Nurse educators are challenged to present content using innovative and engaging teaching strategies, especially for a generation of technologically perceptive learners. Minocha (2009) found that students who engage with social networking systems reported increased satisfaction with collaborative peer-to-peer learning experiences, socialization, self-reflection, peer critique, problem-solving skills, collation of evidence-based resources, and instructor performance. This study explores nursing faculty's attitudes regarding blogging as a teaching tool, identifies barriers encountered in integrating blogging strategies in nursing curriculum, and discusses challenges faced by faculty in meeting the needs of millennial learners.
Web logs, or blogs, are Web sites where entries are asynchronous (although they can sometimes be synchronous) and are usually written in 140 to 500 words. Blogs, introduced in the mid-1990s, became popular in education in 2004 when the interface became more user friendly and provided freedom of expression (Farmer, Yue, & Brooks, 2008). Blogging offers the user the ability to add images and video without content or character count limitations. This form of expression promotes critical and analytical thinking, creative and associational thinking, increased access and exposure to information, and improved social interaction (Richardson, 2006). Internet strategies including blogging motivate learners to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions in real time and allow them to disseminate evidence-based resources to guide clinical decision making, thereby ensuring safer clinical practice (Maag, 2005). Blogging, “promotes self-directed versus teacher-directed learning, encourages self-reflection as a model of social experience and self-identity, and enriches the ‘process’ of learning,” (Maag, 2005, p. 23). All of these concepts are essential elements in collaborative learning—an overarching term for a variety of educational approaches involving engagement by students, or students and nurse educators working together. To date, limited studies have explored blogging as a teaching tool in nursing academia.
Blogging in nursing education is a relatively new phenomenon. Blogs can represent a powerful way for educators to publicize research, communicate with their students, and connect with a wider learning or scholarly community (Mistry, 2011). Blogging as a pedagogical tool has been noted in nursing education to increase critical thinking and reflection (Grassley & Bartoletti, 2009; Mistry, 2011; Roland, Johnson, & Shain, 2011) and as a means of sharing information in nursing courses (Reed & Edmonds, 2015).
Current research highlights the advantages of blogging for students. Many research reports indicated that blogging, when used as a tool to disseminate course content, increased the level of meaningful discussion among students by facilitating student sharing of ideas and encouraging participation (Frydenberg & Gulati, 2007). Similar studies (Fox & Varadarajan, 2011; Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2011; Moule, Ward, & Lockyer, 2010) reported decreased anxiety and increased sharing of ideas among students. Students also indicated that the blogging environment felt less threatening, compared with traditional forms of face-to-face communication (Roland, Johnson, & Shain, 2011).
Several authors linked blogging to students' increased thinking and ability to reflect. For example, Roland, Johnson, and Shain (2011) suggested blogging has the potential to support improved analytical thinking, written expression of ideas, and communication skills among participants. Frydenberg and Gulati (2007) reported that 71% of student respondents found that blogging increased course content awareness and knowledge through ongoing peer and professional communication and feedback. Trueman and Miles (2011) argued that blogging “can be a viable platform for metacognition, forcing users to be brief and to the point” (p. 183).
Although the benefits of blogging have been noted, factors known as the digital divide may exist that segregate students into groups of those who can access technology and those who cannot. Several barriers to utilization include access to IT infrastructure and the affordability of services, along with level of computer literacy skills that are essential to navigate within 21st century society. Reed and Edmunds (2015) found that students in a senior nursing leadership course initially lacked confidence and competence in using blogging technology. However, as they became more familiar with the use of blogging strategies, students verbalized that they appreciated the peer interface and found that their use of blogging as reflection strengthened their understanding of the provided content. Mather, Marlow, and Cummings (2013) found blogging to be a user-friendly, easily accessible digital strategy that improved clinical communication among clinical agencies, students, and faculty. However, recent authors have identified that few studies address faculty experiences with blogging (Bassell, 2010; Strag, Knopp, & Schuber, 2015; Weinstock, 2011; Wolf & Morouse, 2015). Those authors recommended additional explorations of faculty perspectives on the use of social media, particularly blogging (Bassell, 2010; Strag, Knopp, & Schuber, 2015; Weinstock, 2011; Wolf & Morouse, 2015).
Despite the increase in popularity using blogging in education, minimal literature identifies the barriers and challenges faced by nursing faculty regarding implementing blogging in their courses. This study uniquely captures American and Canadian nursing faculty's attitudes about the use of social media applications in nursing education. Particular emphasis focused on identifying nursing faculty's attitudes regarding blogging as a teaching tool, identifying barriers encountered in integrating blogging strategies in nursing curricula, and discussing the challenges faculty face in meeting the needs of millennial learners.
A qualitative design, supported by assumptions underlying collaborative learning theory, guided the research objectives of this study. Collaborative learning adopts philosophical underpinnings from social constructivism. Social constructivism posits that the individual is an active participant in constructing understanding of the world, and shares that understanding through conversation (Gergen, 1985). Assumptions of collaborative learning include the concept that learning is an active process whereby learners create new meaning of a subject within the context of peer-to-peer or peer-to-instructor interaction. Tenets of collaborative learning emphasize that challenging learning opportunities must exist to ensure active learner engagement with peers and teachers, diversity among learners is beneficial to the learning process, and learning is a sociocultural process that encourages learners to articulate and support their ideas. Collaborative learning theory assumes that learning occurs through conversation. Blogging and microblogging support collaborative learning because students are provided with opportunities to exchange information with other students, draw upon the expertise of the professor and peers, discuss problems, and collaboratively find solutions (Huang, Jeng, & Huang, 2009).
Participant Eligibility and Selection
Nursing faculty who taught students at all levels of nursing education programs in the province of Ontario and the state of Illinois were eligible to participate in this project. Using a comprehensive convenience sampling method, surveys were e-mailed to 49 schools of nursing in Illinois and 38 in Ontario. Demographic characteristics included age and gender. Academic characteristics included, but were not limited to, length of time teaching, course delivery format, type of course taught, and experience with blogging in their nursing program.
The research objectives were to explore nursing faculty's attitudes about blogging as a teaching tool, to identify barriers encountered in integrating blogging strategies in nursing curriculum, and to discuss challenges faculty face in meeting the needs of millennial learners. After receiving institutional review board approval, deans and directors of schools of nursing across Illinois and Ontario were contacted via e-mail. The e-mail contained information about the research study and requested that the dean or director disseminate the attached invitation for participation and survey link to their faculty.
Researchers used SurveyMonkey™ with 20 quantitative and qualitative items to capture faculty's attitudes about blogging and identify barriers and challenges experienced by faculty in relation to using blogs as a collaborative learning strategy. Participants' names, e-mail addresses, and other identifying information were not part of the raw data and were not collected. Surveys were anonymous and were stored electronically using encryption technology. Recipients of the survey completed and returned their responses within 3 weeks of the date the survey opened to be included in the analysis.
Researchers used attitude scales to collect data on three dimensions of faculty attitudes: evaluation, potency, and activity. Evaluation focused on assessing the participants' thoughts and feelings about the value, worth, and importance of blogging as a collaborative learning tool. Potency assessed their thoughts and feelings about the effectiveness and usefulness of blogging as a collaborative learning tool. Activity assessed their thoughts and feelings about the use, technology, and design of blogs as a collaborative learning tool. Attitude scales were adapted from the findings of Himmelfarb (1993); Osgood, Suci, and Tannebaum (1957); and Snider and Osgood (1969). Qualitative data items included questions related to faculty's experiences of barriers and challenges to using blogging within the learning environment. Attitudinal items identified in the literature review were included to address all relevant evidence regarding faculty attitudes within these three dimensions. A contingent of faculty members representing nursing education reviewed all items for clarity.
This research article focuses on the qualitative analysis of the study data. One hundred twenty-two surveys were completed, with 78 surveys completed in Illinois and 44 surveys completed in Ontario. Participants ranged in age from 30 to 65 years and 97% were women. Professional academia titles among the sample included 26% professors, 24 assistant professors, 22% associate professors, and 20% clinical instructors. Twenty-nine percent reported having 6 to 10 years of teaching experience, followed by 24% with less than 5 years of experience and 17% with 11 to 15 years of teaching experience. Thirty-two percent strictly taught face-to-face courses, whereas 31% taught blended, online, and face-to-face courses and 24% taught blended and online courses. Seventy-two percent of all courses taught contained both theory and clinical content. Ten percent of faculty reported the current use of blogging strategies in their courses.
Using a thematic analysis approach, the qualitative data from the surveys focused on generating themes and describing patterns of behavior (Perakyla, 2005). Deductive analysis focused on categorizing and analyzing respondents' attitudes regarding blogging under three broad themes reflective of collaborative learning: (a) Learning Occurs Through Dialogue and Collaboration; (b) Learning Involves Interesting Opportunities That Stimulate Learner Engagement; and (c) Learning Is a Sociocultural Process.
Learning Occurs Through Dialogue and Collaboration
Collaborative learning theorists claim that learning takes place through a communicative partnership between student and teacher and between student and student (Huang, Jeng, & Huang, 2009). Results describing the evaluation, potency, and activity dimensions of faculty attitudes regarding this claim are presented below.
Evaluation. Many responses indicated that blogging is a way to communicate and share information with students. However, the recurring idea of students' noncollaboration is reflected in the following quotation:
I believe blogging has immense potential; however, asking students who are overwhelmed with commitments and little time to go a step further—and if participation does not result in more marks for them I would worry that they would not be receptive. Often, I consider that a blog would be the best way for ongoing communication for the students and myself and the students amongst themselves as well.
The data suggested that “not all of our students are happy to use computers and many still want a face-to-face approach in education,” suggesting students still highly value the face-to-face interaction of traditional education.
A common belief expressed by the majority of participants is that online learning is a deterrent to teaching or role modeling the relational aspect of the nursing profession. As one respondent stated, “I think that there is a potential risk that the incorporation of more and more technology in the classroom will distance us from our students in creating a professional student–learner relationship.”
Online interaction appears to have implications for critical reflection, an important piece of relational practice. One respondent stated, “A student's reflection in practice might be best experienced in dialogue with a teacher or mentor.”
Analysis indicated that respondents had concerns over the depth and breadth of the blog content. For example, one participant stated, “blogging may also lead to self-censorship, especially for students.” This suggests that students may feel constrained in freely expressing their thoughts and ideas, which contradicts the philosophy of collaborative learning. Analysis pointed to concerns regarding the interpretation of blog content, as one participant stated, “I'd be scared of how things could be viewed or the interpretation of the content.” Given the diversity of the nursing student population, there is a strong possibility of misinterpreting one's words.
Potency. Some respondents were concerned about the need to oversee the content of students' blogs. As one respondent noted, it is “difficult to monitor discussion of multiple students for quality and appropriateness.” This difficulty increases with larger class sizes, and another respondent wondered, “How would this technology work in classes over 100 students,” as “it would be challenging to respond to all of the students?” In addition, other responses suggested that blogging can lead to a decrease in the level of scholarly writing, such as, “students can perceive online interaction as less formal” and “[it] may become more of a chat environment,” which raised concerns about the quality of the blogs and whether students are meeting the assignment and course objectives. Furthermore, data suggested that blogging might have implications for academic integrity; for example, the “electronic medium could lead to more cut-and-paste responses and encourage plagiarism.”
Analysis indicated that blogging is unnecessary, given the number of teaching strategies: “[Blogging is] not something I think is necessary, considering all our other options for delivering content and communicating,” and “Blogging has little to no true impact. Using the regular pen-and-paper journal is just as effective.” Others suggested blogging was effective and useful as a way to promote learning through dialogue and collaboration. One respondent stated, “We use discussion boards, which I guess could be considered blogging; these are effective.”
Although the majority of respondents regard the potency of blogging as weak with respect to promoting learning through dialogue and collaboration, there was an indication that nursing instructors were motivated to learn the effectiveness of blogging as a tool in their classroom. One participant stated she was “unfamiliar with pedagogical effectiveness but willing to learn.”
Activity. This category analyzes respondents' attitudes about the use, technology, and design of blogs and their ability to promote learning through dialogue and collaboration. The general attitude about the use of blogging is that “blogging and/or the use of other social media should not be used in place of face-to-face instructor/student interaction.” The respondents who used blogs in their teaching–learning environment “monitor growth in clinical reasoning and progress,” either through personal reflection or group work. For example, one respondent used blogs in her learning environment “to answer clinical placement questions in the community capstone course and monitor [students'] learning and realizations regarding the role of the nurse in areas they are precepting (schools, public health departments, outpatient management of chronic health conditions…).”
Other respondents indicated that they use blogs as a method to “generate discussion” and “promote engagement” by having students “post reflective essays on a course Web site, so that it is available for comment by others” or by “allowing the students to critique an article and the others must read and comment on it in order to get a grade.” Further demonstration of the use of blogs to facilitate collaboration is evident in the following quote: “It is more of a wiki but I have used it like a blog—students are assigned to a group and have to produce a wiki on an assigned topic and then share it with the rest of the class.”
A blog's design and technology is best suited for reflection. As one participant stated, a blog's “best use is retrospective reflection.” Several participants used the phrases “reflective journaling” or “blogging about experience” to describe how they use blogging to promote learning. Therefore, the design, technology, and use of blogging appears to show promise as a way to promote reflection, which is a critical skill for nursing students to develop.
Learning Involves Interesting Opportunities That Stimulate Learner Engagement
Collaborative learning implies that the ways in which learners construct knowledge strongly influence a learner's engagement with course material, each other, and faculty. The theme Learning Involves Interesting Opportunities That Stimulate Learner Engagement described respondents' attitudes regarding blogging as an exciting teaching tool that enticed learners to engage with each other and the course content.
Evaluation. Respondents indicated concerns about the worth, effectiveness and value of blogging as a pedagogical strategy to stimulate learning and student discussions of presented content. Specifically a respondent stated she was “not really seeing the value of it to reach course goals.” Participants indicated that “better tools were available” on academic Web sites to engage student learners that are “more beneficial… such as discussions and simulations.” However, the respondent did not provide specific information about the beneficial tools.
Additional respondents indicated that blogging was “not necessary” and “does not bring anything new to the learning experience.” The latter respondent indicated a preference for using discussion boards instead of blogging. A respondent stated, “Students have options for discussion in course forums and do not become engaged unless required to do so. Blogging would not be any different.” Students' perceived lack of interest accounted for many respondents' limited use of blogging. One respondent asked, “If blogging is a good way to promote student engagement, then how does this relate to clinical practice, which is, by its nature, a highly engaged process already?”
Potency. The thoughts and feelings of faculty regarding the effectiveness of blogging as a potential pedagogical strategy indicated significant concerns regarding student engagement. One respondent stated blogging “could be a distraction [or] distracting,” whereas another stated she was “not sure students would take the time to participate in blogging. They are overwhelmed with current expectations in the courses.” Yet despite these concerns, a few faculty indicated interest in blogging as a learning strategy if given more information demonstrating the effectiveness and value of the tool. Another respondent stated, “More education on how it would be helpful” while an additional participant surmised, “I would need evidence that blogging actually increased student engagement and learning and is not just another fad.”
Activity. Faculty provided rich commentary on their thoughts and feeling about the use, technology, and design of blogs as a collaborative learning tool: “I get no activity from students as there are no points associated with it and they told me that they did not have the time to engage in an activity that did not impact their grade.”
Similarly, additional respondents echoed that “Students like concrete grades.” Another respondent queried that blogging “may not be of interest to this generation that uses 140 characters (Twitter™) and texting to make their points. Use of these other social media may be more important to younger students.”
An additional prevalent theme noted in respondent commentary was the faculty time commitment necessary to develop and implement blogging strategies in course development. Comments included concerns about “time to set [the] assignment up, time to familiarize students with it in an educational setting as opposed to personal blogging,” “lack of time to learn and implement; time-consuming,” and “time and workload” constraints. An additional respondent referred to blogging as “busy work.” Furthermore, faculty expressed unfamiliarity with “how to implement blogging assignment” and “just knowing how to use the technology.” Others articulated blogging as having a significant “learning curve” and “worrying about using the technology with no mastery of it.”
Additional respondents referenced apprehension about student engagement in blogging. One respondent identified that blogging presents an environment in which students will “slip into social conversation too readily,” whereas another expressed concerns that “the students who like to express their thoughts will dominate the blog and the shy students will continue to be silent.”
Learning Is a Sociocultural Process
At the center of the theme Learning Is a Sociocultural Process is the idea of building a learning community through blogging technology. This theme described attitudes about blogging as a tool for building learning communities, facilitating social interaction, and promoting knowledge development through a culture of engagement.
Evaluation. Respondents provided comments indicating their hesitation about the value, worth, and importance of blogging as a collaborative tool, where individuals have a personal “dislike of computers and enjoy face-to-face discussion” and value face-to-face “instructor/student interaction.” Another respondent indicated that a personal dislike from experience “is part of [her] hesitation” to use blogging as teaching–learning tool. Furthermore, the idea that blogging is a social fad was also echoed by a respondent who stated, “I'm not a bandwagon jumper.”
Although some instructors explained the concept of “learning communities to no avail,” students' “lack of interest” was a driving force in not using blogs. One respondent stated:
I do not know if my concerns are with the technology or with the culture of the school in which I teach. I have tried on two occasions to use a discussion board in my classes and really encouraged students to use it, and it has failed miserably.
Other concerns expressed about technology driving the learning suggested “that technology may drive the learning instead of the learning driving the technology.” Additional comments related to concerns about blogging did not support the value or importance of blogging as a collaborative learning tool. Another respondent echoed a similar thought: “Students have options for discussion in course forums and do not become engaged unless required to do so. Blogging would not be any different.” Unless motivated by marks, students' engagement in blogging appears to fall short of establishing learning communities, social interaction, and knowledge development.
Organizational culture also appeared to play a factor in nursing instructors not using blogs. One respondent stated that blogs were “not accepted pedagogically.” If a nursing school's administration or leadership does not accept blogging as a pedagogical tool, then despite instructors' beliefs about blogging they will not implement the strategy in class. Although blogging may have the potential to enhance the institutional practices of delivering course content, there must be support from administration to do so.
Potency. Respondents indicated that blogging was used to “incorporate timely issues from media into clinical experiences” and “discussion of current events including legislation,” thereby suggesting that the tool could be effective for collaborative learning.
Activity. Analysis of respondents' thoughts and feelings about the use, technology, and design of blogs as a collaborative tool provided interesting responses about privacy and accessibility issues. Often, as noted by a respondent, the “college limits technology use of social media due to control over privacy and ethical issues.” Unfortunately, from several other comments, there is an overarching fear that privacy issues in the clinical setting if using blogging “may expose the student and the patient to harm related to breach of privacy.” This is an important concern, as one respondent stated that blogging may become a “chat environment and too much sharing of personal information will be out there.” Respondents are also concerned that “students struggle between professional and personal information and what can or cannot be put on the blogs.” In addition, respondents wonder about the possibility or reality of the “clinical setting blocking handheld devices,” thereby preventing the engagement of blogging.
The degree to which the technology behind blogging is accessible to users is also a common concern noted in the data. There was significant concern voiced by respondents that “Not all students have access to the technology, particularly low-income students.” This “lack of resources for students to guarantee equal access” is socially unjust and contradictory to collaborative learning principles. In addition, asking students to blog creates further social structures between students. Data indicated that respondents already categorize students into different social groups, from low-income students to the groups reflected in the following respondent quote: “Everyone needs a laptop or smartphone and the necessary computer skills. Not all students have these, especially international students and mature students.”
The results of this study suggest that there are many pedagogical, philosophical, and ethical issues for faculty associated with using blogging and technology in nursing education. Blogging has several advantages in nursing education, such as building confidence through participation and discussion, reflecting, sharing current ideas, encouraging students to seek other information to understand complex ideas or concepts, and increasing the ability to articulate their ideas with confidence (Pearson, 2010). Although there are noted benefits of blogging, the researchers are primarily concerned with the finding that using assignments or teaching methods that require students to incur extra financial expenses for the purposes of completing class assignments or participating in discussion may segregate students into groups of those who can access the technology and those who cannot.
Following the analysis of the respondents' attitudes with respect to blogging and the three broad themes of collaborative learning, it appears that few respondents espoused blogging as the most innovative or effective tool to stimulate strategies to engage nursing students in dialogue and collaboration. The barriers or hesitation to adopt blogging range from a lack of understanding the purpose of blogging, to seeing blogging as another discussion board, which would be challenging to monitor, thereby becoming a cumbersome rather than engaging tool to promote dialogue and collaboration. Respondents felt that blogging could become a distraction as students might see blogging as another form of “social chatting,” thereby losing the focus of blogging as a potentially creative pedagogical strategy to encourage student engagement in comprehending nursing content. Additional barriers revealed suggest that acceptance of blogging as a pedagogical tool in many educational environments could potentially divulge private information or raise ethical issues and might breach privacy and confidentiality. Finally, if blogging, a pedagogical tool, must be accessible by all students, it is paramount that all students are financially able to access computers, smart devices, and Internet service; otherwise, disparity in collaborative learning opportunities will occur. Unfortunately, the time and commitment required to learn how to use blogging effectively as a pedagogical tool to engage students in collaborative learning may result in the demise of blogging before it is widely used in the classroom.
In understanding the nurse educators' experiences and attitudes of blogging, an online survey distributed to more than 100 schools of nursing across Illinois and Ontario provided 122 responses. The small study sample is consistent with qualitative research, as studying a smaller number of participants to understand the patterns and the meanings revealed and described by the nursing faculty is required (Creswell, 2009). The data collected lend valuable insight into the attitudes of nursing faculty, as well as the advantages and challenges of using blogs as a teaching tool in nursing education.
Faculty have expressed their experience with what students want within their pedagogical goals, as well as their own admitted unfamiliarity with technology frequented by millennial learners. This divide clearly calls for research into teacher acceptance and use of technology in general and what drives student learning. In light of the findings, it might be enlightening to know the reasons faculty hesitate to begin a blog, the reasons for discontinuing a blog, and whether any current technological tools exist that may be more engaging than blogging. Further, to understand faculty reluctance to engage in blogging, perhaps future studies might frame blogging as a means to support student learning, especially students who are distance learners. Would faculty be more willing to adopt blogging as a tool to cultivate an environment of support and engage learners in dialogue? Future studies might reveal how nursing faculty might use blogging as a social tool rather than a teaching tool to encourage students to seek out peers and faculty for support, help, and a sense of security, especially in undergraduate nursing programs (Baker & Moore, 2008). Reluctance to use blogging as a pedagogical tool behooves researchers to further investigate and discern the hesitation of teacher acceptance and use of this technology in engaging students in collaborative learning.
Although significant challenges exist, blogging and technology in general can be useful collaborative learning tools if an ethical approach to their use is applied. Although blogging has the potential to positively influence student engagement and comprehension of core nursing content, it is clear that significant barriers exist to the implementation of this pedagogical strategy. Moving forward, it will be imperative to address each of these identified concerns within a comprehensive, evidence-informed approach that engenders confidence in the feasibility, effectiveness, value, and ease of implementation of blogging to improve learning outcomes.
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