Blogs for Professional & Cultural Learning: A Literature Review

In my last post, I shared over a hundred examples of sojourning ELTs who blog or who have blogged.  In my PhD dissertation, I analyzed only a handful of these blogs to find if there were any patterns concerning the ELTs’ adjustment to the host culture.  But still, what does the research literature say about blogs used for professional and cultural learning?  I found three studies that approach this question in different way.

Elola, I. & Ozkoz, A. (2008).  Blogging: fostering intercultural competence development in foreign language and study abroad contexts.  Foreign Language Annals, 41(3), 454-477.

This article looks at the cultural learning of foreign language students studying abroad.  I was drawn to this article because, through my own research, I have found strong parallels between international students’ cultural learning and new sojourning ELTs’ cultural learning.  The authors use the term intercultural competence and Byram’s model to illustrate their framework for cultural learning.  They also provide a brief literature review on intercultural competence in “the electronic environment” with all the studies published before most of today’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) were popular, so the reviews mostly looked at email exchanges.  The study asked the following research questions:

  1. To what extent does intercultural competence take place in the interaction via blogs between study abroad and at home learners?
  2. Does intercultural competence differ between the study abroad students and the at home students?
  3. What is the impact of using blogs for intercultural competence development in both study abroad and foreign language classroom contexts?

These questions show how the study abroad students’ experiences (in Seville, Spain) compare and contrast to those who are studying a foreign language (Spanish) in their home country.  Another difference between these two groups is that they are enrolled in different universities.  They were both asked to complete questionnaires during different phases of their studies, respectively abroad and at home.  These questionnaires contained items that allowed for both quantitative and qualitative analyses.  Because the study also analyzed blog data, the majority of the data was qualitative.

The study found that the communicative aspect of the blog had a positive impact on the students’ intercultural competence, helping the students at home confirm or reject some preconceptions about the culture of Spain.  More specifically, the blogs helped demonstrate the linguistic and cultural educational advantages of studying abroad.  The blogs also helped both groups of students resolve cultural misunderstandings.  The authors also found that the blogs “became a means for the study abroad students to reflect more profoundly about different aspects of Spanish culture and society” and the blog interactions “appear to encourage study abroad students to explore and closely examine different aspects of the target culture and to verbalize their impressions about their surroundings; this very likely leads to greater absorption of new cultural practices.”  It is my assumption that these conclusions can be transferred to sojourning English language teachers who blog.

Hou, H., Chang, K.E., & Sung, Y.T. (2010). What kinds of knowledge do teachers share on blogs?  A quantitative content analysis of teachers’ knowledge sharing on blogs. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(6), 963-967.

This study looks at blogs for professional learning purposes and does not single out English language teachers nor does it directly investigate cultural learning.  The authors here investigated the blog content of 495 Taiwanese primary and secondary school teachers.  These blogs were created in an environment developed by the researchers, so I question the personal and professional incentives for blogging.  This blogging community was not open to the public.

The researchers developed four categories of general knowledge and nine categories of pedagogical knowledge as shown in the tables below.

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For the first category, the teachers blogged mostly (46.6% of the content) about other types of knowledge irrelevant to teaching (K4).  If these teachers were sojourners, some of the posts about traveling may be relevant to cultural learning.  As for professional learning, 32.4% of the blog content was about the teachers’ content knowledge (K1), the equivalent of ELTs blogging about grammar, vocabulary, phonology, etc.  13.6% of the blog content was about teachers’ metacognitive knowledge (K3) and 7.4% was about their procedural knowledge, both of these categories could be classified as pedagogical (content) knowledge.

For the second category, the most dominant knowledge content was T9, other types of content that do not belong to the aforementioned categories, at 54.5%, which tells me the researchers should have attempted another coding scheme to better capture the majority of the themes.  Among the remaining 8 coding themes, the most blogged one was T1, subject content-related knowledge at 23.7%.  The remaining themes were under 8% in descending order: T3, T6, T2, T4, T8, T7, and T5.

The researchers acknowledge that this data is part of a larger study, which is why their discussion and conclusion section was limited to only suggestions.  I find this data interesting to compare to my preliminary qualitative overview of sojourning ELT blogs.  I require a data scraping program to get similar data from public blogs.

Okan, Z. & Taraf, H.U. (2013). The use of blogs in second language teacher education. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 83, 282-289.

Unlike the other studies, this one investigated second language teachers, specifically pre-service English language teachers.  Similar to the previous studies, the blogs were integrated into their respective program, which in this study was a 6-week course at a Turkish university.  Although I’m interested in the cultural and professional learning of ELTs, this study is interested only in the professional learning as it pertains to information and communication technology (ICT) skills, which may be categorized as technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK).

The researchers are motivated to conduct this study as the pressure for teachers to integrate technology in the classroom builds in nearly all educational sectors.  Their research questions are as follows:

  1. What are the prospective L2 teachers’ views on the usefulness of blogs in their preparation?
  2. Is the integration of ELT blogs effective in prospective L2 teachers’ preparation?
  3. Does the use of ELT blogs contribute to the improvement of prospective L2 teachers’ ICT skills?

These questions appeal to me for two different reasons.  The first two appeal to my role as a researcher on sojourning ELTs who blog.  The first and third questions appeal to my role as technology coordinator at an intensive English program in the United States.

The researchers conducted a case study on 20 pre-service teachers (students) using three tools for data collection: a participant information form, weekly lesson evaluation reports, and a questionnaire.  From the first tool, they found that only 7 students reported knowing what a blog was, but most of them could not accurately describe one; and only 1 student had created a blog but did not know any other ELT bloggers.  From the evaluation reports, they found ELT blogs useful and promising to learn more about teaching ideas and tips.  The students also found blogs as useful sources to learn more about websites and online tools to integrate technology in the classroom.

The questionnaire revealed a unanimous positive effect of using blogs in the pre-service ELT education classroom in terms of their perceptions of blogs in general, ELT blogs, the content of ELT blogs, their experience with ELT blogs, and the course itself.  However, these unanimously positive reports may have been directly or indirectly influenced by their teacher.  The researchers did not make it clear if one or both of them were their teachers.

Summary & Conclusion

All of the participants in these studies were required to use blogs either as Spanish language learning students at home and abroad, as primary and secondary school teachers in Taiwan, or as pre-service English language teachers in Turkey.  All of these studies found positive and/or useful results for the use of blogs to 1) develop intercultural competence more deeply, 2) share pedagogical content knowledge, 3) learn why and how blogs are used for ELT professional development.

All of these studies differ from my research interest in that I am more interested in the blogging content and habits of and reasons for teachers who are not required to blog.  I’m interested in those teachers who publicly share their professional and cultural learning with the public.  These types of bloggers may have a more vague idea of who their audience is compared to the participants in these studies.

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