Research examined 12
randomly selected blogs from a population of 38 teacher-created, teaching-centered
blogs to determine whether they were useful reflective devices for practicing
middle school teachers. The amount and depth of reflective practice,
as measured by a researcher-created rubric, was examined as well. Results
indicated that all participants engaged in some level of reflective
writing. However, the depth and level of reflection varied within and
among the blogs. The results reported here are useful for framing future
research on the efficacy of middle school teacher blogs.
In their simplest form, blogs can be thought of as electronic journals (Huffaker, 2004; Kennedy, 2003). According to Kennedy (2003), blogs are “part web site, part journal, part free-form writing spaces [that] have the potential to enhance writing and literacy skills while offering a uniquely stylized form of expression” (¶ 4). A simple user interface makes blogs an effective journaling medium for many educators, including those who lack strong computer skills (Lohnes, 2003). The use of blogs by teachers is a relatively new phenomenon. Only a handful of studies have been published supporting their effectiveness in educational settings (Tan, 2005). However, these studies do not address blog efficacy when used by middle school teachers to reflect about professional practice. In fact, while blogs are being used more in education, it remains unclear how teachers, including middle school teachers, are using them.
There is a dearth of research on the efficacy of blogs as reflective devices. However, a few recent studies suggest that blogs may promote reflective practice among educational users (Shoffner, 2005; Suzuki, 2004; Fiedler, 2003; West, Wright, & Graham, 2005). Research on the efficacy of reflection in electronic environments supports this potential use of blogs as well (Bonk, Cummings, Hara, Fischler, & Lee, 2000). According to Kennedy (2003), “…blogs combine the best elements of [technology, where] work is collected, edited, and assessed, with the immediacy of publishing for a virtual audience” (¶17). Written reflection has been noted in the literature as an effective method of thinking about practice (Calderhead, 1996; Palmer, 1998). Blogs, electronic written expression, are “especially effective at supporting…reflection…more so than other technologies would be” (West et al., 2005, p.1656).
While research on blogs as teacher reflective devices is scarce, research on other reflective practices in education is more plentiful (Bolton, 1999; Kirk, 2000; Redmond & Burger, 2004; Romano & Schwartz, 2005). Among the research on reflective practice, a number of studies consider preservice teachers and the use of electronic mediums for reflection. Preservice educators who participate in electronic asynchronous reflection groups report better understanding of the practice of teaching and of decision-making involved in the teaching experience ( Redmond & Burger, 2004; Romano & Schwartz, 2005) . Kirk's (2000) research provides insight into the types of topics that promote reflective thinking in an electronic environment, and Bolton (1999) defines the characteristics of reflective practitioners as “….educational trendsetters and teacher leaders” (p.193). Research on the efficacy of blogs in supporting reflective practice among inservice teachers, however, is lacking. Therefore, the results of this study should prove useful in framing further research in this area.
The study used a quantitative approach to address the following broad research question: Do blogs support written reflection when used by middle school teachers? The researchers were also interested in assessing the depth of reflection occurring within the written entries.
As a part of a larger study of educational bloggers, the researchers conducted a census to identify teacher-created, teacher-centered blogs. At the conclusion of the census in the spring of 2005, 49 teacher-created, teacher-centered middle school blogs were identified. Due to mortality, that number dropped to 38 (N=38) by the time the researchers began this project in late 2005. Using a random number table, the researchers randomly selected 12 blogs for analysis. A demographic profile for this group is displayed in Table 1.
Next, the researchers randomly selected six entries from each of the 12 blogs for analysis. Entries of a non-educational nature were excluded from the sample. Seventy-two narrative posts collected from the blogs were analyzed for evidence of reflective practice.
All narrative posts used in the research came from entries published to open access Internet blogs. Research of a non-intrusive nature that involves public records or that occurs in public spaces does not require informed consent (Anderson & Kanuka, 2003). The authors expanded the concept of public space to include Internet public newsgroups, chat rooms, and other virtual communities such as blogs. Because these spaces are generally open to all, informed consent was not necessary because the researcher had “no interaction or intervention with the participants,” and there was “no disclosure of private information” (Anderson & Kanuka, p. 69). Other experts (Frankel & Siang, 1999; King, 1996) support this assertion. Research reported in this study follows the tenets laid out by these experts. As such, it should be noted that the researchers made no effort to contact teacher bloggers or to collect personal information from any blog. Nor did any of the records analyzed in the research come from private, closed, or members-only blogs. As stated earlier, entries of a personal nature were not included in the study.