Reflections on teaching EFL students

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Three sorts of blog

Ms Joubert posted these interesting definitions as a comment to one of the posts on Rashunda's ESL blog, and I think they would be interesting to comment on:

"1) utilitarian ... which is what I am most interested in. By this I mean communicating in a way that enhances relationships and serves a useful function in a community of people who are already doing something together ... such as a teacher and students."

This is one of the things about blogging with student that really appeals to me. I have found that blogging with students has brought me closer to them, and them closer to both me, and I hope, the other students.

One course I used a class blog on was with an Erasmus group studying Catalan Culture in 2003, and this group blog proved to be useful for communicating with the students to tell them what was happening, and for them to share things they had been doing, photos,etc with everyone else.

The course was only ten sessions long (September/October 2003), and I thought the blog would be a nice idea to keep things going while they were in Barcelona (until the end of December 2003) - I also set short assignments (to be posted to the blog) during this time, to give them something specific to post about.

I found that some of the students kept using the blog long after the course had finished (the last post is April 2004), to keep in touch with other students and let them know what they were up to.

There was one problem, however, with students posting assignments to this collective blog - it was difficult for me to assess their work, and as many posts were sometimes added during a short space of time, they would sometimes disappear off the front page before people had time to read them.

For this reason, the year after (2004) I decided to give each student a personal, "portfolio weblog", as well as having a group weblog. This Catlan Culture 2004 weblog linked to individual blogs, and it was much easier organisational-wise. At the end of their time in Barcelona, the students seemed to appreciate using the weblog, and it was also appreciated by other teachers of the Erasmus students, who (they told me) visited the blog to get to know the students better.

Perhaps the only problem with this system of individual blogs was that I thought less of the students read the individual student blogs (despite my encouragement), and so perhaps missed out on some of the things the students had to say, which on the whole were very interesting. This conclusion is only my guess, based on the fact that none of the students used the commenting feature on the individual blogs.

I am going to analyse this in order to improve the system for next year's group.

"2) confessional ... 'I blog therefore I am' ... Blogs that seem to exist only to express thoughts or feelings on no particular subject of no obvious interest to others. I don't mean to be harsh, it's just that I don't understand any other purpose than the owner's need to appear on the web in order to be convinced of existing as much as anyone else. What these remarks really show is my need to see a practical use for everything, I suppose."

"3) knowledge sharing ... I'm amazed at the quality of thought, and information about things that I'm eager to learn about, that is shared on some blogs. In writing ... oops, blogging ... one's own thoughts are informed and clarified too ... so I guess in fact I've answered my own question in 2) to some degree."