Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 46-52

Use of blog as a supplementary study material resource in dentistry: An Indian experience


Marundeeshwara Oral Pathology Services and Analytics, Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication15-May-2014

Correspondence Address:
Thavarajah Rooban
Marundeeshwara Oral Pathology Services and Analytics, CS4, Bay Breeze Duraisamy Apartments, 119, East Coast Road, Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai - 600 041, Tamil Nadu
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0975-8844.132586

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  Abstract 

Objective: Social networking sites (SNS) are emerging as an alternate teaching resource. The reach and access characteristics of SNS for a noninstitutional, academic blog in an Indian setting has not been documented and this manuscript aim to address this lacunae. Materials and Methods: A blog for oral histology, an integral basic dental subject and its Facebook promotional page was created. The access characteristics were observed using Google analytics. The Facebook promotional pages of the blog access characteristics are presented. Results: A total of 582 people visited the blog during the study period. Majority of them used Google Chrome from desktop/laptop to access the blog. There were 2723 page visits in all. Visitors from 36 countries and 99 cities across the globe accessed the blog. In all through Facebook, the promotional page reached 36,543 people. The total number of people engaged through Facebook promotion page was 10,757. Conclusion: Access characteristics of the noninstitutional, academic blog have been described for the first time in dentistry. The lessons learnt through this exercise would be helpful in designing e-mentoring courses as well promotional pages of such events in the future. The necessity of making the mentors and students to adapt to e-learning and digital learning resources before drawing such programs is highlighted.

Keywords: E-learning and Facebook, Google, Indian blog, oral histology and tooth morphology, oral histology dental blog


How to cite this article:
Rooban T, Anusa AM. Use of blog as a supplementary study material resource in dentistry: An Indian experience. J Orofac Sci 2014;6:46-52

How to cite this URL:
Rooban T, Anusa AM. Use of blog as a supplementary study material resource in dentistry: An Indian experience. J Orofac Sci [serial online] 2014 [cited 2017 Mar 25];6:46-52. Available from: http://www.jofs.in/text.asp?2014/6/1/46/132586


  Introduction Top


Continuing advances in computer based information and communication technology (ICT) has shifted our communication and information-gathering efforts from traditional resources such as paper books, magazines, journals to internet based e-books and e-journals. [1] Increasingly cheaper, high speed internet connections, ease in availability of cheaper and affordable gadgets such as smart phones and android technology based instruments has contributed to widespread use of these technologies. Within a short span, a substantial percentage of younger generation appear to be always online and increasingly connected with others as much as their schedules permit. It is believed that humans are developing adaptation to such "new cognitive habits" that has been described as "the only viable approach to navigating the age of constant connectivity." [1] Consecutively, there is a gradual shift towards using e-learning in dental education owing to e-resource seeking behavior. However, the characteristics of dentist/dental student learner have changed and necessitate a change in the type of technology used in e-learning. Today's learners come from a generation who grew up with the growth and bloom of Internet. Their academic environment and internet availability has created high expectations with regards to personalization, immediacy, responsiveness, and mobility from their educational experiences, especially those involving e-learning dimensions. For these learners, social networking sites (SNS) is an integral part of their educational experience through interacting with each other and with their instructor. [2]

Such widespread use of these technologies has greatly influenced the way we assimilate information. SNS has been described as "places that take instruments of communication and make them social". [1] Social media such as blogs, Orkut, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Facebook, offers appropriate platform for interactive information dissemination, open and multi-operability, multi-optional, content related design and options for collaboration. [1] The last decade saw rapid proliferation of web-based applications based on the concept of SNS. These can be used by a teacher to promote online connectiveness for his/her subjects as well as for social interaction. [2]

Some of these focus on the creation and use of "blogs." "Blog" is a term from "web log," which was developed as a personal online journal that could be viewed by all or by restricted community. [3] Furthermore, blog is described as "a web page" that contains brief, discrete pieces of information called "posts." These posts are often placed in reverse-chronological order, with the latest post coming in the front page. Provision exists to uniquely identify each such page by a "tag" that could be linked permanently. This "link" can be used to reach or refer by others. Interaction is mediated in the form of comments written by readers in response to posts. The owner or the administrator (fondly "admin") has a control over the same. [3]

Several educational institutions have created websites, twitter accounts, and blogs for various reasons such as teaching, planning tests, and information dissemination. [1] Sensing this unique opportunity, medical educators attempted to turn SNS media as a viable option to share academic contents with students beyond the realm of conventional teaching methods, both in and out of classrooms. Blogs/micro-blogs/SNS can be used to pass on information, salient points, links and references, besides passing essential updates. Moreover, the interactive nature of SNS provides an ideal platform to share their thoughts and scholarship with colleagues and educators. Several attempts have been made to harness the power the SNS for academic purposes. Such applications of these technologies are happening in universities around the world. [4] Literature has some reports of use and reach of dental blogs created by academic institutions. [2],[5],[6],[7] However, there is a paucity of information on the demographics of readership of noninstitutional, individual promoted blogs and social media's use in dental education sphere. This manuscript attempts to address these lacunae and aims to describe the characteristics of readership of an academic, noninstitutional Indian dental blog.


  Materials and methods Top


On July 1 st 2013, a blog on oral histology and tooth morphology, an integral basic dental subject was created by the author. Most of the university exams in this part of the world happen around the month of August-September. It is the period where students look for supplementary learning materials. No external/technical help was sought for preparing the blog or hoisting it. The blog was created by author using Blogger by Google. [8] Very short questions and answers related to various topics in the subject of oral histology and tooth morphology were collected from standard text and reference books. They were posted on a day to day basis. The aim of the blog was twofold. Primarily, the blog intended to create a chapter wise question and answer bank for students to face viva voce, an integral part of the practical exams in India and serve as supplementary study material. Secondarily, the blog also aimed to serve as a ready reference for various postgraduate entrance examinations. These exams allot approximately 8-10% of their questions in these subjects. In this blog, two posts were specifically posted to cater to the first year undergraduate students, who are facing such examinations for the first time. Furthermore, questions from 1990 to 2013 of an Indian university in the subject were also "posted" on certain days. Academic related posts were hosted daily and three posts were related to the reach of the blog and updates regarding the same.

The details of the creation of blog and its characteristics were mailed to 175 contact points in Indian dental educational institutions as well as in public posts on Twitter, [9] Slideshare [10] and Google plus [11] was done. A dedicated Facebook page [12] was also created. The purpose of the Twitter, Google plus, and Facebook page was to disseminate information regarding the presence of blog and posting, on a frequent basis. As these were the most popular SNS in the country, these were selected. Esthetically appealing photographs with short captions were employed to garner attention of the viewer. The Facebook page was shared frequently on 19 dedicated Indian dentistry related Facebook pages and 8 international dental related Facebook page. There was a "call" for readers to join by posting questions from their collection.

After the initial waiting period, Google analytics, a freeware program of Google Inc. was linked to the blog on July 11 th 2013. The author's internet protocol address was blocked from the initial day so that it was not included for statistics in this study. The details of the access of the blog were procured through Google analytics from July 12 th 2013 to August 11 th 2013. Repeat visitors were considered only once, as described by Google Analytics. Data gathered were the number of unique (as defined by Google analytics [https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2731565?hl=en]) visitors, repeat visitors, duration of stay in the blog during each visits (in seconds), the type of instruments (desktops/laptops, mobile phones, and tablets) used to access the blog, referral from SNS and geographical location of the readers were obtained. Visitors returning more than once were considered as a single returning visitor. All definitions of Google analytics applied. As there was no user identification obtained, individual data such as age, gender, educational status could not be obtained or monitored. The participation for discussion was voluntary.

The individual characteristics of the viewers of the blog or the Facebook page are still anonymous and confirms to the guidelines issued by Blogger/Google/Facebook for access. As this manuscript does not involve any ethical concern other than individual access, which is governed by the Blogger/Google/Facebook use terms, no ethical concerns are associated with this manuscript.

From the dedicated Facebook page for the blog, details of the viewers were gathered. Details of total reach (the number of people who have seen any content associated with Facebook page), impression (the number of impressions seen of any content associated with Facebook page), logged in page views (page views from users logged into Facebook) and reach of daily posts (number of people who saw any of Facebook page posts) were obtained. The total number of people who have seen the post through their friends likes/shares or manual search or through browsing formed the viral reach and the number of likes (direct and indirect) were also gathered from the admin control of the Facebook page. Distribution of age group and gender were also obtained periodically from this source. All data thus accumulated were downloaded in Microsoft Excel format and analyzed.


  Result Top


During the study period, 582 people (unique visitors, as defined by Google analytics) visited the blog. Of them, 81 of them visited 415 times again (as determined by Google analytics) making a total visit of 996 visits. On an average, a visitor stayed on the blog for 269 s, new visitor for 195 s, while returning visitor stayed on for 372 s. The daily number of visit characteristics is depicted in [Figure 1]. The overall page visits were 2723 (1610 by new visitors and 1113 by returning visitors). [Table 1] shows the frequency of visits and characteristics of visits and the relevant page views. Of each visit, 748 were below 180 s, 114 visits where there in the blog for 180-600 s while, 99 visits where there for 601-1800 s while 35 visits where there for more than 1800 s [Table 2]. Desktops and laptops are the most preferred way for accessing the blog (68.34%). Of all the viewers, 19.53% used mobile phones and rest 12.13% used tablets to access the blog. In all, 68 different types of mobiles and tablets were used to access the blog.
Figure 1: Daily number of unique visits to oral histology noninstitutional blog during the study period of July 12th-August 11th 2013

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Table 1: Frequency of visits and page views of the oral histology blog visitors in the period July 12th 2013-August 11th 2013

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Table 2: Time spent by each visitor of the oral histology blog during the study period July 12th 2013-August 11th 2013

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Of 295 SNS referrals, Facebook referrals was 84%, followed by Slideshare (19 referrals), Blogger (17). Readers were from 36 countries across the globe (for 56 visits, country was not known) and 99 cities (80 visitors had their city untraceable). Indians (83.03%) were the most common visitors of the blog, followed by USA (3.11), Jamaica (1.1). Of all visits from India, the most common visits were from Chennai (311 visits), Bangalore (150 visits) and Mumbai (26 visits). Google Chrome (54.62%) and Android (18.72%) were the most common platform used to access. All together there were 12 other different types of browsers used by the readers. A total of 224 visits had been referred through "organic search" using 53 different types of search launches. Only one query was posted which was answered. Three people sent in their questions as a response to call given by the author to join the blog.

The Facebook page account was used to get the metrics of the access. The Facebook posts were seen by people from 47cities in 28 countries. The total direct reach of the posts was 3352 (mean ± standard deviation - 106.32 ± 70.06). The sum of total daily impression over the study period was 10,757 (336 ± 224.33). The total daily logged in page views was 506 (16.19 ± 16.43) and daily reach of the page was 2279 people during the study period (71 ± 68.14). The total likes of posts and reposts during the period was 2240 (70 ± 13.77) and the total viral reach, where people read through contents through friends or reports or manual search was 36,543 (1142 ± 331.12). [Figure 2] shows the daily variation in total reach, total impression, logged in page views, and reach of daily posts. The total number of people engaged through the Facebook during the study period was 10,757 and their age distribution is outlined in [Table 3]. This indicates that one person of three who saw the posts engaged in one or the other form. Only one individual posted two queries through Facebook page which were answered.
Figure 2: Noninstitutional oral histology blog's Facebook promotional page access characteristics during the study period of July 12th- August 11th 2013

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Table 3: Gender and age distribution of people engaged through Facebook posts for the oral histology blog Facebook page during the period July 12th 2013– August 11th 2013

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  Discussion Top


Dental academic blogs published in publicly accessible SNS domains showing a minimum of creative effort and created outside of professional routines and practices would attract attraction. [8] Blogs and SNS are known to offer easier interface reducing the need for technical skills required to use various features, which allows the user to focus on the information shared and perform tasks themselves with fewer obstacles. Hence these technologies have also been referred as "transparent technology" as readers/students are able to concentrate on the learning task by "seeing through" the technological environment. [5]

The use of the blog has been reported by teachers, librarian, business management classes, design studio, cyber space, pharmacy, postgraduate medical education, dermatology, and operative dentistry. [2],[5],[6],[7],[8] The dental academic blogs that have been used in studies until date have been single institutional centric and have been well announced to the target population and administrator and target population had mutual introductions. [2],[5],[6],[7] On the contrary, the target population of this blog and the administrator had no mutual introductions. The blog received 594 unique visitors over a period of a month. It has been reported that in 2007, a dermatology blog received 149 visits in the same time frame. [5] The difference in content of the blog, audience and the time phase probably contributed to this difference. The number of people using SNS has exponentially increasing in the time phase of 2007-2013.

Though only one student has participated through the comments, the rest of visitors had been "lurking" (by following posts without actually making a comment or participating) on the blog. It has been perceived as a form of inactive participation. Such people, referred as "Lurkers" tend to observe or note the contents of the supplementary material, behaviors of other participants in a computer-mediated community, become familiar with the ways of participating, and overcome fears for future participation. [13] The high number of "Lurkers" probably indicates that in the future more participation could be there. Probably, the nature of the blog contributed to the poor participation. The blog content could have been perceived as more individualistic rather than collaborative. Probably, the readers had a feeling of uncertainty with regards to writing publicly and less motivation to post regularly. Other impediments could include technical barriers, lack of familiarity with blogs and lack of understanding of the potential of content aggregation. [5]

The progressive drop in the early phase of the graph-1indicate the drop in the early interest associated with the blog. The stabilization of the readership then after indicates the actual interest of the readers. It is observed that about one-tenth of the visitors regularly visited the blog many times reflecting the interest developed in the blog. Majority of the readers accessed the blog using their desktops or laptops indicating that blog have to be designed considering these fact. The duration spent by these users as compared to the mobile phones/tablet based users indicate the readers feel more comfortable reading for a longer time through the desktop/laptop than other means.

As India has been a focus of the blog, in terms of content of the blog, promotions and reach, 83.03% of all the readers had been from India. This has been as expected by the goals of the blog. India houses one-third of all dental colleges in the world. It is expected with such huge number of institutions, any academic endeavors would reflect India as a "hot spot". [14] Moreover, the content and promotion of the blog/Facebook page have targeted India. Hence, India emerged as a hot spot. Chennai and Bangalore are prominent metropolitan cities and centers of educational hub in India that has emerged as hotspots among cities. [14]

Facebook has been identified to bring in 252 users (23.89% of all visits) to the blog. If most of them would have been the first time visitors 43.3% of the blog traffic has been through Facebook. Hence, in future, Facebook would evolve as an optimal SNS tool for education. The user characteristic of academic blog in Indian dental setting has been reported for the first time. In a study in Indian dental colleges has identified that 73.7% percentage of the study population possess personal computer and about 57% of them used the internet to access knowledge. But only 4.1% of them used them to access blogs. [15] Similar results were obtained in another study in 2010 too. [16] This limited percentage of the population, in the future, will grow with more interest developing in ICT and e-learning.

The reach of posts in Facebook page of the blog has been in thousands. The age and gender of the viewers of this page has been shown in [Table 3]. Men and women in the age group of 25-35 years has been most commonly visited/seen the Facebook page. Most of these people are probably postgraduate students or postgraduate aspirants or junior level staffs. These people are probably more technical savvy than the seniors and hence felt more comfortable in accessing such pages. They were probably been looking for supplementary resource material. This also indicates that the e-mentors need to be trained in ICT as well as use of SNS. [17],[18]

The data described in here, probably give an insight of the access characteristics of the noninstitutional, nonmandatory, academic related blog users and the Facebook page of the same blog. Though the results could not be translated to all fields and situations, they could be used as robust estimate of the characteristics. The results of the 1 month study reflect that Facebook page has helped in widespread reach of the page to a greater extent of the blog. The attention garnering images used has probably helped in reaching this number of viewers. This has rendered >40% of all blog readers being referred from Facebook page. In future Indian e-learning protocols and e-mentors need to consider these facts before designing such blogs and promotional Facebook pages.

Over the decade of ICT revolution in 1990's use of newer technologies for education has faced stiffer challenges in several spheres. They include - non ICT complaint and noninteresting material, propagation of the medium than the subject, poor funding, rigid curriculum, little or no research in such new avenues/experimentation, an apparent lack of willingness of individuals and institutions to share ideas and materials. All such issues have been reported to be related to humans and not to ICT. The silver lining is that the "next generation" are characterized as being confident and high achievers are adapting to requirements of ICT. [18]

Noninstitutional academic blogs have not been studied in detail, or the access characteristics have not been described earlier hence the findings of this study cannot be compared or refuted. The time duration is for a shorter period and will probably increase, as this is a supplementary resource rather than a main resource. The concept of calculating unique visitors as Blogger's term cannot clearly delineate the exact number of first/repeat visitors and is time dependent. However, the method has been used to study the readers characteristics in several studies. [19],[20] But the Facebook with unique ID entry has better reliability. However, the data herein would help to give a robust estimate of the actual number of access. Educational characteristics of the readers could not be assessed as no feedback was obtained. The poor participation of the readers could be due to the difficulty in adaptation to newer avenues and modalities of teaching or nonwillingness to share material. With newer teaching methods, there is a factor of inhibition for active participation by younger generation; particularly among students as well as the reach of internet facilities among Indian dental institutions has been questioned. [21]


  Conclusion Top


The noninstitutional, academic blog access characteristic has been described for short period. The characteristics of access of such a blog have been described for the first time and the statistics of the people who viewed the Facebook page of the blog has been described. The findings, in spite of its limitations, would help to formulate and design newer e-learning modules for dental students as well as e-continuing dental education programs using blogs and Facebook.


  Acknowledgments Top


The author wishes to acknowledge the support and help received from the Prof. K. Ranganathan, Prof. Umadevi M, Prof. Elizabeth Joshua and Staff of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology at Ragas Dental College and Hospital, Chennai.

 
  References Top

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