Young adults of today spend more time “ accessing digital-media information than information from traditional printed texts” (Hsu & Wang, 2011, p. 68), which contributes to their negative reading achievement. As such, it is important to determine how online literacies and new media affect the reading skills of students in higher education.
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Educational technology has been in use throughout history, going back to as early as when sign writing was used for capturing and transmitting knowledge (Ellison & Wu, 2008). Computer technology, in particular, began to be used in the classroom setting in the 1930s when teachers used audiovisual tools as the media of instruction. More recently, technological developments such as web-based communication tools have shown the potential of supporting the 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education, which include cooperation and reciprocity among students as well as communication between the students and the teachers.
With the development of new literacies, experts advise that educators develop teaching pedagogies and curricula for cultivating students’ multiple literacy skills, in turn enabling them to successfully create and access the evolving language that’s needed in higher education and in future employment opportunities. As a response, studies are conducted to investigate how web-based technologies – specifically, blogs – can be used to promote learning in general and improve reading skills in particular.
Blogs are online journals that users can continuously update online using their own words (Yang, 2009). They are writing environments where the user’s postings are displayed and which may also display comments from readers, information about the author, and links to other blogs (Ellison & Wu, 2008). A report showed that 8 percent of Internet users maintain blogs and that 39 percent of Internet users read them (Ellison & Wu, 2008). Moreover, more than 57 percent of bloggers are below the age of 30, which suggests that blogging is especially popular with adolescents and younger adults.
The technical and social features of blogs imply that blogs can be used as a medium to support learning goals (Ellison & Wu, 2008). As such, numerous studies have been conducted to determine how they can be integrated into the classroom setting as sound teaching practices.
Blogging encourages students to take a stand on things that may be different from the stand taken by others. As such, blogging has the potential of enhancing students’ critical and analytic thinking skills, which are also important aspects of reading comprehension skills. This is supported by a study conducted by Yang (2009), which showed that blogs served as a useful platform for the promotion of critical reflection among EFL student teachers.
Blogging also has the benefit of allowing students to have an audience for their blog posts where other students can comment; thus, becoming a part of an evolving public discussion. As well, blogs allow students to express themselves in a digital environment. In a study conducted by Ellison & Wu (2008), it was found that students enjoyed the convenience of blogging, the informal voice it encouraged, the interactivity involved in the blogging assignments, as well as reading about other students’ ideas and receiving feedback for their own. This study found that students regarded reading other students’ posts as the most helpful blogging activity, which coincided with the findings of a study conducted by Churchill (2009). These also supported the findings of Rodzvilla; Stiler & Phileo; Liaw; Chen; and Huang (Yang, 2009), which showed that Internet access served as a motivation for many students to read extensively. In particular, it served to motivate students to read in a language that was different from their first language. In a study conducted by Jolliffe and Harl (Hsu & Wang, 2011) where the learning and reading habits of college freshmen were analyzed, it was found that students were more engaged with and motivated by digital texts, especially for social networking and personal communication. In a similar study conducted by Simsek (Hsu & Wang, 2011), students “ in an ICT-integrated reading-skills course” (Hsu & Wang, 2011, p. 70) reported that their reading skills improved and that they developed positive attitudes toward the use of ICT in the reading course. This was also supported by the results of a study conducted by Nicholson, Caverly, and Battle (Hsu & Wang, 2011), which integrated blogging activities into a college developmental reading course to scaffold students’ critical thinking, writing, and reading. The results showed that the blogging activities increased the students’ appreciation of academic development, as well as their interest in further learning and their level of knowledge. Even when used in a Math class, blogging activities also motivated students to read about their lessons in advance (Greer & Reed, 2008).
A study by Campbell (Soares & Naval, 2008) indicated that a class blog may be useful for the facilitation of project-based language learning. Similarly, a study conducted by Soares & Naval (2008) showed that English language learning students considered blogs as a learning tool and that blogs were used in different ways around the world. In the same manner, a study conducted by Churchill (2009) suggested that blogs served as an effective educational technology where some of the blog-based activities that were useful for learning included the previewing of others’ tasks, the receipt of comments, and reading others’ blogs. As well, a study conducted by Williams (2004) concluded that blogging can potentially be a transformational technology for learning and teaching where students are provided with a greater opportunity to interact with their peers while at the same time being provided with a high level of autonomy.
Indeed, blogging proves to be an activity that students find interesting and that motivate them to learn. In a study conducted by Hsu & Wang (2011), findings showed that although there was no positive relation between blogging and the improvement in college students’ comprehension skills, it showed that the integration of blogging activities in a class resulted in a higher retention rate for the class.
Blogging may also cause a disruption in the learning patterns and traditional communication in the classroom where the learning or teaching approach shifts from being instructor-centered to a knowledge-sharing approach that is more student-to-teacher and student-to-student. Moreover, blogs can be used to assess and monitor students’ work (Yang, 2009) and can possibly change the learning activity from being space- and time-bound that occurs only in the classroom within a specific period of time to one that is ubiquitous, diffused, and concretely integrated into real world events and issues.
Although there is an insufficient amount of research that supports the effectiveness of blogs in enhancing the reading skills of adult English learners, it is evident from previous studies that blogging activities do promote and enhance learning and that they motivate students to read and study more. Although Hurlburt (2008) suggested that the effectiveness of blogs as learning tools is not the same for all subject areas, the findings on the learning improvements and increased motivation that result from blogging activities should be enough to merit further investigation on the effectiveness of blogging activities when it comes to the enhancement of reading skills.
It is also important to note that, although blogs are widely used and are quite prevalent among Internet users, it should not be assumed that everyone knows how to use them. In addition, it’s important to establish the goals of the blogging initiative and to provide the guidelines for the blogging tasks’ completion and evaluation. These are important considerations that should be kept in mind when determining the effectiveness of blog tools in the improvement of reading skills as these ensure that the participants of the study are familiar and comfortable with using blogs, that the goals of the blogging initiative are clearly defined and communicated, and that the effectiveness of the blogging initiative is measured and evaluated in a concrete and conclusive manner.
The prevalent use of digital media can contribute both to the improvement and degradation of students’ reading skills and as such, researchers are trying to determine ways on how such digital media can aid in promoting learning and enhancing students’ reading skills.
Blogs are one form of digital media that recent and current studies focus on. While there’s not much evidence to show that blogs promote an improvement in the reading skills of adult English learners, they do show that blogs promote learning and that they motivate students to read and learn. These are good starting points for the current research and by taking note of the lessons derived from previous studies, current and future research may be improved such that a more concrete link between the use of blogs and the improvement of adult learners’ reading skills may be established.
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