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Use of Blogging to Improve Writing Skills: A Study Conducted on EFL Freshman Students
|Applied Research on English Language|
|مقاله 6، دوره 12، شماره 1، فروردین 2023، صفحه 113-132 اصل مقاله (1.64 M)|
|نوع مقاله: Research Article|
|شناسه دیجیتال (DOI): 10.22108/are.2022.133956.1933|
|Karem Abdellatif Ahmed Mohamed*|
|Associate Professor, Department of English, Faculty of Languages and Translation, King Khalid University, KSA & Sadat Academy, Egypt|
|The present study aimed to develop writing skills by using the blogging technique. This experimental research used a pre-post group design. The study had two groups; a control group (23 male students) and an experimental group (24 male students). The students in the control group were taught traditionally through paper-and-pencil assignments. On the other hand, blogging was taught in the experimental group. The topics focused on current global events, which were prepared and posted by the researcher. The learners were asked to search for photos, videos, or articles related to the assigned topic and write about these events in their own words. They also had to post comments and feedback on their classmates’ blog posts. The learners worked on their blog posts individually, in pairs, or in small groups. The researcher worked as a facilitator. Comparing the posttest scores using SPSS analysis of learners who blogged about current global events and those who only used paper-and-pencil tasks on the same topics showed significant differences in writing improvement in favor of the blog group. Moreover, students in the blog group showed positive attitudes toward the blogging activity. They enjoyed interacting and cooperating with their peers and reflecting on their performance in writing in response to the feedback and comments they got from other classmates’ blog posts. The study ended with some recommendations for intensifying the blogging activity of EFL students in writing courses. Also, blogging about current global events was confirmed to be efficient in raising students’ global awareness and promoting their writing skills.|
|EFL Writing Skills؛ Blogging؛ Current Global Events؛ Collaboration؛ Global Awareness|
Writing is considered the main problem for English as a foreign language (EFL) instructors and learners. Many instructors do not know which topics to give to learners and do not know which techniques are effective in improving learners’ writing skills. In addition to grammatical, punctuation, and spelling problems, many learners have problems generating expressing and organizing ideas for their paragraphs or essays (Al-Jarf, 2015).
Omidvar and Sukumar (2013) showed that worldwide education is the pillar of balanced teaching and learning in language courses. Integrating global issues into the syllabus in an EFL class at the Institute of Language Learning and Studies has produced knowledgeable learners. They added that the learners displayed a higher awareness of global topics, improved linguistic competence, and the ability to analyze problems and apply critical thinking in their settings. The students were also more motivated and active in their class contribution than in other classes. In another study, Bayraktar Balkir (2021) confirmed that incorporating global issues in language learning showed that Turkish learners had constructive opinions of the global topics used in their class. Global topics extended their perspectives and enhanced their learning outcomes. Their conceptions of global topics involved samples such as poverty, education, environment, and oppression.
Likewise, Zhang, Cui, and Zhang (2021) mentioned that EFL Freshman learners had constructive attitudes toward multicultural variances, yet they did not confidently deal with diverse circumstances in their practical lives. In Ukraine, a study conducted by (Diachkova, Sazhko, Shevchenko, & Syzenko, 2021) confirmed that the incorporation of global issues into teaching English for Specific Purposes had a significant effect on integrating soft skills, professional skills, and global competence.
As for Saudi Arabia, Alsamani (2014) recommended the integration of authentic materials such as DVDs, videotapes, and newspapers in foreign language instruction to enhance students’ cultural awareness and develop their language skills. It also suggested that EFL educational programs be modified to present foreign language culture awareness in the classroom.
Omidvar and Sukumar (2013) highlighted the incorporation of content-based and task-based communicative language teaching approaches, focusing on the content and the task. In addition, prior studies have combined diversity of technologies in the EFL writing classroom, such as participation in various online tasks and online courses in writing instruction. There was also an emphasis on integrating online reading and writing activities using online partnerships and online discussions with EFL students in other countries. Al-Jarf (2020) asserted the incorporation of mobile apps and social media such as Facebook in wiring. The present study is supposed to:
Review of the Literature
A blog is a website containing posts or entries similar to an online discussion forum. They are formed by using certain publishing software. They include comments, pdf, links, docs, clips, and photos. They are written by a laptop, mobile device, iPad, or tablet.
It is seen that current global events focus on social, economic, political, health, cultural, educational, and environmental topics that affect people worldwide. They require the learners to define a current global event, identify the problem, and suggest solutions.
Using blogs is essential for all members of society; technologists, parents, teachers, professionals, and researchers who are mainly interested in computer-mediated communication. Al-Jarf (2022) stated that there are numerous types of blogs: (i) personal blogs, and (ii) microblogging, such as posting short pieces of digital content; texts, links, short videos, pictures, or other media on the Internet; (iii) corporate or organizational blogs used for non -profit organization, or governmental or business purposes; (iv) the aggregated blogs which include selected specific topics, products, or services and provide a combined view for the readers; (v) the reverse blogs composed of numerous authors on a topic, rather than a single blogger. Most of the blogs are mainly textual.
Gedera (2012) mentioned that learners enrolled in a science course in Malaysia used blogs as an online portfolio course, where they shared their experiences and posted writing tasks based on the lessons, studies, and discussions held in the course. In Iran, Asoodar, Atai, and Vaezi (2016) stated that a blog-buddy structure was used by undergraduate learners learning English for engineering purposes. The activity caused a significant development in learners' writing performance. Learners who got feedback from blog buddies showed higher constructive attitudes toward using blogs in writing classes. The blog-buddy structure also enhanced learners' control of their learning experiences. In another study, Garcia-Sanchez and Rojas-Lizana (2012) showed that learners in Spain shared bilingual blogs. Learner-directive instructional context has allowed interculturally and "language" interactions between Australian and Spanish learners, filling in the learners’ cultural and language gaps and helping peer revision exercises through collaborative work. Thomas (2017) stated that learners’ continuous interaction in blogging fosters collaborative skills. Although the learners confronted many linguistic challenges in their writing, their cooperation was reflected through the comments, which showed the support, encouragement, and advice they gave on dealing with their weaknesses in their tasks.
Similarly, Chen (2014) affirmed that a blog-mediated writing task between two peers served as a peer teamwork platform and the mediating instrument for instructors to give timely feedback or prompt learner ideas exchanges. The feedback was considered as task, process, and self-regulation. The results showed the development of the feedback provisions and the reduction of superficial comments during the online writing responsibilities.
Other studies carried out by Sütçü (2020), Huang (2016), Kuo, Belland, and Kuo (2017) asserted that blogging increases learners’ concentration and enthusiasm to learn and use English, interact with classmates, and receive feedback from them and their teachers. Gunduz (2016) mentioned that through blogging, learners share their entries with their mates, advance teamwork skills, and take responsibility for their writing tasks.
Moreover, Roy (2016) stated that learners develop interpretive and thinking skills. The learners write their opinions at their ease, under time and space restraints. Also, Vurdien (2021) mentioned that blogging has the interactive features of establishing a valid peer view of culture as an essential part of collaborative writing. Gunduz (2016) and Grami (2012) added that learners also enhance their capability to recognize the target audience. Freshman learners share their blogging entries in their oral communication classes. They cooperate with their peers by reading and commenting on others’ posts.
Furthermore, Cheng and Lei (2021) along with Aliakbari and Mohammadi (2016) said that blogging engages EFL students in reflective and elaborative learning. Personal blogging motivates learners to work on their writing skills through feedback. Wall and Anderson (2015) showed that learners are more careful in planning their writing assignments and correcting mistakes before posting their tasks. Blogs support learners-centered interactive learning and constructivist environments significantly. The comments that learners post on others and receive feedback have a vital role in language learning.
A dearth of studies helps learners to blog about the current global events in EFL writing courses, especially in the Faculty of Languages and Translation (FLT), at King Khalid University (KKU). The literature review above shows a shortage of studies investigating the use of blogs in writing about the current global events in EFL writing instruction. Specifically, there is a shortage of studies in Saudi Arabia focusing on blogging about current global topics by EFL learners.
The current study is significant for EFL teachers and learners, especially in distance learning settings. In a survey by Al-Jarf (2021), the results showed that about 55% of EFL college learners and teachers in Saudi Arabia were uncomfortable with distance learning. The learners did not understand online materials, did not share in the online discussions, and were not interested in doing the designed assignments. The learners complained of the absence of communication with their peers and teachers. The teachers were unsatisfied because they did not know how to involve the learners during online teaching and stimulate them. Furthermore, writing tasks in EFL is always a chore for EFL learners. Hence, using blogs in EFL teaching would be a perfect resolution for attracting, inspiring, and collaborating with learners and increasing their interaction, as revealed in the previous studies. The current study aims to answer the following research questions:
There were two groups of male EFL Freshman learners at the (FLT), (KKU), Abha, Saudi Arabia. The experimental group consisted of 24 students whereas the control group consisted of 23 students. Their ages were between seventeen and nineteen years.
Materials and Instruments
The department enacted the textbook TRIO WRITING 1 by Alice Savage and Colin Ward. The book has three units with nine chapters, each with a different theme, and three parts starting with building vocabulary, exploring and organizing ideas, then introducing some grammatical points, and ending with the writing part to develop cohesion and style. The book presents many model paragraphs related to the themes of the chapters. Then asks the student to 1) write the first draft, 2) edit practice, and 3) write the second draft of the paragraph. In all chapters, writing skills are practiced and introduced one at a time, before the learners put all the skills together in paragraph writing. The researcher compiled a list of the current global events such as:
Moreover, the researcher prepared the tests, an answer key, and a rubric and had them judged by five EFL experts. The posttest in writing is believed to have content validity as it is aimed at measuring EFL Freshman learners’ writing performance in English. The validity of the posttest was calculated by correlating the learners’ scores on the posttest and the learners’ overall course marks. The validity coefficient was 0.61 calculated by correlating the learners’ pre-marks and marks on the last paragraph writing quiz. The coefficient validity for the writing test was 0.72. Since the researcher was the instructor and the scorer of the writing pre-post-tests, inter-rater reliability estimates were essential. Thus, 50% random samples of both the pre and post-tests answer papers of both groups were scored twice. Another colleague who was sharing the writing course with other groups in the college graded the samples. The scoring procedures were explained to him. The marks given by the second rater were compared with the marks given by the researcher. There was a 95% agreement between the two raters. Furthermore, the examinee reliability was computed using Kuder-Richardson 21 formula. The reliability coefficient of the examinee for the writing posttest was 0.74.
The researcher conducted a pilot study that lasted one month. The study aimed at ensuring the clarity of instructions. The researcher applied the first unit, the assigned textbook, and some of the current events topics. The tools of the study were also administered to the pilot study. This study was conducted in the second term of the academic year 2021-2022 and lasted for 13 weeks. Three hours a week were devoted to teaching Writing 1. It is to be mentioned that the names of the participants in the study have been kept anonymous. The participants were assured that the confidentiality of the respondents would be maintained. This questionnaire would be used only for data collection and analysis. There will be no pressure if the questionnaire is unfilled. The two groups were exposed to the same in-class writing teaching, which depended on a textbook enacted by the English department. The researcher instructed the two groups. Learners in the two groups studied TRIO WRITING 1. Each week, the experimental and control groups completed all the writing subskills and exercises in the chapters and wrote two paragraphs. The two groups wrote at least part of the new paragraphs during a session. Learners in the two groups were stimulated to write and not to care about grammatical, capitalization, spelling, or punctuation mistakes. The researcher taught both groups being the instructor of the course. During the treatment, the researcher worked as the facilitator for the two groups.
Before the treatment, learners in both groups took a pretest in writing. At the end of the term, both groups were given a posttest (Writing I course final exam) that contained questions that covered all subskills taught in the textbook. The posttest had the following tasks:
-On finishing, reread the paragraph and double-check the spelling, punctuation marks, indentation, capitalization, conjunctions, tenses, etc.
The scoring of the writing pre and post-tests was done blindly by the researcher using an answer key and a rubric. The learners were asked to write the ID numbers instead of the real names. All questions were marked one at a time for all the learners in the two groups. At the end of the course, students in the experimental group answered a questionnaire survey with open-ended questions: (1) Did you like blogging about current global events or not? Why? (2) What did you like about the blogging activities? (3) Did your writing skills improve due to using the blogging activities? In what ways? (4) What problems or difficulties did you face in blogging about current global events or using the Blackboard blog? (5) Would you join any similar blogging activity or any other activity about current global events? Tell why.
As for the experimental group, class blogging was initiated on the blackboard. Blogging was used for extensive writing tasks. Learners in the experimental group did the assignments independently; they could work in pairs or groups of three or four. Participants of each group were haphazardly chosen and were reshuffled and re-assigned for each new blog assignment so that each participant had a chance to share. The instruction with the blogs passed through 3 phases.
For the above-mentioned blog post, the researcher asked the learners to search the net to get information about the rituals of Ramadan in a specific country or a specific current event. The researcher directed the learners to search online using Google and write ‘the rituals of Ramadan and Islamic countries’ inside the search box. The learners would get several websites. They had to give the post a specific title and then post it in the blog under the topic. For each country, they started a new topic and posted a picture or a video to support their post. The learners in the control group wrote about the same current global events as the experimental group; they used paper and pencil. Learners in the control group worked independently; they could work in pairs or small groups. The control group learners searched for information about the given topic in reference to their own choice. Sharing of comments and discussions took place in class face to face. The learners in the control group didn't need to read each other's tasks.
Data Analysis and Findings
Before the study started, learners in both groups were pretested. They were given the same pretest that required them to write a paragraph (T = .641; Df = 22). No significant differences were shown in the learners’ writing skill levels.
Table (1). The Control and the Experimental Group (Pretest)
The results of the independent T-test showed no significant differences between the experimental and control groups in their writing.
Analysis of the qualitative pretest revealed several weaknesses in English writing. The learners had difficulty expressing, organizing, and generating ideas. They made numerous spelling and punctuation mistakes. They did not capitalize words. The learners could not write correct sentences grammatically. Their paragraphs were not coherent.
The raw scores of the writing pre and posttest for both the experimental and control groups were collected. The mean, the median, the range, the standard deviation, and the standard error were calculated for both groups.
To find out if the learners in both groups had made any improvement in the EFL writing as a result of the most extensive writing activities that every group got (the use of blogs vs the use of the paper-and-pencil activities), the researcher used paired T-test, i.e., the pre and the posttest. He compared the scores for every group separately.
To answer the first question, tables 2,3, and 4 show that learners in the experimental and control groups in the current study scored higher on the writing posttest than in the pretest (T. test = 61.84 and 33.79, respectively), with lower variations among the learners’ scores on the pretest than posttest (SD =10.63 and 09.17 respectively). This shows that EFL Freshman learners in the experimental and control groups made improvements due to writing about current global events using blogging and the paper-and-pencil tasks, respectively. However, the median and the mean scores do not show whether this improvement in writing scores was significant or not. Consequently, pre and post-test writing scores for every group were compared using a paired T-test (Table 4). The results of the paired T-test showed a significant difference between the pre and post-test mean scores of the experimental group at the .01 level, suggesting that the experimental learners’ writing skills significantly improved as a result of blogging about the current global events (T. test =20.834/ 61.845, respectively). Likewise, the significant difference between the writing pretest and posttest mean scores of the control group was found at the .01 level, suggesting that the writing skill of control students significantly improved as a result of using paper-and-pencil assignments (T. test = 17.725/ 33.797, respectively).
The comparisons of posttest writing for the experimental and the control groups using the independent T-test showed a significant difference between both groups in writing skill improvement (T = -6.129). This proves that learners in the experimental group improved significantly in their writing skills than learners in the control group due to blogging about current global events.
The experimental learners’ significant improvement in their writing skills is attributed to the learner-centered activities, active participation, intensive training, and communication among the learners; a safe atmosphere for making errors; and teacher and peer response and help, as shown by learners’ answers to the survey. In this way, the first question is answered.
Table 2. Pre-posttest of the Control Group
Table 3. Pre-posttest of the Experimental Group
Table 4. Pre-posttest the control and experimental group
As for the learners’ views, they are listed below.
To conclude, the post-treatment survey showed numerous reasons that led to the development in writing: the learner-centered activities, real-life concrete issues, issues of interest for the learners, encouraging learners to express themselves, training, and lively participation in the blogging, clear instructions from the side of the instructor, a safe environment for mistakes, and the instructor, and the peer support. Learners with lower writing skills had a chance to view posts of learners who have excellent writing skills. At the same time, they were encouraged to post because their peers and the instructor were always supportive and were not afraid or ashamed of their mistakes. Nevertheless, learners in the experimental group mentioned some challenging features of the blogging activities. Some learners stated that at the beginning, they were unfamiliar with the Blackboard Blogging tools and how to post a theme or edit it, but with training, things became more manageable. Other learners felt uncomfortable and were afraid and shy to post the paragraph because their peers would read them. From the researcher's side, there was another challenge: at the beginning, some learners did not post any replies to or comments on the blogging posts. Some learners wrote many compliments rather than actual posts. Other learners just browsed and read rather than posting their paragraphs, comments, questions, or feedback. Consequently, the researcher tried his best to encourage the learners to participate in the blogging activities by giving extra credits.
Through the analysis, significant differences were found between EFL Freshman learners in both the experimental and the control groups in their writing skills. After thirteen weeks of blogging activities, the posttests showed that writing skills in the experimental group learners had improved as a result of blogging about current global events. Blogging activities improved learners’ writing performance and general performance as well. Furthermore, the present research showed the positive effects of blogging activities on the EFL Freshman learners' attitudes toward writing skills in general and the incorporation of current global events, which the learners found interesting. The learners enjoyed the blogging and felt it encouraged them to write more blog posts. At the end of the experiment, EFL Freshman learners’ capability to make ideas, write the topic sentences and the relevant details, and pay full attention to both the form and the content of blogging posts enhanced significantly. They could reflect on their peers’ blogging posts. Unlike the pen-and-paper writing tasks, online/ mobile blogging was more fun as they blogged from any place and anytime, and the blogging posts were focused, brief and controllable.
The results of the present study are consistent with previous studies results, which found that EFL learners had a positive attitude towards using a blog in practicing writing skills because the learners were engaged in online interactions and shared their posts with their peers (Kuo et al., 2017; Huang, 2016; Gunduz, 2016; Aliakbari & Mohammadi, 2016; Wall & Anderson, 2015; Jackling, Natoli, Siddique, & Sciulli, 2015; Ballén, 2014).
Furthermore, incorporating current global events in EFL writing skill teaching raised learners’ awareness of global issues. This was proved in Bayraktar Balkir’s (2021) study with Turkish learners. Similarly, EFL learners in the FLT KKU had positive views of the global topics incorporated in the writing course. When blogging activities started at the beginning of the semester, learners in the present study were not sufficiently reactive, and some were reluctant to participate in the activities. However, at the end of the term (thirteen weeks), they improved, and almost every learner contributed. The results are consistent with other previous studies in the literature (Zhang et al., 2021; Iyengar & Hood, 2016; Salih & Omar, 2021; Spires, Himes, Paul, & Kerkhoff, 2019; Krengel, 2021; Diachkova et al., 2021).
Conclusion and Implications
The current study has some limitations. It was limited to first-year male graduate students only because of the segregation at the Saudi universities in the FLT (at KKU). The participants were chosen randomly. According to the findings, blogging about the current global events in EFL writing teaching was found to be an influential tool for unskilled, low-ability EFL Freshman learners. The benefits of familiarizing blogs in EFL writing teaching have shown to be significant in improving learners’ writing performance. Improvements were noted in the blogging posts. Differences in the post’s length, neatness, and mechanical correctness were detected. Thus, the use of blogs and incorporating the present global events in writing teaching to improve EFL learners’ writing skills is strongly suggested. EFL writing teachers can be trained to incorporate blogs and current events in teaching writing skills to EFL Freshman learners anywhere and anytime. Based on the findings, the current paper recommends the following:
The author extends his appreciation to the Deanship of Scientific Research at King Khalid University for funding this work through the Big Groups Project under grant number (66/1443).
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