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The Use of Weblogs in Higher Education: Benefits and Barriers

Sergio Luján-Mora, Susana de Juana-Espinosa. The Use of Weblogs in Higher Education: Benefits and Barriers. Proceedings of the International Technology, Education and Development Conference (INTED 2007), p. 1-7: IATED, Valencia (Spain), March 7-9 2007. ISBN: 978-84-611-4517-1.

Download original paper in PDF: The Use of Weblogs in Higher Education: Benefits and Barriers


Weblogs are personal web pages written in chronological order and maintained through a specific software that helps their administration. From an educational point of view, weblogs are the development of traditional learning logs for students and teachers, whether as a complement to traditional lectures or as a e-learning tool. The importance of these applications has increased due to the changes in the classroom dynamics that Bologna will bring shortly to the European Higher Education Area, which entail the substitution of conventional education for autonomous learning. Also, the number of Open Universities and virtual.environment courses offered by traditional Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), potential users of weblogs, has boosted in the last decade. The aim of this paper is to contribute to the scarce knowledge that HEIs have regarding the functionality of weblogs as tools for enhancing the teaching-learning process, specially in terms of identifying the barriers and benefits that the deployment of these tools may present. To do so, both a theoretical and practical approach have been employed. First, the paper establishes an explanation about the anatomy of weblogs. Second, possible uses of weblogs in HEIs are discussed and classified according to the users. perspective. Finally, from these experiences, the main benefits provided by weblogs are shown, as well as the possible barriers that may jeopardise its use.

Keywords Weblogs, blogs, e-learning.

1. Introduction

The last decades of the XXth century have been marked with the development of ubiquitous information technology (IT) in every field of human life. This phenomenon is the so called "information society" [20], and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have played, and still do, a very important role in this instance, being a vessel for creating and transferring knowledge to society at large. One of the latest developments that HEIs are starting to implement in their teaching-learning processes is the use of weblogs as a means for transferring the usual classroom activities to the cyberspace, while conferring students and instructors with a superior connectivity for the development of one-on-one and many-to one relationships.

In 1999, when Jorn Barger [2] coined the term weblog, he defined it as A weblog (sometimes called a blog or a newspage or a filter) is a webpage where a weblogger (sometimes called a blogger, or a presurfer) 'logs' all the other webpages she finds interesting. The format is normally to add the newest entry at the top of the page, so that repeat visitors can catch up by simply reading down the page until they reach a link they saw on their last visit. According to the Wikipedia [22], A blog is a website where entries are made in journal style and dis-played in a reverse chronological order. [...] A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.

The present relevancy of this kind of tools lies on the changes in the classroom dynamics that the Declaration of Bologna will bring shortly to the European Higher Education Area, which entail the substitution of conventional education for autonomous learning, as well as the increasing number of Open Universities and virtual.environment courses offered by traditional HEIs.

The objective of this paper is to analyse the benefits and barriers of using weblogs in HEIs. courses. To do so, the next section of this paper introduces the concept of weblogs in the related literature. Afterwards, the principal uses of weblogs are presented, attending at the users. perspectives as well as the technical advantages of weblogs. The following section shows the benefits that HEIs users may attain from their deployment, and the barriers that may appear while doing so, according to the existing literature. The paper finalises with an introspection in the security concerns related to the use of weblogs, and the conclusions of the research.

2. Related work

Unfortunately, there is not much published material on the subject of weblogs in education. In [1], it is described an interesting teaching technique whereby students document their learning activities and learning results in a concurrent journal (log). According to the author, A learning log is a tightly focused academic journal that is created as the student becomes knowledgeable on an individually assigned topic. The log can serve as the basis for generating Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), support class discussion, and provide the basis for the creation of a class presentation and web site.

In [21], the author explores the idea of turning learning logs into weblogs. The author provides an overview of weblogs. Weblogs are defined as personal web pages written in chronological diary form and maintained through weblogging software. The author identifies the following benefits that weblogs offer as improved learning logs: students can share their results with others; students can focus on content; students learn about web page creation in an intuitive way; students can jointly write a weblog, which supports group learning; instructors can monitor published weblogs easily; and finally, instructor do not need to convert student documents and publish them, as it is already done.

In [4], new English words related to weblogs are defined: weblog or blog for short, a cross between a diary, a web site, and an online community; blogging, the act of creating a weblog; blogger, the person who creates a weblog; and blogspace or blogosphere, the connected realm of blogs that exists on the Internet and is accessible via links to other blogs, specialty search engines and weblog indexes.

In [23], the authors explore the potential of weblogs as learning spaces for students in the higher education sector. The authors believe that blogging has the potential to be a transformational technology for teaching and learning.

In [3], the authors investigate the impact of weblog use on individual learning in a university environment. This study indicates that learning with weblogs enhances students' cognitive and social construction of knowledge.

Finally, in [13], the author describes the technology behind weblogs and presents the basic functionality of weblogs. Besides, the different roles weblogs can play in teaching and learning are discussed and some case studies of use of weblog in education are shown.

3. Weblog types, uses and advantages

Before stating the benefits and barriers of weblogs in HEIs, it is necessary to comprehend the main characteristics of weblogs. To do so, research has been carried out on the taxonomy of weblogs, which has led to discussing weblog uses (whether for learning or other activities), and finally, to the disclosure of the major advantages that weblogs offer to the aforementioned institutions.

3.1 Types

In order to understand the functioning of weblogs, the first thing to be done is to address their nature. In this line of thought, literature shows some attempts to classify weblogs in terms of different features. For instance, in [7] the proposed classification is based on two dimensions: style and content. Regarding style, there are the interactive weblogs and the closed weblogs mostly based on whether the weblog author allows for comments on the weblog. In relation to the content, there are many sorts of weblogs: personal topics, political/social/economic commentaries, information technology, etc. Merging the styles and the contents, some types are suggested: personal journal, links galores, interactive commentary, one-way commentary, hodge-podge, etc.

In addition, Mernit [14] proposes eight types of weblogs according to the author of the weblog: the professional journalist; the non-traditional journalist; bloggers focused on a specific theme (movement, event, topic or interest); the education community; the self-expression/journaling crowd; the business/marketing/promotion community; business weblogs behind the firewall; and the experimenters and innovators.

Focusing on educational weblogs, in this paper we propose the following classification according to the role (instructor or student) played by the writer of the weblog in the teaching/learning process:

3.2 Uses

There are many uses for weblogs in many fields. Nardi [15] discovered five major motivations for blogging: documenting one.s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums. Certainly, these motivations are not mutually exclusive and might come into play simultaneously.

Especifically in the education field, weblogs are being used to satisfy a variety of communication needs to favour e-learning practices. In [11], a matrix of some of the possible uses of weblogs in education is shown. These possible uses are analyzed in a two dimension space: who uses the weblog (instructors or students) and for what (writing or reading). Following this same matrix, a list of possible uses is provided in [12]: improving writing skills, encouraging reflective writing, reading student weblogs for assessment, sharing resources and ideas, recording progress and process, course administration, group work, etc.

Wagner [21] proposes the use of weblogs as improved learning logs, this is, as a tool for enhancing and strengthening the best features of this teaching technique, while giving students more responsibility for the learning and publishing process.

Farrell [5] discusses five ways of using weblogs in the classroom, each with their own pros and cons: standard class web pages (class times, syllabus, etc.); professor-written weblogs which cover interesting developments that relate to the theme of the course; organization of in-class discussion; organization of intensive seminars where students have to provide weekly summaries of the readings; and requiring students to write their own weblogs as part of their grade.

In addition, the following practices relate directly to favouring e-learning practices in HEIs:

3.3 Advantages

Besides the advantages that weblogs inherited from being based on Internet technologies, weblogs have advantages of their own that can be translated into real benefits for users, as follows [16, 18, 21]:

4. Benefits and barriers

After having addressed the technological features of weblogs in HEIs, users need to be aware of what are the main benefits and barriers that this kind of learning tool may bring to their classroom, whether real or virtual. With this interest in mind, this section offers teachers and students a list of benefits and barriers regarding weblog using in their activities.

4.1 Benefits

According to the work of [5, 9 10, 21, 24], the main benefits for using weblogs can be described as follows:

4.2 Barriers

Although the barriers to using weblogs are low [21], bloggers may face difficulties in making the most of their teaching/learning tool. From our own experience, these are the most outstanding:

5. Security concerns

Finally, there are several concerns regarding the security of the information logged in the weblog that must be taken into account. Therefore, certain questions are posed to those weblog users who intend to make the most of their teaching-learning process:

6. Conclusions and future work

The main contribution of this research comes from a review of the not-so-extensive literature existing on weblogs which, added to our own experience as HEI teachers, has provided a compilation of recommendations, cautions, and encouragements for other instructors.

Evidently, the declaration of Bolonia has forced many instructors to change the focus of their teaching/learning process and we attempted to show in this paper how weblogs can be used to develop successful e-learning activities and autonomous work, if their advantages and barriers are considered carefully while deploying them. Actually, many benefits can be sought for both teachers and students, although a careful use of these resources is needed in order to avoid technology misuses. For instance, the use of weblogs may increase the time spent in managing the course compare to traditional courses. The lesson learnt is that technology is a tool, not a goal.

As for our future lines of work, our next objective is to develop a list of best practices for using a weblog for teaching and learning.


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Download original paper in PDF: The Use of Weblogs in Higher Education: Benefits and Barriers

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