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Digital Writing in Secondary Language Arts
Ashley Bayles
University of British Columbia
40912024
ETEC 500 65D
Dr. Janet McCracken
Wednesday, April 11, 2012




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INTRODUCTION
English Language Arts (ELA) teachers are constantly searching for new ways to
engage their students will help them improve their writing and interest in learning. Modern
pedagogy dictates that students should have an authentic context for all their writing: a
genre, a purpose, and an audience. Social networking offers many opportunities that are yet
to be discovered and few educational innovations hold the promise that technology
supported cooperative learning does (Johnson and Johnson, 2004, p. 806, as cited in
Curcher, 2011).
The purpose of this paper is to explore review the current literature through a
selection of studies completed on using blogs and wikis for student writing and
engagement, especially in language learners. The articles will be summarized and critiqued
in alphabetical order and then their findings will be synthesized around common themes.
Based on the literature review, the author will propose a research project to address some of
the shortcomings found within the current literature available on the topic. There are two
main questions this paper looks to answer: How does the use of online tools, specifically
blogs or wikies, help students improve their writing; and does the use of online tools have
any other benefits?
LITERATURE REVIEW
Amir, Ismali, and Hussin (2011)
The researchers used blogs in 4 different classes for a total of 80 students registered
in a university Language and Information Technology course. Data included a
questionnaire and blog writing to collect quantitative and qualitative information. The study
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states that through using blogs students improved their vocabulary, grammar and reading
fluency, while becoming more motivated to write. While the study seems to have good
methodology and provides interesting information, the report on it is a bit too short as it
does not provide the full questionnaire in an appendix, and the questions in the tool itself
are undefined so the results are not reliable since students may have different
interpretations of what questions are being asked.
Curcher (2011)
Curcher conducted a study using Ning as a social network that linked back to the
courses Blackboard software. Out of 37 students only 21 completed the survey at the end
of the course. Based on the survey results, over 81% of the students said they recommend
the use of blogs to enhance student learning (p. 86). The study followed proper ethics in
that the system was a closed networked and students completed the survey anonymously,
but it is unclear if the students knew their work was being used for research and the survey
questions are not provided in an appendix.
Ducate and Lomicka (2008)
This study was divided into two semesters of French and German language courses
with 29 first semester students reading native speaker blogs weekly using a blog sheet
provided as an appendix. During the second semester 21 students maintained their own
blogs with weekly postings and commented on friends. Data included pre and post-
semester questionnaires, student presentations and written reports, blog postings and
comments, and focus group interviews. The study found that further research is required,
but they suggest that blogs should be used as a form of self-expression when used in a
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classroom setting. A thorough paper, but the small sample size makes it difficult to
generalize.
Elola and Oskoz (2010)
Elola and Oskozs research explores how students improve their language skills in a
second language through online collaborative work and to what extent. This study uses
sample clustering and the results are not statistically significant to determine the results of
using a wiki in their work. The authors point out these limitations in the conclusion, so it is
still an unbiased and useful piece of research even though the results are inconclusive. This
only supports the fact that much more research is needed.
Lending (2010)
This article explores the benefits of students using an online Wiki to collaborate on
a study guide for the final exam of a First Year required course in Management Information
Systems. Average grades on the final exam improved five percent with the introduction of
this assignment. This research was thorough, but the data collected only used one class of
28 students, so it not very representative. Also, the exam conditions and textbook changed
during the study from previous years. The author points out these inconsistencies when
making her conclusions and this article is a valuable starting point for further research in
the area.
McGrail and Davis (2011)
This qualitative case study examined one group of 5
th
grade students of nine girls
and seven to improve their writing. The researchers worked with the teacher to incorporate
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blogging into the curriculum. Data collected included interviews, classroom observations,
and the blog posts. The researchers conclude that through the use of blogging students
became more connected to audience and took ownership of their work. This research has a
strong methodology and is ethically sound since consent was given and students used
pseudonyms, but the data provided is anecdotal and doesnt provide full transcripts of
interviews. The conclusions are quite vague with no specific direction for future research
given.
Miyazoe and Anderson (2010)
This article discusses research using forums, blogs, and wikis in English as a foreign
language class in university in Tokyo. The study concludes that wikis were very popular for
the translation exercises, and the blog were more popular than the forums. The researchers
state that online writing tools appear to have a positive effect on student vocabulary and
sentence complexity, but more research is required. The ethics and methodology used are
quite strong, but not enough information is provided about what the students were required
to write on the forum and blogs, the graphics are difficult to interpret, and the small sample
size makes affects generalization of results.
Zhang (2010)
This study was conducted during a course at the Peking University (PKU) called
Doing English Digital, which consisted of sixteen undergraduate students. The course is
aimed at developing digital literary skills in English and used an online learning
environment using a PKU hosting service called Boyake. Students were working on a self-
selected digital research project and were required to use their blogs to reflect upon tasks
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related to their project. Results show that blogging increased motivation, helped students
develop a writing process and deepened their reflections. While the study group size was
limited, Zhang realized this limitation and makes notes of it in his conclusions.
SYNTEHSIS OF LITERATURE
How Does the Use of Online Tools Help Students Improve Their
Writing?
Content & Organization
As Elola and Oskoz (2010) point out, collaboration using online tools make[s]
learners become active participants in the process whereby, though collaboration and
multiple drafts, they acquire the necessary linguistic and writing conventions of the target
language (p. 64). Through observing wiki drafts they noticed that students played around
with structure and organization, switching paragraphs and sentences around and students
self-reported that the wiki helped them improve the content and the structure of their essays
(Elola et al., 2012, p. 63). The students in Lendings study also improved upon each others
work with the end result being more detailed and providing specific examples (2010). The
very act of collaboration lends itself to helping organize writing, and online collaboration is
one form it can take. It appears collaboration using wikis is better for content and
organization than improvement of grammar or spelling.
Zhang (2010) found that students used self-monitoring to control the writing process
and develop their own revision process and Curcher (2011) supports this by saying that
blogging encourages reflective learning. It then follows that blogs should be used as a
forum to express oneself, which is how they are used in a non-academic setting (Ducate,
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2008). Blogging allows the course to actually cover more content than in a regular
classroom setting because there are fewer limitations. Everyone has time to say what needs
to be said and to reflect on what they want to share with the class. In a normal class we are
limited by time and how many people can share ideas with each other in that time frame
(Amir, 2011). Further to this, Ducate found that while some students are not comfortable
expressing themselves in class, they feel comfortable expressing themselves via the blog;
students who participate in class participate in an even more personal manner on the blog
(2008).
Style and Mechanics
While there is less evidence to support the effects of blogging on style and
mechanics, Ducate still found that students became more creative, took more risks in their
writing style, and experimented with new expressions (2008). Students learned from peers
to improve their vocabulary and writing, using more complex vocabulary and sentence
structures (Miyazoe, 2010; Ducate, 2008; Amir, 2011; McGrail, 2010). Miyazoe's students
found the wiki very useful for mastering translation skills, so this must have helped them
with understanding grammar and mechanics; however, the students found that wikis were
more difficult to use than blogs, perhaps because they are less popular or familiar tool
(2010). Additionally, Elola and Oskoz (2010) state that the use of wikis allow students to
focus on editing, grammatical details and vocabulary. Amir found that through blogging
students learned to self-correct their grammar and spelling based on feedback from their
peers and instructor, and that the additional pressure of an audience made them feel more
aware of what they were writing and how (2011).
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Does the Use of Online Tools Have Any Other Benefits?
Motivation
Students found that blogging gave them more ownership and voice in learning
process, increased their sense of personal identity and freedom, which in turn led to
increased motivation (Zhang, 2010; Miyazoe et al., 2010; Amir, 2011; McGrail et al.,
2010). The use of screen names gave students the freedom to write without worrying about
being judged or dealing with bias (Miyazoe, 2010). Additionally, blogging increases
student confidence in writing (Amir, 2011). That being said, not all students were more
motivated. In Churcher's research only half the class ever fully used the social network he
created and one student commented that it was because the percentage weighting of the
grade for it was too small (2011).
Authentic Interaction & Sense of Community
Perhaps the greatest benefit shown is that blogging creates a sense of community
that is difficult to create in the constraints of a traditional classroom (Amir, 2011; Curcher,
2011; Ducate, 2008; McGrail, 2010). It allows for frequent communication with classmates
outside of class and provides an authentic environment that makes the writing more
meaningful (Amir, 2011). In this community everyone's ideas and input are valued, the
teacher is only one part of this; everyone has a role to share resources, start discussions, and
comment on each other's work (Curcher, 2011). However, this expectation of a community
leads to more frustration if there is a lack of peer feedback or the comments from
classmates are not of high enough quality to be of use to the writer (Zhang, 2010; Ducate,
2008). Blogging opens up the opportunity to share student writing with an audience beyond
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the classroom and, depending on privacy settings, students can receive comments from
native speakers or anyone that happens to come across their post; this makes the work seem
even more valuable (Ducate, 2008).
CONCLUSIONS
While the research seems to support the use of wikis and blogs as a tool in the
classroom, more research needs to be done on the benefits of digital writing over
traditional, as well as the downfalls of this technology. Online tools if used effectively
seem to help to build community and give students the ability to connect what they do in
school to society as a whole. It is clear from the research that blogging is a great tool to
start letting students feel more responsible for their own learning, provides them with
motivation, and allows them to have an authentic audience for their writing, but there is a
great deal of scaffolding and technology instruction that needs to be included to ensure that
technical difficulties are not a hindrance. There is little evidence to prove that blogging
improves spelling and grammar, so this area needs to be examined more carefully in future
research. Overall, blogging in the classroom has many benefits and some shortfalls that
need to be further it explored.
RESEARCH PROPOSAL & METHODOLOGY
Purpose
Based on the current literature, there is a role for blogging in the classroom to help
students improve content and organization, as well as providing them with motivation
because of increased ownership over their writing and from having an authentic audience.
The purpose of the action research being proposed is to further explore the role of blogging
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on English Language Learners (ELL) in an English Language Arts classroom in a Middle
School setting. The study hopes to answer two questions: How does blogging help Spanish-
speaking students improve their English writing; and what other benefits does blogging
have on students?
Participants and Setting
The students are a class of 25 grade 9 students studying at an IB World School in
Bogota, Colombia; which places them under enormous pressure to do well and compete.
The ability to give these students an edge and real-world application for their academic
work will hopefully help them to improve their grades. Grade 9 is the final year of the
MYP program and the last year before the students chose their desired course and level for
the two year IB Diploma Program. Students at this age level already have many of the basic
skills, but still need work developing ideas and becoming confident as writers. Hopefully,
through having an authentic audience and the chance to blog openly about topics that they
have more control over, students will write more and see an improvement in their writing as
a whole. These students are taking a course designed for students who have English as their
first-language, but all the students in this school are still English language learners. The
classroom practices need to take this challenge into consideration since students who do
read and write well in the first language also need to work on the new creative activity of
forming ideas in English for English-speaking audiences (Anne Raimes, 1983, p.260 as
quoted in Hedge, 2010).
Students in this school are extremely sociable, but not very motivated as they feel
the school does not care enough about them as people and their personal interested. It is
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expected that by allowing students to express their personal thoughts and choose areas of
interest to them that connect to what they are studying in class, students will be more
motivated and will have a more positive attitude toward writing in English.
Sampling
Purposive sampling will be used as it is the most convenient way for this to work and will
not require other teachers completely changing their curriculum to suit the students using
blogs. All students will be in the same Grade 9 English class. While there are shortcomings
in this, especially that the research is not generalizable, it is very important for the school
where the research is to be done to understand if students benefit from the incorporation of
blogs in their writing. All the students at the school are Spanish speaking, but are
completing the IB program as though they are native English speakers. Because of this,
students really struggle on their IB exams and the school currently only has a 65% pass rate
for the IB diploma. If the school can find ways to help students improve each specific
weakness in preparation for the exam, these results are likely to improve.
Whichever group of Grade 9 students the author is assigned will be the students in
the study. Most classes have around 25 students with a fairly equal mix of males and
females. As the school is fairly homogenous, the results of the study will not be
generalizable except within the school itself and perhaps to other upper-class private IB
World Schools where Spanish-speaking students are taking English A courses.
Instrumentation
Wordpress was chosen as the blogging software for this case study since it is free,
extremely customizable, and the researcher/teacher uses it herself so she can help the
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students will any problems they encounter and provide specific instruction on the system in
workshops. This is also useful if students come across a problem that they cannot solve on
their own as when using technology that is always a possibility. The teacher will have a
main course blog which students will be invited to use as authors via their personal email
addresses. This means that while the teacher controls the blog as a whole, all students have
the ability to write posts, publish them, upload photos, etc. This is where students are to
publish the posts on which they choose to be graded. In the User Dashboard that the teacher
has access to, the teacher will be able to see the different student names and the specific
posts they have contributed to the class blog. The teacher will then be able to go to all the
posts written by an individual student for grading purposes. As it cannot be assumed that all
students have access at home, time will be given in one class period per week in the
computer lab to work on blog assignments. Over the course of the school year this will
equal over 40 hours of computer lab time for blogging purposes.
Code names will allow students to feel less pressured to be cool or talk about what
they think their friends would want them. It allows them a sense of freedom in their writing
where they can feel they are really themselves. Also, as the students are under the age of
consent there is always concern for their safety and privacy. The research will take place
over the course of an entire school year.
Students will also answer a questionnaire about their thoughts on writing in English
and how motivated they are (or are not) and what they think about using social media in the
classroom. The questionnaire will be given to two classes (one Grade 8 group and one
Grade 9 group) that are not participating in the research to see if they can provide feedback
on the questions to ensure the most accurate answers from the students in the study.
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Data Collection & Analysis
The study will use both qualitative and quantitative data to provide as thorough of
an understanding of both the results students achieve, and insight into the other benefits that
are more subjective, such as attitude and motivation. The data collected will include three
student surveys, the blog posts students write, the comments students write on each others
blogs, and informal interviews with randomly selected students.
There is risk of bias in this type of a study having the teacher as a researcher so to
try to negate it as much as possible code names will be given to students for all writing
assignments and other teachers in the department will mark selected assignments with the
teacher researcher to ensure that they agree on the grades given. The IB MYP English
grading criteria are how the blog posts will be analyzed since this is what the school uses.
All assignments will be marked on three separate components: content, organization, and
style and mechanics. The students have been graded using these criteria since they were in
5
th
grade so they are all familiar with it.
DESCRIPTION AND JUSTIFICATION OF DESIGN
Design
Each student will have a Wordpress blog that is linked to the teachers main blog
and they will be required to comment on at least 2 of their classmates posts every two
weeks. Students will be required to write a post every two weeks, but can write more if
desired. Every trimester, students must select one piece from their personal blog to post to
the teachers blog. These pieces will be assessed using the MYP criteria and will be used
for data and student grading. Before starting their blogs, students will be required to write
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one piece of written work, by hand, in class as a starting point to which future work will be
compared to determine progress.
Code names will allow students to feel less pressured to be cool or talk about what
they think their friends would want them. It allows them a sense of freedom in their writing
where they can feel they are really themselves. Also, as the students are under the age of
consent there is always concern for their safety and privacy. The research will take place
over the course of an entire school year. Approval will be needed from the Board of the
school, the Headmistress, and the Head of the English department. A letter and permission
form will be sent home to all the parents directly via the schools online email system to
ensure that all parents are made aware of the research and can choose to not have their child
be a part of it. The teacher will also discuss the research with the class to ensure all students
give their consent. However, as the assignments are still part of the class, the student will
be required to do the same work, but the results of students who do not give consent will
not be included in the research data.
The additional collection of the questionnaires and informal interviews with
students will give a well-rounded picture of how blogging affected the students both in
terms of their thoughts and feelings about the writing process and their own work, as well
as quantitative data through analysis of their written work. Interviews will be conducted by
the Head of Department and the information will be submitted to the teacher using the code
names students have been using for their blog work. The research will take place over the
course of one complete school year so that each student will submit a total of three written
pieces for analysis and will answer three questionnaires about their thoughts on how
blogging has affected their feelings on writing and the quality of their work.
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SIGNIFICANCE AND POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS
This study will add one more case study to the current literature that shows the
benefits of blogging in an academic setting and will hopefully encourage more teachers to
try blogging in their classroom. The current research mostly involves students in Asia and
North America, so this research will provide a different cultural background to the current
literature available. Since schools are looking for ways to be more relevant to their students
and the way language is used in work and social environments, this research can be used to
help bridge that gap between school and the real world. At the very least it will allow the
school where the research occurs to explore new technologies and see what needs to be
implemented on a school level as is often the case with action research. If blogging proves
to be effective for this group of students, further studies should be done in the school to see
if it should be mandatory in all English curriculum in future years. This also aligns with the
schools new technology plan, which encourages more technology and digital literacy in all
areas of the curriculum. The design of writing assignments and curriculum must be
pedagogically sound, but the use of online technology will engage students more. For
students to write well they must write often; hopefully the motivation of having an
authentic audience will allow students to find more pleasure in the process of writing.




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