August 09, 2006

Does blogging affect attainment? Yes!

  Originally uploaded by Candy*.

Scottish kids got their exam results yesterday in the post (and by txt and internet). It marks, for me, the first undeniable proof in Scotland that blogging does affect attainment - in a big way.

One of the girls over at Progress Report has written a thank you to her teacher, my mum, and to "her fantastic blog idea":

She decided that since an hour session every week would probably make very little difference to our grades, we should make a blog and post just a paragraph of a story every night if possible... My writing began to improve and I started to gain confidence again.

In my standard grade english exam this year I achieved not only an overall 1, but straight 1s in every element of english and it's all thanks to Mrs McIntosh and her fantastic blog idea.

As she says, the once-a-week input would not have been enough to make a difference. Here, the modest audience providing advice but above all the impetus to write that comes from that small and demanding audience have helped make a girl do more work and reflection than she would have done otherwise.

It's not just a well done from me, but also a thank you on behalf of all the educators who struggle sometimes to show the link between blogging and the success we know it can bring.

And well done, mum, too ;-)

Update: Over at the English teacher's blog is a reaction to "the need for more proof" that Stephen seems to advocate, versus the need to improve things now, and also how the blog continues even now to educate the girls in their use of the net.

Update: Proof or evidence: is there a difference?


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Good result, eh? Now I need some guinea piglets for a Critical Essay exercise ....

What a fantastic story, your mums a smart cookie. Took a wee look at her blog there and read the posts about your wedding. Had to chuckle when she referred to the happy couple as Mr and Mrs Edublogger...... any chance you might be taking this alter-ego too far......poor Morgan (apologise if that isn't the correct spelling)


This is a really inspiring post Ewan. It is more proof how blogging can help learners boost their attainment by supportive comments and advice. Was Candy the only pupil involved or did your mum help others in the same way?

You've got me thinking now for my own class blog!

Best wishes


Integrating ICT into the MFL classroom -

Awesome, Ewan! If I can be of help in getting your results published as an article in a print magazine here in the US let me know. Maybe we could do an interview and I could submit this to Technology and Learning or Edutopia? Let me know if this is of interest! :-)

Well, it's a great story, but let's keep in mind that a body of evidence consisting of one instance is proof of exactly nothing. Rather more work must be done before there is indeed proof, much less undeniable proof.

This is awesome! Thank you for sharing. We are always looking for information that can move our students forward using technology.


In answer to Stephen's caveat, I'd like to point out that I was using technology to do what I'd been doing for years, only more efficiently. The students were encouraged by their obvious progress - which they were aware of with greater immediacy than they had previously experienced. While I appreciate the caution of someone who knows nothing of the background to this story, I would be sorry to see the impetus restrained by yet another demand for "more work" - unless by that he means I can just get on with the job. (And I'm happy to share my ideas)
As someone I know rather well is fond of saying: it's not the tech: it's the teach .....

Stephen's right that we need more examples - although I read examples every week in my RSS feeds of where social software have improved the learner experience. I do have a question though, which might need to be a blog post: how can you link attainment to social software? I don't think you can, because there are so many other factors at play, including the quality of the teacher.

Researchers tend to have a disrespect for anecdotal evidence yet, when it comes from experienced teachers, it's worth far more than stats from someone who doesn't really know where those students have come from.

Great stuff. I understand the excitement - and also the reservation Stephen puts forth. His view is echoed throughout the research community as well as the administrators and legislators who determine educational policy.

I would suggest that what you have here is a solid case study. Properly set up and reported, case studies can build a case for any hypothesis. Get enough case studies together around a hypothesis, and you start to approach reportable results the scientific community will begin to listen to.

Since the education departments of today are not very likely to organize anything of this sort, I'd suggest it might be a worthwhile venture for someone to start collecting case studies. There are teachers out there who have had similar performance spurts likely attributable to blogging. I could certainly cite a few kids in my own class this past year, and I would be very happy to write about their progress, if somebody somewhere would consolidate and compile results in a meaningful way. Anybody looking for a project? :) - Mark

You'll be pleased to know that at least one education department - East Lothian Council - along with the national education agency in Scotland, Learning and Teaching Scotland, is not only organising for more widespread use of social software but is also looking to set up independent research of its effects on student attainment. All progress on this will be reported on a blog (somewhere) as it happens.

Christine writes in her blog, "one commentator (so far) is obviously wanting 'more work' to be done to prove that blogging is a powerful tool in education."

And she adds here, "While I appreciate the caution of someone who knows nothing of the background to this story, I would be sorry to see the impetus restrained by yet another demand for 'more work' - unless by that he means I can just get on with the job."

I appreciate being thought of as someone who knows nothing of the background. Nobody is perfect, after all. But I would ask that my views not be misrepresented.

Ewan said the case is "the first undeniable proof that blogging does affect attainment."

It is not that. This is not merely my opinion, it is a matter of logic. Ewan is simply wrong to state that. That's what I pointed out.

My point, that "rather more work must be done before there is indeed proof, much less undeniable proof" is being interpreted as a demand that more evidence needs to be brought forward before the practice can be accepted. But that is not what I said!

It is stupid to require proof before practice. Because it would then be impossible to to accumullate enough evidence in order to sanction any practice. The practice, over a period of time, accumulates evidence to prefer one methodology over another. But proof does not preceed that practice; indeed, the proof is rarely, if ever, forthcoming.

As Mark writes, "what you have here is a solid case study. Properly set up and reported, case studies can build a case for any hypothesis. Get enough case studies together around a hypothesis, and you start to approach reportable results."

My reaction was in response to what I perceive as over-hype. Look! Proof! We have The answer! When it was nothing of the sort, either logically or linguistically.

It was, at best, evidence. A case study. That supports a certain view of learning and a certain methodology. A methodology that, moreover, through dozens of other case studies (many of which are reported in my newsletter), has accumulated a certain body of evidence and support through practice over the last five years or more.

But proof? No. And if you want, you can do "more work" and try to find some proof. Or you can keep doing what your doing and reporting your results. Either way is fine by me.

Hi Stephen,
I don't think anyone - Chris included - doubts your knowledge of blogging in education, but rather the knowledge none of us have of these two kids and the journey they have taken. But I do think that words are getting in the way of what we all feel:

I was interested in the difference between proof and evidence, which seems to be the point of misunderstanding. I took the dictionary:
1. conclusive evidence: evidence or an argument that serves to establish a fact or the truth of something

2. test of something: a test or trial of something to establish whether it is true
1. sign or proof: something that gives a sign or proof of the existence or truth of something, or that helps somebody to come to a particular conclusion

As far as I can see there is no difference worth making a hassle about. This is indeed evidence/proof of an improvement in attainment thanks to blogging.

Case closed?

I would love to see more proof/evidence of actual attainment improvement as a result of blogging (or any other social software) being used in learning and teaching, and not just improvements in learner experience - the kind of thing most often reported in the edublogopshere. And, if that is fine by you, I, for one, will continue to try and get it.

Oh dear. This is the kind of stuff that made me (a) want to lock myself in the classroom with the pupils and in the end (b) made me glad to retire.
I never looked for hard proof that something worked - if I thought it looked like a good idea I'd try it. If it worked for me, I'd build it into my repertoire till I found something better. I hope that despite my advancing years I never become unwilling to work this way.
BTW - blogging is an excellent tool for picking up on weak syntax and grammar in students' work. ;-p

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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