Wednesday, August 06, 2003

CASE STUDY #2

Barbara Dieu has a class weblog running with her students : It is a new space for the students to 'post messages and exchange ideas'. She also has links to the individual student weblogs, which were started earlier and which some of the students (see lou2712 and franbati) have certainly taken to with enthusiasm.

She recently e-mailed me about the experience:


I teach EFL at the Franco-Brazilian school in Sao Paulo, Brazil and have also started using weblogs with my high school students. The aim of our blogging until now has been:

- to experiment how it works in class, what the problems are and how the students manage it in an academic context with rubrics.
- to make them write "freely" about something that they were exposed to and put their vocabulary to practice (something that I know about: what we did in class and something I do not necessarily know: their exposure to English outside the classroom) and have this feedback to do some action research myself
- give them an opportunity to express themselves as they want, choose links, layout, etc to illustrate their space
- make them feel their remarks and what they feel about the class is important for me
- train them to reflect
- make them more aware of what is expected from them (rubrics and writing)

Most of these students at this level have had an average of 4 1/2 years of EFL at school (3 hours a week), some a bit more and some a bit less. We stopped writing end of June as here in Brazil we have a month holiday in July but we intend to go back to it this month.

You can view the rubrics at: http://members.tripod.com/the_english_dept/critblog2.htm

Now in the second semester, I am planning to have an interactive blog with the class and whoever wants to contribute on different themes at: http://www.beeonline.blogspot.com

I consider the experiment was somewhat successful for a first time (70% of the students adhered to it for 3 months at various levels of competency; about 20 % recorded their ideas but lagged behind for various reasons (lack of a steady computer connection, expensive dial up connection, forgot to
post) and 10% did not do much or nothing at all).



My comments: Barbara's experience is another example of a successful weblog project. Although the response from some students was less than enthusiastic, this is to be expected, for the reasons that she mentions, and a variety of motivation and response is something that we see all the time in the classroom.

I like Barbara's evaluation criteria , which is useful (if not essential) if the weblogs are to be evaluated as part of a class mark.

Let's examine her class weblog in more detail:

A. GENERAL: Barbara's class blog uses blogger software and she has presumably added her students as contributors and also added links to their personal pages on the side-bar. It looks like the reaction to the blog has been positive. I think Barbara has the idea to use this weblog as an extra-curricular stimulus, a space where she can direct students to interesting sites in English, and although it has not been running for long, you can see that the students in general have taken to it well.

B. APPEARANCE: 'Bee's Online' is a colourful, simple format with the emphasis on what the students' write. There are few links apart from those to the students pages, and to the English Department. I think it is a format which reflects the purpose of the blog well, without distractions. The individual student pages show a variety of personal styles - it is obvious that these students have had a lot of fun playing with the design of their blogs, which is important: if the students are approaching the weblog project as a fun activity, then they will be far more inclined to write.

C. TITLE BAR AND DESCRIPTION: The title is 'Bee's Online' and the description : A Meeting Place for Students to Share Opinions and Discuss is straightforward and engaging.

D. CONTENT: 1. Barbara started to engage the students into discussion by adding some links to sites about the latest Matrix Reloaded film. A weblog offers a good opportunity to engage students' interests, and follow up with class discussion, which I think was Barbara's idea. It seems to have worked in this instance, as lots of the students posted replies.

2. Some students have also used this blog to tell everyone that they have made changes in their own personal blogs. In this way, the class blog acts like an electronic noticeboard for the classroom community.

3. It was interesting to read this student's entry : "hello teacher, what's up??? I am sorry, but I haven´t understood the objective of this blogger!!??... So could you please explain it tomorrow ?? " - It shows the willingness of the student to communicate his misunderstanding in the weblog itself, asking for help, and probably also displays a desire on behalf of the student to take part, but not knowing how to start. Barbara follows up the student's question with a succinct reply, detailing the objectives behind the weblog, and encouraging him with a question related to the current subject.

E. CONCLUSION: I think it's a good idea to use the class blog space as a free-form forum for discussing different subjects, perhaps related to themes in class or what is happening in the world that students are currently interested in. Barbara has also added her own comments when necessary, but seems to prefer to leave the entries to the students - in this way it really seems like it is their space. I should also add that her class seems like a a really nice group of students, who I am sure are a pleasure to teach

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