Understanding class blogs as a tool for language development.
Doris de Almeida Soares Escola Naval, Brazil
The author of this article tells her experience enrolling in an online workshop which showed how a group of language professionals called Webheads used technology in education. In 2007, she decided to create her own class blog with a group of pre-intermediate EFL students in a language school in Rio de Janeiro – Brazil.
In order to have a better understanding of her students’ perceptions of the value of using blogs as a learning tool, she carried out some Exploratory Practise for three months.
On the other hand, to learn more about blogs in other language classrooms, she prepared an online survey which was answered by 16 volunteer members of the Webheads.
1. Blogs and language learning
Campbell (2003) presents three different types of blogs that fit pedagogical purposes:
– The tutor blog, that allows learners and parents to get information and resources available from the Web -previously selected by the teacher-, permanent links to aid the learner in self-study, as well as the possibility to give voice to one’s feelings and thoughts.
– The learner blog, which is an online journal or portfolio that the learner can continuously update with his or her own work, ideas, and thoughts, and evaluate his/her own progress.
– The class blog, seen as a way to foster the sense of community; used as a collaborative discussion space where all member can edit texts by using peer correction and feedback, as an extra-curricular extension of the classroom, and that also allows sharing cultural knowledge all over the world.
2. Creating the class blog. Initial puzzles.
At the beginning, only half of the students turned in the assignments. They reported having problems with passwords or not receiving her invitation email. They looked forward to receiving messages and commenting orally on what had been posted in class.
3. Exploring students’ views on the class blogs – Phase I
As a way to reflect on the work done so far, the first Potentially Exploitable Pedagogical Activity (PEPA) was designed as a class discussion on the usefulness of the blog. All the students understood it was a learning tool, but they were not highly motivated or active because of their lack of free time to visit the blog at home or due to technical problems.
4. Others practitioners’ views on blogs in education.
After an online survey, practitioners showed the need to encourage students to make spontaneous use of the tool by offering some kind of concrete incentive. Half of them agreed that posting was not often done during class time, as a medium of self-expression. Most respondents ‘never’ encouraged peer correction, while In the USA (University Level L1) the students’ main concern was just getting their message across.
In terms of social interaction, the proportion of respondents who interacted with other foreign bloggers was equal to those didn’t do so in the same educational context.
The variation in the frequency in writing posts may bear relation to the fact that blogging can be taken as an optional activity, at teacher’s discretion, or as part of the course requirement. In short, only a minority of students visited their blog at least once a week.
5. Exploring students’ views on class blogs – Phase II
The second PEPA consisted in a set of activities carried out in a multimedia centre (Task 1), and a classroom discussion (Task 2). In the first case, the teacher provided them with some guidance about what to do in the blogs. Each student wanted to write their own post to establish a presence, and there were instances of peer feedback and correction. Next, as a big group they reported orally their feelings towards the reflection activity they had carried out. Most of them preferred to work with their own blog as a sense of identity.
6. From puzzlement to understanding.
It was naïve to believe that just because students were computer-literate, they would be able to learn how to work with the platform quickly. They could have been given a hands-on tutorial previously.
In addition, the platform chosen offered a limited free storage of resources uploaded for all the blogs opened in one account.
It is advisable to have some trial blogs before deciding on the ‘real thing’, checking if the platform caters for all needs.
PEPA 1 revealed that factors such as lack of time or technical problems should be taken into account when assessing the validity of blogs for educational purposes.
PEPA 2 showed that students enjoyed using the blog in class, so they would profit from investing more time in this kind of activity.
Finally, the online survey revealed that other practitioners all over the world are trying to insert blogs in their educational contexts as well.