Saturday, January 15, 2011

This is your class: this is your class on weblogs (p. 2)

Daring to enter
the blogosphere

This site is presented as part of a paper, presented at TESOL 2006, Tampa FL, USA, by Thomas Leverett, CESL, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, C'dale IL 62901-4518 USA. The resources and links relevant to this paper come from the main weblog of this presentation.

This is your class:
this is your class on weblogs (p. 2)

[Return to p. 1]

High-level writing classes: Portfolios and fun writing

For this high-level class, I try to separate out the serious writing and the fun writing. I ask them to put the serious stuff (the portfolio) on their own weblog. My reasoning is that if they want a more fun weblog they can always just start another one, or add fun stuff to their serious portfolio. Besides, and I tell them this frequently, I don't care what else you put on that weblog, as long as you put your academic papers on there, and they look good.

I now teach them to link all the references, double space between paragraphs, and identify the portfolio as being a set of papers for a writing class. I have them put their abstracts on the class weblogs and point them to their research papers, which are on their own weblogs; and (last challenge), point them to the particular post of their paper, rather than just to the weblog itself (about 1/4 get this far, but I could follow through better). Linking the reference is the hard part, because on the blogger/mac interface it requires learning some basic html; it is clear to me that many have never learned this, and sometimes look at me like I'm from outer space when I expect them to. When we first started out, we had undergraduate assistants to help us with that, but now the system works by itself, and students teach each other, much like they teach each other how to study for certain quizzes or how to use spell-check.

You can look at their portflolios and learn quite a bit about their relationships both to their perceived English-speaking world and the technology that they've become a part of. Again, some master the art of personal expression better than others. Here's one I like:

Awni has a history of taking pictures from other sites without proper identification, but it's partly because he was fluent in the technology long before he was fluent in the cultural norms of picture-sharing. And he definitely showed how he could link to teachers, friends, and home places!

Moon was unusual in that she continued to write after she returned home. This is relatively rare, but it shows the use of weblogs for more social purposes.

Mayumi Iguchi (Aug.-Oct. 2004) shows the development of portfolios; she was one of the first to learn how to present herself well. She was an early model for the others.

Daniel Rosa shows the white-on-black style: popular with students. He has also begun to use his weblog in his academic classes.

Luciana Mottola (Jan.-Mar. 2005), an ardent borrower of pictures.

Daniel Amato, Lehigh Univ. TESL program, 2004; a portfolio of an MA TESOL student. This portfolio was shared by Timothy Bonner on a tesl-l post.

In term 061 (Jan. - Mar. 2006) students did Wal-Mart as a social issue (stemming from a possible new SuperCenter between Carbondale and Murphysboro); we learned about health insurance, women's rights, Wal-Mart and unions, etc. The fifteen research papers linked (for the most part) from the abstracts in the class page reflect a variety of opinions, as they should, since I am not really interested in inflicting mine on them. I am in fact proud of the range, since I have demonstrated that they are comfortable enough to express their true feelings on the subject. As an interesting sidelight, we have what is probably a very thorough and objective picture of the issue, just by virtue of having such a range, and having linked to so many interesting sources. It's a collection of perspectives on the issue that is comprehensive in its own right.

In term 056 (Oct.-Dec. 2005) we did environmental problems of the New York City area. To see these portfolios, click on any of the names in the template under 055. You'll be surprised by how much material they each actually get up in their own weblogs...They write it on paper, I line-edit it, they go back and upload, then they look at the weblog and fix it. Sometimes I print the weblogs and show them the problem on paper. They aren't perfect. These portfolios are works in progress. Many also are putting their papers on the class weblog, in misunderstanding of the assignment- (formal papers on the portfolios, fun stuff on the class weblog)....I'm patient with this kind of error. It doesn't hurt us to have the weblog in a state of the end, it's better for the student to move stuff around, put it where it belongs, than for me to do it.

Here is an example of what I consider a model portfolio (for our program, considering what we do at the highest level). Angelica writes about the black market in endangered species. She links her references and puts spaces between paragraphs (I already know that the papers have been line-edited, though not always perfectly). She borrows a picture and gives credit to the photographer. She agreed to let me show her portfolio. Nice!

Showing the world

One of the scary things for the teacher is the fear that one is not teaching exactly what the standard "summary-response," "argumentative essay" is, let alone the "standard APA". This I would imagine would come back to haunt me if in fact I'm miles off; there is no doubt that there is disagreement in the field about what writing formats best prepare the student for academic work. I can't honestly say that the fear of having my students publish what I "believe" is correct made me any more diligent in tracking down what the standards are, out there, at this moment. I think that at some point you have to just take what you know and go with it. In our program we gave up assignments like "Cause-effect essay" and "compare-contrast essay" in favor of "summary-response" essays leading to a research paper. But what do I know about these, having been out of school for a while? I find myself saying to myself: "I've been teaching for many years...if my version isn't good enough for the world, that's their problem..." but I think it does make grow in you a greater curiosity...what's out there? How do my standards measure up? Am I teaching the right way? What do other writing portfolios look like? Is a "Summary-Response" different a few states over?

Even APA changes so rapidly as to be forcing us teachers to take a stand as to how certain references appear. As a line-editor, I should probably be more up on this. We are, after all, showing the world a lot of APA; we are even setting a standard, by pure volume alone, if nothing else. And later students are always looking at earlier ones to see how it was done... It should at least be close to right....

For example, we have this problem of what to do when there is no author listed...and when APA (apparently) says put the title first in the reference...but we also teach in-text citation, and have encountered many who advocate putting the organization of the author in the authro's slot there (makes citation easier)...I realize that whatever I teach, whatever I do, I'm putting it out on display. People could consider my students "untaught"...or worse, "improperly taught..." it's the chance I take. I'm not losing sleep over it. But I realize it's a major stumbling block for some. And, what you put up there, generally stays up there.

In the end, though, I like having them public, even when they are imperfect. They are a body of work; students have tried hard, succeeded at using the medium, and achieved academic expression. Why should they not be public?

Newstalk group projects The idea of these projects was to get students out talking to people in Carbondale about issues that were entirely local. One summer a violent deer was attacking people outside our building. Our students went to the web; read several articles; comapered notes; decided who they wanted to talk to; did interviews; came back and wrote up their experiences on a group weblog. These project weblogs still stand as very interesting compilations of work on a single subject. One, about Wal-Mart, was a forerunner of the research papers mentioned above. Another explored Carbondale Halloween violence. Still another was about smoking laws.

Students in general showed a little more creativity when they worked as groups. There is the problem of one student remaining as webmaster long after the others are gone; I don't know the answer to this.

After they're gone

Students are free to delete their entire blog the minute they leave. They very rarely do, though. It is also very rare that they actually use them for anything else once they're gone; they usually struggle with their academic classes and have very little time to do any "journalling"...but some do. Those that do are the ones that are fluent enough to do what they want, but still able to look back at their English program and see that this process is very interesting and accessible....


Elkins, J. (2000). Lawyer as Writer: Peter Elbow on Writing. Accessed 11-05.

Glogoff, S. (2005). Instructional blogging: Promoting interactivity, student-centered learning, and peer input. Innovate: journal of online education. Nova Southeastern University. Accessed 2-06.

Lowe, C. & Williams, T. (2004). Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the writing classroom. In L.J. Gurak, S. Antonijevic, L. Johnson, C. Ratliff, & J. Reyman (Eds.), Into the blogosphere: Rhetoric, community, and culture of weblogs. Accessed 2-06.

Nelson, M. W. (1991). At the Point of Need. Heinemann, available at NetStores USA.

O'Donnell, M. (2005) Blogging as pedagogic practice: artefact and ecology. Accessed 3-06.

Seimens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. elearnspace. Accessed 2-06.

This paper is part of a larger paper which is listed here:
Daring to enter the blogosphere - Homepage, Resources

This is your program: this is your program on weblogs - weblogs in an intensive English program

This is your class: this is your class on weblogs - weblogs in esl/efl classes

This is your brain: this is your brain on weblogs - weblogs and the individual teacher/academic

Weblogs in ESL/EFL - Bibliography

Ongoing weblog for this and other presentations

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