Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 22, No. 3, 325–339, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This longitudinal action research study reflects on the ways blogging can further promote culturally relevant discussions explored in face-to-face classes.
This study that began in spring 2008 and ended in fall 2010. Each semester, there was a control group (Holly’s class) and an experimental group (Joy’s class), randomly determined by students’ enrollment in either section. The experimental group was required to use blogs regularly as part of class participation, while the control group did not.
The participants were juniors and seniors, all pursuing teaching certification and this course is one of the required education courses they must take in the college before graduation.
Data were collected through focus groups, which were held for each course section at the end of every semester, reflection memos filled by the instructors and student responses to blogging and course content.
The authors found that blogs gave participants a platform to begin discussing issues of race and discrimination, which were missed opportunities for the authors to practice cultural competence as educators, and to demonstrate this for their pre-service teachers. At the same time, the blogs gave the pre-service teachers an opportunity to extend their learning, particularly with topics related to culture and race, by making connections between course content and future practice. Some students reflected well in journals, others enjoyed participating in class discussions, and others participated with great fervor on the blogs. The authors discuss themes that were apparent in the analysis of the blogs every semester, in every experimental section of the course that participated.
The pre-service teachers blogged in response to their reading. This allowed students to share their experiences with diversity both in school and at home – an important component of cultural competency. Classes were large, and often the discussions related to race and/or culture were dominated by a few, but the blogs were a place where more students were able to participate in the discussion.
The blogs can provide a place for students who are bold enough to share their personal experiences. The spontaneous conversations sparked by comments such as the ones above made them excited about the blogs’ potential.
The majority of the students’ blog responses centered on personal experiences about being discriminated in school or times in which they saw English-language learners or other persons of color being discriminated against. Conversations like these, fostered by blog interactions, are a positive outcome of the project.
Furthermore, the findings revealed that while students discussed the importance of classroom diversity in face-to-face meetings in class, these discussions were short and typically only centered on the information provided in course materials. Additionally, an analysis of the blogs revealed that students showed trepidation about teaching diversity in their future practice, and often they were not afraid to disclose how little they actually knew about issues of diversity and/or equity.
Thinking like a practitioner
Analyses demonstrated that the blogs gave students opportunities to start to explore the disconnect between their past educational experiences and how they might go about doing things differently in their future classrooms. Interestingly, the blogs revealed that they were making a variety of connections between their textbook readings, the class discussion, and the experiences shared on the blogs, among others.
The authors noted that students were beginning to: interrogate issues in order to develop cultural competence related to race and diversity; recognize their own trepidation and lack of self-knowledge related to the issue of diversity; and explore the disconnect between their current knowledge and future practice, and all of these things matter to them.
Generally, the authors' previous analysis showed an ineffective instructional intervention, but this finding was based almost exclusively on student perceptions. While student perceptions are valuable, the authors realize they did very little to mediate their responses and understandings of the purposive integration of blogs and their connections to emerging cultural competencies. Therefore, they argue that this ‘second glance’ at our data is just as important as the initial findings that demonstrated the ineffectiveness of blogging as an active learning strategy. Once actual student responses on the blogs were analyzed, the authors found that blogs, like many other asynchronous tools being used in teacher preparation programs, can potentially facilitate learning and extend students’ thinking. It is the authors' belief that blogs are a good starting place for students to discuss issues they may not feel prepared to talk about in class, especially when they have little direct knowledge of the issue or topic. However, their analyses of the blogs revealed that many of the responses on the blogs could have been extended to accommodate others’ opinions and to facilitate discussions that led to deeper understandings for their students. Blogs are an additional space for students to share and seek a variety of perspectives.
Overall, the authors would suggest analyzing blog responses throughout, even if an instructor is not always participating in the conversations that students are having
Ultimately students used the blogs as they should. They were accessing them frequently and using them as a tool to discuss their opinions about a variety of topics housed in their readings. However, the authors allowed many opportunities to talk about the effectiveness of digital pedagogies and to potentially enhance pre-service teachers’ cultural competence to pass by.