Martin Homola
and Zuzana Kubincov´a
Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics, Comenius University, Mlynsk´a dolina, 842 48 Bratislava, Slovakia
FBK-IRST, Via Sommarive 18, 38050 Povo, Trento, Italy
Education supporting platform, Community portal, Blog-supported learning, Learning communities, Lifelong
learning, Teaching web design, Teaching XSLT.
Following constructionism and the learning by doing approach of Papert in our university web design course
students are given the task of building a personal blogs. Students thus practice selected Web technologies.
The task is supported by a dedicated web-based integrated development environment. Their blogs are inter-
connected and communication is available. Students are also encouraged to publish relevant articles on their
blogs. We have observed competitiveness boosting, experience exchange, and overall increase of involvement
with the course. Our experience suggests improved quality of learning to the benefit of our students.
Blogging, online communities formation and so-
cial networking have recently become important
socio-economic phenomena that increasingly influ-
ence lives of all, no matter the age, background, or
professional affiliation. Within the field of online pub-
lishing, the impact of blogging is especially influen-
tial. The blogosphere has proven to serve as an un-
foreseen media space easily accessible to everyone.
Blogs have been used on an incredible variety of pur-
poses, such as personal publication, independent jour-
nalism, online marketing and corporate public rela-
tions. The omnipresence of blogs and blog articles
does in turn shape the habits of Internet users and it
has impact on user’s needs. Thus blogging has be-
come unignorable in particular for web designers and
web application developers. Therefore we advocate
coverage of blogging by web design and web devel-
opment curricula at any level. We will demonstrate
later on that such inclusion may in fact contribute to
the quality of such curricula increasing the fun factor
and students’ involvement with such courses.
The benefit of information technologies in learn-
ing has been justified (Papert and Caperton, 1999;
Mosel, 2005) by such theoretical frameworks of
knowledge and learning as radical constructivism
(von Glasersfeld, 1995) and constructionism (Papert
and Harel, 1991). These frameworks conjecture that
knowledge is constructed from perception and inter-
action with the world. Moreover, perception, inter-
pretation and representation of communication and
knowledge are subjective among different learners.
Constructionists suggest learning by doing by per-
sonal experience and by practical exploration, by do-
ing things in real world. Benefits of blogging and
the newly emerging social Internet in education have
been analyzed by Mosel (Mosel, 2005). According to
Mosel, blogging contributes to effective construction
and organization of knowledge. Through communi-
cation and discussion, that is easily triggered by the
possibility of leaving a comment, one compares her
subjective perceptions with the others and a socially
shared view may evolve. Mosel views blogging and
the associated social Internet technology as an emer-
gent phenomenon and suggests its application in cur-
ricula and didactic applications as an open issue of
particular interest.
In this paper we describe our university course
on web design which makes use of blog develop-
ment and blogging as practical assignments. In our
course students learn web technologies through itera-
tive development of their own blogs, directly experi-
encing the power of the technologies and experiment-
ing with them freely. This is in accordance with Pa-
pert’s learning by doing approach. We encourage stu-
Homola M. and Kubincová Z. (2009).
In Proceedings of the First International Conference on Computer Supported Education, pages 180-185
DOI: 10.5220/0001849901800185
dents to communicate with others, we focus on build-
ing a learning community, and thus facilitate learning
of serious skills in a way which is appealing and en-
In order to achieve all these goals we provide a
web-based integrated development environment for
our students which they use to build up their blogs.
Blogs of all students are integrated into a portal, and
accessible to all the other students. Communication
and discussion is immediately availablevia comments
under the blog articles, and so students get feedback
and advise from their colleagues and from course lec-
turers as well. During our three year experience with
this practical assignment and our platform we have
observed on our students effects such as unpredicted
creative realization, competitiveness boosting, mutual
exchange of experience, etc. We conclude that thanks
to our application students’ interest and involvement
with the course increases, students find working on
the assignment amusing and quality of learning is in-
creased. Our experience shows that choosing blogs
and blogging for practical assignments was a partic-
ularly rewarding step and we agree with observations
of Mosel (Mosel, 2005).
Full version of this paper is available online as
technical report (Homola and Kubincov´a, 2009).
Newest trends in the learning theories try to map and
reflect the real impact of information and communica-
tion technology on the society. In this respect educa-
tional knowledge and learning theories such as con-
structivism and constructionism have become more
and more significant. Constructivism, as an episte-
mology theory given by Piaget (Gruber and Voneche,
1995) refers to the process of knowledge construction
from human experience. In radical constructivism of
von Glasersfeld, the relation between the objective
world and the individual’s constructed representation
of reality is characterized by the notion of viability
(von Glasersfeld, 1995; Mosel, 2005). According to
this theory, the important aspect of the subjective rep-
resentations that individuals construct during the pro-
cess of learning is the extent to which these are in con-
flict with the reality they face. These subjective rep-
resentations are the more viable, the less the learner
encounters conflicts when comparing them with new
perceptions and acting upon them. Low viability of
constructed knowledge purportedly leads to revision
of constructed knowledge in the process of repetitive
exploration of reality from different angles and view-
points. Radical constructivism results in the conclu-
sion that human beings do not only actively construct
perception and consciousness, but also knowledge
and learning (Mosel, 2005). In accordance, construc-
tivists regard humans to be inventively active subjects
which create their knowledge from perception and in-
teraction with the world.
Didactic approaches based on constructivism put
stress on learning by discovering. Constructionism –
a learning theory by Papert (Papert and Harel, 1991),
states that the most effective way of learning is the
learner’s active knowledge construction. The use of
these theories is promoted by the educational ap-
proach called learning by doing, in which learners ob-
tain new knowledgefrom their ownexperience gained
through the practical application of the subject matter.
Impact of new technologies on the learning pro-
cess is an important research issue that has enjoyed
attention (Papert and Caperton, 1999). A valuable
insight on benefits of blogging and newly emerging
technologies of the so called social Internet in educa-
tion is offered by Mosel (Mosel, 2005). Mosel builds
on notions of microcontent
and micropublishing as
introduced by Spivack (Spivack, 2003). Loosely
speaking, microcontent refers to URI-referable units
of information accessible via Internet, each typically
encapsulating no more then a small number of central
ideas. Microconent typically occurs in collections of
common themes and topics. The act of publishing mi-
crocontent is then called micropublishing by Spivack
and Mosel. Undoubtedly, blogging is the most pop-
ular and most typical type of micropublishing. Blog
postings are mostly rather short and consist of one or
few topics. Hence they usually are more focused than
longer elaborate articles which tend to have many in-
terrelated arguments and are often highly complex.
According to Mosel, micropublishing and specif-
ically blogging contributes to effective social con-
struction and organization of knowledge of elevated
quality with respect to the theory of radical construc-
tivism. Blogs are often thematically focused and
learner-centered. They represent also author’s sub-
jective views and statements as well as relations to
other resources. The possibility of leaving a comment
right under the blog article contributes to interaction
and collaboration with other users. As small units
of knowledge are much easier to discuss and decon-
struct, they are also more helpful with respect to new
knowledge construction. In addition, through collab-
oration, by identifying, formulating and discussing
problems and interests, a socially shared view can
evolve. Mosel views blogging and associated social
Spivack’s notion of microcontent (Spivack, 2003) is not
to be confused with the notion of microcontent used in ty-
pography and usability (Nielsen, 1998).
CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Internet technology as a rather unexplored emergent
phenomenon and suggests its application in curricula
and didactic applications as an open issue of particu-
lar interest.
The course Modern Approaches in Web Design” is
part of the Master-level curriculum in applied infor-
matics at our university. The course provides a unify-
ing view of the rich palette of web technologies cur-
rently used, that are to some extent covered within
various other courses and concentrates in greater de-
tail on selected technologies. The course has four
main objectives. First, to give an overview of main
technologies employed in web design and web de-
velopment. Second, to cover selected technologies
such as XML, XSLT
and CSS in great detail. Third,
to make students acquainted with standards, method-
ologies and production issues that are relevant to
industrial-level web development such as accessibil-
ity, usability, search engine optimizing, web applica-
tion security, etc. Finally, to rise awareness of emerg-
ing phenomena that nowadays more than ever shape
the Web and influence web design such as Web 2.0,
blogs, community portals, social networking, etc.
Secondary although still very important goal of
our course is to develop students’ lifelong learning
and personal development skills and competencies re-
lated to effective operation with professional knowl-
edge that they acquire during their training but also
during praxis. Such competencies include: ability to
gather knowledge from various information sources,
to analyze, synthesize, process and critically evaluate
information, to effectively communicate one’s profes-
sional stances and opinions, etc. We address these
secondary goals by practical assignments that involve
such activities (e.g., collecting information and pub-
lishing digest on-topic blog articles).
Students work on several practical assignments of
which only one the main project assignment is
mandatory, the rest are extra assignments which are
awarded by extra evaluation points. For the main
project assignment each student needs to implement
a personal blog, especially the visual layout. The
XSLT, the XML Style sheet Transformation language,
is a recursive declarative template language that specifies
how one XML format is translated into another one. Thanks
to its nature, programming inXSLT is significantly different
from common imperative languages such as C++ of Java.
As XML has become widely adopted, XSLT programming
is an important skill to train for computer science and ap-
plied informatics students.
most notable extra assignment is the task of publish-
ing blog articles on any topic that is related to the
course. With this assignment students are encour-
aged to make their own research on Web technology,
methodologies, tools, etc., a skill that they will fre-
quently employ in their future praxis. Another inter-
esting extra assignment is to implement original and
unusual features on their blogs.
In the course learning contract students agree with
their name and evaluation being exposed their col-
leagues which as we believe boosts competitiveness
(see Sect.5). At the end of the semester projects are
evaluated. Half of the score for the project is for sub-
mitting a feature-rich blog, the other half is for meet-
ing the web design quality standards such as code va-
lidity, accessibility and usability. The extra assign-
ments add up some score and possibly improve stu-
dent’s grading. The extra score is not at all limited,
and students may publish as many blog articles as
they wish. However, they need to do some research
or to spend extra working hours on their project and
experiment with original features, and hence this as-
signment is practically limited only by the amount of
working time they are willing to invest.
The nature of our course, its content and aims
have inspired us in development of a supporting ap-
plication that provides blog space for our students and
it also serves as integrated development environment
with help of which students are able to implement the
visual layout of their blogs while sharing the same
back-end. The main goals for the application are the
following: to provide each student with a unified ba-
sic development environment for her blog, where es-
pecially all the blogs share the same back-end, and
students can fully concentrate on the task of devel-
oping the visual layout for their blogs; to enable to
use the very same blog space for submission of the
blog articles for the extra assignments; to have such a
blog portal back-end for this purpose, that would en-
able and boost students’ communication; to support
the teachers in the evaluation process.
Our platform is part of the community
portal. This portal is accessible to general public and
is purported to become a dedicated unofficial commu-
nity portal for the students but as well for the staff of
our faculty. It serves to three main goals:
Community goal. To create an alternative and un-
official communication channel for the people con-
nected to the faculty.
Figure 1: Typical blog within our portal in default layout.
Educational goal. To provide a supportive envi-
ronment for various courses taught at the faculty, most
notably our course.
Research goal. The portal has been mostly de-
veloped by Bachelor and Master students as part of
their Bachelor/Master projects. Design of the portal
focuses on various research issues related to commu-
nity building, internet publishing and social network-
ing, various Web related technologies and real-world
deployment of native XML databases.
Once a student has registered to the portal, the
portal interfaces change for her and also the way her
blog is processed is changed, and – from the student’s
point of view – the portal effectively turns into an in-
tegrated blog development environment. The portal
makes heavy use of XML technologies. All data is
stored in native XML database, the XML Query Lan-
guage (XQL) is used for querying, and XSLT is then
used to transform the XML data into browser read-
able XHTML documents. This fact has enabled us
to develop with little effort special interfaces for stu-
dents of the course, which are different from the inter-
faces used by ordinary users, and are heavily XML-
oriented. Students post their articles using a desig-
nated data-driven XML format. Students’ blogs are
processed differently by the portal. At the beginning
no layout is applied on their blogs and the students
must develop the visual layout of their blogs by them-
selves, in XSLT and CSS. As their blogs are being
developed, students are encouraged to post course re-
lated information on their blogs. Thus the portal sup-
ports two of the practical assignments of the course:
development of visual layout of one’s personal blog,
and also publishing on topic articles on one’s blog.
And, thanks to the design of interfaces, students prac-
tise XML, XSLT and CSS on the way.
As the portal serves for variety of goals, there are
also trade-offs that had to be undertaken. For most of
Figure 2: Article editing within the student’s interface.
the semester, most of the students’ blogs are under-
developed, some even broken for certain periods of
time. However, for the community building purpose,
students’ articles are visible to all portal visitors, in-
cluding random internet users. When such a visitor
encounters an article written by one of our students,
the article is formatted using the standard portal lay-
out. Students’ own layouts are only visible to other
students of the course. Each visitor, whether a class
mate or not, is able to post comments on student’s
article. Thus students collect feedback from their col-
leagues, but possibly also from wider public.
We will now describe how students use the por-
tal within the course and what they learn by using it.
In order to demonstrate the functionality and features
of her blog, the student is required to publish at least
several articles throughout the semester. In addition
students are encouraged to publish on topic on their
blogs as they are rewarded extra evaluation points for
that. By editing articles via the XML-oriented inter-
face provided for them, they train all the basic XML
notions and skills such as well-formed XML syntax,
DTDs, validation, element and attribute types, etc.
Another thing students extensively practise is pro-
gramming in XSLT, as the portal only allows this lan-
guage to be used in order to process the data and cre-
ate the layout of one’s blog. This is a useful skill since
XSLT is nowadays more and more frequently applied
in various contexts as XML data formats have become
widely adopted. XSLT itself uses XML syntax, hence
students contact time with XML is further increased.
To complete the project assignment students must
implement a blog layout that includes basic and com-
monly expected blog features. Students are also en-
couraged to go beyond this basic requirements and
to implement advanced features such as interactively
folding tree views of comments, their own article
management, access statistics, polls, etc. They are
CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Figure 3: Custom blog layout by a student of the course.
awarded some extra evaluation points for doing that.
Every year some of the most active and creative stu-
dents come up with entirely original ideas to imple-
ment on their blogs thus exploring blogs as a web de-
sign genre and publication media to the fullest. An-
other part of the blog which is evaluated is its com-
pliance to the web design quality standards such as
code validity, cross browser compatibility, accessibil-
ity and usability. It is not trivial at all to produce web
applications that are both compliant with the quality
standards and still neatly and attractively designed.
What is more, this fact is still frequently ignored even
by professional web developers; appealing design and
cool user interface features are commonly preferred to
accessibility and ease of use (Nielsen, 2008).
In this way students train XML, XSLT and CSS,
they are acquainted with blogs and blogging as an im-
portant internet and social phenomenon that increas-
ingly influences web design as a field, they master es-
sentials of blog anatomy, community portal features,
web page layout standards, and they are acquainted
with web design quality standards as well.
The course has already run three times in the form de-
scribed in this paper. In Table 1 we provide some sta-
tistical data from each run of the course. Even if each
student could get around by posting 3–4 articles, we
can see that the average number of articles is higher
than that. Also, the number of comments significantly
outnumbers the number of articles, and we notice un-
usually high number of comments for the second year
even if the number of participating students was low
on that year. Indeed students’ activity varies for each
group but overall we conclude that students’ involve-
Figure 4: Another student’s custom blog layout.
ment with these assignments has been significantly
high, and they share interest in communication with
others. In addition to measurable values we have ob-
served several things related to the didactic goals of
the course, as follows.
Table 1: Students’ activity per one run of the course.
Year Students Articles Comments
2006/2007 190 1183 1555
2007/2008 87 649 1406
2008/2009 101 663 1172
Competitiveness. We really care for boosting
competitiveness. We believe that it makes partici-
pation in the course attractive and possibly even en-
tertaining. It increases students’ involvement and re-
sults into deeper understanding of the subject matter.
In order to achieve this, we enforce by the learning
agreement that students’ name and intermediate eval-
uation is accessible to all the other students. Student’s
blog and her work in progress is also visible to them.
While such a move may rise privacy concerns, we be-
lieve that our decision is justified by increased quality
of learning.
Communication. The portal provides means to
comment on each blog article to everyone (even to
general public). Thus students are easily able to com-
municate with their colleagues. As they all cope with
similar tasks, they can provide valuable feedback one
to another. We also encourage students to document
their progress by blog articles. This way they are
immediately helpful to others and they can start dis-
cussion on the problems they encounter while coping
with more difficult parts of the assignment.
Creativity. The task of developing one’s own blog
layout is a great opportunity to exercise creativity.
The fact that everyone can easily see the work and
progress of others, further boosts one’s will to cre-
ate something beautiful and original (at least in some
students). Thus a programming exercise which might
have otherwise been boring turns out to actually be
fun for many students.
In our university web design and web application de-
velopment course we rely on the theory of learning by
doing that builds upon constructionism of Papert (Pa-
pert and Harel, 1991). Students work on various as-
signments, so that they practically explore what they
are taught during the lectures. The main assignment
amounts to developing a personal blog. We have cre-
ated a web-based platform that provides an integrated
blog development environment to our students. The
platform is part of a wider community portal used
at our faculty. Students’ interfaces are heavy XML-
oriented, they develop their blogs by applying XSLT
and CSS on XML data, thus effectively practising
these technologies.
Students’ blogs are not isolated, but they are in-
stead interconnected within the portal. Communi-
cation means such as the possibility to comment on
each and every article are readily available. This sup-
ports students’ mutual interaction and contributes to
their collaboration during the learning process. Thus
a learning community is effectively formed. The par-
ticipants of such a learning community are able to
compare their work with their peers including the in-
termediate evaluation. This creates competition, im-
proves students involvement with the course and in-
creases their understanding and interest in the subject
matter. We have observed situations in which indi-
vidual students appeared to be dragged into the work
on their projects by their peers or simply as they re-
alized that others are already ahead of them. In addi-
tional assignments we encourage our students to pub-
lish meaningful articles on their blogs, documenting
their work in progress and blogging on topics related
to the course subject as well. Thus according to Mosel
(Mosel, 2005) efficient subjective learning is stimu-
lated and social knowledge construction is enabled.
In addition these tasks require collecting and process-
ing relevant information and communicating this in-
formation together with personal views and opinions.
Hence the students’ development continues in such
areas as gaining lifelong learning habits, information
gathering, analyzing, synthesizing and communica-
tion of one’s professional opinions and stances. We
conclude that use of blogging environments, for in-
stance in the way that we have described in this paper
and that we employ in our course, is particularly suit-
able to support such educational goals.
Full version of this paper is available as technical
report (Homola and Kubincov´a, 2009). Martin Ho-
mola is supported by project VEGA no. 1/0719/09 of
Slovak Ministry of Education and Slovak Academy
of Sciences. The authors are grateful to all stu-
dents who contributed to development of the portal,
most notably Anton Kohutoviˇc, Martin Rejda, Marek
Kov´aˇcik, Juraj Fank, Michal Novomesk´y and Marek
Sivˇco. Many thanks to Michaela Daniˇsov´a who con-
tributed graphics for the extended version, and to
Just´ına Cielontkov´a and Luk´s Zdechovan for allow-
ing to publish screenshots of their blogs.
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CSEDU 2009 - International Conference on Computer Supported Education