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Use of New Technology in Learning and Teaching

Uses of Modern Technology

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Introduction

Various modifications have been made in how individuals usually carry out their tasks in the present age of electronic and information technologies.  Surfing the web has now become a daily activity, and has become as routine as brushing one’s teeth or even going to work.  In the workplace, it has become an indispensable tool in carrying out one’s functions and activities.  Due to its user-friendly nature, the internet has also become a popular tool across the age span, from young children to the older individuals using it for their various needs and social activities.  Electronic and digital technology have become excellent learning companions in schools and in the area of education. On the internet, there are many websites such as Wikipedia, Google Scholar, Google Books, and Blogs that serve as collected sources of knowledge that students may access without having to sift through library books, journals, and encyclopedias. Blogging, and the concept of blogging in general, has become one of the most useful eLearning tools. The purpose of this article is to assess blogging, as well as its applications and purposes. This instructional tool will also be subjected to a critical examination. The first section of this article will provide an introduction to blogging. The second section will be a review of blogging. The final section will go through the learning theories that may be used to blogging. The fourth section will explain how to utilize a particular blogging program and how it relates to learning theories. Finally, this article will conclude with some closing comments.

Body

            Overview of Blogging

The Online 2.0 phenomena has emerged as a result of the second generation of internet and web usage, which is a development from the original Web 1.0 architecture. Whereas the Web 1.0 design only allowed for a one-way flow of information, the Web 2.0 design allows for more information to be shared with the online community (Anderson, 2008). The internet’s easy capabilities have enabled the sharing, uploading, and authoring of material, as well as the editing of wikis and blogs, providing educators with a diverse set of tools. Jorn Barger originally proposed blogs, which are short for online logs, when he created a website that contained information, personal thoughts, diary entries, links, and articles that were organized by date (Anderson, 2008). Since then, blogs have mainly developed, including more complex designs and subjects, as well as a section for readers to leave comments. In fact, the commenting and publishing procedure seems to have enabled blogging to become more participatory, enabling readers to provide feedback on blogs. Bloggers may also evaluate reader feedback and, if desired, react to it on their blogs (Anderson, 2008). Blogging also feeds a writer’s immediacy by enabling him or her to publish as frequently as they want without having to wait for a publication date, as is the case with news or magazine pieces.

Use of New Technology in Learning and Teaching

Words are tagged in blogs, and the topic of the post is often classified and preserved into a common theme where it may be remembered later. Other relevant links would surface when the reader clicked the tags or entered these terms into search engines, enabling the reader to read other comparable articles by the same or other writers (Anderson, 2008). Linking is an important aspect of blogging since it expands the scope of the conversations, enabling readers to get a deeper understanding of the site (Anderson, 2008). Linking is similar to referencing in that it allows readers to check the contents of the blog and compare them to other sources. The quality of each blog is often enhanced as a result of these connections. Blogs are a new way of engaging online since they provide a platform for internet users to share their expertise and views on a certain subject (Johnson and Kaye, 2005). They’re also unique platforms for combining news and data, as well as self-expression. Blogs connect users to various data and opinions, enough to fulfill their needs.  Blogs are online tools for user interaction, for them to read information and opinions and to suggest their analysis.

These bloggers may be actively engaged with their readers and they may engage in interactions for opinions or additional information.  They may also be resigned to simply read opinions and not engage in discussions with their readers (Johnson and Kaye, 2005).   The idea of online diaries, which many authors and journalists utilized, developed into the present use of the blog. One of the first bloggers was Justin Hall, who was followed by Jerry Pournelle (Blood, 2000). Semi-automated blogging gained popularity and was even used for surveillance at one time. As more bloggers started their blogs in 1999 and the years after, blogging became more popular. Political blogs, social blogs, product blogs, culinary blogs, economic blogs, travel blogs, and other types of blogs emerged (Blood, 2000). People realized that anybody, regardless of background, could create a blog and blog about anything under the sun, and it quickly became a popular fad (Wortham, 2007). Various politicians saw the usefulness of the technology and began to utilize it to reach out to their people and develop their views on topics. To put it another way, it became a way for them to communicate with the broader public.

Many bloggers, such as Peter Rojas, Xeni Jardin, Ben Trott, and Jonathan Schwartz, quickly became well-known and influential among readers and the broader public (Bruns and Jacobs, 2006). Some nations, such as Israel, have created official blogs and are actively utilizing Web 2.0 technologies such as video blogs or vlogs to achieve their varied political goals (Ynet, 2008). In terms of education, school administrators see blogs as useful tools for students and instructors who want to “encourage reflective analysis and the development of a learning community that extends beyond the classroom walls” (Downes, 2004, p. 14). For both instructors and students, blogging has become a popular tool in the area of education. More and more instructors are utilizing blogging to communicate with students and parents; they also use it to record and preserve their students’ work and academic progress, often posting their work or managing data from the school and the outside world (Downes, 2004). Blogs eventually evolved into link-driven sites with a mix of links, comments, personal thoughts, rants, raves, news, and events. As they grew in prominence, they were a useful source of news for many people, particularly for data that they would not otherwise have access to (Downes, 2004). Following the September 11 attacks, blogging became very popular because it enabled readers to not only learn about the assaults, but also to establish personal bonds with the victims, firefighters, and others who were directly or indirectly affected by the bombs.

There are different types of blogs.  Personal blogs are considered as daily accounts of a person’s activities (Bruns and Jacobs, 2006).  These blogs can be about anything or anyone and sometimes are not popularly read but are posted online nevertheless.  Corporate and organizational blogs are for business purposes and are used in order to improve the culture and communication within the corporation (Bruns and Jacobs, 2006).  Based on genre, blogs may also focus on particular subjects and be political blogs, travel blogs, health blogs, gardening, and similar blogs.  Based on media, they may be video logs or vlogs, or they may also be composed of links and called link logs (Bruns and Jacobs, 2006).  Some may be composed of photos and are then called photoblogs.  Regardless of genre or media and other typologies, these blogs are all being used in the field of education and would likely gain more ground in the years to come.

Critique of Blogging

Hammond (2006) discusses that there are various opportunities associated with blogging.  In general, blogs are considered to be a convenient platform for any person to express his personal opinions, especially those which may not otherwise be published in the mainstream media.  Moreover, for many users, its cost is low and little to no technical expertise is needed to write it (Hammond, 2006).  These blogs also provide support for various communities and provide an opportunity to close the gap between peripheral participation to core participation.  Blogging can be subtle and can provide a personal narrative of an event or any topic duly suited for its audience (Chandra and Chalmers, 2010).  Some bloggers can play within their personal and their social-media identity which may be two different things.  Commenting under blogging conditions can also be safe and anonymous, allowing for a more engaging and fearless discussion about the blogs posted (Hammond, 2006).  Studies also seem to indicate that higher education students are fully engaged and involved in blogs and can often control the content and the creativity of their blogs.  Blogs also offer opportunities for collaboration, which may include feedback from the readers and even shared spaces (Hammond, 2006).  Blogs also appeal to students who have major interests in online technologies.

With the entry of Web 2.0, various tools and opportunities for interactivity were opened, and they were unlimited opportunities (McCormick and Scrimshaw, 2001).  Private and public data became widely available and it became possible to gather and compile knowledge into tools which could facilitate knowledge and learning (Bessenyei, 2008).  Students under the Web 2.0 culture have now been able to establish and exchange information in cooperation with other students within and outside their electronic social reach (Chandra and Chalmers, 2010).  Through blogs, the communal exchange has been made possible and the file-sharing process which often was essential to blogging gave further credence to the fact that the passing of information must be made free (Bessenyei, 2008).  Selecting information has now become more refined through various search engines and through websites like Wikipedia.  Blogging in other words, helped support individually constructed knowledge, fashioned based on needs and data found on the internet (Bessenyei, 2008).

The qualities of blogging support eLearning where authorities now had less control on knowledge, distribution, and organization of information (Bessenyei, 2008).  Blogging made official intermediaries to knowledge and its distribution superfluous and the potential for learner-centeredness and cooperation became a stronger reality.   Moreover, the gap between learner and teacher was lessened by blogs as the younger generations have found the internet to be a tool for learning as well as a means of personal study (Bessenyei, 2008).  The new genre of eLearning and blogging has provided opportunities for the reworking of the learning process and the learning environment based on wider possibilities available.

The inevitability of these changes in learning has been made possible through the current improvements in online and electronic technology (McCormick and Scrimshaw, 2001).  In recent years, the availability of broadband internet access has become widespread and has therefore allowed even greater accessibility of the internet and all its available information (Bessenyei, 2008).  Moreover, the internet and other online and electronic tools have also become easily accessible through mobile phones.  The management of data has also become a less costly enterprise with various free tools like wikis, blogs, and file exchange methods available for all users regardless of economic status (Bessenyei, 2008).  With these changes, eLearning has now become an indispensable and natural part of the learning process.

The value of using blogs and other Web 2.0 tools has also increased in recent years with the spread of globalization and global knowledge exchange (Lakkala, 2007).  Teachers also recognize that the sooner students become familiar with eLearning, the easier for them to join in the global interactive networks of information exchange (McCormick and Scrimshaw, 2001).  With the wealth of data available for learners, the need for teachers to guide the learning process has also become imperative.  The process of searching, evaluating, and analyzing data was assessed as an important teaching topic for teachers in an attempt to assist these students in not just searching for the materials they need, but to in evaluating the data they need (McCormick and Scrimshaw, 2001).  Teachers acknowledge that eLearning, including blogging, contains a wealth of data which students must be able to independently contextualise and relate to their individual needs.  Web 2.0 signifies a challenge for traditional school systems which must learn to adapt their tools and their processes to fit the current globalized world of learning.  Without the necessary adjustments, the learners under the traditional setting would not be able to function well in society and in the outside world (Bessenyei, 2008).  Moreover, they would not be able to take advantage of all the benefits that the Web and all its tools have to offer.

Inasmuch as Web 2.0 and blogging offers a wealth of advantages and benefits for users, within and outside the field of learning and education, there are however constraints associated with its use.  Hammond (2006) discusses that there is an exhibitionist quality to blogging, one which can provide unproductive scenarios where any person can make useless comments.  Blogs require serious time commitment and can serve superficial purposes, same as many websites which have been abandoned (Hammond, 2006).  Some data shared in this media can also be wrong and unverified.  In this case, some of the data posted may even be inaccurate and thereby be a potential for defamation lawsuits (Hammond, 2006).  Some users may even mistake information posted in these blogs to be academic materials when in fact they are largely unsupported by evidence.  In other words, the quality of information and knowledge can be compromised by blogging.

Blogging has little credibility as an academic information source.  In fact, for “most academics, blogs are irrelevant because they don’t count as publications” (Lovink, 2008, p. 4).  In some countries like the UK, allocating less and even zero time to blogging has been considered a must for scholars who firmly encourage their students and researchers to use academic journal-published sources (Kirkup, 2010).  Blogging has been discounted to be “unverified and unverifiable statements of individuals, discussions on listservs…questionable advertisements for questionable products and services and political religious screeds in all languages” (Borgman, 2007, p. 1).  Although many websites have now been acknowledged as credible sources of academic information, blogs and blogging, in general, has yet to gain widespread support.

Academicians are especially firm in declaring that blogging is a subjective process, and this particular quality by itself reduces its applicability as an educational tool (Kirkup, 2010).  Admittedly, for some bloggers and writers, blogging offers them a less rigid and academic venue to share their knowledge and information, regardless of the verifiability of their posts (Hyland, 2002).  By acknowledging such purposes for blogging, the less academic nature of blogging can be partially admitted.

Despite the worries and constraints associated with blogging in academia, academic blogs from students seem to be viewed in the context of an expressed subculture involving individuals who are mightily fighting to make a meaningful life in their particular career (Kirkup, 2010).  The functions of these blogs are therefore highly diverse, and it may both serve the extremely academic to the highly superficial.   Regardless of these purposes, blogging seems to have infiltrated the academia to a significant extent, and its impact has now become irrevocable and irreversible.

Learning Theories and Applicability to Blogging

There are various theories that help to explain learning and the learning process.  B.F. Skinner is one of the more well-known theorists, especially with his theory on operant conditioning, which is classified under the behaviorist theories.  His theory is founded on the idea that “learning is a function of change in overt behavior.  Changes in behavior are the result of an individual’s response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment” (Culatta, 2012).  Responses produce reactions and then bounce back for a response.  When a stimulus-response pattern is further supported or encouraged by rewards, the individual is then conditioned to repeat the act or response.  Reinforcement is a major aspect of this theory because in some instances it guarantees the response, even strengthens or improves it.

When applied to the Web 2.0 learning tools, including blogging, learning is reinforced through blogging with the favorable response which is received from the readers.  When a blog is created and information or links are posted through these blogs, the initial stimulus is made available to the general public (Snowman, et.al., 2011).  Responses to the stimulus can include comments, reactions, discussions, increased visits, shares, and downloads.  When these responses are made, the blogger is often encouraged by the favorable response and would want to post more blogs, links and information (Snowman, et.al., 2011).  With interactions and discussions made on the blogs, readers, as well as the bloggers learn from each other.  They gain new information, new analytical views, and alternative perspectives on the topic until a more holistic data and understanding of the subject matter can be reached (Snowman, et.al., 2011).

Another theory related to this discussion is the constructivism theory.  This theory refers to “learning which fall somewhere between cognitive and humanistic views.  If behaviorism treats the organism as a black box, cognitive theory recognizes the importance of the mind in making sense of the material with which it is presented” (Atherton, 2011).  Constructivism also discusses that the function of the learner is to receive the information presented by the teacher.  It also suggests that the learner is more engaged in joint learning with the teacher, especially in terms of establishing new meanings (Atherton, 2011).  Cognitive constructivism refers to the how a learner gathers information in terms of development stages; and social constructivism focuses on how information is often founded on social encounters.

According to constructivism, learners usually actively engross themselves in the learning process.  This theory also suggests that professors are not the only source of knowledge and that learners have an active role and responsibility in what they are learning (Enonbun, 2010).  This theory is very much in line with the Web 2.0 paradigm, including its derivatives like blogs and wikis which are interactive venues which encourage user involvement and participation in the management of learning content (Enonbun, 2010).  Blogging supports the development of the user and retrieval of materials through interactive processes.  Moreover, the pace of interaction is based on the discretion of the learner.  This is the very idea which the constructivist theory seeks to promote for effective learning.  And blogging, with its interactive options help fulfil these elements in a significant way.

The current digital and electronic globalized world has changed the general traditional classroom structure.  The classroom has also become culturally diverse and varied in its methods and resources.  Blogging presents an opportunity for the active participation of these learners, allowing them to compose their learning processes, by titillating each learner to come up with a personal meaning of content (Enonbun, 2010).  Constructivism and Web 2.0, including blogging gives instructors and learners opportunities to refine their efforts and ensure the success of the learning process.  Harvard psychologist Howard Hardner (in Enonbun, 2010) has forwarded various theories on multiple intelligence, which he says, people inherently possess in different forms.  Focusing on these strengths, educators can play easier roles based on materials being customized to learners’ individual strengths.  This is also in line with the principles of constructivism (Enonbun, 2010).  Under this perception, teachers do not only provide a curriculum or structure for learning, but they also establish the distinct strengths of the learner, and later plan content based on such strengths (Enonbun, 2010).  This would however imply the departure from traditional teacher-student scenarios, a departure that seeks to promote learner-centred education.

The expectations of learners are constantly shifting based on the numerous societal and environmental changes.  One major change is based on the constant use of the internet.  The use of the internet is no longer monopolized by businesses and by the government, it has also now become a major tool in the academic setting (Enonbun, 2010).  Blogging supports the interactive processes that constructivism declares to be crucial to effective learning.

Connectivism is a learning theory which is even more related to web-based learning.  This theory has been conceptualized by Stephen Downes and George Siemens (Education 2020, 2012).  This theory seeks an explanation for the complex world of learning in the current socially digitized world.  The theorists declare that learning is strong within the connectivity of networks, and learners often understand and interpret patterns which are supported by diverse networks and their context (Education 2020, 2012).  Transfers in information are based on connections and additional networks.  In general, connectivism is considered the combination of principles assessed by chaos, network and complex theories.  Learning is therefore a process which manifests within dynamic environments which may not be entirely under the command of the learners (Education 2020, 2012).  Learning can be found outside the individual – within organizations of academic databases.  It is also a process focused on engaging specialized information and the interactions often serve better purposes in learning.  Connectivism theory is based on the concept that decisions are founded on shifting baselines (Siemens, 2006).  New data is constantly discovered and the ability to distinguish which data are important or unimportant is an important part of the process of learning (Siemens, 2006).

Siemens’ connectivism theory declares that learning and gaining knowledge is based on varying opinions (Siemens, 2006).  It is a process of interconnecting specialised data or data sources.  It may even be found in non-human technologies and the capacity for more knowledge is more important than what the person actually knows (Education 2020, 2012).  Supporting and establishing connections is important to ensure continued learning and the power to see linkages between ideas and concepts is an acquired skill (Siemens, 2006).  Finally, Siemens (2006 also discusses that the power to make decisions is a learning process.  Specifying what one needs to learn and the meaning of data is based on the realm of constantly changing realities. There may be current answers now which satisfy most people, however tomorrow, these answers may be proven wrong based on the technologies discovered.

The interactive nature of blogging and other tools under Web 2.0 exemplifies the contrast between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ education (Richardson, 2005).  Push models are considered those which treat students as passive individuals who can learn best if the information, including opinions are spoon-fed to them.  Pull models, on the other hand, treat students as networked and interconnected individuals who also create the data as well as their sources of information (Duffy, 2011).  The change from the push to the pull type of education is highly supported by George Siemens and his theory of connectivism.  Siemens basically supports the notion that learners gain their competence by connecting with other learners.  This is different from constructivism which supports the notion that learners seek to understand information through meaning-making activities (Duffy, 2011).  Connectivism therefore dictates that the meaning already exists and it is up to the learner to understand the hidden patterns.  Meaning-making is therefore a process which supports connections and networks between specialised groups, as well as information databases (Duffy, 2011).

Connectivism implies a world of learning whereby blogging and other Web 2.0 tools form an intellectual network of students interacting with their teachers, with the community, and with the industry (Jenkins, 2007).  In other words, connectivism embraces change in the traditional classroom setting, and is more inclusive in the collaboration and broader views involving learning experiences. Open-source technology, which includes Wikis and blogs are strategies which involve mass collaboration; and they have changed the entire framework of learning and teaching (Tapscott and Williams, 2006).   These tools and strategies are based on four ideas: openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally (Duffy, 2011).  These ideas provide practical goals which are being sought in the current learning environment.  Depending on the tool of learning used, these goals must be fulfilled if an effective learning process would ever be achieved.  With educators establishing means on how to transfer their ideas into learning processes, the issues of authorship, intellectual property, and contingency are unavoidable.  These issues however have been pushed aside in the face of priorities given to the interactive learning process (Duffy, 2011).  All in all however, connectivism and constructivism help provide support for the viability and the applicability of blogging and Web 2.0 in the current learning environment.

Blogging and Learning Theories

Blogging can be used in order to help a reader understand a book and construct a book report in relation to it.  In one of my activities with my students, I asked them to construct a blog about a book which they have read which has been made into a movie.  They were asked to make a summary of the book and compare it to the movie.  They were also asked to provide an analysis of the book, supported by references and links from other critics.  The same process was applied to the movie made on the book.  Aspects of the book, including its setting, characterization, and plot had to be analysed and compared with the movie.  Links for possible explanations from the movie makers who adapted the story had to be placed in the blog.  After creating the blog, the students were asked to comment creatively on each blog – expressing both the strengths and weaknesses of the blog and providing any personal comments and opinions on the same.  Students were also invited to offer ideas for how to enhance the blog.  They were also asked to express how and if the blog helped add to their current learning status.

The blog was meant to enhance the students’ analytical skills, and improve their ability to make constructive criticisms of each other’s work.  It was also meant to allow students to choose what part of the book and its movie adaptation was considered notable.  Minimal guidance from the teacher was required as the students were asked to consider what parts of the book and the movie they thought was worth criticizing.  The interactions with the students allowed the students to verify and validate their analysis.  The blog itself gave the learners a chance to explore their imagination – from reading the book and then watching the movie, they can compare their reading experience and their movie experience and decide for themselves how well the transition and the adaptation fulfilled (or failed) their expectations.  Researching and browsing the internet for critiques on the book and the movie, they can also establish how these critiques fit into their analysis of the movie and the book.  Reviewing possible explanations of the movie makers on how they made the adaptations would also help the students understand and make fair reviews on the adaptation process.

The connectivism theory provides support and theoretical explanations for blogging.  Connectivism discusses the importance of providing links and engaging opportunities for students to interact with each other and with what they are learning.  In the blog, the students were allowed free reign on their analysis, and this analysis was not based on the teacher’s analysis.  Instead, it was based on how the students understood the books and the movies, and how they understood and analysed the various elements of the book.  The links which provided support for their blogs were also based on their individual judgment and assessment.  The blogging process provided the learner the chance to make a thorough analysis, one which they also created based on meaning-making activities.  The process of learning, in this instance, was more personal to the learners, and the sharing and open process allowed them to be open to criticism and other opinions.

Commenting on other student’s blogs also allowed for the connectedness between the learners to continue.  Discussing the blogs with each other gave them the chance to also be critical or their classmate’s work, and to discuss where and how they varied in their understanding and analysis of the books or the movies.  Reading the blogs also provided credible information for them, especially as they could verify the contents of the blog from the links provided by the students.  Interacting with each other on an academic matter also helped the learners continue the learning process even beyond the classroom setting.  It allowed them to discuss the blog amongst themselves, as friends and as classmates.  In many instances, it also prompted them to read the book themselves and to discover if they shared the same viewpoints and analytical comprehension of its contents and its adaptation.  This process, made learning more interactive, more personal, and more engaging to the learners, allowing them to set their pace in learning and to explore where it could take them.

Conclusion

The current age of information technology has brought forth various technologies for our convenience.  One of these technologies signifies the next age of learning and computer use simply labelled as Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 includes various derivatives for learners, including blogs and wikis.  Blogs have been the focus for this study.  Blogs or web logs are composed of information on almost any topic under the sun.  They include links on possible explanations for information provided in the blog; and it also includes comments sections for readers to express their opinions on the blogs.  There are various advantages and disadvantages of blogging, and mostly it is favoured because of its interactive nature and disfavoured because of its unverified data.  For learners using blogs as an educational tool, blogs can provide creative and interactive opportunities to learn, but it can also provide unverified and non-scholarly sources of information.  Theories related to Web 2.0 include the constructivist and the connectivist theory.  The constructivist theory suggests that professors are not the only source of information and the learner can actually construct his own information based on his engagement in any topic.  The connectivist theory emphasises on interactions and connections which learners make with the information they are gaining.  Blogging provides such opportunities for the control of information and for increased interactions.  In general, although blogging can have its pitfalls as an educational tool, its value for interactions among learners cannot be downplayed.  Future research and studies on blogging may include assessments on the actual educational outputs gained by students using blogs.  These studies would seek to establish various applications of blogs and how they can serve even better and bigger purposes in the educational setting.

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