the next study has to look at the blog content itself.
From their conclusion then:
  • "From the broader perspective of LIS education, this study has demonstrated that integrating blogging into the curriculum can be evaluated and found to have a beneficial impact on students' learning, most significantly by providing a supportive environment for learning through online discussion. LIS educators may draw on this to extend blogging in the classroom beyond the current dominant practice of demonstrating the phenomenon as novel software for the dissemination of information. They may incorporate it into the curricula as a tool for enhancing the learning capabilities of students" (185).

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