Review of the article:
Learning outcomes and students’ perceptions of online writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting.
By Terumi Miyazoe and Terry Anderson
Miyazoe and Anderson conducted a blended-learning study in 2009, which was published in 2010. The study combined forums, blogs, and wikis as teaching tools. They wanted to simulate the real-world experience, in which students interface daily with multiple online communication methods. They sought to measure learning outcomes and student perceptions with the use of these tools.
They begin with a review of previous research literature in this area. They note that there has been little exploration of learning outcomes and no mechanism for evaluation. In addition, they note the special difficulty which language education poses for these ends.
The setting for their study is a university in Tokyo, Japan. The subjects of the study are Japanese students in an EFL course. The study followed these students, beginning in the spring semester, and ending in the fall semester. A total of 61 students were involved, divided into three classes.
The authors review the characteristics of forums, blogs, and wikis, and focus on three which were very relevant in their study: 1. Work Mediation, in which Forums are Collective, Blogs are Individual, and Wikis are Collective. 2. Activity Orientation, in which Forums are characterized by Exchange, Blogs by Express, and Wikis by Change. 3. Mood-relevant Orientation, in which Forums are Cooperative, Blogs are Individual, and Wikis are Collaborative. These were key features in regard to students’ opinions and learning outcomes.
Each tool, was used in a way to make the most of its characteristics. Forums were used for topical discussions in English. Wikis were used for collaborative translations from English to Japanese. Blogs were used for an optional free writing activity in English. A new discussion topic and a new translation exercise occurred almost every week. With the introduction of any new online tool, the students could practice in class prior to the assignments.
Three research questions were used: 1. How do students perceive each of the three online tools? 2. Are they effective in helping the students acquire the target language? 3. If yes, in what way(s) can we quantify the resulting progress?
For triangulation, the authors used three quantitative and qualitative methods: 1. Questionnaire. 2. Interview. 3. Written Assignments. These were analyzed, in an attempt to answer the research questions.
On the final exam day, the questionnaires were distributed to the students and then collected. The interviews were conducted on the final day of the course, by the instructor, with students who had volunteered (six from each class). Written assignments, which had been inputted online during the course, were analyzed with specific student consent.
The SPSS statistical software 16.0 package was used to quantitatively analyze numerical responses to the questionnaire. PASW Text Analytics for Surveys software was used to qualitatively evaluate transcriptions of the students’ responses from the interviews. The authors used a grounded theory approach to generate a hypothesis from specifics through a series of coding processes (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss and Corbin, 1990; Charmaz, 2006). The text analysis web tool textalyser was used to analyze online writing from both the forum and blog posts of the class with the most students (n = 24).
The overall evaluation showed that the blended course was well received by the students. Using a five-point scale, 90.4 of the responding students recorded a score of four or five. The mean rating was 4.29. Responses to Question 1 showed that students were most satisfied with wikis, followed by blogs and forums. Question 2 had a similar result, with wikis rated as the top favorite, followed by blogs and forums. Question 3 showed that those who read the postings under one of the activities also tended to post material themselves; confirming previous studies for forums and blogs, and now indicating the same for wikis. Question 4 queried students about their wiki participation, in which they collaboratively translated from English to Japanese. With a score of 4 or 5, being positive: 62.1 percent of students rated the exercise as positive for enhancing their reading of English. 74.2 percent rated it as positive for enhancing their translating of English. 17.5 percent rated it as positive for fostering communication.
Text analysis showed increasing complexity in the students’ writing, in accord with the course objective of improving students’ English for educational use. A slightly higher level of vocabulary, more complex sentences, and improved reading level were measured in both the forum and blog posts. Gunning-Fog Index data showed students acquiring differentiation between their forum and blog writing styles.
Interview questions queried students about 1) the blended learning course design; 2) forum discussions; 3) blogs; and 4) wikis. For blended learning, positive words were expressed, including “novel”, “easy”, “fun”, and “understanding”, showing a positive learning environment. For forum discussions,
there were both positive and negative feelings, with their tasks seen as both challenging and useful. There was also a cultural issue, since their original language, Japanese discourages expression of ego in thoughts or interactions. For blog writing, there was a strong association between “myself”, “write”, and “blog”, with many students viewing this as a personal English exercise, in which they wrote about themselves. For wikis, there were strong associations between ‘‘translation,’’ useful,’’ ‘‘wiki,’’ and ‘‘fun’’, revealing that collaborative wiki projects can be useful for translating words from English to Japanese. Students noted some “difficulty” in using the wiki, but still participated.
The authors note the positive outcomes in measuring student perceptions and in achieving learning outcomes in the simultaneous use of forums, blogs and wikis. Nonetheless, they see the need for more research in several areas. They note that students did not comment on one another’s blog posts. This may have been due to the workload expected for forums and wikis, while blogs were optional. They believe this study supports the use of textalyser and the Gunning-Fog Index, in pointing research toward the development of online written materials which share similar features to speech. They see the need to address assessment issues in collaborative learning. They believe such assessment should include 1) group achievement in contrast to other groups, 2) the individual’s share in group achievement, and 3) individual achievement before and after group work. They believe that using a wiki for collaborative EFL could be expanded to include students in many other countries who are learning the same target language, while native speakers in another country then collaborate with their work in translating. They note that although they found no significant contradictions in learning outcomes among the three classes involved in this study, the discovery of both positive and negative reactions to the wiki tasks argue against assuming that online writing tools will always be fruitful in education.
The authors believe the originality of their study is in the way it uses three online writing tools in EFL. They acknowledge that much remains for future research, but they feel this study has advanced the use of online writing in language teaching and learning strategies. They are encouraged that this study supports its usefulness.