Harvey, Halina and Byrne, Gillian (2010) Blogging to Learn: using blogs to develop academic writing. In: Cross National Boundries and Linguistic Borders: (Re) Thinking and (Re) Situating the Writing Center and WAC Connection in Europe and Beyond. European Writing Centers Association Conference.2010, 24th - 28th May 2010, Paris, France. (Unpublished)

New media, particularly social networking/blogging has exploded in popularity in recent years. In contrast with earlier manifestations of the web, which cast the user as merely the consumer of content, this new incarnation encourages, if not demands, that content be generated by “the people formerly known as the audience” (Rosen, 2006). This enthusiasm to express oneself in written form is tantalising for the educator who sees much reticence to do the same within an academic context. The challenge to educators therefore, is to harness this writing activity and to use it to promote skills development. Although this is still a relatively new technology, blogs are beginning to be explored within the Higher Education sector as a vehicle for the development of writing skills with some success (Mason and Rennie, 2008).

The literature has suggested, and our experience concurs, there is a positive developmental relationship between writing and thinking and learning. Regular writing practice ‘promotes thinking, learning and communication’ (Bjork et al, 2003, p. 9). The benefits of reflective thinking and writing in relation to skills development are also well documented in the literature (Moon, 1999; King, 2002). Indeed, the skill of reflection is highlighted with in the UK QAA benchmarking statement for postgraduate students (QAA, 2007). However, traditional models of Learning Development within our institution have failed to engender the practice of regular, formative writing. In order to address this issue, an embedded model was developed using new media in the form of a blogging tool. The aim was to encourage a culture of critical and reflective writing, across post-graduate courses in the Business School.

In collaboration with subject tutors, formative writing development closely linked to module teaching and assessment was delivered within subject specific modules. This process was supported by the use of a Virtual Learning Environment blog tool which was used to extend the classroom in order to provide reticent writers with the time and private space in which to explore their learning and develop their writing skills.

This presentation will describe and, through the use of student feedback questionnaires, evaluate this embedded model, suggesting that regular writing is essential in the development of skills and learning, especially amongst international student cohorts. Using illustrative examples it will detail and assess the use of blogs to support the students in weekly writing tasks encouraging both regular writing practice and reflection on themselves as independent learners. It will suggest that although many students are regular users of this technology in their personal lives, the transition to its use in education is not an automatic one. Issues surrounding privacy and unfamiliarity with the technology need to be addressed alongside explicit teaching that aims to scaffold the reflective writing process.

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