These studies were examined to determine the affordances of blogs and the instructional strategies that would promote a K-12 CL environment:
- Undergraduate students on BA (Hons) Illustration course in England (Garcia, Brown, & Elbeltagi, 2013; Garcia et al., 2015);
- Grade 11 English students using the multimodal and interactive affordances of blogs, USA (O’Byrne & Murrell, 2014);
- Journal writing with a cohort of 224 Grade 5 students in Singapore (Nair, Tay, & Koh, 2013);
- Blogs as a class communication device with 9-11 year olds in Singapore (Ong & Cheung, 2015);
- Kindergarten children in China and Finland using a blog to share their visual arts work (Zhao & Li, 2015).
The following offers key themes and implications for schools seeking to provide a CL environment, based on the findings from these case studies.
The Changing Role of the Teacher
The connectivist idea that learning can occur without direct guidance is illustrated by Mitra’s self-taught, minimally guided hole-in-the-wall experiment in India (Mitra, 2007).
In CL, the role of teacher becomes less of an authority figure and the primary source of knowledge and more of a peer and guide (Garcia et al., 2015). With students, the responsibility for learning passed from teachers to learners as teachers only entered the learners’ blogging environment when invited. Initially, these students required prompting from teachers; however, as their confidence grew, they became less reliant on the teacher as they supported each other (Garcia et al., 2013). However, with the K-12 studies, students required varying degrees of teacher guidance through prompts, critique and constructive feedback. For example, the role of kindergarten teachers was significant and necessary as they were required to read and translate the blog posts in addition to posting comments on behalf of the students (Zhao & Li, 2015). Additionally, with the Grade 11 students, the teacher guidance through prompts and feedback had a positive impact on students completing postings; however without the guidance, nearly one-third of students posted fewer comments (O’Byrne & Murrell, 2014). These examples highlight the need for instructional strategies that support students becoming increasingly less dependent on teacher direction and more motivated to learn and share with peers.
The Role of Learners
A tenet of connectivism is the acknowledgement that learning rests in the diversity of opinion and expression (Siemens, 2004). The Grade 11 school students identified following, viewing and posting comments as a positive learning experience as they developed insights into peer topics though sharing ideas which made the project seem “more connected” (O’Byrne & Murrell, 2014, p. 934). Furthermore, teacher from the kindergarten study viewed the shared art project as an important way to enhance global views of the children (Ong & Cheung, 2015).
However, the desire to maintain cordial relationships with peers resulted in students’ reticence to give feedback if in disagreement with postings of peers in their community. Garcia et al. (2015) observed a loss of critical review due to students being ‘sometimes just too polite’ (p. 889) and not wanting to be critical of each other although this attitude diminished over time. (Ong & Cheung, 2015) noted that many students chose not to comment preferring to give face-to-face feedback if in disagreement for fear of offending their friends. Interestingly some students indicated that they would post feedback if they did not know the person (Ong & Cheung, 2015).
With the undergraduate students, although students considered the act of passively viewing the posts, rather than commenting on posts, contributed to their learning, it was reported that when some students failed to engage, this affected learning for the group as a whole (Garcia et al., 2013). Siemens (2004) rejects this behavior:
“Being connected, without creating and contributing, is a self-focused, self-centered state…. there is never a good time to be a lurker. Lurking = taking. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation … is actually negative. Even when we are newcomers in a network or community, we should be creating and sharing our growing understanding…” (Siemens, 2010, para. 7).
Therefore, schools should consider instructional strategies, differentiated by age groups, to help students share opinions and offer constructive, critical feedback regardless of their position, or opposing views, in a manner that maintains cordial relationships.
Sourcing Online Information
The teachers of the Grade 5 journal writers held a number of positive views towards the use of blogging including the promotion of higher order thinking and twenty-first century skills (Nair et al., 2013). They observed that the students read and learned more online, although some student-selected online readings were not age appropriate; nevertheless the blogs provided a greater outreach within the school community and writing was richer as students sourced information online (Nair et al., 2013). However, Nair et al (2013) also reported negative behaviors including a cut-and-paste attitude with online writing and short, less focused responses due to online distractions. In the development of a model, these issues would need to be addressed through instructional strategies.
Authority & Customisation
Two case studies reported on the bibliographic information general included by blog authors, commonly known as the About Me page. Garcia et al. (2015) noted the frequency of access of bibliographic pages in each blog as students verified the authority of comments and posts. O’Byrne & Murrell (2014) reported providing bibliographic information was not a required part of the project, the assumption being that the authority of the Grade 11 English students has been established through personal interactions.
In a separate study, Yang & Chang (2012) noted that that some students decorated their blogs to look more “personal and stylish” which they viewed as a sign to engage with online peers (p. 133). Customization was not reported in any of the key case studies, however one feature utilized by the Grade 11 students was the ability for the blog tool, Blogger, to link to other blogs by requesting notification of blog updates with icons identifying participants following a blog (O’Byrne & Murrell, 2014).
When setting up a CL blog environment, schools should consider encouraging students to customise their blogs and include biographic information to establish the authority of the author. This was significant in determining the value of the posts and comments posted and supports the principle of learners being able to filter their connections (Siemens, 2004).
Tools of Expression & Openness
Advocates for CL supports the diversity of expression which includes the learner’s choice to select the tool of expression where they feel most competent, which can lead to tensions during interactions as learners advocate for one tools over another to support their sense of competence (Tschofen & Mackness, 2012). While a blog may serve as an entry to a network of connected learners within and beyond the school, it would be naïve to consider that this would the only tool that students would use to build and access their personal learning networks. With the undergraduate students, Garcia et al. (2015) observed that the blog system represented only one part of the students networking community as many used additional tools such as Facebook and text messages to communicate.
For a true CL environment, Downes (2010) advocates for educational systems to be structured to maximize openness where
“[p]eople should be able to freely enter and leave the system, and there ought to be a free flow of ideas and artifacts within the system” (“Openness”, para. 1).
However, with the exception of the kindergarten students, the blogs were within closed communities which lead to reports of limitations due to the lack of openness. For example, the Grade 5 journal writers lacked the motivation to write posts due to the lack of responses or comments as there was no audience and teachers resorted to setting quotas for students to post comments (Nair et al., 2013). Additionally, Garcia et al (2015) noted that the undergraduate students did not invite or connect with external experts.
For a K-12 CL environment, this implies that support for students to maintain an open learning network through a myriad of both formal and informal networking tools and consideration of potential security and privacy issues.
Howard Rheingold talks with Dr Alec Couros about connected learning and how tools mediate connections (Connected Learning Alliance, 2012, 2:10)
The use of blogs to promote CL in K-12 schools is a viable option; however, the themes emerging from the case studies indicate that there is a necessity for schools to implement instructional strategies and blog features that are appropriate for each grade level. Furthermore, there is a requirement for the learner to develop the technical skills (Aldahdouh et al., 2015; Miller, 2009) alongside the “meta-skills” required for evaluating information, pattern recognition and maintaining network connections as a learning strategy (Couros, 2009). What is required is a CL blog framework that would support all learners from K-12 similar, perhaps, to the following example.