Can You Tell by My Grades That I Am a Blogger?
A Longitudinal Study of the Use of Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool
and Effects on Expected Grades
Tarjei Alvær Heggernes
and Ole Jakob Bergfjord
Department of Business Administration, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Bergen, Norway
Keywords: Blogging, Education.
Abstract: From 2009 to 2013 writing blog posts, and commenting on each other’s blog posts, was a mandatory course
requirement for the students of the subject ØMF101 Administrative Informasjonssystemer (Management
Information Systems) at the former Bergen University College (now Western Norway University of Applied
Sciences). We have data from the students’ activity on the blog network, combined with grades and
demographic data. This makes it possible to explore the effects of blogging, and on a higher level, digital
based active learning, has had on the course outcome. The results show that older students are less active
digitally and get lower grades than younger students, even when compared to average grades for the bachelor
program. All other effects are small or non-existent including the relation between blogging activity and
exam results.
The phenomena of blogging emerged in the late
nineties together with the accessibility of the internet
for casual users. Arguably it was identified as a genre
of its own early in the new millennium (Blood, 2000),
and a part of the emerging Web 2.0 (Berners-Lee,
Dimitroyannis, Mallinckrodt, & McKay, 1994). The
ease of use and interactivity made blogging an
interesting topic for research within higher education.
2.1 Current Research Topics and
A literature review conducted in 2010 found two
groups of research: blog usage profile and the effects
of blogging (Sim & Hew, 2010). The group
researching effects of blogging were separated into
two categories: Effects of blogging on performance
outcome and effects of blogging on affective
outcomes. Both categories relied on student’s self-
reporting and/or analysing contents of blogs. Some
studies reported an elevated perceived level of
reflection as a result of both blogging, and reading
other students blog posts (Xie, Ke, & Sharma, 2008),
and in most cases the students perceived that blogging
did support their learning. In the other category most
student self-reported positive attitudes towards
blogging (Ellison & Wu, 2008).
The research we have found on the subject of
blogging in higher education have for the most part
been based on self-reporting from students on their
perceived experience after blogging, for the most part
during one semester ((Ellison & Wu, 2008),(Kiliç &
Gökdas, 2014),(Song & Chan, 2008),(Halic, Lee,
Paulus, & Spence, 2010) to name a few), some
research goes as far as documenting effects over two
semesters (for example (Yang & Chang, 2012) and
(Kuo, Belland, & Kuo, 2017)), but we have not seen
any longitudinal studies on the subject.
There are some studies that test students’
knowledge level before and after a blogging
experience, for example (Papastergiou, Gerodimos,
& Antoniou, 2011). The study showed no significant
increase in the students’ skills in the course taught, in
the case, basketball skills.
In a broader context it is possible to classify blogs
as social media. If we look outside the research of
blogging as a tool for learning, we find a study done
on the effects of using Twitter as a learning tool in
Heggernes, T. and Bergfjord, O.
Can You Tell by My Grades That I Am a Blogger? A Longitudinal Study of the Use of Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool and Effects on Expected Grades.
DOI: 10.5220/0009562804140421
In Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2020) - Volume 2, pages 414-421
ISBN: 978-989-758-417-6
2020 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
higher education (Junco, Heiberger, & Loken, 2011).
The study looks at both student engagement and
grades, using both an experimental group and a
control group. The conclusions were that the
experimental group, the group using twitter, were
more engaged and got better grades than the control
group. The study lasted one semester, and compared
both acceptance grades, average grades for the
students across all subjects with the grades for the
specific subject where the students used twitter.
2.2 Recommended Frameworks for
Educational Blogging
A framework for student bloggers and educators is
described in (Kerawalla, Minocha, Kirkup, & Conole,
2009). The first part of the framework consists of an
over-arching technological and pedagogical context
for blogging, where it is important to clarify the
relationship with other e-learning tools provided in
the course, discuss functionality of the blogging
software, and how the blogging fits into the
requirements of the course (e.g. is it a course
requirement). The second part of the framework deals
with developing blogging behaviour and skills for
students based on the audience, the blogging
community, comments and the presentation of the
The framework is based on interviews of 15
students on master-level online course. For each part
of the framework the researchers have made several
questions adapted from those interviews. For
example, regarding the audience, one question will
be: Who is my audience? For the relationship with
other e-learning tools, one question will be: What will
blogging offer that other tools will not? The
researchers offer the framework to guide and
encourage educators to think about how they best can
use blogging on their course.
Another case study (Farmer, Yue, & Brooks,
2008) presents blogging as a learning tool in a large
cohort university class. Blogging was introduced as a
formative assessment exercise, for 30% of their final
assessment grade they were asked to maintain a blog
for 12 weeks during a semester. Both posting a blog
post, at least once a week on average, and interaction
with other students’ blog were parts of the
requirement. The researchers used a wide range of
data collection methods, from statistics from the blog
network, content analysis of blog posts to online and
paper-based questionnaires.
A dashboard containing blog titles, number of
entries (blog posts), views and number of comments
were available to students during the period they were
blogging. In conclusion the researchers find that there
is promise in using blogging for learning, but also
problem areas in need of improvement. There are also
some recommendations for good practice. Amongst
the advice are: To be clear about the formative
assessment, ensure adequate technical support, build
early interactivity into the experience and making
some of the transition support activities explicit and
easy for students.
There has also been some research on how
blogging should be integrated in higher education
pedagogy. In a study that included both surveys, logs
from the blog platform and content analysis of the
blog posts it was concluded that the three inter-related
factors of frequency, topic resonance and timeliness
determined the effectiveness of moving students
toward a blogging practice (Freeman & Brett, 2012).
Prompted entries were more frequent than
unprompted, prompted topics helped the students
write blog posts, and several students wrote blog
posts in a “catching up manner” before deadlines.
2.3 Blogging, Student Engagement and
Learning Outcomes
Several of the studies above report a positive attitude
amongst students towards blogging. Interactivity
amongst students, and between students and lecturers
is made possible by the comment feature found on
blog posts. There is research suggesting that students
using technology are more engaged in their work as
students, for example students using electronic voting
systems (King & Robinson, 2009) and educational
games (Annetta, Minogue, Holmes, & Cheng, 2009).
Also, studies have found a positive correlation
between the use of social media and college student
engagement (Heiberger & Harper, 2008).
Student engagement can be defined as the amount
of physical and psychological energy that the student
devotes to the academic experience (Astin, 1984).
Later, (Kuh, 2009) have defined engagement as the
time and effort students invest in educational
activities that are empirically linked to desired college
outcomes. College outcomes, or learning/student
outcomes are subject to much uncertainty in the
literature (Allan, 1996), we argue that engagement
and reflection are amongst the desired outcomes, but
for students' good grades must certainly be a desired
outcome as well.
But, are there any empirical links between
blogging as an educational activity and grades as a
desired outcome in higher education?
Can You Tell by My Grades That I Am a Blogger? A Longitudinal Study of the Use of Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool and Effects on
Expected Grades
During our literature review we have encountered
very little research that explores if it is possible to tie
blogging as an educational activity to better grades in
the course utilizing this activity. Furthermore, the
available research is based on experiences from one
or two semesters, and the research that examines
grades in connection to social media focuses on the
platform Twitter, and not blogging. Our research
focus is the effect blogging might have on grades in
courses where students are academic bloggers. Our
research questions are as follows:
Are there any group of students that experience
higher grades as a result of using blogging as an
educational tool?
Does higher activity on a blog network lead to
higher grades?
The data used in this analysis is based on a BSc course
in Management Information Systems. Over a period
of 5 years, between 2009 and 2013, blogging was a
mandatory part of the course. This included writing
own blog posts on relevant subjects, but also
commenting on other’s posts.
4.1 Blogging as a Platform for
Several factors contributed to the decision of using
this learning method in this course. First, one of the
main subjects of the course was information systems.
The blog network in itself is a system, and thus
represented an opportunity for the student to have
hands-on experience as users of a system, in addition
to using the blog network as an example of more
technical aspects of the course, like databases and
application architecture. A forum could also enhance
activity between students, it would have been
possible using the forum functionality in the LMS
Itslearning, but that functionality was considered less
engaging, and would not have made the point about
the application architecture in the same way, hence a
forum was not chosen for student interaction.
Clarifying this relation between the course subject
and blogging answers some of the suggested
questions proposed by the Kerawalla et al-framework
(Kerawalla et al., 2009). The project was heavily also
inspired by activity-based learning, using writing as a
tool for learning, and learning by peer-review (Xie et
al., 2008).
4.2 Blog Technical Setup
The technical installation and maintenance of the blog
network was done, not by the institution’s IT-
department, but by the media department. The
allocated resources at the media department ensured
adequate technical support, an advice suggested by
Farmer et al (Farmer et al., 2008).
Through the system, each student signed up for a
personal Wordpress-blog, and by using Buddypress
the personal blogs were connected in a
community/blog network. That way, the students
would get a feed of each other’s blog posts and
comments. As participating in the blog network was
mandatory, it needed an easy and transparent way to
see if each student had filled the requirements. This
was solved by making a dashboard showing each
student’s number of blog posts and number of
comments. The dashboard was similar to the
dashboard presented by Farmer et al, and the
clarification of role of blogging as a formative
assessment is in accordance to the Kerawalla et al-
It is also worth mentioning that for this course, the
blog network also was the main LMS (Learning
Management System). All the material for each
lecture was presented within a blog post/update by the
lecturer, including a description of the lecture,
reference or link to relevant literature and articles, and
often an embedded video for using a flipped
classroom-approach in the lecture. This way the
students had one main platform to deal with during
the course. This is in accordance with Kerawalla et
al’s suggested overarching framework where
clarifying the relationship with other e-learning tools
is an element.
4.3 Blog Content and Comments
The students were somewhat free to choose the
subject of their blog posts, if it fell within the theme
of the course. Suggested, or prompted (Freeman &
Brett, 2012) topics (by the lecturer) included
discussing experiences as users of business software,
discussing blogs and other social media supporting
value creation for companies, blogs about the
blogging learning experience, discussing different
themes from the course, making a report from a guest
lecture, or summarizing a chapter from the course
literature. As for the comments there were no
recommended structure for leaving comments, other
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
than the required number. A more formal structure
might have improved the learning and influenced
The mandatory requirements for the first year of
using the blog network, 2009, were as follow:
2 blog posts, minimum 200 word
10 smaller blog posts/sharing an interesting link
with comments on why it is relevant
40 comments on other student’s blog posts
The lecturer also made a commitment to comment on
all blog posts, thus building early interactivity as per
Farmer et al’s advice. The students reported via a
survey, not included in this paper, that participating
in the blog network led to a better understanding of
the subject, about 90 % answered agree and
somewhat agree on a survey conducted after the
subject was completed. The lecturer subjectively
noticed higher levels of enthusiasm for the course
amongst the students than in the pre-blogging
versions of the course.
The next year, 2010, the requirements were
2 blog posts, minimum 200 word
3 smaller blog posts/sharing an interesting link
with comments on why it is relevant
10 comments on other student’s blog posts
Apart from these minor adjustments of the
requirements the course remained the same
throughout the period, with the same curriculum, the
same lecturer, and the same evaluation criteria. Also,
the setup and use of the blog network as an
educational tool was in accordance with parts of the
Kerawall et al-framevork, Farmer et al’s advice and
Freeman and Brett’s factors towards effective
educational blogging, which should improve the
potential for desired learning outcomes for the
students from the experience.
The student numbers varied somewhat from year to
year, between 55 and 96. In total, 394 students
attended the course throughout the period.
We have a complete quantitative overview of the
blogging network activity based on student ID
numbers. Hence, we know that, for instance, student
X made 4 blog posts in total, and wrote 9 comments
to others’ posts. We also know which posts these
comments are replies to including what student
wrote the original posts. Although not the main topic
of this paper, it is worth noting that this allows us to
perform a network analysis of student activity, for
instance studying which students comment on each
other’s posts.
Also, for this study the contents of the blog posts
and comments have not been analyzed. An idea for a
later study would be to use Natural Language
Processing for further insight into the blogging
Neither posts nor comments provides perfect
information of true student activity. Reading others’
blog posts could be useful for learning but is not
counted as activity here. Not all posts and comments
are equally important or thoughtful, and it would of
course also be interesting to measure other activities
related to the blog network (number of page views,
total words written, etc.) Finally, time stamps on the
posts and comments could also been useful, for
instance to separate those who are active throughout
the semester from those who fulfill the activity
requirements during a few hectic hours before the
As mentioned above, in this data set we have no
qualitative information about the posts/comments.
Partly because of this, we use received comments,
rather than posts, as a variable in the further analysis.
The logic is that extensive and/or particularly relevant
posts tend to attract comments. Other posts, written in
the last minute to fulfill course requirements, and
maybe containing little else than a link to a semi-
relevant web page, will typically not receive
Hence, for the purpose of this study, we use
number of written comments and number of received
comments as the two variables expressing activity in
the blogging network.
One novel aspect of this study is that we have been
able to merge this data set with administrative data on
the students, in the same manner as (Junco et al.,
2011). This data set includes information for the
admission process (age, gender and average high
school grades), but also information about grades in
this specific course, as well as each student’s average
grade for the degree. We started this project only
when all relevant students had graduated, and hence
have access to average degree grades for all students.
What we are particularly interested in, and have
used as a variable in this study, is the difference
between grades in this course and the average degree
grade. This difference will of course reflect that some
students are particularly good at this subject, whereas
others are better in other subjects. There will also be
some noise students can be «lucky” or “unlucky”
with the exam and the grading etc. However, in
addition to this, we also believe that this difference
Can You Tell by My Grades That I Am a Blogger? A Longitudinal Study of the Use of Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool and Effects on
Expected Grades
says something about the effects of blogging. All
other courses were taught in a fairly similar and
conservative way, with this course being the only one
using educational blogging. If some types of students
systematically perform better or worse in this course
than in other courses, we think that the teaching
methods will be a likely explanation.
In total, this gives us a data set we consider to be
very good, with the following information included:
A simple correlation analysis is a useful starting point
the results are shown in the correlation matrix
Table 1: Illustration of data set.
course grade
minus grade
comments Age Gender
1 4 4,68 3,23 0,77 39 17 21 1
2 3 4,32 3,79 -0,79 43 68 21 1
3 4 4,69 3,09 0,91 57 79 22 1
4 2 4,72 2,31 -0,31 34 26 25 1
5 4 4,81 3,71 0,29 39 65 21 1
6 4 4,58 3,91 0,09 39 29 22 0
Table 2: Correlation matrix. N=394.
comments Age Gender
Course grade 1,000
High school grade
average 0,318 1,000
Degree grade average 0,763 0,103 1,000
Difference, course
grade minus grade
average 0,589 0,340 -0,073 1,000
Received comments -0,005 -0,059 0,005 -0,013 1,000
Sent comments 0,113 -0,006 0,062 0,097 0,670 1,000
Age -0,252 -0,411 -0,155 -0,194 -0,131 -0,135 1,000
female=1) 0,087 0,224 0,072 0,045 -0,036 0,042 -0,021 1,000
CSEDU 2020 - 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
Some of the results are obvious and require no
further explanation. For instance, students receive
better grades in this course if they had a good grade
average in high school, and there is also a very high
positive correlation between average degree grades
and the grade in this course.
Other correlations are more interesting. Age is
negatively correlated with everything else, both
performance and measures of blogging activity. The
correlation with performance is in line with previous
internal studies. The negative correlation with
blogging activity is not that surprising one would
hypothesize that younger students at the time were
more familiar with and interested in blogging.
There is a strong positive correlation between
number of sent comments and number of received
comments, confirming our idea that those students
who are active commentators to a large extent are the
same students writing blogposts that attract
comments from others. However, it is interesting and
slightly surprising to note that the correlations
between blogging activity and the different
performance measures seem very small. One would
expect that time spent writing good blogposts
attracting comments as well as commenting on
others’ posts somehow would translate into better
Next, we performed a simple regression analysis.
The course grade is here the dependent variable,
whereas measures of blogging activity and
demographic variables are independent variables.
Note that from the table above, the variable
“Difference, course grade minus grade average” is
excluded from the regression, as this is a direct
function of two other variables. Also, note that the
regression is based on only 320 observations, as one
variable (or more) is missing for the last 74
observations. Most often, this is the information about
high school grades. As far as we have been able to
observe, the missing data are missing at random, and
should hence not affect out conclusions.
The results are shown in the table below.
Again, it is not surprising to observe a strong
effect from both high school grade average and
degree grade average. What we find slightly
surprising is that none of the other variables seem to
have a significant effect on course grade. Older
students typically have lower grade average from
high school, and also get lower grades throughout
their degree. Thus, when this is accounted for, it
seems reasonable that age does not carry an additional
effect on its own. However, we are surprised that
blogging activity (measured by sent or received
comments) not seems to affect the course grade at all,
after adjusting for these other demographic factors.
One hypothesis could be that while having little
effect for most students, the blogging worked for
those who really focused on it. Hence, we looked
closer at the data for the top 5% measured by
comment activity (n=16, students sending >58
comments). It is of course difficult to conduct
meaningful statistical analysis for such a small sub-
sample, but we were still somewhat surprised to see
that no interesting relationships could be detected.
This group got slightly better grades than the average,
but again, this could be explained by their better high
school grades and average grades. In fact, the most
interesting observation was that this group consisted
of 14 female and just 2 male students.
Table 3: Regression analysis. N=320.
Coefficient Standard error t-Stat P value
High school grade average 0,357 0,129 2,777 0,006**
Grade average 0,783 0,072 10,888 < 0,001***
Received comments -0,001 0,004 -0,367 0,714
Sent comments 0,004 0,003 1,156 0,248
Age 0,027 0,026 1,035 0,301
Gender (male=0; female=1) 0,078 0,084 0,928 0,354
Can You Tell by My Grades That I Am a Blogger? A Longitudinal Study of the Use of Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool and Effects on
Expected Grades
We expected to see an effect of blogging activity
mainly because this activity is directly related to the
course objectives, but also through other, more
indirect mechanisms. For instance; the course was
about management information systems (i.e., IT) a
reasonable expectation would be that students with a
particular interest in this topic would be more active
bloggers, and also get better grades in the course than
expected based on high school grades or average
However, no such effect can be detected, not even
among the sub-sample of very active bloggers. Our
research questions were:
Are there any group of students that experience
higher grades as a result of using blogging as an
educational tool?
Does higher activity on a blog network lead to
higher grades?
The results show that the answer is no to both
This is interesting for several reasons. While
previous literature (for instance Farmer et al, 2008)
indicate that blogging is perceived useful by students,
our study suggests that this not necessarily translates
into better «hard» results as measured by course
grades. We believe this is a useful observation
throughout much of the literature on pedagogical
methods – tools that are perceived to be motivational
and effective by students and/or instructors are not
necessarily the same tools that improve learning as
measured by exam results. This does not imply that
tools and methods which “only” improve student (or
teacher!) motivation or perceived learning without
significantly improving grades should be
discouraged. Increased motivation and course
satisfaction are goals on their own, and of course,
experimenting with different methods in different
settings is also valuable on its own. However, a
clearer definition of what qualifies as «successful»
when using new pedagogical tools could probably be
Another interesting point is how we measure
learning –in this case, how the exam is structured. The
exam type remained unchanged as blogging was
introduced. A possible objection would be that the
exam should be changed to better reflect the methods
used in the course, or that blogging per se not should
be expected to improve exam results when the skill
set required in a traditional written exam probably is
different from the skill set required for (and promoted
by) blogging.
Finally, it is worth reflecting on how different
practices appeal to different groups of students. In our
case, blogging seemed to appeal to younger students
more than older students, and to female students more
than male students. Of course, this could be good or
bad, but nevertheless worth considering and
measuring when possible.
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Can You Tell by My Grades That I Am a Blogger? A Longitudinal Study of the Use of Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool and Effects on
Expected Grades