Today's students have grown up surrounded by technology. They use cell phones, word processors, and the Internet with ease, talking with peers in their community and around the world through e-mails, chatrooms, instant messaging, online discussions, and weblogs (“blogs”). In the midst of this technological explosion, adolescents face a growing need for strong literacy skills in all subject areas for achievement in school and on mandated state and national high stakes tests.
The purpose of this study was to examine the use of blogs as a tool for improving open-response writing in the secondary science classroom in comparison to the use of handwritten dialogue journals. The study used a mixed-method approach, gathering both quantitative and qualitative data from 94 students in four eighth-grade science classes. Two classes participated in online class blogs where they posted ideas about science and responded to the ideas of other classmates. Two classes participated in handwritten dialogue journals, writing ideas about science and exchanging journals to respond to the ideas of classmates. The study explored these research questions: Does the use of blogs, as compared to the use of handwritten dialogue journals, improve the open-response writing scores of eighth grade science students? How do students describe their experience using blogs to study science as compared to students using handwritten dialogue journals? and How do motivation, self-efficacy, and community manifest themselves in students who use blogs as compared to students who use handwritten dialogue journals?
The quantitative aspect of the study used data from pre- and post-tests and from a Likert-scale post-survey. The pre- and post-writing on open-response science questions were scored using the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) open-response scoring rubric. The study found no statistically significant difference in the writing scores between the blog group and the dialogue journal groups. The study found significant difference between the scores on the post-survey of the two groups with the blogging group registering a more positive attitude about the experience than the dialogue journal group.
The qualitative aspect of the study used group and individual interviews with 26 randomly-chosen students to explore the nature of the students' experiences using blogs and dialogue journals. Overall, the blog group communicated more positive responses to the experience than did students from the dialogue journal group, often indicating that blogging was “fun” and “helpful” and made them look forward to science class.
This study addressed research needs in the fields of writing, technology, and content literacy. It is significant because there is little research on the use of blogs in the middle school content classroom, particularly on the use of blogs as a tool for improving open-response writing. It adds information as to the experience of students who use blogs in the science classroom and explored it as a way to explore ideas, build understanding, and connect with others. This is significant to know as school districts look to include more technology instruction and practices in the curriculum. Blogs could give students a critical tool for writing and thinking in the content classroom, helping to prepare students for an increasingly technological and global society.