The Internet is now being broadly applied in e-Learning settings and in recent years new web-based learning systems have been developed. These systems constitute a trend in technology-enhanced education (Khalifa & Lam, 2002; Chen et al., 2005) and many studies have focused on web-based features for computer supported cooperative learning (CSCL) environments (Neo, 2005; Piccinini & Scollo, 2006).
Despite previous studies in the benefits of using web-based technology in educational settings, some questions remain unanswered. (1) Web-based learning scenarios may lead to time lags, the contextual structure of exchanged messages might be impaired by asynchronous communications. This raises questions about the consistency of message quality and the effectiveness of communications in asynchronous scenarios. (2) Web-based learning creates social situations outside the parameters of face-to-face interactions. This suggests that social interactions should be supported by suitable didactical arrangements and instructional measures (Swan et al., 2000). (3) Cognitive overload in web-based learning seems likely. When learners have to use complex technology, process large quantities of information (e.g. multimedia form via various channels), and simultaneously communicate with others (Van Bruggen et al., 2002), their attention is often divided. The question is the extent to which this impairs learning.
Weblogs in educational settings
A weblog (i.e. blog) is a web-based technology that has been around for many years; the number of bloggers making informed contributions to a multitude of specific topics continues to grow rapidly. To compare with other social software applications (e.g. online forums, wikis), blogs have a broader application and allow simple web pages, links and resource collections (Fessakis et al., 2008). The automatic chronological archiving function of blog entries is regarded as a support to find needed information efficiently (Beldarrain, 2006). RSS delivery, sense of ownership, and entries and comments archives are attributes a blog contributes to overcome the limitations of current computer-mediated communication (CMC) systems (Kim, 2008). Kim mentioned that a blog communicates differently to traditional CMC tools (e.g. message board or listserv) because it utilizes a permalink, blog users leave comments simpler and more effectively when compared to the traditional CMC applications. Since blogs are so easy to use, they are increasingly being viewed as viable educational resources and applications (Chen & Bonk, 2008; Wang et al., 2008; Huang et al., 2009).
However, if blogs are to be effective in educational settings, mechanisms are necessary to overcome information overflow and time lag which were rarely mentioned in the past blog-related studies. One such mechanism is the use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) feeds; RSS is a family of web feed formats that are used to publish frequently updated content. In an e-learning environment, RSS feeds might be used to update the content of auxiliary materials created from blog-based entries (Huang et al., 2008). Studies have mentioned the potential of RSS feeds to filter and track the ever-growing number of online resources (Karrer, 2007); however, no studies have investigated the effects of RSS feeds on learning materials in real classroom settings. Therefore, this study applies RSS feeds to blog entries and seeks to determine how and to what extent they can help students remain aware of the ever-expanding supplementary materials.
In addition to above two issues in communications, there is also the potential for social interaction problems in blogbased learning settings. Makri & Kynigos (2007) indicated that the forms of social interaction in blog-based learning settings are very different with ones in a classroom. They concluded that the blog-based learning needs to be supported by appropriate pedagogical strategies. …