Vol. 8. No. 1 INT June 2004
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Editor's introduction -

Blogs have not been the subject of an On the Internet column since the last article published by the previous editor in October 2002 (see http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej22/int.html - and you can still find "Jim Duber on CALL" at: http://www.duber.com/oncall/). Since then there has been a lot more interest in blogs in language learning, with many good references available. Barbara Dieu, for example, has written an informative webooklet on Blogging and Presence Online (Feb 2004), a must-read for teachers both novice and those wanting to know more about the potential of blogs and how they can enhance language learning: http://members.tripod.com/the_english_dept/blog04/. I've compiled my own brief set of references on blogs at: http://www.vancestevens.com/papers/evonline2002/week5.htm#blogs.

Renata Suzuki's article is unique to these other works because it discusses blogging in the familiar context of diary writing, and then shows how a diary in the form of a blog (allowing others to comment on the 'diary') can be useful as a qualitative research tool. Permission to quote comments made in the researcher's blog has been granted by those mentioned by name.

Vance Stevens
Editor, On the Internet

Diaries as introspective research tools: From Ashton-Warner to Blogs

by Renata Suzuki

Economics English Instructor, Sophia University, Japan

This article reports on a study of the usefulness of a diary as a research tool conducted as a part of a Masters degree program in TEFL/TESL at Birmingham University, UK. The study analysed the efficacy of using blogs as a research tool compared to diaries, using the example of research in teacher use of motivation strategies, and found that blogs offer various possible advantages in the domain of action research.

1. Brief History of Use of Diaries as a Research Tool:

In noting that descriptive and interpretive research are particularly suited for 'investigating behaviour in context'(1992:118), Nunan asserts that “diaries, logs and journals are important introspective tools in language research,” (1992:118). McDonough and McDonough, (1997:121) concur, commenting on diary suitability: "Indeed the theme of change over time and the sense of writing about a process is one that resonates directly with the use of diaries in educational research." In spite of the advantages of diary study in researching classroom and teacher processes over time, McDonough and McDonough (p.131) note that there are relatively few studies of teachers researching their work in diary form compared with other studies of SLA. However, this trend may be changing with the advent of the online Internet diary, otherwise known as a ‘blog’.

The table below lists a variety of applications of the diary in research with illustrative examples.


learners in classrooms


Area Of Research

Peck, S. (1996)

growth of cultural sensitivity in FL learners

Block, D. (1996)

(oral diaries):the problem of uptake and gaps in teacher and learner perceptions of learning


Thornbury, S. (1991)

use of teaching practice logs for trainee self-assessment and awareness

Richards, K. (1992)

reflection on FLL as a consciousness-raising tool


language learning

Bailey, K. (1983)

the role of affective issues ('anxiety' and 'competition') in LL

Campbell, C. (1996)

prior LL experience in FLL(re-use of prior learning styles and strategies)

experienced teachers

Ashton-Warner, S. (1963)

importance of learner-centred methods in vocabulary acquisition

Towndrow, P. (2004)

Laptop journal exploring on-line tutoring difficulties

teacher trainers

Bailey, K. (1996)

class-group diary and the dialogic process

Fig. 1.1 (Adapted from McDonough and McDonough, 1997:133, Fig. 8.1)

2. Blogging defined, and a brief overview of its use

The term “blog” is a shortened form of the coined word 'weblog'. Campbell (2003) writes: "Even though weblogs have been in existence since the very beginning of the world wide web itself (Winer, 2002), free, commercially available 'blogging software' of the type discussed in this article, seems to have made its first appearance in July of 1999 (Blood, 2000)."

As explained in Fig. 2.1, although a blog is in essence an online diary, the simplicity of the online environment has meant that its use is limited only by the imagination of its users. According to Siemens (2004), blogs represent changes in the ‘information ecology’, reflecting a user-questioning stance, need for two-way flow, dialogue, equality and decentralization of knowledge.

Fig. 2.1 A definition of blogs from http://www.blogger.com/tour_start.g

According to Dieu (2004), blogs in education may be used in manifold ways, the most common being:

  1. By individual learners to post work and reflect (may be assessed)
  2. By the class to discuss and publish assignments (sometimes assessed)
  3. By teachers to post assignments, suggestions and links for students
  4. By teachers as a further development and research tool posting ideas and links to the wider professional community

This study is concerned with the fourth category, teacher blogs in education. I will not make any distinction between logs, journals and diaries as, some researchers have suggested; e.g. Holly (1984) and Hopkins (1993). I instead consider all these including electronically formatted teacher blogs as diaries.

Figure 2.2 illustrates the main similarities and salient differences between paper diaries and electronic blogs:


Logs, Journals, Diaires


Data Entry Modes

pen on paper, word processor, audio-recording

computer keyboard, typing online into webpages /e-mail entries

Writing Style

casual, informal, reflective

casual, informal, reflective


entered by date, newest entry last

entered by date, newest entry first


Limited by edition number. Delayed time access only.

Unlimited visitor access real time/delayed time by computer

Collaborative features


personal/collaborative/ interactive (comments)


edited prior to publishing

instant publishing (editing possible)

Fig. 2.2 Comparison of diaries vs. blogs

Fig. 2.2 highlights three advantages of blogs in contrast to previous forms of diary:

  1. The blog offers access to unlimited numbers of readers.
  2. The blog is not only personal, but simultaneously interactive and collaborative due to the comments features.
  3. The blog offers instant publishing of the research in process.

These three aspects will be further explored in this article, using a study of teacher motivation in a blog as an example.

2.1 Proposing the significance of Blogs in researching a Shift in Teacher Use of Motivation Strategies as a Function of Time.

The theoretical construct for this study is provided by Dörnyei’s four component model of the process of motivation, itemized in a thirty-five point checklist (2001; see Appendix). This model specifies the following basic elements of an interrelated progression of motivation over time:

While Dörnyei freely refers to socio-cultural specifics which may affect teacher choice of motivation strategies, he argues that the 35 items in his checklist ‘have been found to work with many teachers and groups before and are therefore worthy of consideration’ (2001:30).

The basic hypothesis for this study is therefore that diaries including blogs are useful as a tool to research the complexity of the motivational processes, and proposes using a diary including checklist and free-written entries to research the change in the motivational process, both to explore the validity of and possibly substantiate Dörnyei’s model and to examine teacher use of said strategies in the classroom over a five-week period.

3. The Blog Observation System Framework

3.1 Free commentative blog entries and checklist

To complement a checklist of strategies as provided by Dörnyei, (reproduced in the Appendix) a free retrospective, commentative diary entry written in the blog at http://grankageva.blogspot.com was chosen. Since Ericsson and Simon (1984, in Nunan 1992:124) suggest that data-reliability is enhanced by collecting as soon as possible after the event, the blog was written when the teacher arrived home, including a review of the lesson with salient incidents. Further entries comprise thoughts, conversations and impressions, together with data of student feedback acquired from student tests and worksheets. These assembled data provided the basis for analysis. (Full results are available from the author). This paper will focus on the opportunities offered by the comments and publishing feature of the blog which, as already explained, is unique to blogs.

3.2 Visitor comments

To exploit the interactive nature of the blog, visitors and comments were invited by posting invitations to relevant e-mail discussion groups.

Group name


Number of Comments

Webheads in Action Community



ELT Dogme



ESL/EFL Weblogs



MATEFL Birmingham



Colleagues and friends



Figure 3.1 Online communities providing visitors to the blog

3.3 Changes in Strategies effected by visitor comments

Visitor comments at the blog fell in two distinct categories: those commenting on the data-entry and collection process, and those concerned with the content of the classes and teacher motivation processes.

Comments on the data-entry and collection process

Berkowitz (1997:1) argues that the replicability of qualitative analysis is maintained in so far as others can be “walked through” the analyst’s thought processes and assumptions. The blog offers the possibility of not only “walking through” research a posteriori, but indeed of “walking with” in constructive participation, as the following comments in Fig.3.2a illustrate:

Being visual seems to be the first thing that anyone would notice-ie going in in a suit!

It's rare to get a glimpse of a teacher's thinking and decision-making. That aspect of your blog is useful for other teachers, too.

Dörnyei lists the Basic Motivational Conditions and it is useful to read them. However, I think that you cannot approach this as a recipe for success or a how to manual. Bee

²         Maybe it would help to be briefer, writing more in the form of notes than continuous sentences, maybe underlining salient points, using italic and bold to indicate really significant or important items. Carol

This seems like a great way to track your own learning, including the suggestions that others have made. If it's just for yourself, you could put it all in a word processed document. The advantage of the blog is that you can get feedback from others or have them write their suggestions directly into the blog so that you don't have to type them.

my admiration for:
a/ the incomparable sincerity of your record; if that's not teacher development, what is? yours is, Im' sure, rocketing sky-high, your self-monitoring/observation skills being so acute
b/ the amount of time and accuracy you put in keeping the checklist styled on Dorneyi... (privately such checklisting fills me with dread, not that I want to discourage you if you feel it worthwhile but isn't it a wee bit like trying to pin a beautiful, shimmering butterfly and install in a glass case? on the other hand if you attempt a research, then certainly there must be some procedure of record, otherwise it is just too flimsy for any valid conclusions)

Fig.3.2.a Sample blog comments on the research process

Content of the classes and teacher motivation processes

The second type of comments by visitors to the blog were related to the content of the classes and the teacher’s use of motivation strategies. A comparison of Fig 3.2 b and 3.2c below serves to illustrate the added dimension that blog comments offer to the reflective process and the study of motivation, which feed back directly into classroom practice. The comments function on three levels:

Figs 3.2b and 3.2.c compare how the diary/blog research with and without comments link back to classroom practice. The enhanced levels which a blog offers to the teacher/researcher are evident in the relative complexity of Fig 3.2.c.

Fig. 3.2.b The diary-classroom loop without comments

Fig 3.2.c The blog-classroom loop with comments

To recapitulate, the comments feature of the blog both adds a dynamic, interactive feedback element which loops into the classroom, enhancing the motivational process, and simultaneously serves to co-construct the qualitative research, opening it up at all times to scrutiny and comment.

4. Discussion

If we step back from our consideration of how a blog can be used as a particular teacher research tool, we are able to discern three main strengths of a blog observation system, which in brief are that 1) the personalized environment facilitates the approach to research, 2) the instant publishing feature serves as a prerequisite of universal access to knowledge, and 3) the communicative collaborative blog features link the teacher to a global community of educators.

Although we should acknowledge that some researchers may reject blog-based research, considering it time-consuming and lacking in objective stance, the weaknesses might in fact be perceived as a strength in their own right, as the following discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the blog observation system attempts to delineate.

4.1 The Strengths of the Blog Observation System

4.1.1. How the personalized environment facilitates the approach to research

Holland and Shortall (1997) highlight the importance of a teacher feeling at ease with a particular research method in the classroom. "For an observation instrument to be effective in achieving its goals (e.g., to improve teacher performance in some way) it should be seen by the teacher as non-threatening… The more effective instruments are probably those in which the teacher to be observed is involved in the planning design of the instrument itself." (pp. 53-54)

Since a teacher diary/blog is essentially a non-invasive, non-threatening observation instrument, easily maintained over a period of time, it would seem the ideal tool to meet their criteria. The blog may be considered to exceed the benefits of previous diary parameters: Van Lier’s research paradigm of ‘selectivity’ and ‘intervention’, which situates qualitative and quantitative data collection in four main areas of research methodology, controlling, measuring, watching and doing, locates the diary/blog in the non-selective, non-interventionist quadrant of the graph. (Van Lier, 1988; in McDonough and McDonough, 1997:57). McDonough and McDonough (1997:133) also suggest that using diaries, trainee teachers can be ‘sensitized to the valuable role of critical reflection on practice at the same time as learning about at least one research tool.’ This applies pre-eminently to blogs and with regard to the practicing teacher approaching research and publishing for the first time: A blog is non-threatening, easy to manipulate, offers personalized choice of template, and is free of charge. I would venture to say it combines fun and personality with research, making the teacher feel free to explore and discover new ideas, empowered by the enhanced control of his or her research environment. In other words, affective barriers are lowered and the relationships between theory and practice become clearer.

4.1.2. How the instant publishing feature serves as a prerequisite of universal access to knowledge

Publication is one significant aspect of blog use in relation to research which is radically innovative. According to McDonough and McDonough (1997:39) " 'research' is used both for the discovery and publication of concealed knowledge and for the creation of new knowledge." (my italics) They further propose (p.80) that many and varied themes can emerge in retrospect from teacher diaries, "... the data collected from, say, diaries, or from observations of recordings, and then reflected upon, can suggest topics for investigation for which other research tools are then invoked." Nunan (1992), has suggested that diaries could be used as a pre-research tool. McDonough and McDonough suggest using Richards and Lockhart’s (1996) pre-writing prompts to analyze for themes. However, as this study has attempted to show, the blog has the status of a valid research tool in its own right: the data-recording is systematic, disciplined, replicable, is open to scrutiny real-time, and offers insight into the complex process of motivation in the classroom. In this day and age, where the paper publication of research is becoming problematic, blogs offer a unique opportunity to combine the research and publishing process in one and open the data collection method up to public scrutiny and comment. "The economics of scholarly journal publishing are incontrovertibly unsustainable. ... Unless we change the current model, academic libraries and universities will be unable to continue providing faculty, students, and staff with the access they require to the world's scholarship and knowledge. Scholars will be unable to make the results of their research widely available." (Pitts, L.H., 2004)

4.1.3. How the communicative collaborative blog features link the teacher to a global community of educators

Last but not least, the online comments feature accompanying blog use links the teacher to a virtual community on a global scale for support and feedback. In her famous diary, “Teacher”, arguably the most influential of all teacher diaries ever written, Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1963:213) writes of her diary: "Its purpose has been already fulfilled. I was lonely, professionally. I wanted gifted, intimate understanding. I’ve had it. I’m no longer professionally alone."

These words illustrate how a diary (e.g. a blog) may be used for both research and teacher training in the absence of collegiate body or professional development schemes: not only does the blog enable the teacher to combine both the roles of ‘participant’ and ‘observer’ in the classroom (for reasons of brevity it is not possible to discuss in greater detail the benefits of a mixed ‘etic’ and ‘emic’ perspectives (Watson-Gegeo, 1988) here) but, as I have attempted to demonstrate, the comments feature enables the teacher to invite an unlimited community of practitioners to join in the dialogue, reaching out to a very real global net of professional knowledge and support.

Research by Brock, Yu and Wong (1992 in Richards and Lockhart 1996:8) has shown that keeping a journal can be beneficial when colleagues share their journals and meet to discuss them: Although this study has not explored this aspect in detail, it can be assumed that a collaborative teacher blog would be a logical enhancement of this, free from the time-consuming and organizational logistics of a face- to- face meeting.

4.2 The Weaknesses (Difficulties) of the Blog Observation System

It can be argued that diaries and blogs are both data rich and address more than one theme, thus demanding a great investment of time and energy to write and analyze. Indeed, the blog, http://grankageva.blogspot.com , had by June 3rd some 25,480 words or about 75 pages of writing. Bell warns of this aspect of open-ended analysis with a quote from Yin (1994:137 in Bell 1999:12) " 'Beware these types of topic - none is easily defined in terms of the beginning or end point of the 'case'" and continues in her (Bell’s) own words: "And we all have to keep our research within reasonable limits."

However, in the case of a blog, there is no need to limit the research: it represents an ongoing voice in the dialogue of education, the motivation to write is fueled by the interactive commentary, and the research is offered up as a truly dialogic process in the educational community. Although, for example, the blog itself, with newest entries on top, may seem confusing to a first time visitor who has not read all the entries, through the comments feature the blogger is available at all times to answer queries and share concerns.

To borrow the words of Donald Freeman (1996:109), who utilized art in his research paper: “When teachers adapt to the researcher stance without challenging it, they can allow the genre of research to subtly alter their concerns and insights”. The blog, with its comments feature and communicative nature, suggests a less restrictive genre of research, or at the very least, of exploring possibilities within the wider educational community.

Some may argue that since diaries/blogs are written retrospectively, with degradation in accuracy over time, and offer a highly subjective stance, their importance as a research tool is weakened. ‘Few people would claim that a diary is a ‘true record’; rather that, in Elliott’s words, it can "convey a feeling of what it was like to be there participating in it" (1991:77; from McDonough and McDonough,1997:124). Although Nunan (1992:124) admits to the value of diary studies, he has argued that they may be considered 'a ground clearing preliminary to psychometric research'.

However I would argue that the unabashedly biased perspective of the diary might provide a more honest perspective on the messy truth than do numerical research findings. According to Nunan (1992:12) our willingness to accept or reject a particular research methodology depends on our philosophical perceptions of the notion of truth and our belief in the nature of knowledge. A researcher may thus prefer a quantitative approach, objective, scientific, which attempts to provide replicable ‘hard’ data using controlled measurement in order to verify generalizable statements (having a high external validity), or a qualitative perspective which is discovery- and process–oriented, exploratory, naturalistic and subjective, concerned with understanding human behavior from an ‘insider’ perspective (Reichardt and Cook 1979 in Nunan, 1992:4). As Zosia puts it in her blog comment (fig 3.2.a), must we always "pin a beautiful, shimmering butterfly and install in a glass case?"

5. Conclusion

Having briefly described the use of diary as a research tool, this study has suggested that the use of the blog may offer an expanding number of teachers the possibility of studying their classroom processes in research diaries. It has attempted to show how a blog can be used as a valid research tool in its own right, using the concrete example of a motivation study, and how the comments feature enhances this research process, both linking back to the classroom situation itself, and opening up the research process to public scrutiny. Having suggested three main strengths of using a blog observation system, namely approachability, publishing and community support, the paper concludes by suggesting theoretically in what way blogs may offer the research community new and unique possibilities in the area of qualitative research.

6. References

Ashton-Warner, S. (1963). Teacher. New York: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster.

Bailey, K. (1983). Competitiveness and anxiety in adult second language learning:looking at and through the diary studies. In Seliger, H.W. and Long, M.H.(eds.). Classroom-oriented research in second language acquisition. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House, 67-103.

Bailey, K.M. et al. (1996). The language learner's autobiography: Examining the "apprenticeship of observation.."' In Freeman, D. A., Richards, J. C. (eds.). Teacher Learning in Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bell, J. (1999). Doing Your Research Project. (3rd edition). Buckingham: Open University Press.

Berkowitz, S. (1997). Analyzing Qualitative Data. In Frechtling J. and Sharp, L. (eds.). User-friendly Handbook for Mixed Method Evaluations. Directorate for Education and Human Resources nsf. Retrieved June 29, 2004 from http://www.ehr.nsf.gov/EHR/REC/pubs/NSF97-153/CHAP_4.HTM.

Block, D. (1996). A window on the classroom: classroom events viewed from different angles. In Bailey, K. M. and Nunan, D. (eds.). Voices from the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Blood R (2000) Weblogs: a history and perspective. Retrieved June 29, 2004 from http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html.

Brock, M., Yu B., and Wong, M .(1992). "Journaling" together: Collaborative diary -keeping and teacher development. In J. Flowerdew, M. Brock, and S. Hsia (eds.). Perspectives on Second Language Teacher Development. Hong Kong: City Polytechnic of Hong Kong, pp.295-307.

Campbell, A. (2003). Weblogs for Use with ESL classes. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 2, February 2003. Retrieved from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Campbell-Weblogs.html.

Campbell, C. (1996). Socializing with the teachers and prior language learning experience: a diary study. In Bailey, K. M. and Nunan, D. (eds.). Voices from the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Dieu, B. (2004). Blogging and presence online. Retrieved May 5, 2004, from http://members.tripod.com/the_english_dept/blog04.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Elliott, J. (1991). Action research for educational change. Milton Keynes and Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Ericsson, K.A., and Simon H.A. (1984). Protocol Analysis: Verbal Reports as Data. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Freeman, D. (1996). Redefining research and what teachers know. In Bailey, K. M. and Nunan, D. (eds.). Voices from the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Holland, B. and Shortall, T. (1997, rev. 2000). Classroom Research and Research Methods. The Centre for English Language Studies, The University of Birmingham.

Holly, M. L. (1984). Keeping a personal-professional journal. Deakin: Deakin University Press.

Hopkins, D. (1993). A teacher's guide to classroom research. Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press (2nd edition).

McDonough, J. and McDonough, S. (1997). Research Methods for English Language Teachers. London: Arnold.

Nunan, D. ( 1992). Research Methods in Language Learning. Cambridge University Press.

Peck, S. (1996). Language learning diaries as mirrors of students’ cultural sensitivity. In Bailey, K. M. and Nunan, D. (eds.). Voices from the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Pitts, L. (2004). Mailing List SPARC-OAForum@arl.org Message #430. Retrieved June 29, 2004 from https://mx2.arl.org/Lists/SPARC-OAForum/Message/430.html.

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Towndrow, P. (2004). Reflections of an on-line tutor. ELT Journal 58(2), April 2004, pp. 174-181.

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7. Appendix

Here are the 35 motivation strategies mentioned in this study, taken from Dörnyei, Z. Motivational Strategies in the Classroom. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Dörnyei's model specifies the following basic elements of an interrelated progression of motivation over time. This checklist is reproduced here with the express permission of its author.

Creating the Basic Motivational Conditions

  1. Demonstrate and talk about your own enthusiasm for the course material and how it affects you personally.
  2. Take the students learning very seriously.
  3. Develop a personal realationship with your students.
  4. Develop a collaborative relationship with the students'parents.
  5. Create a pleasant and supportive atmosphere in the classroom.
  6. Promote the development of group cohesiveness.
  7. Formulate the norms explicitly, and have them discussed and accepted by the learners.
  8. Have the group norms consistently observed.

Generating Initial Motivation

  1. Promote the learners' language related valuse by presenting peer role models.
  2. Raise the learners' intrinsic interest in the L2 learning process
  3. Promote 'integrative values by encouraging a positive and open-minded disposition towards the L2 and its speakers
  4. Promote the students' awareness of the instrumental values associated with the knowledge of an L2
  5. Increase the students' expectancy of success in particular tasks and learning in general.
  6. Increase the students' goal-orientedness by formulating explicit class goals accepted by them.
  7. Make the curriculum and the teaching materials relevant to the students.
  8. Help to create realistic learner beliefs.

Maintaining and Protecting Motivation

  1. Make learning more stimulating and enjoyable by breaking the monotony of classroom events.
  2. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learners by increasing the attractiveness of the task.
  3. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learners by enlisting them as active task participants.
  4. Present and administer tasks in a motivating way.
  5. Use goal-setting methods in your classroom.
  6. Use contracting methods with your students to formalise their goal commitment.
  7. Provide learners with regular experience of success.
  8. Build your learners confidence by providing regular encouragement.
  9. Help dimish language anxiety by removing or reducing the anxiety-provoking elements in the learning environment.
  10. Build your learners confidence in their learning abilities by teaching them various learner strategies.
  11. Allow learners to maintain a positive social image while engaged in the learning tasks.
  12. Increase student motivation by promoting cooperation among the learners.
  13. Increase student motivation by actively promoting learner autonomy.
  14. Increase the student' self-motivating capacity.

Encouraging Positive Self-Evaluation

  1. Promote effort attributions in your students.
  2. Provide students with positive information feedback.
  3. Increase learner satisfaction.(celebrate achievements, display work)
  4. Offer rewards in a motivational manner.
  5. Use grades in a motivating manner, reducing as much as possible their demotivating impact.