Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Beginning

So, yesterday I started a student blog experiment with the first posting you can see below. I have been interested in the possibilities of using weblogs with EFL students for a while, but I hadn't really the right class or conditions up until now.

This class seems ideal. They are a higher level class of students studying a summer intensive course (four hours a day, two teachers) at upper-intermediate/advanced level.
The students have 2.5 or 4 hours class a day, the first two hours with another teacher and then the remaining time with me. Because half of them are doing a 90-hour course, and the other a 60-hour course, I have the whole group of fourteen for just half-an-hour. Then the 60-hour students go and çI am left with the 90-hour ones.

I have a computer room booked every day to use during the first half-hour slot, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity to use weblogs. The difficult question was (and is) how to do it.

Why Weblogs? The main reason why I am interested in weblogs is the idea of it providing a reason for writing. More often than not, students are asked to write compositions which are only ever read by the teacher, and most of the time seem artificial. The idea of them writing in a weblog means that they have a valid reason and a potential audience. If nothing else, what they write can be viewed by other students at the school, parents, students at other schools, etc.

How to start? I started yesterday by introducing the students to the concept through examples and the excellent introductory article in The Guardian Then I asked them to go to and start up a new account. Unfortunately, they did not have enough time to do all this, and the accounts were unable to be finalised. I had run through the process previously at home, and was happy that an account could be set up in less than ten minutes, but in practice, the students took much longer over each stage, and the school computers were also slower, and occasionally unreliable when displaying pages.

So, the first day was not a great success, as the students work was lost, and they didn't even have their blogs up and running! That was yesterday.
My initial reaction was to give up the idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I was disappointed that we hadn't even been able to give it a proper trial. Then, later, I came across a forum on the British Council's Search English site asking for teachers views and experience of using weblogs with students. That did it. I was going to give it another go, but this time I would do it differently.

So, I set up seven accounts at strong>blogger.comeach with different user names and similar titles. Thinking about this now, I think it's a better idea, because I retain ownership of (and control access to) the pages, and can even edit the entries if the students post anything which might be offensive or undesireable. Call me a censor if you wish, but this is the first time I have tried to do this, so retaining an element of control is probably a good thing.

I have also decided to make the activity more controlled - I am going to give them a set of questions about themselves, and ask them to post answers to them in the form of short paragraphs, with the idea of providing an explanation to people who might come across the pages who are from different cultures and different areas of the world. I think this is probably a better idea than giving the students a free choice at first, because I am sure that some (although not all) will simply look blankly at the screen. Well, that is what I am going to try today.

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