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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

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My class blog learning experience

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Using a class blog in the classroom can be an effective and powerful tool. In this post I’m going to share how I integrated it into my classroom and why this proved to be a wise decision and a great learning experience for both my students and myself.

How it all started

It was April 2012 and we were about to start a collaborative project with my 6th graders. I’ve always been an advocate of project work and considered it a highly learner-centred and effective way for language learning. Students love it as well because it can be totally personalised and creative.

So, the project was called songs parade and it had been successful with many students over the years:

Students work in groups, select their favourite song and turn its lyrics into a cloze for their classmates (a fill-in the gaps quiz). They then make a word document with the quiz, put pictures and give me to make photocopies for their classmates. Each group is to present their project on a different day; they can talk a little bit about the song and singer/band, play the video clip on the IWB (before an IWB was installed in class, we used a CD player, which was also great) and ask their classmates to fill in the gaps. Depending on the group, feedback is given in class or the presenters take the photocopies home, correct them and even give a mark (they love doing this!).

Why not move this project onto a blog?

I was in my first year of my MA and as I was learning wonderful things about technology it dawned on me that it would be great if I could move all this onto a class blog.

The reason for taking that decision was that all project work my students had been involved so far had a particularly limited audience (their classmates) and that after the presentation the projects were filed in their portfolios and got forgotten or even lost. There was of course, some discussion and feedback after each presentation but time never allowed us for a deep and constructive reflection. “A class blog that could host this would be great” I thought, and started researching blogging platforms and services.

Our first class blog

I need to admit that at the time my knowledge of setting up and running a blog was extremely limited but technology is something that can only be learned through trial and error. You can never tell what a tool  is like or whether it works for you unless you get your feet wet, play with it, make mistakes and work out solutions.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by the things I didn’t know but also excited I could give my students the opportunity to

  • extend their audience beyond classroom walls.
  • engage in a discussion through comments.
  • go back to what they have created and reflect on it.
  • keep a permanent record of their work.

And that’s how it all started. Looking back, I can confidently say it has been the best project I’ve ever been involved in, not only because it proved to be extremely successful but mainly because of our shared enthusiasm of trying something new. I was not the expert who taught students English but a fellow learner who was learning with them. We made mistakes, got stressed, experimented, laughed our heads off, agreed and disagreed but we enjoyed every single minute of it. This is a sample of my students’ work posted on our very first blog called song parade.

Our current blog

Little by little and as we were discovering the potential of class blogging, we felt that apart from hosting our song projects it could host students’ reflections and anything they wanted to share. So we unanimously decided to rename it to blogging town so as not to restrict ourselves to only music-related content. Since then, students have been blogging about anything: their hobbies, their favourite celebrities, issues such as internet safety and the environment, celebrations, to mention just a few. You can take a look here and here. The range of topics can be really endless and it depends on the particular interests of your students as well as your teaching objectives. It’s totally up to you. I usually set challenges and topics that students can work on collaboratively but individual ideas are always welcome and students know they can write about anything they feel like to. It’s really great to see them taking the initiative to blog without being assigned to. This is what blogging is all about, isn’t it?

I’m not sure if this blog will continue to be hosted on blogger or if I decide to move it to edublog. It’s an informed decision I need to make for the forthcoming school year considering some issues I have encountered on blogger- mainly that it may be blocked by parental control filters making it difficult for some students to work from home. You see, you never stop learning, experimenting and working out solutions once you get started. There’s always something better to discover and experiment with; and that’s the beauty of the journey I reckon, isn’t it? 🙂

(On a forthcoming post I’m going to share some practical tips on class blogging based on my experience and what I have found on the way)

 

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Hello blogosphere! Can I join you?

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This is my very first post on my very first teacher blog. Thank you all for dropping by :-). My blogging experience began 2 years ago when I first started a class blog for my students. Over these years, I and my students discovered what a wonderful educational experience blogging can be; we discovered that extending the walls of the classroom and opening up a window to the world can broaden your horizons and make you a more connected, reflective and active learner  (well, more about the benefits of class blogging on another post, perhaps).

I’d been thinking of starting my teacher blog for a year now but there was always a good reason to put me off. Among the most popular ones there was always lack of time, embarrassment about exposing my views online and, doubts about its effectiveness for me. You see, I’ve been writing and reflecting on a regular basis since I started my MA; working on assignments, researching, sharing views in forums and collaborating with coursemates have become part of my life. I’ve also been on Twitter for two years and enjoy interacting with my wonderful PLN. I participate on #ELTchat (a magic discussion among educators taking place on Twitter every Wednesday), sharing  and learning with like minded educators from all around the world. What extra value will blogging add to me as a teacher? What extra value will I add to the blogging world?

After lurking on the fringes of the blogosphere for too long I just felt I needed to make my thinking and learning more transparent. I felt the need to write about what’s going on in my classes, what worked or didn’t work, what tech tools I used and the impact this had on my students, what conventions and workshops I attended and the impact this had on me. After all, ideas can only take shape when you put them out there and share them with others…

So, as I challenge my students to reach new heights and challenge themselves, I’ve just decided to set myself a 12-month personal challenge of evaluating the impact of blogging on me as a teacher. I’m not setting the bar too high expecting myself to write groundbreaking stuff or very frequently. I do expect, however, that blogging will help me:

  • Crystallize my thinking
  • Reflect on my teaching and learning
  • Enjoy the experience
  • Share
  • Become a better teacher

Will blogging help me achieve all this? Will I end up loving it? Perhaps, but I guess you can’t truly know what something is like unless you get your feet wet, right? I’m well aware that having a blog is considered to be essential to teachers’ growth and improvement; but, just like we don’t use a “one size fits all” approach to education we should not expect all teachers to reflect, share and develop in the same way either. But I’ve heard so many wonderful blogging teachers vouching for its effectiveness that I can’t help thinking they just can’t be wrong. Here’s to a year of discovery and learning, then 🙂