How Blogging Can Assist In The Development Of 21st Century Skills For Both Teachers And Students.
What does it mean to be a ’21st century learner?’ While the term is becoming increasingly common, to what extent do teachers, students and the wider community understand what it means? Rosefsky-Saavedra & Opfer, (2012) define 21st century skills as critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration and leadership; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination. This view is also supported by Dr David Parsons, Associate Professor Massey University (2015) who adds that teachers must move on from 20th century education, as students of the 21st century are now living and will work in a completely different world.
Students are already using the internet and different social media tools available to them such as Facebook, Flicker, Twitter, and blogging. However, for students to engage in critical thinking, and to develop their 21st century skills they need direction. Teachers are now in a position where they need to develop their own 21st century skills in an environment that students already partake in; a way to work and connect with their students in a meaningful environment. It is with this in mind that this paper will explore to what extent can blogging assist primary teachers to become 21st century learners, and thereby improve the learning outcomes of their students.
In this paper, research literature relating to the importance of, and approaches on how teachers can become 21st century learners to affect change, both with their pedagogy and student outcomes will be discussed. This review is written from the viewpoint of an educator wanting insights on the impact and development of 21st century skills on teachers and students, and aims to answer the following questions:
- What is 21st century learning, and the possible impacts on teachers?
- To what extent can it be demonstrated that the use of blogging can assist primary teachers to become 21st century learners so they can improve the learning outcomes for their students?
In an attempt to address these questions in a logical manner, the research is structured into two sections in the order of the questions outlined.
What Is Considered Important For 21st Century Learning To Be Effective?
Bolsted, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R (2012, p.5), have reviewed and put the 21st century Skills into themes to help us understand and deconstruct what teachers will need to be and do to help their students become competent 21st century learners. Below is an abridged version of their findings:
|Education is no longer one size fits all, rather learning is tailored around individuals and their needs.
New views of equity, diversity and inclusivity
|Address the needs of ‘diverse’ learners in order to raise overall achievement levels and reduce inequality – schools need to engage whanau and communities to work towards achievement. It should be noted that students will be required to work with people from all walks of life, accepting that views can be very different, but reaching an agreed goal can still be achieved.
A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity
|Traditional learning/teaching is all about content knowledge, assimilate and regurgitate, whereas the knowledge age is more concerned with creating and using new knowledge to solve problems and find solutions to challenges as they arise on a “just-in-time” basis, often facilitated by new technologies.’ The key focus being education needs to be on equipping people to do things with knowledge, to use knowledge in inventive ways, in new contexts and combinations.
“Changing the script”: Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles
Focus on recognising and working with learners’ strengths, and thinking about what role teachers can play in supporting the development of every learner’s potential. We do this by engaging learners (and their interests, experiences and knowledge) in many decisions about their learning.
A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders
|The need to achieve a system shift that creates a more coherent educational ecology that can support what is known about good learning and that can accommodate new knowledge about learning and, importantly, new purposes for learning in a changing world. This has implications for thinking about professional learning approaches and structures for teachers and school leaders: Are adults in the education system able to access the kinds of learning supports that they need in order to be the best leaders for a future oriented learning system?
New kinds of partnerships and relationships: Schools no longer siloed from the community
|Students must learn to recognise and navigate authentic problems and challenges in ways that they are likely to encounter in future learning situations. Teachers still need strong pedagogical knowledge, but they also need to be able to collaborate with other people who can provide specific kinds of expertise, knowledge or access to learning opportunities in community contexts.
What Are The Most Significant Impacts On Teachers As 21st Century Learners?
The most significant impacts on teachers from these findings is the need to rethink learners’ and teachers’ roles, take part in continuous learning and, in the process, build relationships beyond the “classroom’s four walls”. Darling-Hammond, (2006) highlights the need for teachers to develop the skills to construct and manage classroom activities efficiently, communicate well, use technology, and reflect on their practice to learn and improve continually. Therefore, teachers must actively engage in professional learning at their school or with an outside provider, ensuring they have input into what area they need to have training in, and be open to management advice on what skills they believe the teacher needs to learn. With the average demographic of teachers in New Zealand being 55 years old and female, it is unlikely that the majority of these teachers are passionate advocates of digital technology (Eaton, 2015, p.5). These statistics leads us to the challenge, how do schools develop their teachers into becoming 21st century learners? Are teachers expected to go away and independently learn the skills or will schools send teachers to on-trend courses; or will they implement sustainable training programs within their school to support all teachers on their digital journey?
One of the ways schools have moved to develop 21st century learners is to fill up their classrooms with digital technology in the hope teachers will use these tools in their learning programs. However, it is becoming apparent that access to technologies alone does not ensure school success (Suominen, 2010, p.272). If a teacher is unsure of how to use digital tools effectively, they often end up being used as a way to record information electronically, a very expensive pen! This poses a problem for students who need to leave school with digital fluency and the ability to work collaboratively, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Far greater effort must be expended to train teachers of today to be the teachers of today, particularly in the areas of digital literacy and collaborative learning (Eaton, 2015, p.5).
How Does Digital Fluency And An Open Mindset Develop 21st Century Learners?
With the average age of New Zealand teachers around 55 years old (Eaton, 2015, p.5), it is likely that a high percentage of teachers are still developing their understanding of what it means to be 21st century literate due to the shift in technology in such a short period of time. 21st century skills still require the development of literacy, mathematical and key competency skills. It still requires teachers to deliver curriculum content in a way that engages and motivates students; it is the ‘how’ that makes it more interesting as a 21st century learner. By integrating technology into the curriculum 21st century skills and literacies can be embedded in a way that provides digital fluency for our students, allowing them to explore in a collaborative online community. Melluish-Spencer, (2015) defines digital fluency as:
“‘Fluency’ derives from the word ‘flow’ and when we think about being ‘fluent’ in any context, it refers to being flexible, accurate, efficient, and appropriate. In other words, the way we use skills, language and speech flows naturally and easily. In a digital context for learning, fluency involves using technologies “readily and strategically to learn, to work, and to play, and the infusion of technology in teaching and learning to improve outcomes for all students”.
Becoming digitally fluent does require teachers to adopt a growth mindset. Dweck, (2009, p.9) states that a fixed mindset values looking smart over learning, thereby affecting the ability to apply critical thinking skills to gain and share knowledge. Fixed mindsets can also indicate a low level of self-accountability and a tendency to conceal weaknesses. However, a growth mindset actively seeks out learning, looking for weaknesses so they can be converted into learning opportunities.
It is important to understand that all teachers have pre-existing pedagogical beliefs that drive the way they teach, and therefore where their mindset sits. Teachers with constructivist beliefs are more inclined to integrate technology into their learning program than those who hold on to teacher-centered methods (Hermans, Tondeur, van Braak, & Valcke, 2008, p.1499). It should also be noted that that “traditional beliefs have a negative impact on integrated use of computers”. In contrast, student-centered or constructivist beliefs were strongly correlated with educational technology integration (Funkhouser & Mouza, 2013; Overbay, Patterson, Vasu, & Grable, (2010, p.103).
Teachers must take the time to change the way they think about ‘how’ learning can occur with respect to the technology now available to them. Some teachers are not comfortable with sharing their success or failures as this leaves them feeling vulnerable to others critiquing. Having their learning open to professional peers or students can be overwhelming for those who prefer to work quietly in the background, or for those who can take a longer time to learn a new skill. As with children, learning is a messy business and teachers would benefit to think of approaching the use of blogging as an experiment where failures and successes are seen as the norm.
One approach to promoting and supporting a mindset shift for teachers to adopt blogging is to see its benefits. Blogs provide an online medium for students to create written content that contains information with accompanying videos, audio or visuals. This information literacy can then be shared with their school community, making networks with whanau, not only locally, but globally (Deng & Yuen, 2011, p.441). They learn how to behave as a digital citizen as they have the opportunities to collaborate with any person, of any culture, religion or race to further develop their 21st century skills.
Another important aspect for teachers to consider is when blogging is implemented effectively it has the capacity to improve outcomes for Maori and Pasifika students by providing personalised learning. Bishop & Berryman, (2010, p.10) explain that socio-cultural perspectives highlight the acquisition of knowledge and skills through social interactions and activities, in formal and informal settings. The use of blogging provides an avenue for social interactions to take place in a setting that is safe for the student. Some Maori and Pasifika students can be reluctant to participate in class discussions, which is where innovative teaching uses technology such as blogging to give these students a voice and the opportunity to participate in a different way; thus providing equitable opportunities for sharing learning.
Teachers who are applying Te Kotahitanga in their programmes understand that for Maori to be successful, they need to be part of the education decisions that relate to them, and the teacher needs to able to share the power of decision making with the student, often becoming the learner themselves. This view is supported by Lawrence, (2011, p.36) where she acknowledges that co-construction increased her ability to position herself alongside her students as a co-inquirer, bringing ako into the classroom. The focus became the learning and saw her and her students begin to develop a shared vision in terms of their achievement”. This view is also shared by Macfarlane, (2009, p.4) and is further supported by Woon-Chia, (2015, p.191) who recognises that ‘the teacher is not merely a teacher of a particular subject, but a person who places the learner at the heart of his/her job and one who holds the heavy responsibility as a preserver and custodian of societal values.’
Professional development can be described using words such: as growth, progress, headway, success. Yet little has been done to develop teacher confidence with using digital technologies. In fact many teachers have gone out in their own time, paying to attend courses with their own money, to learn the skills required to use digital tools for the purpose of benefiting their students’ learning. It is evident that teachers and effective learning designs hold the key to student success (Suominen, 2010, p.273; Holm & Horn, 2003 p.377). Therefore, learners of the 21st century do best when taught in a meaningful context, operating as part of a community heading towards a common goal, by a teacher who is able to, and open to learning alongside their students.
“I need to accept that reality and change the way I teach. Computers, videos, MP3 players, cell phones, and all the other electronic technology define how our children communicate. If we want to participate in any meaningful way in a dialog with them, we need to use, understand, and master that technology.” (Simpson, 2006)
Can Blogging Develop 21st century Learners?
There are a multitude of technologies available on the market, which raises the question as to what technologies should teachers embrace to develop their digital skills as part of being a 21st century teacher. Many schools around New Zealand, in fact the world, have embraced the use of blogging to share student learning and to engage in critical discussion, extend learning, provide feedback, or to affirm what they already know. Lachman & MacBride, (2008, p.173) believe that blogging provides huge potential to develop 21st century learning because it promotes reflective thinking, nurtures collaboration and relationship-building, increases perceived accountability and therefore quality of student work, encourages peer support for one another, increases opportunities for students to receive feedback, extends learning outside classroom walls, and allows and encourages interactions with experts and others outside of the classroom. This view is also supported by Parnell & Bartlett, (2012, p.50) as a way for parents to ask their child specific questions in regard to their school day, allowing for student opportunity to share their learning and to think deeply about their experiences. So can blogging be used to assist primary teachers to become 21st century learners, and therefore improve the learning outcomes for their students? The answer to this question is yes.
So why the interest in blogging and what is its purpose? A blog is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as: ‘a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style’. Blogs also provide teachers and students an opportunity to participate in the world outside of the classroom walls and is an online way of being part of the 21st century community.
“Seeing students being aware of a bigger world than their own backyard is a first step towards global education. Hearing students use names of far away countries, talk about different languages, cultures and traditions as if they were frequent travelers and jet-setters is a step in the right direction. Making connections with students from around the world is becoming “just the way it is “… normal … part of their lives in the 21st century” (Tolisano, Silvia Rosenthal, 2010).
Deng & Yuen, (2011, p.441); Derntl, (2010, p.16), highlight that blogs are easy to use, allow people with little technical knowledge to quickly publish their thoughts, opinions, and emotions online, and share their writings with their friends and families or, potentially, the entire web population. A powerful 21st century learning tool and many classrooms have one. So how do we get teachers on board with using this technology to improve learning outcomes for their students? Stoel & Lee, (2003, p.364) believe ‘‘the more a user perceives a new technology to be easy-to-use and useful, the stronger will be their attitude towards the technology, and the greater will be their intention to use the technology”. This raises the importance of schools including teachers in the strategic plans for developing 21st century skills. Especially since they themselves will need to undertake training, which will in turn add value to their teaching and student outcomes, as teachers need to continually access knowledge and inquire into their work (Darling-Hammond, 2006, p.6).
Considerations For Teacher Training To Develop 21st Century Skills
When considering training, schools must recognise that teachers need multiple opportunities to learn a new skill and apply this into their classroom practice, and this is no different with blogging. Darling-Hammond, (2006, p.3) highlights that teachers are good at picking up “tricks of the trade” on the job, but for any learning to be sustainable and effective, teachers really need the time to rehearse their new skills and apply them (Holm & Horn, 2003, p.378). Schools that design their own training for staff, i.e., blogging, either using their own skilled staff, or bringing in a qualified person, are more likely to see the skills learnt practised and applied in the classrooms. This is because inhouse training builds networks with others on the staff, and when implemented in a manner that includes teacher voice, builds a climate for collaboration and learning, therefore making is sustainable. Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwichp, (2013, p.181) believe that one way to achieve technology integration is by shifting our focus from promoting technology integration, per se, to promoting technology-enabled learning, aimed at preparing students for their 21st century careers. Although blogging is a clever digital tool to share learning, it is the skills the student (and teachers) have to develop, share and critique on a blog that lay at the heart of demonstrating 21st century skills.
“Blogging in education is about quality and authentic writing in digital spaces with a global audience, while observing digital citizenship responsibilities and rights, as on documents, reflects, organizes and makes one’s learning and thinking visible and searchable!” Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (2015)
Divitini, Haugaløkken & Morken (2005, p.2) highlight possible downfalls of blogging such as the lack of content generated to be posted online, motivating students to use blogging as part of developing their 21st century skills and lack of interest from others in regard to their online content. Barack, (2005, p.24) makes a point that students need to be educated in regard to leaving appropriate comments that will not come back to haunt them in later years as anything uploaded onto the internet is there forever. Students must practise appropriate online behaviour designed to protect them, such as keeping their personal details and addresses private unless they know the person they are interacting with.
Reflection Upon Reviewed Literature
This review has identified teachers of the 21st Century require a growth mindset with all that this entails. It is crucial that schools provide pedagogy and experiences that build teacher’s ability to confidently teach 21st century skills to students. This is done by leading from the front, setting clear expectations, providing quality training and tangible examples of good practice.
Research shows blogging is a digital tool that teachers can utilise to develop 21st century skills. Teachers have access to connect to experts in the field, putting learning into real life contexts, providing the opportunity to design learning programs for students that contribute to better learning opportunities in the development of necessary 21st century skills. Blogging also enables whanau and extended iwi to be part of their tamariki’s learning, beyond the four walls of the classroom; physical distance no longer a barrier.
Word Count: 3300
Note: Glossary for Maori Terms contained in this review:
Iwi extended family
Te Kotahitanga The project sought to investigate how to improve the educational achievement of Māori students in mainstream secondary school classrooms, by talking with Māori students and other participants in their education.
Bishop, R., & Berryman, M. (2010). Te Kotahitanga: culturally responsive professional development for teachers. Teacher Development, 14(2), 173-187. doi:10.1080/13664530.2010.494497
Bolstad, R., & Gilbert, J., with McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. “Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective Report,” to the Ministry of Education New Zealand Council for Educational Research, 2012
Barack, L. (2005, December). Schools lower the boom on blogs. School Library Journal, 51(12), 24. Retrieved from http://libproxy.unitec.ac.nz:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.unitec.ac.nz/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA140523563&v=2.1&u=per_unit&it=r&p=AONE&asid=639b06aa680b782149757a051437fc26
Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Constructing 21st-century teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(3),
300+. Retrieved from: http://libproxy.unitec.ac.nz:2048/login?url=http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/bic1/AcademicJournalsDetailsPage/AcademicJournalsDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=&prodId=BIC1&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&display-query=&mode=view&displayGroupName=Journals&limiter=&currPage=&disableHighlighting=false&displayGroups=&sortBy=&search_within_results=&p=BIC1&action=e&catId=&activityType=&scanId=&documentId=GALE%7CA145631463&source=Bookmark&u=per_unit&jsid=e79a58a709b07fffb0e1655985a832b9
Deng, L., & Yuen, A. Towards a framework for educational affordances of blogs. Computers & Education 56 (2011) 441–451
Derntl, M. (2010). Revealing student blogging activities using RSS feeds and LMS logs. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 8(3), 16+. Retrieved from http://libproxy.unitec.ac.nz:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.unitec.ac.nz/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA237942365&v=2.1&u=per_unit&it=r&p=AONE&asid=b93a30caeef4ffb638d71554d1018547
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Dweck, C. (2009). Who Will the 21st-century Learners Be?. Knowledge Quest, 38(2), 8-9.
Eaton, D., (2015). The Tech Education Challenge in New Zealand. Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Retrieved from:
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Hermans, R., Tondeur, J., van Braak, M., & Valcke, M. (2008). The impact of primary school teachers’ educational beliefs on the classroom use of computers. Computers & Education, 51, 1499–1509.
Holm, L., & Horn, C. (2003). Bridging the Gap Between Schools of Education and the Needs of 21st-century Teachers. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(5), 376.
Lawrence, D. (2011). “What can I do about Maori underachievement?” Critical reflections from a non-Maori participant in Te Kotahitanga. Set: Research Information for Teachers [Wellington], (3), 32+. Retrieved from http://libproxy.unitec.ac.nz:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.unitec.ac.nz/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA275312954&v=2.1&u=per_unit&it=r&p=AONE&asid=b34666b7a6aa8d87fb73808d14578fbb
MacBride, R., & Lachman, A. L. (2008). Capitalizing on Emerging Technologies: A Case Study of Classroom Blogging. School Science & Mathematics, 108(5), 173-183.
Macfarlane, S. (2009). Te Pikinga ki Runga: rising possibilities. Set: Research Information for Teachers [Wellington], (2), 42+. Retrieved from:
Melhuish-Spencer, K. (2015). What is digital fluency? Retrieved from: http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2015/10/what-is-digital-fluency.html
Overbay, A., Patterson, A. S., Vasu, E. S., & Grable, L. L. (2010). Constructivism and technology use: findings from the IMPACTing Leadership project. Educational Media International, 47(2), 103-120. doi:10.1080/09523987.2010.492675
Oxford Dictionaires: What is a blog? Retreived from: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/blog
Parnell, W., & Bartlett, J. (2012). iDocument. YC: Young Children, 67(3), 50-58.
Rosefsky Saavedra, A., & Opfer, V.D., (2012). Learning 21st-century skills requires 21st-century teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(2), 8.
Simpson, S. W. (2006, March). Can generation M learn its ABCs? From resistance to acceptance to integration: the ultimate education struggle for the 21st century, played out in one teacher’s grudging embrace of new technologies. T H E Journal [Technological Horizons In Education], 33(8), 48+. Retrieved from http://libproxy.unitec.ac.nz:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.libproxy.unitec.ac.nz/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA143723799
Stoel, L., & Lee, K. H. (2003). Modeling the effect of experience on student acceptance of Web-based courseware. Internet Research, 13, 364–375.
Suominen, K. Learning, Technology and School Success. E-Learning and Digital Media, September 2010 vol. 7 no. 3 272-279
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