Twenty-five articles were returned from the literature search. Ten articles were excluded because they did not meet the inclusion criteria. The remaining 15 articles (Table A; available in the online version of this article) were divided among the research team members, and data from those articles were organized into a matrix for analysis. Five nursing articles that discussed blogging as a teaching tool in blended and face-to-face nursing courses were included. Given the small number of nursing articles, the research team decided to keep all the articles that focused on blogging in blended or in-class environments, due to equal concern about its pedagogical use in these learning situations.
From the selected 15 articles, eight used a mixed-methods research design, six studies used a qualitative research design, and one article was anecdotal. Sample sizes ranged from five (Al-Fadda & Al-Yahya, 2010) to 146 participants (Rinaldo, Tapp, & Laverie, 2011). It was noted that students predominantly were from health sciences programs, such as nursing, medicine, public health, occupational health, and pharmacy. Ages of student participants ranged from as young as 15 years (Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2011) to 31 years (Kalelioglu & Gulbahar, 2010), and participants were enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs. Sample sizes of sexes varied across studies. Data collection techniques ranged from open-ended survey questions, interviews, and focus groups to quantitative data collection instruments to the blog or Twitter content of a study’s participant. Data analysis methods ranged from quantitative to qualitative to no stated methods.
Falling under the broader paradigm of social constructivism, collaborative learning principles acknowledge learning as an active process between learner and learner, and learner and teacher. These principles underpinned the three themes with respect to blogging and microblogging (the term blogging hereafter refers to blogging and microblogging) as a tool that promotes collaborative learning. These themes include (a) learning occurs through dialogue and collaboration; (b) learning involves challenging opportunities that stimulate learner engagement; and (c) learning is a social process.
Learning Occurs Through Dialogue and Collaboration. Collaborative learning philosophy posits that knowledge creation takes place through the exchange of dialogue between those involved in the learning process. Blogging has been shown to influence learning through communication and collaboration among learners and faculty in both classroom and clinical settings (Davi, Frydenberg, & Gulati, 2007; Fox & Varadarajan, 2011; Junco et al., 2011; Roland et al., 2011). Roland et al. (2011) stated that through blogs, the nursing student has “the opportunity to receive reaction to postings and be challenged by their instructor or other learners with regard to what was learned on a particular day” (p. 153). Roland et al. also discovered that, “Over time there was sharing and collaboration about goals, as well as strong critiques of education methods and practice” (p. 165). Furthermore, the majority of respondents (55%) in the study by Davi et al. (2007) reported that posting to blogs helped them to communicate their ideas more effectively, and 47% agreed that blogging enhanced their critical and analytical thinking skills.
Several articles discussed how blogging facilitates the sharing of ideas and generates meaningful discussion. A participant in the Kalelioglu and Gulbahar (2010) study stated that “exploring others’ work provide [sic] us to exchange opinions about [sic] own materials’ deficiencies” (p. 139). Students in the study by Davi et al. (2007) reported that “the blog helped facilitate meaningful class discussions by ‘kickstarting’ the conversation, ensuring class participation, and fostering more informed class discussions” (p. 226). The findings of Davi et al. indicate that blogs are useful to students because students “have the opportunity to express their views” (p. 226). A learner’s lack of experience with blogging appeared to have no effect on the ability to communicate ideas via an electronic format. Fox and Varadarajan (2011) found that despite the majority (77%) of students not having used Twitter before, 82% indicated that Twitter allowed them to better express an opinion and increase the sharing of ideas (61%). These findings indicate that blogging can facilitate feedback and exchange of ideas while enhancing learning in communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills.
It also appears that the dialogical exchanges that occurred through blogging influenced the depth of meaning for learners. Junco et al. (2011) asserted that “using Twitter produced a more rich discussion of student’s relationship to themes…than would have been possible during the limited class time” (p. 126). This finding was supported by Davi et al. (2007) when 73% of their respondents agreed that blogging increased the level of meaningful discussion in class, whereas only 17% disagreed. Twitter can also be used “to communicate with students about the great ideas—the nuggets of knowledge—we glean while attending conferences” (Skiba, 2008, p. 110).
Although findings strongly suggest that blogging can positively influence communication, evidence points to the stifling attributes of blogging and microblogging. In the study by Rinaldo et al. (2011), the focus group results indicated that some participants thought Twitter was a “waste of time” (p. 201). Twitter also created unpleasant emotions in participants. Mistry (2011) reported that simultaneous tweeting in the synchronous group created anxiety among the instructor and learners. Several participants in the study by Al-Fadda and Al-Yahya (2010) found blogging to be “not the best option” (p. 104), and one participant in the study by Davi et al. (2007) stated that, “Sometimes it was hard to write anything because you really had nothing to say or had a fear of saying something stupid” (p. 229). Davi et al. reported that 18% of respondents felt intimidated about posting to a blog. However, the findings of Junco et al. (2011) supported the idea that Twitter helps students feel more comfortable asking the questions they may not be comfortable with asking in class. These perceptions regarding blogging indicate the need for further research into the variables that make for positive and not-so-positive experiences with learners and faculty.
Learning Involves Challenging Opportunities That Stimulate Learner Engagement. Collaborative learning philosophy implies that the ways in which learners construct knowledge strongly influences their engagement with course material and dialogue with each other and faculty. The theme—that learning involves challenging opportunities that stimulate learner engagement—discusses the ways in which blogging technology can be used as a method to encourage learners to engage thoughtfully with the course material, peers, and faculty. This theme also explores the nature of blogging assignments with respect to knowledge development.
Use of Blogging Technology as a Learning Opportunity. Blogging inspires learners to reflect on the experience while expressing insights into the application of theory and evidence in practice (Mistry, 2011; Reed, 2012; Roland et al., 2011; Trueman & Miles, 2011). Mistry (2011) found that blogging provided nursing students with an opportunity for reflection and flexibility at a pace convenient to their busy lifestyle.
One participant in the study by Davi et al. (2007
Blogging had a positive impact on this course. It made both preparing for class and learning from class more interesting and in-depth, since deeper analysis of the material had to be done, but the scope of the analysis was our choice (which was very nice!). The blog made people think above and beyond what is just in our text.(p. 229)
) discovered that:
The utilization of social technology students were familiar with, and the use of simulation in a safe, nonthreatening manner, fostered student insight and elevated confidence transferable to the clinical environment in a manner which will affect positive patient outcomes throughout the students’ nursing careers.(p. 65)
Reed further claimed that students underwent an enhanced learning experience where blogging allowed them to become aware of their value judgments related to self and others. Reed’s findings suggest that blogs exhibit students’ judgmental reflectivity and provide evidence of students’ developing awareness of value judgements.
Blogs can be used to document and share knowledge about nursing education and study habits toward the development of analytical thinking and communication skills (Roland et al., 2012). Skiba (2008) noted that reflection provides opportunities to create “authentic learning environments, such as completing a case scenario using high-fidelity patient simulators. As real-life events happen that relate to class content, students can continue classroom conversations, reinforcing connections between class material and the real world” (p. 111). Participants in the study by Trueman and Miles (2011) stated that blogging “helped separate the need to know from the nice to know” and “I can look at 20 tweets and feel like I can handle the material versus 68 pages of textbook or 21 pages of PowerPoint handouts” (p. 185).
The study by Rinaldo et al. (2011) focused on business students and explained that even if the teacher was inexperienced with technology, the use of Twitter as a form of announcement enhanced students’ learning. In sample t tests comparing Time 1 (start of course) and Time 2 (end of course), findings demonstrated statistically significant differences in how students reacted to and perceived Twitter’s impact on enhancing their education and involvement in the course (t = 1.82; p = 0.5). Junco et al. (2011) created a student engagement instrument and determined that Twitter when used in “educationally relevant ways had a positive effect on student engagement” (p. 128). Junco et al. discovered that Twitter allowed conversations to continue in ways that would not have been possible during 1-hour classes. They also used “Twitter to communicate high expectations in student’s academic work, service learning projects, and out-of class activities” (p. 129).
As the application of blogging to increase communication increases momentum, the provision of additional technological supports must be considered. Roland et al. (2011) suggested “the need for further study and the application of more sophisticated tools (such as apps for handheld devices and smart phones) for collaborating instantly and displaying the most current information as part of nursing training and informatics” (p. 165).
The Nature of the Blogging Assignment. Blogging exercises and assignments increase engagement while challenging both faculty and students to embrace the possibilities of content delivered in this novel format. Williams and Chin (2009) found that to increase student engagement, it was important to create class discussion following students’ experiences with the assignment (that included Twitter as one component). In Rinaldo et al. (2011), Twitter challenged students to link theory to practice through constant discussions of content in an online setting. One student explained that Twitter “definitely adds depth to our classroom discussions” (p. 200). Students generally agreed that the blog activity helped in encouraging students to do preclass reading assignments (Al-Fadda & Al-Yahya, 2010). Use of blogs and sharing products and ideas through this medium not only motivates and attracts learners but also provides them with a real-life situation to improve their technological competencies (Kalelioglu & Gulbahar, 2010).
Barriers to faculty facilitation of the blog included time and technical issues (reported for the blogging group), lack of training or standardization of facilitation skills (blogging and microblogging), and lack of buy-in from students (essay discussion; Fischer, Haley, Saarinen, & Chretien, 2011). In the study by Kang, Bonk, and Kim (2011), instructors used a tracking tool to monitor student engagement. The instructor was tracking “lurking” students (i.e., those who just visited or read sites but did not contribute and leave a comment). This formative surveillance increased the instructor’s time commitment. Also increasing the time commitment is providing feedback to students’ posts. Faculty staff may need to adjust their practice to be able to read and respond to blog posts at appropriate intervals so that feedback is received soon after posting, which can enhance learning (Fischer et al., 2011). Several students’ suggestions on how to use Twitter focused on how the professor should give feedback to students. For example, one student stated, “I would suggest that the professor retweet something and give feedback, then we need to talk about it in class” (Rinaldo et al., 2011, p. 201).
A majority (71%) of student respondents in the Fox and Varadarajan (2011) study found that using Twitter in the classroom was at times distracting and confusing. One student explained, “Twitter during class was overwhelming, I could not keep up with the lecture” (p. 5). Not keeping up with a lecture would imply an impediment to learning. Participants in the Davi et al. (2007) study found the set up of the blogging Web site difficult to understand. The continuous one-page format was confusing and hard to decipher. Participants felt the format used for the blogging assignment should have been divided more effectively, such as one page per subject. To support buy-in and understanding from faculty, nursing programs that choose to pursue blogging as a means of reflection should provide faculty training to build comfort in the technology.
Learning Is a Social Process. At the center of this theme is the idea of building a learning community through blogging technology. This theme describes the role that blogging plays in building a learning community, facilitating social interaction, and promoting knowledge development through a culture of engagement. Furthermore, this theme explores how blogging has the potential to deconstruct social structures, social relations, and institutional practices of presenting course material. It also describes a shift from a teacher-centered perspective to a learner-centered perspective.
Creating a Culture of Engagement. Creating a culture of engagement involves forming a community where learners feel a sense of connection to one another, faculty, and beyond, as well as to acknowledge, respect, and learn from the diversity in the community. Junco et al. (2011) used the phrase “created a culture of engagement” (p. 129) to describe how blogging enhanced students’ connections with each other: “the use of Twitter created a culture of engagement between students.… Students interacted with each other a great deal around academic and co-curricular issues, which led to deepening of their interpersonal connections” (p. 129). Twitter also helped speed up students’ emotional connections to each other. “Twitter helped students ‘warm up’ to talk about personally impactful themes from the book in face to face interactions; they did this readily via the electronic format” (Junco et al., 2011, p. 126).
Several authors spoke about how blogging can develop a sense of community (Al-Fadda & Al-Yahya, 2010; Fisher et al., 2011; Junco et al., 2011; Kang et al., 2011). One participant in the study by Al-Fadda and Al-Yahya (2010) stated, “I think blogs increase the sense of community in the class, because it helps students and teachers to know more about each other’s through communication and feedback sessions” (p. 104). Kang et al. (2011) also discussed the value of diversity in using blogs. One respondent explained that the “blog help me to learn how to build connection and relationship among my peers with diverse background” (p. 230). Kang et al. (2011) also described the value of creating “community learning” (p. 230). A sense of connection was also experienced as participants discovered shared values and interests through blogging: “Some students who were engaged in academic discussions via Twitter…made connections when realizing they had shared values and interests” (Junco et al., 2011, p. 126). Twitter appeared to facilitate these connections as is evidenced in the following Junco et al. (2011) study participant quote: “[Connections] happened quickly over Twitter as traditional classroom discussion boundaries did not exist” (p. 126). However, it is evident that someone needs to monitor the content being shared or set boundaries outlining acceptable standards of use. This is due to the fact that if the blog becomes similar to a diary, with no clear guidelines, students may use it to self-disclose revealing personal struggles. This was the case in the study by Junco et al., where a student divulged he wished to harm himself.
The use of Twitter was also shown to impact the career trajectory of students. As one student said “[I became] aware of some great groups and individuals worth following” (Rinaldo et al., 2011, p. 201). Twitter connections supplemented course content as business students following other individuals and companies would share the information they gained with the professor and the class (Rinaldo et al., 2011). These findings suggest that blogging can aid students in connecting with external communities. As a result, students become more active players in their learning.
Blogging appears to encourage learning by acknowledging and promoting diversity. Davi et al. (2007
) reported that “students… like being exposed to a number of different perspectives and opinions” (p. 226) through blogging. They further reported that:
Critical thinking capabilities are stretched further since students must take into account the positions and ideas of multiple bloggers including their own.… Each post serves as a draft, with students rethinking their ideas and revising their explanations with each posting.(p. 228)
Junco et al. (2011), who framed their research around collaborative learning principles, and Davi et al. (2007) determined that blogging promoted participation of students who may not otherwise have participated in traditional class discussion. Junco et al. concluded that “using Twitter showed a respect for diversity because, in addition to discussing diversity issues via the Twitter feed, we encouraged students who otherwise may not be active participants in class to participate online” (p. 129).
Blogging addresses diversity in terms of learners’ age. A perception is noted within the research that millennial students are less articulate and skilled in written communication, which creates apprehensiveness and fear at the prospect of using traditional forms to present ideas and opinions (Roland et al., 2011
). Nursing students are called on to process, retain, and apply large volumes of information in classroom and clinical settings. Teaching strategies using blogging and other Web 2.0 strategies can be vital to their success (Trueman & Miles, 2011
). Trueman and Miles (2011
This generation knows what it wants to know, is motivated to succeed, is grade focused, and wants teaching in a format that is fast, relative, and succinct. In addition, it has a need for immediate feedback, responsiveness, and ideas from others.(p. 183)
Blogging is a vehicle to do this.
According to Roland et al. (2011
The assumption is that if students can be directed to this tool to write down what was learned during a given period (classroom or clinical) and evaluated in a nonthreatening manner, or better still, if they evaluate themselves, then a more effective interactive learning experience might be possible.(p. 153)
According to Mistry (2011), nursing students were generally very driven and when asked about their opinions in using a blogging tool during the study, one student answered, “[I was] very excited, I personally saw it as a great opportunity” and another responded, “I realize it’s the way forward and it will be useful for people, not just the younger generation” (p. 1294).
Davi et al. (2007) were among the only authors who explored gender differences with respect to blogging experiences and learning. They found statistically significant differences between women and men in terms of feeling more intimidated about participating in blogging, as well as experiencing difficulty when posting and responding to entries. However, statistically significant differences were also found in terms of educational benefits achieved through blogging. Davi et al. (2007) discovered that more women than men thought that “participating in the blog increased the level of meaningful discussion in the class.… Reading the blog assisted in their learning for the course.… Posting to the blog helped them become better critical and analytical thinkers” (p. 229). Given that data on gendered experiences of blogging and learning is scant, more research needs to be conducted in this area to validate these findings.
Democratizing Roles and Responsibilities. The data indicate that blogging can shift the focus of the teaching–learning process from faculty-driven processes to student-driven processes. Junco et al. (2011) stated, “Twitter facilitated communication, engagement, and the democratization of roles and relationships in ways that may not have happened in the real world” (p. 129). Kang et al. (2011) found that blogging challenged students’ learning because it created a “decentralization of power” (p. 232). In other words, the instructor was not the main source of information. Conversely, the students posted key articles and led discussions. This decentralization of power created more learning opportunities as students felt comfortable and in control. Nevertheless, the tracking tool still gave the teacher the power to track who is or is not participating.
The decentralization of power is also noted in Brown’s (2012) research. Brown described how a “network” (p. 53) of bloggers, centered around similar interests and going beyond the learning group, removed the teacher as the main source of information, which in turn “facilitated students and staff and researcher sharing” (p. 54). This network is similar to Mistry’s (2011) description of how blogging can reinforce content acquisition when connections are created among learners, between instructors and learners, and between learners and external resources. Trueman and Miles (2011) echoed ideas similar to Brown’s when they suggested that collaborative learning strategies that incorporate blogging appeal to technologically savvy millennial learners. They also suggested that blogging, when used in a collaborative learning context, encourages a significant shift away from the typical teacher-centered or lecture-centered instruction.
Blogging has been shown to allow for the continuous exchange of dialogue in an open environment that is free of geographic boundaries and welcoming of diverse learners from a variety of experiences and backgrounds. The pedagogical use of blogging also has the potential to deconstruct traditional power relationships in the teaching–learning process. However, given the contradictions in the research findings, more experimental research needs to be conducted to determine whether blogging is a tool that promotes learning as a social process.