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Fostering collaboration in and outside the classroom

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What is collaboration?

 The word ‘collaborate’ is derived from the Latin collaborare which means to labour together. It involves a group of people working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create something meaningful. 

Collaboration is a vital ingredient for learning. According to Vygotsky (1978), learning is a social process occurring in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), that is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult or peer support, and their ability to solve the problem independently. Vygotsky’s Social Development theory refers to learning contexts in which teachers are not the only providers of knowledge but where students play an active role in learning with and from their peers.

Is collaboration the new competition?

It most certainly is. In the past, much work was accomplished by individuals working alone, but today the scenery has changed.  Due to globalisation and the advent of technology, all significant work is accomplished in teams, and in many cases, global teams. Wikipedia, social media, and web 2.0 technologies highlight how interconnected our world has become and demonstrate how people working together can share knowledge and produce valuable resources.•

Collaboration in and outside the classroom 

Getting students to collaborate in the classroom is great but extending collaboration outside of it is even greater. It helps you to best maximize the scarcest classroom learning resource – time – and it also gives students more time to think, reflect, and process ideas. The ability to collaborate in digital environments is likely to be an important real world digital literacy so by setting up online collaborative projects you are actually preparing them for what they are likely to encounter in real life

Here are some very simple ways you can do this:

1. Group projects and assignments – Students work in groups of four to complete an assignment or project. After brainstorming, they break the work into four parts and each member undertakes to research part. They then group together to synthesise it into a collaborative product. Google Docs and Wikis are old-time classic tools for this kind of work. Encourage students to try and make it a cohesive text rather than just stick the four parts together. 

2. Peer editing of individual assignments – Students read each other’s drafts and provide feedback before the paper is handed in. Student A shares their paper with student B who leaves comments with their feedback. The reviewer’s comments are included when the paper is handed in for grading and the teacher evaluates both student A for their quality of work and student B for quality of feedback. Apart from helping them with their writing skills, it will push students to accept that writing is a process that needs revisions and redrafting.

3. Blogging – Blogging is a great way to encourage collaboration among students. They can write blog posts together, comment on one another’s contributions, and participate in blog challenges. A class blog is a collaborative effort per se and students can take up important roles to make sure it’s up and running e.g. blog master, administrator, comment moderator, editor etc

4. Students scaffolding the learning of others – Stronger students usually get bored in a mainstream class because they find tasks too easy for them. Challenge them by asking them to scaffold the learning of others and give them credit for this. Let’s not forget that the best way to consolidate something is to teach it, so both students will benefit from the process. Make sure though that stronger students do not do all the work but rather, guide and facilitate weaker students’  learning.

5. Discussing post-reading/listening questions – Often, class time runs out before students can fully participate in the post-reading/listening discussion. Extending (or moving altogether) the discussion outside the classroom would provide students with an excellent opportunity for consolidation and reflection. Students can do this

synchronously using Google Hangout in groups of four, or

asynchronously in a Virtual Learning Environment. Post the discussion question on Edmodo, a Facebook closed group or your class blog and ask students to leave comments. Another great tool is Lino.it, a sticky note digital board where students can leave post-it notes with their answers. Their responses are likely to be more thoughtful than they might have been in the frequently hurried class atmosphere and shy students may feel more comfortable to express themselves.
 

Setting up collaborative learning

Let’s face it. Beneficial collaborative learning is not easy to set up and just arranging students in groups does not necessarily constitute meaningful collaboration. Also, conflicts within the group might prevent learning. It is therefore essential that students are equipped both with language skills and teamwork skills to actively participate in discussions, deal with conflict, exchange ideas and be productive. Teach them how to debate, negotiate and disagree politely. Cultivate an inclusive culture where no one mocks or laughs at other people’s ideas or mistakes. Collaboration is a celebration of diversity and students should learn to value and respect different opinions.

Encouraging collaboration with other classes

After establishing collaborative learning in your classroom, the next step would be to get students to collaborate with other classes, preferably from around the world. Not only will this enhance learning and provide them with a real purpose to use English; it will also give them a perspective of what being a global citizen means.

In a future article, we will look into the best practices and tools  for global collaborative projects.  

Conclusion

Establishing a culture of collaboration does not take hours of preparation or professional development. But it does need a shift in perspective and authority. In collaborative classrooms, students are invited to make decisions, provide options for activities and assignments, and reflect on what they learn. As Plutarch suggested, the mind is not an empty vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.  So, if you want your students to collaborate, you do need an open mind and the willingness to trust them with their learning. You need to value students’ strengths and believe that they can learn from each other.  If you don’t, then no one will.

References

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

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Digital Citizenship through past and upcoming presentations

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Digital Citizenship has been the main focus of my work over the past few years. I explored it through my MA research thesis and have given talks at various conferences around Europe.  My last talk (“Digital Citizenship & ELT: A match made in heaven” ) took place at Digital ELT 2014, in Dublin; an annual event, organised by IATEFL LTSIG and MEI, and supported by ELT Ireland.

The following interview was originally published on Sylvia Guinan‘s blog after Digital ELT 2014. Sylvia, inspired by the event, revisits collective visions on digital learning and takes a look at predictions and trends on the future of education. Here is the original article featuring Gavin Dudeney, Caroline Moore, John Whipple, John Whipple, Nellie Muller Deutsch, Peter Lahiff, Christine Mullaney and myself. A must read!

And below are my replies to her questions:

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Photo taken by Sylvia Guinan at Digital ELT 2014

What did you talk about at the Digital ELT Ireland conference and how can it influence where learning is going?                        

I talked about Digital Citizenship and suggested ways it can be integrated into an ELT curriculum. Digital Citizenship is an educational approach that involves literacies, skills and competences for effective digital participation. It aims at educating people to make informed decisions about the content they consume, create or share and critically reflect on the impact this may have, both on themselves and others. In my presentation, I suggested that technology integration should not be a tool-oriented approach and I challenged the existing paradigms in technology education that merely invest in technology equipment but take its responsible use for granted. Our students might be particularly confident users of technology but this doesn’t mean that they can use it effectively. If we want them to develop these skills, then, it stands to reason that the best way is to simply teach them.

Can you describe one major highlight from 2014 that makes a difference to you as an educator and/or has wider significance for ELT in general?

I think that the way we connect as educators is evolving. I’ve always been a proponent of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and on a personal level my own network has been a source of inspiration, support and learning for me. However, at times, I felt that ELT PLNs were becoming ‘mutual admiration societies’ where no criticism or debate could be encouraged or tolerated. Also, lack of netiquette or filter by some, self-promotion or cliques by others, made me wonder whether the whole idea was soon going to decline. Networks are ecosystems; to be sustainable all the elements should be healthy. I am happy to see we are gradually taking PLNs to the next level and becoming more conscious and mature about the way we connect and share.

What are your professional plans for 2015 and are there any important trends in digital learning that we should watch out for in 2015?

I plan to write a book on Digital Citizenship drawing on my thesis and ongoing research. Hopefully, this will start in 2015. As for important trends, I think there will be less focus on ‘cool tools’ and more focus on pedagogically-sound, well-researched ways these can be used. Learning (and teaching) is not about mastering 100 tools, it’s not about bells and whistles; it is about making informed and wise choices. It’s high time we moved beyond the hype and invest in what really matters.

A big thanks to Sylvia for the interview and for giving me permission to re-post it here.

 

logoThis weekend (14/03/2015) I I am giving a keynote at the 2nd Educational Technology Summit in Istanbul. The summit will bring together educators, technology companies, entrepreneurs, managers and other stakeholders who will raise new questions and share best practices “in an age shaped by the widespread use of new technologies in education” (ETZ 2015). My speech – “Digital Citizenship: A Burning Issue in EdTech” – will stress the importance of integrating digital literacies and competences into the curriculum and suggest ways educators can be involved. Big congrats to Işıl Boy, the executive committee, and everyone else involved on organising #ETZ15. We need more events like this one.

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Student Engagement – with or without technology

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On the 30th of August I participated in a panel discussion at the 5th Foreign Language Forum in Athens, Greece. The main theme was “Present, Motivate, Engage”; Lilika Couri talked about Presentation, Luke Prodromou about Motivation and myself about Engagement. In this blog I will go through what was in my presentation both for those who attended and did not have the time to make notes and for those who couldn’t make it but are interested in the topic.

What is Student Engagement?

involved students“To teach is to engage students in learning” (Christensen, 1991).

I think the above quote captures the essence of Student Engagement in learning and suggests that the role of the teacher is not to provide knowledge but to design and facilitate learning opportunities.

However, while there is general agreement that Student Engagement is vital to learning, the definition of the term itself is fairly ambiguous (Parsons & Taylor, 2011). For some, it means compliance and academic achievement while for others, active involvement in and enthusiasm about the learning experience. Below are two definitions that clearly suggest that various factors are at play when students fully engage in learning.

‘Student Engagement has been used to depict students’ willingness to participate in routine school activities such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class’  (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991).

‘Students who are engaged show sustained behavioural involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competences, initiate action when given the opportunity and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks’ (Skinner & Belmont, 1993).

Which one do you agree with? Do you think they complement each other (as the audience of the 5th FL Forum suggested) or that they are quite distinct?

How can we increase student engagement in the language classroom?

Below are some steps that I have found effective. The list is by no means exhaustive and you are more than welcome to contribute your own ideas and experiences:

Use technology (but not for the sake of it)

Learning with iPadsStudents today are quickly bored with texts and lectures because of their immersion in technology and the exciting multimedia tools they use everyday to communicate, learn and entertain themselves. The truth is that technology offers amazing opportunities to engage students in learning; we can create content and share it with the world, we can find information at the click of a button, we can interact with people beyond classroom walls. So, technology is engaging but to contribute to learning we need to make pedagogically sound use of it. Technology is not a magic bullet so don’t use it just because it’s available or cool. If you want to read more about this take a look herePhoto Credit: Michael Coghlan via Compfight

Encourage interaction and collaboration

It’s been said that collaboration is the new competition and I totally agree. Apart from being engaging, teamwork is a 21st century skill that we should help students to develop. So get students to collaborate with other classes, preferably from another country. In this way they will have a real purpose to communicate in English. Blogging is a great way to extend communication beyond the boundaries of the classroom because it’s highly interactive; students can write blogs for an extended audience but they also read and comment on other students’ blogs.

Just bear in mind that they will need language and teamwork skills to interact effectively; teach them how to negotiate and debate how to disagree politely. They should welcome diversity and appreciate other people’s opinions no matter how different they are from theirs.

Create an emotionally safe environment

To be engaged in learning, students need to take risks but they are not going to iif they feel emotionally unsafe. To help students,

  • create a class environment  that tolerates mistakes
  • teach students to support each other
  • give the thumbs down to people who laugh at others
  • wait for slower students and don’t just call on the first ones that raise their hand
  • Help them to build their self-efficacy by beginning every lesson with a task that all students can do without your help; then gradually follow up with more challenging ones until you give all students the opportunity to be involved.

Scaffold challenging tasks

façade zebréeSuppose you ask your students to find information about a person (historical, celebrity etc) and then write an imaginary interview with him/her. Although this is a very creative task, your students might be challenged by a number of things that can slow production. To engage them, create intermediate steps by:

  • asking them to brainstorm with a peer who they are going to interview
  • teaching them how to search online for relevant vocabulary
  • devising quality questions
  • role-playing the interview with a peer
  • how to cite their sources and attribute the information they use to the writer.Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Olivier Jeannin via Compfight

Encourage Reflection

Reflection is key ingredient to learning and engagement. According to Dewey (1933) reflective learners control their learning “by assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap”.

If we want students to get in the habit of reflection, we should regularly invite them to analyse and make judgments about what they have learned.

Start using the “3-2-1” reflection activity at the end of every lesson by asking students to record three things they learned,  two things they found interesting and a question about what was taught (Hurst, 2013). If this sounds  time-consuming, you can ask them to record their reflections on a learning platform such as a class blog or Edmodo which will allow you and your students to interact with each other beyond lessons.

Support exploration and develop digital literacyEye of the Beholder

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: hjl via Compfight

Learning is all about exploration but your students will need to have research skills to engage in it. The Internet can provide access to outstanding sources of knowledge at the click of a button. The problem nowadays, however, is that while young people are particularly confident users of technology, they often lack the skills to make effective and responsible use of it. So, teach them how to:

  • find information by using keywords effectively
  • evaluate and challenge online content; not everything they read online is accurate or trustworthy 😉
  • synthesise information into their own original argument and avoid plagiarism.

Incorporate movement into your lessons

Movement is a vital part of our daily lives and can revitalize both young learners and adults. To influence your students mood make sure you use one (or more) of the following in every lesson:

  • ask students to write on the board
  • ask them to take a stretch break, that is stand and stretch between parts of the lesson
  • use mingling activities. You might think that students will get overly excited but this is because they are not used to the procedures. If mingling is a regular part of your lesson students then students will perceive it as such.
  • ask students to move to a different part of them room to find a partner and compare notes or answers. Don’t just ask them to work with the person sitting next to them.
  • If students have to answer various task questions, divide the questions in 4 groups and ask students to walk to a different corner to discuss them.

Foster creativity

When we ask student to create something, we help them to develop ownership over their learning and feel that their ideas and originality matter. Foster creativity by

  • using art in the classroom
  • asking them to create videos or podcasts. There are some great tools available.
  • integrating digital storytelling tools to create stories with them.
  • asking them to share what they create with others (preferably online) and get feedback. This is when creativity becomes meaningful.

Use humour

Did I Say Something Funny?A good laugh eases tension and helps students to feel more comfortable and open to learning. Even if you are not a naturally funny person, you can still lighten things up with the following:

  • Spice up tests and assignments with humorous items
  • Have a Joke Friday – ask students to bring in jokes to share with classmates
  • Keep a cartoon file – Have an area where students can display a cartoon every day on a rota basis – If you have a class blog ask them to post it there
  • Ask students to try and build humour into writing assignments. This is a valuable writing skill that will also add fun to your classes  (Elias, 2014).   Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Matt via Compfight

Incorporate alternative ways of assessment

According to Armstrong (2006) ‘standardised testing often leads teachers to teach to the test instead of students’ needs, interests, and abilities’. This may be true. While curriculum-teaching requires teachers to evaluate specific content knowledge through testing, tests should not be the only means students are evaluated. Incorporate alternative ways of assessment such as:

  • student (electronic) portfolios that depict their progress over time
  • student presentations, blog posts or project work. If they work in groups, don’t forget to evaluate their teamwork skills.

Exam classes may be a bit different but you can always use alternative ways from time to time.

Provide a good modelIMG_1859

‘Energised teaching fosters energised learning, monotonous teaching sabotages attention’  (Intrator, 2004). So, be an engaged teacher. Be authentic, share personal stories, convey your passion, express emotion and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You don’t need to dominate the class to show involvement. As Roppo (2014) suggests “great leaders guide, direct and inspire with an easy strength, but they never dominate.”

Can you add some more ideas to the list? Have you found other ways to engage your students in learning?

References                                                                                                                                                                                

Armstrong, T. (2006). The Best Schools: How human development research should inform educational practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Christensen, C. (1991). Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Elias, M. (2014). Using Humor in the Classroom.

Hurst, S. (2013). Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom.

Intrator, S. (2004). The engaged Classroom. Educational Leadership, 1 (62), 20-25

Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (1991). Instructional discourse, student engagement, and literature achievement. Research in the Teaching of English, 25(3), 261-290.

Skinner, E. A, & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 571-581.

Parsons, J. & Taylor, L. (2011). Student Engagement: What do we know and what should we do? University of Alberta: University Partners.

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7 Steps to Student PLNs

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Network (in glorious Helvetica)Photo Credit: Alexander Baxevanis via Compfight

One of my goals for 2014 is to apply what I have been planning for quite some time now: encourage my students to develop their own PLNs.

In brief, a PLN (Personal Learning Network) is “an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment”. Interactions can take place online and the learner does not have to meet those people in person.

My own PLN consists of like-minded educators from all around the world; they are the people I learn from and with on a daily basis. They are those who share with me and inspire me to experiment, reflect and become a better educator. Whether I have met them in person or not, these people are now part of my life. I’m not isolated anymore; I’m part of a community of lifelong learners.

How would it be like if students developed their own PLNs in areas of interest or talent? Not only would they be encouraged to learn independently but they would also have access to information and communities impossible to reach from within classroom walls. After all, as 21st century teachers, we are no longer the sole providers of knowledge; however, we can be the ones who will show them the way to opportunities; those who will provide them with skills to learn from and with a global network of people.

Below are 7 steps that I consider essential to this endeavour. The list is by no means exhaustive and you are invited to make your own contributions through a comment or blogpost 🙂

Step 1: Reflect on how you developed your own PLN

Our experience in developing and maintaining a PLN should not be taken for granted. Reflect on that. Think about the steps that you took, the mistakes that you made and on what you have learned on the way. If you don’t have a PLN, it’s never too late to create one. You will feel much more confident to teach something that you have personal experience in. Read what Shelly Terrell and Vicky Loras suggest and contact me in case you need further help 🙂

Step 2: Teach students Digital Citizenship skills

To participate in online communities effectively, students will need to be equipped with skills to use technology responsibly, ethically and safely. They should be polite and tolerant with people; they should be critical thinkers, able to challenge and filter a vast array of information found online; they should also be aware of the dangers they might encounter and be able to deal with them effectively. Even if your students are aware of these concepts, reminding them is always a good idea.

Step 3: Give it time

As you will know from your own experience, PLNs cannot be developed overnight; they are not static either. They grow as we grow and can slightly change when our needs and interests change as well. Give your students time to build and maintain their PLNs. It might work well as a year round project for instance but you will need to check students’ progress regularly.

Step 4: Encourage active participation

Finding and joining a community of like-minded people might be highly important but PLNs cannot be maintained if students are just consumers of what other people share. They will need to contribute back by taking part in discussions, by creating and sharing their own content. Teach students to be creators. They can start with comments or questions and gradually move on to writing blog posts or creating videos. Anything that will add value to other people’s learning will be appreciated and welcome.

Step 5: Find tools that will suit your students’ needs

Twitter, Facebook groups or blogs can be great PLN platforms. Do your personal research and use the ones that address your students’ needs. You will also need to consider your students’ age. If you teach young learners, platforms like Edublogs or Edmodo might be more appropriate. Curation tools are also important. Teach them to curate and organise information and resources with tools such as diigo, Evernote or scoop.it.

Step 6: Don’t forget that PLNs are personal

The term itself suggests students need to personalise the learning experience and make decisions. Don’t impose networks and interests on them; instead, help them define their goals and motivations and make connections according to them. Personalisation can be achieved even with younger students who need to be supervised more closely; for instance, you can initiate collaboration with kids in other countries but let them have a say over who they want to work with.

Step 7: Act as a model

Last but not least, focus on modeling what learning looks like. Share your own learning and experiences. Tell them how you started your own PLN and how valuable it has been to you. Learn with them and from them. Invite them to teach you something; explore and discover new things together. Be part of their PLN and let them be part of yours.

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We need pedagogy, not just cool tools

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Rubik Apps
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: César Poyatos via Compfight

Whether we have fully integrated technology or not, few of us can deny that learning technologies can revolutionise language learning and teaching; we can find information at the click of a button, create content and share it with the world, communicate and collaborate beyond the boundaries of our classrooms, have a Personal Learning Network and be inspired to become lifelong learners.

There are plenty of options available; various blogging platforms, voice recording tools, LMS software (Learning Management System), social media, you name it; and there is also a lot of information about them. Colleagues who have tried a tool might write a blog post; educational technologists might give reviews on new tools. All this is valuable and I have personally learned a lot out of it. However, what happens when this information comes out in the form of lists such as “100 must-have digital tools for teachers” or “50 tools every teacher should master this summer”? What about blogs whose only purpose is to present “cool tools” day after day? Isn’t all this a bit overwhelming?

Kozzi-panic-emoticon-1888 X 1112

Through discussions with colleagues and trainees, I can only say that such information can hardly help teachers decide what to choose and what to reject. Some of their comments include the following:

  • “There are too many tools but too little time”.

  • “I’m not trained, I can’t decide”.

  • “They all look the same to me”.

  • “New technologies seem to appear everyday. I just can’t keep up”.

Does this ring any bells?

I don’t think that what those teachers need is a reminder that they should soon master 50 or more tools. Education has never been a matter of quantity. I guess what they really need is training and clear criteria against which to evaluate and choose technologies; they need to be able to make informed decisions about whether or not to integrate them into their classrooms. They also need to be reassured that if their goal for students is language learning then technology is just a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I feel that just presenting tool after tool is a rather narrow perspective about the potential of Educational Technology.

The hype to use the latest and greatest digital tools – rather than the meaningful use of technology – is like driving a cool car without any vision for where we want to go.

Let’s take the focus off the tool; Instead, let’s focus on:

  • the pedagogy behind the tool and use it because it addresses our students’ cognitive needs, not because it is available or exciting.

  • developing critical thinkers with the ability to find, reflect on, curate and synthesise information.

  • developing lifelong learners who will be able to create and use their Personal Learning Networks to self-educate and grow.

  • educating digital citizens, that is, responsible members of an increasingly global and interconnected world who know their rights and responsibilities; people who can make informed decisions about the content they create or share and its impact on themselves and on the other members of a digital community.

Cool tools might still be welcome to our classrooms but this won’t make them more appropriate for learning.

If you are interested in the topic and you are around Thessaloniki, Greece, on the 15th of December, come along and join us at the TESOL Macedonia – Thrace Christmas event where I will be talking about “Evaluating and Choosing Educational Digital Tools and Apps ”.

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All things in eModeration: Moderating Class Blogs and Facebook Student Groups

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Once in a Blue Moon
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: saebaryo via Compfight


This post is a response to the TESOL Greece blog challenge on eModeration. It is primarily aimed at EFL teachers of young learners, teens and young adults but I hope teachers of other disciplines and age groups will find some areas of interest. It will try to answer the following questions:

  • What is moderation and why is it important?
  • What should we moderate in class blogs and Facebook student groups? 
  • What are the challenges involved and how can we deal effectively with them?

What is moderation?

In general terms, moderation is the process of eliminating or lessening extremes. It is used to ensure normality throughout the medium on which it is being conducted.

In computing terms, a moderator needs to:

  • monitor and often censor inappropriate comments and posts that are left for public display
  • keep users on topic
  • keep the discussion thread free of personal insults and derogatory comments.

Why moderating?

Merely creating an online community such as a class blog or a Facebook group does not necessarily lead to productive discussions or learning. Additionally, we should not assume that students, regardless of their age, are aware of concepts such as responsible online conduct and digital citizenship. What if their posts are not always appropriate? What about spam and flaming?

Consequently, the teacher’s role in moderating and facilitating purposeful discussions and contributions is vital. As a moderator you will have to take informed decisions about:

  • when a post or comment should be approved.
  • how to organise online discussions and motivate students to participate in them.
  • how to help students feel part of a learning community.
  • how to develop their digital literacy skills’ so that moderation can gradually become less frequent.

 Class Blogs

 

Dream classroom
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Charles Wiriawan via Compfight


The degree and criteria against which to evaluate what should or shouldn’t be moderated might depend on various factors such as the age of your students or whether they have been introduced to eSafety and Digital Citizenship skills. In the early stages, while students should be given freedom over the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on your blog and that a high degree of etiquette is maintained. And as your blog will probably be public, you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read inappropriate comments or be exposed to potentially suspicious links contained in them? To my experience, this rarely happens but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your online community from the potential risk.

For class blogs I would suggest the following:

  • Make sure your students are aware of the rules and guidelines of the blog so that they know what is or isn’t appropriate. If possible, involve them in the decision making. It will encourage greater ownership and motivation to respect the rules.
  • Consistency is important. Decide in advance whether posts or comments that contain accuracy mistakes will be accepted or not. I personally think that rejecting such content can be extremely discouraging for students but it clearly depends on the primary aims of your blog. I publish comments even if they contain mistakes to reinforce students’ communication skills and sense of community. As far as posts are concerned, I adopt a process writing approach where students submit their first draft and then revise their work according to my feedback. You need to make your own decisions as a class and stick to them.
  • Decide in advance whether or not you are going to moderate YLs & teens’ personal pictures. While there is not a consensus decision on this, you should know that according to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for example, you need the parents’ consent to post a picture of an under 13 year-old-child. My piece of advice? Students of all ages love posting their pictures on class blogs and might feel disappointed to see them turned down. I generally advise students to attach creative commons licensed pictures but when someone attaches a picture of themselves, I use skitch to blur the face even when the parents don’t mind their kid’s picture posted online.  
  • Be aware of the links students might share on posts or comments. I think that not allowing students to share links would not reflect reality since we all do on a regular basis. Instead, teach them that not all links are innocent and that they should check before they share with their classmates. In any case, moderate before you post. Quite recently, a student of mine left the following comment on our blog:
A comment from our class blog
A comment on our class blog

 

Although the student is a responsible internet user, I thought it was essential that I first ensure the link was a safe one and that it did not direct students to illegal game downloads. 

 

  • As I have already written on a previous post, teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:

1      Relevant to the post.

2      Complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.

3      Proofread by the students for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

As a moderator, you might also need to provide timely intervention when a discussion goes off topic or when an argument should be resolved. Sometimes students might transfer an argument that started in class to the blog especially when they feel active parts of this online community. Your role as a moderator and facilitator can be vital in such cases.

Facebook student groups

Facebook Expert
Photo Credit: mkhmarketing via Compfight

Unlike blogs, Facebook groups do not allow administrators to approve comments before they are published. All you can do is delete posts and comments or even remove members in case things get out of hand. For this reason, I would suggest that teachers create a Facebook group only when they have introduced their students to concepts such as appropriate online behaviour and responsible digital citizenship. Having said that, I do believe Facebook can be a great learning platform if used effectively. Our students are there anyway so why not make learning more approachable to them? I totally appreciate protected platforms such as Edmodo or Schoology which might be essential in certain cases. However, adopting a constant risk-averse approach can be counterproductive and unrealistic. Students need to be given the opportunity to take risks in real contexts otherwise they won’t be able to manage risk effectively.

Most of what I mentioned about blogging applies to Facebook as well but below are some tips special to student Facebook groups:

  • Create a closed group for your students so that you can ensure only accepted members can access and post there.
  • Promote students who are willing and involved to administrators. It will take the burden off you and they will be given a great learning opportunity. You will also encourage a sense of ownership and belonging to the group.
  • Do not become Facebook friends with your students unless of course you do not post personal stuff on your account. Posting a family picture, teasing a friend online or checking in at a club might be things you wouldn’t like your students to know. it can be hard to decline requests but it will make your life so much easier. There are a few tips I can share on that so I intend to write a follow up post 🙂
  • Do not delete posts or comments just because you or other students don’t agree with some opinions expressed. On the contrary, encourage debate and use it as an opportunity to show students that freedom of speech is vital as long as people justify their opinions politely. 
  • If students spam or make inappropriate contributions I think you have every right to delete their posts or comments. After all, you are there to ensure students’ security and learning. Talk to the student in private and try to understand the reasons behind their actions. Sometimes teenagers or young adults just like to break the rules. I also think that, without identifying the student, you should use the incident as a topic for a class discussion. Instead of giving tedious lectures on inappropriate online behaviour, encourage students to comment on the incident and see for themselves why spamming or flaming is inappropriate.
  • As already mentioned, use this online community to promote responsible and wise social media use; turn mistakes into learning opportunities. I remember I once asked students to post a picture from their summer holiday and write something about it. We had already talked about privacy and digital footprint so I was surprised to see a picture of my 20-year-old student posing rather suggestively in her bikini. She was a nice girl and I’m sure she didn’t mean to provoke her classmates. After all, it is difficult to define the norms when young people are exposed to nude or semi-nude TV images all the time. The good thing about the incident was that it proved to be a great topic for a class discussion on digital identities which encouraged the girl to remove the picture herself.

A final piece of advice

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: SalFalko via Compfight

Moderation involves students’ participation to online communities and this is something that only you can encourage no matter how powerful a tool is. If participation is optional not all students are likely to contribute. On the other hand, if it is mandatory or marked it might feel like another task that needs to be done. It would be better to integrate it into your course so that students perceive it as an essential part of their learning. For example, you might start a discussion in class that could be continued online; or instead of asking them to write an essay, you could post a relevant video, ask them to discuss it with classmates online and then write something on this.

 

 

 

How do you moderate your students’ class blogs or Facebook groups? Would you add or remove anything from the above tips? I would be very interested to read your views 🙂

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My IATEFL Workshop

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After a fascinating TESOL Greece International Conference last weekend, I’m now getting ready for an event I have been looking forward to for a whole year: IATEFL Liverpool! I’m so excited because it’s my first IATEFL ever and because I’m going to attend amazing talks, see friends and meet colleagues face-to-face.

My session is on Tuesday 9 and that’s another reason to get excited. It’s on Internet safety and how it can be integrated into the ELT classroom. If interested, find the details below:

From the IATEFL app

If you come to my session, I would highly appreciate your feedback and insights as this is the topic I’m currently exploring for the purpose of my MA dissertation. If you can’t come but want to share your insights, concerns or experiences in regard to this topic, your contribution would be more than welcome 🙂

I want to wish all presenters good luck with their sessions and thank IATEFL for organising such a great event 🙂

 

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How can we make the most out of an IWB in the classroom? An #ELTchat summary

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This post is a summary of an #ELTchat on the topic of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) which took place on February 27 at 21.00 GMT. You can read the original transcript here.

The #technoLanguages Blog

There’s a simmering controversy in the ELT world about the value of IWBs in the classroom. For some, IWBs can enhance language instruction and learning, while for others they don’t provide enough learning opportunities to justify their high cost.

As a teacher who has been using IWBs for some years but hasn’t explored their full potential yet, I proposed this topic in order to get practical tips and ideas from fellow chatters. What activities are special to IWBs? What materials or applications can we use? How can we make the most out of an IWB in the classroom?

Within a few minutes the chat turned into a fascinating debate confirming for one more time the controversy that IWBs can attract. As a result, apart from offering practical advice, ELT chatters discussed the pros and cons of using IWBs in the classroom. There were also those who argued that IWBs are already being overtaken by other technologies such as tablets and other types of interactive projection and explained how an iPad can be used instead of an IWB. Finally, some links for further reading were shared.

Enjoy 🙂

Pros

  • IWBs can enhance teachers’ lessons (@prese1).
  • Best thing about iwbs is the ability to save all your board notes (@dreadnought001).
  • IWBs allow you to organise your lessons in files (@eng4abetterlife).
  • An IWB is both a board and a window into a computer (@tim_crangle).
  • Easy access to the internet or internet-based exercises (@bhrbahar & @SophiaMav).
  • Easy access to a range of board games (@prese1).
  • Erasing takes a second. Shapes are ready (@bhrbahar).
  • You don’t need to draw everything. You can save your work, share and use it again (@bhrbahar).
  • You can save students’ work as well (@SophiaMav).
  • You can get your students to write/interact on the board with what you are projecting (@tim_crangle).
  • With IWBs you don’t need to carry your laptop to class (@SophiaMav).
  • It can have a great effect on classroom management (@antoniaclare & @Shaunwilden).
  • IWBs can motivate teachers to use technology in the classroom (@JennyJohnson10).
  • From a commercial point of view it can be a selling point for a school (@tim_crangle).

Cons

  • They are too expensive (@Marisa_C @blairteacher @CotterHUE tim_crangle @Shaunwilden).
  • IWBs rely completely on having a computer and a data projector working with it; the board itself is just a monitor and a mouse (@Shaunwilden)
  • They encourage teacher (or board) centred learning (@blairteacher)
  • Only one student can work at a time while the others are waiting. This might translate to less engaged students and poor activity (@CotterHUE).
  • School owners might invest on IWBs to advertise their school but use them rather traditionally e.g. projecting text, rules, exercises (@Marisa_C ).
  • It’s not portable (@CotterHUE).

What activities are special to IWBs?

By Activeducator via Wikimedia Commons

Games
@Shaunwilden suggested screenshade and spotlight tools both of which can be used to hide part of a photo and encourage students to speculate. He also added that by changing opacity you can have easy guessing games.

@tim_crangle said that Smart and Promethean boards offer Flash animations that you can customise (anagrams, MCQs, dice). He added that these particular brands have places where you can share and find lots of excellent activities.

@prese1 finally said that Pelmanism can be a great game to play on IWBs

Video
@antoniaclare said IWBs can be great with video and @bhrbahar added that, depending on the topic, clips can be useful for consolidation.

ELT activities
@eng4abetterlife asked if there is something particular to the IWB that is good for TESOL. @Marisa_C said that using something like Google streets for directions does work really well on an IWB and @tim_crangle added that you can teach prepositions by using the shapes, arrows etc provided with the board software. In regard to grammar, @dreadnought001 said that a teacher can have lots of useful boards (eg grammar, agree/disagree lang) ready to pull up when needed.

@tim_crangle pointed out that you can do interactive written work with Google drive if your class has computers, smartphones or tablets and project on the IWB.

@SophiaMav said that you can instantly find pictures to teach vocabulary and that there is no need for flash cards any more. @tim_crangle added that you can add sound to images by recording your voice naming the objects or by getting the students to record themselves.

Some other ELT-related activities include:

  • Reading eggs which can make learning to read effective and engaging for children http://t.co/d0DxydBho8 (@bhrbahar)
  • Virtual tours field trips, e.g. The Google Art Project (SophiaMav)
  • A project for a website re-design in which the entire class is on IWB designing mock-ups, annotating pages they like and talking (@Wiktor_K)

Great debate bits

On teacher-centredness
@blairteacher argued that IWBs can encourage teacher-centred learning but @Shaunwilden disagreed by saying that this is an often cited myth and that a teacher-centred teacher will always be teacher-centred. @Wiktor_K also added “So does an ordinary whiteboard if teachers abuse it. It’s tech. It can’t encourage anything of itself, I think.”

On saving and reusing your work
@bhrbahar said that one of the most compelling features of an IWB is the ability to save your work, share it and re-use it to which @Marisa_C replied that this is good if you keep teaching the same lessons over and over again; however, @tim_crangle added that this feature allows you to “tweak” and improve previous lessons and adapt them more easily.

It’s the computer, not the board
As previously mentioned, @Shaunwilden argued that it’s not the board itself but the computer and the projector that allow all the learning opportunities, “the board is just a monitor and a mouse”. @SophiaMav agreed but said “it’s all in one place. No need to install or carry laptops from classroom to classroom”. @bhrbahar added that this is their function and as a result IWBs give the opportunity. @Shaunwilden answered that they do have all in one systems, but if the computer doesn’t work your board does not work either to which @bhrbahar agreed and added that an IWB is like a computer with a big screen.

On high cost
@dreadnought001 thought that the price had come down quite a bit but @Marisa_C said that locally you can’t get anything good in a decent size under 1700 or so euros and that you can’t just get ONE! @tim_crangle added that “you can’t afford to cut corners on quality – a board/computer/projector which breaks down is a total waste of time”.

Only one student at a time
The issue was raised by @CotterHUE who said that a limited number of students can work on the board while the others wait for their turn and might be distracted. @tim_crangle agreed but suggested “the robot technique” which means that you get one student to be the robot who is ordered by the other students, in this way everyone is involved.

Can the iPad be used as an alternative to an IWB?

Via proncone – flickr

@CotterHUE kicked off the discussion by asking “I never used an IWB, so how would an IWB differ from an iPad hooked up to a projector or screen?”

According to @tim_crangle an IWB is more interactive as you can get your students to write or interact on the board with what you are projecting. @CotterHUE disagreed by saying “How more interactive? Ipad uses video, pdfs, etc. Don’t have to print worksheets and can send work to all students by email”.

For @Shaunwilden the iPad is more interactive when used with Apple TV to which @tim_crangle agreed but said that “Apple TVs are another story”! @Wiktor_K also argued that buying an iPad and an Apple TV may also raise cost issues but @Shaunwilden said “not as much as a board! Apple TV less than a 100 quid, cheapest ipad 329 cheap projector 200 quid”. He also added that instead of Apple TV, teachers can use apps that turn your iPad into an IWB if linked to a computer e.g. such as doceri or reflector but in this case you need a computer. @CotterHUE also said that you can buy a cable adapter in lieu of pushing content to apple TV. But that would mean that you can’t walk around with an iPad.

@VSnack finally shared a link to a video that demonstrates how to transform any WB into an IWB and added that it’s a much cheaper solution.

@dreadnought001 wanted to know how using an ipad as IWB replacement works and whether it is awkward to write on it. @Marisa_C answered that you can type or use a stylus but @dreadnought001 thought that “styluses (styli?) are awful on the ipad”.

@CotterHUE offered a link to stylus for ipad and added that there are also loads of great apps. @Marisa_C said that she had never used a stylus but she can easily draw, type, screen record and email everything with Educreations App. She also uses it for error feedback. She explained that it’s like jing but you create as you record and save all your pages like an IWB.

@Shaunwilden added that he prefers screenchomp – a free app for creating and sharing short tutorials on the iPad. @Wiktor_K also suggested Penultimate – a handwriting app for iPad that allows you to easily take notes and save your work. It can be fully synchronised with Evernote and stylus works great with it.

He finally concluded that after tablets and gesture control (check Leap Motion) IWBs are not “the most interactive game in town”.

Most memorable tweets

  • @Marisa_C: So can I sit back and relax then …. we seem to have two opposing camps here – FOR & AGAINST – fun.
  • @dreadnought001: Don’t get the hostility to them, it’s like being angry at a tape recorder, it’s equipment, good teachers use it well, bad teachers don’t.
  • @CotterHUE: Sounds like IWBs offer few more bells and whistles but expensive.
  • @Marisa_C: Personally I don’t like publishers who just put out book pages on their software and call this innovation.
  • @Wiktor_K: IWBs are really worth it if they’re used by dedicated & creative teachers, I think. So I’m sure we shouldn’t give up on them!

Links

As usual some great links were offered for further reading and consolidation:

Many thanks to moderators and ELTchatters 🙂

@Marisa_C, @Shaunwilden, @bhrbahar, @tim_crangle, @SophiaMav, @Wiktor_K, @CotterHUE, @prese1, @blairteacher, @SueAnnan, @dreadnought001, @antoniaclare, @eng4abetterlife, @blairteacher, @DWar, @MarjorieRosenbe, @eng4abetterlife, @VSnack @JennyJohnson10

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Continue reading “How can we make the most out of an IWB in the classroom? An #ELTchat summary”

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4 Key Challenges and Solutions to Class Blogging

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kozzi.com

 

In my last posts I talked about the benefits of class blogging and shared my personal class blogging experience. Today I’ll be focusing on the next step: the challenges you need to take into consideration and the steps I recommend taking.

Choosing a Blogging platform

I would first recommend setting the criteria against which to evaluate a blog service. Among excellent blogging options available,blogger was considered ideal to my teaching situation for the following reasons:

  • It is free of charge and easy to set up.
  • It is not blocked by my school filtering software.
  • There are security options available e.g. comments pending approval from the administrator to ensure that only appropriate comments are posted on the blog.
  • Videos and pictures can be easily embedded.
  • Students don’t need to have email accounts to leave comments.

Although I’ve been very satisfied with the service, I noticed a serious disadvantage; it may be blocked by parental control filters making it difficult for some students to work from home. So, I took the decision to move our class blog to edublogs, a platform which is never blocked by protective filters as it is especially designed for education. The only drawback is that in order to embed videos and use a number of widgets you need to upgrade to a paid edublogs subscription, but the price is fairly low. Other options include kidblog, WordPress and Posterous. They all offer a plethora of features and come with both free and paid plans. So, my advice would be: set the criteria first, devote some time researching and finally choose the platform that best suits your needs 🙂

Ensuring students’ security online

Issues such as Internet safety, cyber-bullying and lack of netiquette lead institutions to block social networks depriving students of the positive aspects achieved when collaborating as part of a global community. Therefore, raising awareness of online safety and of the digital footprint students leave behind is of paramount importance (Ward, 2004:7).

While there is not a consensus decision on what should be shared online (pictures, names, private versus public blogs), it is suggested that educators have clear guidelines so that students and parents are aware of what is appropriate (Burt, 2010). Actively involving students in creating these guidelines would be even more effective and would encourage greater ownership and motivation.

A student is adding his group contributions to our blog guidelines

While students should be given freedom over their posts and the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on the blog and that nobody’s feelings are hurt. And as your blog will be probably public (an informed decision you also need to make), you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read comments made by mean or impolite people? To my experience, this rarely happens (we have never received such comments) but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your students from the potential risk.

Tagging

Our list

Blog posting can become confusing as a blog expands making it difficult for readers to find their way to earlier contributions. Training learners to organize their work under relevant tags is therefore essential. Tags let writers classify their posts according to keywords by producing a link under each post. Clicking any of those takes visitors to an archive page containing only posts categorized under this label. To make scanning even easier, a list of all the blog tags can be displayed in the sidebar of your blog, sorted alphabetically or by frequency of use.

Commenting

Promoting and teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community and help learners develop their literacy skills. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:

  • proofread for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • relevant to the post.
  • complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.
  • do not reveal any personal information.

Devote one or two sessions to teach quality comments and as a follow-up, ask students to comment on each other’s posts. You can also ask students to create guidelines for quality comments and then post them on a blog page for reference.

The list can go on but I’d really love to hear from you first. Have you heard of or experienced any additional challenges regarding class blogging? Can you add other solutions to the challenges above? I would appreciate your thoughts 🙂

References
Ward, J. (2004). Blog assisted language learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1): 1-15

 

 

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Class blogging

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This post is aimed at teachers who consider starting a class blog.  It is based on my personal research on class blogging combined with my experience over the last two years.

What is a class blog?

A Blog or weblog is a virtual space for people to post their work to Web pages displayed in reverse chronological order with an option for readers to leave comments regarding these posts (Eastment, 2005: 358; Davis & McGrail, 2009:74). Among a number of types of blogs that fit pedagogical purposes, the class blog is the result of a joint effort of an entire class and is considered to foster a feeling of class community by optimizing teacher-student communication and peer interaction (McDowell, 2004; Miceli et al, 2010: 323).

Why should we set up a class blog?

  • Because it encourages learner-centredness

Consistent with learner-centred principles, class blogs require students to actively construct meaning, organize their thoughts and become more active inside and outside the classroom by reviewing material and seeking external knowledge resources (Du & Wagner, 2005:4,10).

By inviting students to post their personal work and share their views and beliefs we give them a voice; Students feel personally significant and sense that they matter to their teacher and their classmates ; this encourages them to become more actively engaged and invest a higher level of mental energy in the task.

Publication not only makes materials accessible for subsequent reflection but also offers the opportunity for feedback, which, in turn, scaffolds learners’ knowledge construction. Finally, if collaboratively implemented, blog projects can also encourage increased verbal exchanges, negotiation, peer interaction and social integration, all of which are so valuable to learning.

Of course it would be naïve to imply that by simply setting up a class blog we encourage learner-centred learning. If we continue to be in total control, don’t encourage collaboration and reflection and don’t involve them in the decision making, we simply dominate the whole thing and do not place learners in the centre of the learning experience. It’s a personal decision of course and you know better than anyone else what is good or not for your classes. I just believe that if you want to give more space to your students, class blogging can definitely help you with this.

  • Because it is user friendly

Unlike standard websites, blogs allow users with little or no technical background experience to create, design and maintain the blog ( Du & Wagner 2005:2). This makes classroom integration more natural, without the need of teaching hard technical skills (McDowell, 2004; Godwin-Jones, 2003); it is also consistent with learner-centered principles which require technologies and educational practices to be appropriate for learners’ cognitive abilities (Vincent, 2010).

When I started, my knowledge of setting up and running a blog was extremely limited. I remember not knowing basic vocabulary such as tagging, blogroll and widgets. It goes without saying I couldn’t embed a video or change the blog layout. There are plenty of tutorials available on YouTube like this one. I’m going to share more on a forthcoming post but I’m sure you can find them on your own if you just type key words such as “how to set up a blog” “embed a video” etc on Google. So, even if it seems hard to you right now, you will end up agreeing that blogs are very user friendly.

  • Because it fosters a sense of interactive audience

By posting their work on the Internet, the students have the opportunity to extend their audience beyond classmates (Ward, 2004:2-3). This awareness encourages a sense of ownership and responsibility on the part of the students who may be more motivated and thoughtful in both content and structure (Kitzmann, 2003:1).

Take my students as an example: by knowing that what they write is going to appear on the web they automatically become more conscious and more responsible writers, proofread their posts and seek guidance and advice from me or their classmates without being told to. Isn’t that great?

They have a reason and an extended audience for writing and this is why they want to present something that they will feel proud of 🙂

Commenting to each other’s posts or receiving comments from a wider audience can also be very powerful. Not only does it promote interactivity and reflection but also fosters a learning community in and outside the classroom. This two way communication through posts and comments enables students to become both the author and the audience and therefore benefit from the advantages of both forms (Wrede, 2003).

What are the basic steps in setting up and maintaining a successful blog?

Well, researching and getting informed would be one of the first tips I would give…but I just noticed this post is getting too long. More practical tips on a forthcoming post. If you want to dig more into the topic you’ll find a lot of resources in the references below 🙂

References

Davis, A. P. & McGrail, E. (2009). The joy of blogging.  Educational Leadership,66(6): 74-77.

Du, H.S., and Wagner, C. (2007). Learning with Weblogs: Enhancing cognitive and social knowledge construction. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communications, 50(1). Last accessed 16/04/2011

Eastment, D. (2005). Blogging. ELT Journal, 59(4): 358-361

Jonassen, D.H. (1993). Thinking technology. Educational Technology, 34(4): 34-37

Kitzmann, A.  (2003). That different place: Documenting the self within online environments.  Biography, 26(1): 48-65.

McDowell, D. (2004). Blogging in the K12 classroom. In  B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology.

Miceli, T. , Murray, S. V. and Kennedy, C. (2010). Using an L2 blog to enhance learners’ participation and sense of community. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23 (4): 321-341

Godwin-Jones, B. (2003). Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-line Collaboration. Language Learning & Technology. 7(2): 12-16. Last accessed 26/04/2011 http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num2/emerging/default.html

Vincent, D. (2010). Learner-centered learning and blogging. Edutech Wiki. Last accessed 15/04/2011  http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Learner-centered_learning_and_blogging

Ward, J. (2004). Blog assisted language learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1): 1-15

Wrede, O.  (2003). Weblogs and discourse: Weblogs as transformational technology for higher education and academic research. Blogtalk conference paper, Vienna, May 23rd-24th 2003. http://wrede.interfacedesign.org/articles/weblogs-and-discourse