Monday, 19 May 2014

Blogging in ELT

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Recapitulating, it’s clear that nowadays learners of all ages are every time more and more familiar with information technologies and they’re expected that to be more accessible no time. Internet has practically become our best friend, a friend that provides us with greater opportunities for interactivity, knowledge acquisition and control as users. Hence, English Language Teaching has benefitted from many tools that the web offers, for instance, Web 1.0 allowed schools and universities to facilitate information and learning material to any user who could access the web, even those geographically distant; and with the emergence of Web 2.0, a more interactive network to access information was born, one that allows users’ active participation in the built of new knowledge and experiences.

One of the most used platforms in language teaching has been the weblog, more commonly known as blog; a sort of online journal which users can create, design and continuously update. As a Web 2.0 tool, blogs utilize a simple interface, which makes it simple for their users to be part of all the process of its creation and maintenance, since no knowledge of programming or web-scripting is required.

This same blog was created rapidly and according to my taste: I chose the color, the format, the font and I myself in less than five minutes can add and modify its content. Moreover, I’m even using it as a journal of what I’ve learned in my course on ICT in the ELT classroom, and also to share my knowledge and experience acquired. I also have a list of blogs that connect me with other journals created by my peers. As learners, blogs help us share and discuss knowledge and information, which certainly increases learning performance.

There are many uses for blogs: as course syllabus, as professional websites, for free publishing and so on. But what about the benefits they can bring to English language learners? As teachers, what exactly can blogs do for our students? I’d like to number some of many possibilities, or the ones which I consider more significant:

a.     Stimulate students with further reading practice: blogging has proven to be very beneficial to encourage our learners to read in the target language, especially extensive reading, since the students are more motivated to do so in the online environment than they would be in the classroom.

b.     Provide students with hyperlinks to appropriate resources on the web: apart from materials selected to follow the course’s syllabus, the web gives us the facility to guide our students to various sites (or blogs) with extra material that can be useful for them to learn and practice their skills in the L2.

c.     Encourage shy students to participate: shy students tend to find it easier to socialize and communicate online rather than face-to-face, and under the protection of a screen they’re more likely to enjoy sharing their thoughts and participating in group work and projects than in a traditional classroom setting.

d.     Stimulate out-of-class discussion with their peers: apart from in-site discussion in the classroom, students can have an alternative space to share their opinions about various topics, as well as work on their language learning and help their peers in this process.

e.     Foster a sense of community among learners: by encouraging our students to explore their knowledge and exchange information, they’re more likely to feel part of a community rather than isolated learners.

f.        Promote learner-centred learning environment: the web becomes a learning environment that allows the students to learn at their own pace and also propose topics or materials of their and their partners’ interest.

g.     Encourage writing practice: blogs provide a real audience for the students’ writing, so they may be more aware of the importance of what and how they write than if they were writing for the teacher only. Also, they’re practicing this skill in a meaningful and authentic environment for them when they comment on posts.

h.      Fosters students’ creation of online journals of their written work: learners can keep their blog linked to a course as an electronic portfolio of their written work and keep track of their own development over time.

i.         Promote collaborative and project based learning: students can use blogs as part of a particular project, working in teams in order to get the best results and a meaningful outcome.

These are some of many reasons why teachers should be literate in the uses and possibilities of blogging and encourage their use among learners. Furthermore, there are three particular types of blogs for use in the ELT classroom, and their characteristics and advantages are summarized in the article  ‘Weblogs for use with ESL classes’ by Aaron Patric Campbell. In this article, the author gives some tips on how to put into use blogs in the ESL classroom and also mentions software available to do so.

This section of the British Council website devoted to blogging in ELT can also give you a few more tips on how to use this resource in the classroom, reasons to do so, how to manage the settings and even gives you some ideas for activities.

Finally, I recommend you to read ‘Using Blogs to Enhance Critical Reflection and Community of Practice’ by Shih-Hsien Yang as well. This article goes more in-depth in the benefits of using blogs in order to foster critical reflection and communities of practice based on the authors’ research using blogging in teacher training programmes.

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