Thursday, January 13, 2011

Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration

Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration

The following was written in preparation for TESOL 2007 in Seattle: Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration. Demonstration, Writing IS, CC 3B, Sat. Mar. 24, 10:30-11:15. It follows my comments only roughly. -Thomas Leverett, CESL, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale IL USA 62901-4518.

This presentation:
[ Introduction, Reasons for using weblogs (here) ]
[ Ways to use weblogs, weblogging as a genre itself ]
[ Kinds of fluency ] [ Skills ]
[ Integration -into what exactly? ]
[ Weblogs happen: stuff happens on weblogs ]
[ Portfolios ] [ Portfolio showcase ]
[ New blogger, old mac: tech problems ]
[ Resources ]
[ Weblogs in esl/efl: bibliography ]


ESL/EFL practitioners use weblogs for a number of purposes, and have students use them for a number of reasons also. With over 70 million weblogs in the world already (Farber, 2007) ), any given class or group of weblogs may not by itself make a huge mark on the world of the media itself, but should better be seen in terms of its influence on its students, and the objectives of the particular class. Teachers considering using weblogs must consider its benefits to a given class, given its objectives, and weigh those against the time constraints of learning a new medium and of presenting and explaining the concept of weblogs to students, who may be reluctant to use them, or bring any range of computer skills into the classroom.

Our intensive English program has about 100 students, most presumably studying English in preparation for entering Southern Illinois University. We have both class weblogs and personal weblogs; every level has its own weblog, and individual classes are encouraged to start their own also. Since this has now been going on for several years, we have built up a community of weblogs, centered at our main student weblog; from here you can investigate a sampling of the writing done at most levels of our program. Use of the weblogs is not required; as a result, the work that does get published is not always representative of all the work done in the program, but nevertheless provides a sampling of what our classes do and write about. A history of weblogs in our program can be found in Leverett 2005 (below).

Weblogs have changed the media, and the world, in the last ten years (Farber, 2007). A good introductory explanation can be found in Leach (2006); a crash course in Wood (2002); an overview in some of my materials below. Most people today have some idea of what weblogs are and of how much work it would take to set one up and get students started on them. Teachers tend to wonder about the value of putting intermediate or low-level work in public view, being naturally protective of their students; they also tend to be careful of use of time, and aware that a situation heavy on instructions and practical considerations can be dragged out for long periods of time in lower-level classes. This presentation will hopefully alleviate some of these concerns.

This presentation is focused more narrowly on a particular use of weblogs. It defines weblogging itself as a kind of writing, about websites, that focuses on what students see on the web; students link to a site and talk about the topic or the site itself. The benefits of having students regularly focus on websites, narrow in on their interests, describe what they see in them and link to them are discussed. The practice is, in fact, very close to what a large community of webloggers do, so in itself it leads to a kind of integration into that community. But more generally, the practice leads to many kinds of fluency (and this itself is defined more widely), and a number of skills, which will also be laid out here.

Why weblogs work

I have expounded on these many times and in some cases at length; some arguments can be found in Leverett 2005 and Leverett 2006c, but are certainly not original with me. Reasons can in general be classified in several ways, but I choose to classify them in a certain way so that I can focus on other reasons later.

First, they are appealing to our students, partly because of their nature.
1. They are vibrant, personal, immediate, multidimensional, and appealing to the young;
2. They give students personal space to present their work to the public; students can and do fix up and personalize this space, and thus enjoy presenting their writing more.
3. Weblogs' recurring now-on-top nature and editing capabilities offer them a sense of control over their language and image management;
A second line of argument is that a real audience is good for writers and provides real feedback.
4. They offer students the ultimate audience: young, hip, no expectations, tolerant of diversity and grammatical errors, willing to interact and comment if so moved;
5. The pure size of the blogosphere offers some anonymity; it allows them to feel that they have joined a large group (70 million) of people expressing themselves in the wide-open electronic marketplace of ideas;
6. Our students' opinions have intrinsic value; having thought about an issue, and worked hard on the expression of their ideas, they deserve the benefit of seeing them influence the English-speaking world's discussion of issues, and can thus enjoy the fruits of their labor.
A third line looks at the new technology coming to dominate our students' lives, careers, and futures, and seeks to show that moving toward using weblogs will give them advantages in the future.
7. If more communication is done in the future through this medium, we should be using this medium in order to prepare our students' writing skills for adapting to the environments they will need in their futures;
8. Weblogs give students opportunities to learn technological skills that will be important to their futures;
Finally, some look at the writing class itself and notice that weblogs can be of special use with traditional aims of that class, most specifically, finding and dealing with online plagiarism, and getting students to read and interact with each other's work.
9. They give the writing teacher a fresh approach to the topic of plagiarism, higher stakes in the battle against it, and more tools with which to wage that battle;
10. They help a class establish a sense of community, such that members know each other better, and have more of a chance to learn more about each other, given the difficulty each experiences in absorbing information about anything in English, regardless of how interesting it is or how closely related to themselves it may be;
11. Work published earlier, by other students, provides useful role models, as well as the exercise of learning from previous work without copying it. Those earlier students are, in fact, the best role models for our students, having faced the same challenges, and succeeded in overcoming them.

This presentation hopes to establish that weblogs will help students with their writing in specific ways, related to fluency, skills, and integration:

12. Fluency is, in essence, ease of communication in a particular environment; writing in fact encompasses both ink-and-paper, and lab-printed products. Weblogs deal with a third: permanently published online material; this kind becomes increasingly important as time goes by.
13. Since fluency can be defined in terms of the environment and media being used to communicate, a wider definition of fluency than is normally accepted could state that for students' futures (see arguments 7 and 8), a certain ease with computers, specifically with keyboards, electronic file transfer, chat media, and similar environments, will unquestionably be essential in our students' future. Weblogs place students in a managable but distinct representative threshold of that environment, and provide a place where they can explore (with help, usually in a new language) this environment safely and with guidance.
14. The process of setting up a weblog, connecting it in various places, and functioning with it regularly develops a number of skills;
15. The crucial skills of evaluating websites and searching successfully for desired material can be taught directly and overtly;
16. The process of actively and regularly linking to what one is referring to develops a number of useful skills.
17. The comments provided for each post can turn a given weblog entry into a webpage itself, thus making a site that effectively revolves on the main point of the post, though nothing prevents commenters from going off on tangents. This in effect gives every opinion a venue, and provides every opinion a single vote in a democratic blogosphere; this is empowering to a struggling writer.
There are certainly more benefits, but this presentation hopes only to enlarge and expand on the latter ones.


Eslick, K. (2007, Jan.). Ultimate guide to using Technorati. Kyle's Cove. Accessed 2-07.

Farber, D. (2007, Feb. 25). Reflections on the first decade of blogging. zdnet.
http://blogs/ Accessed 3-07.

Leach, J. (2006). A teacher's guide to blogging. Advertisement feature, Guardian Unlimited.,16926,1682441,00. html. Accessed 3-07.

Leverett, T. (2006a, Aug.). This is your class on weblogs. Teaching English with Technology 6, 3. IATEFL Poland Computer SIG Publication. Accessed 3-07.

Leverett, T. (2006b, Aug.). Three ways to integrate weblogging into your writing classes. Teaching English with Technology 6, 3. IATEFL Poland Computer SIG Publication.

Leverett, T. (2006c). Daring to enter the blogosphere. Includes This is your program: This is your program on weblogs; This is your class: This is your class on weblogs; and This is your brain: This is your brain on weblogs. Prog. Admin. IS, Paper, TESOL Convention, Tampa, FL, Mar.

Leverett, T. (2005). One teacher's perspective on weblogs in a curriculum, from Leverett & Montgomerie, Teaching teachers to use and teach with weblogs, Internet Fair, CALL-IS, TESOL 2005, San Antonio, March.

Technorati (2006).

Wood, D. (2002). Creating your online story using weblogs, Univ. of So. Australia, Accessed 3-07.

[ CESL ][cesl students' weblogs ][ cesl teachers' weblog ][ Tom Leverett's weblog ][ This is your brain: this is your brain on weblogs ]

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