Category Archives: Using Blogs In Efl

What is Study-English-Online.Net?

Three Generations of Distance Learning Pedagogy

Three Generations of Distance Learning Pedagogy

1. Cognitive Behaviourism

2. Constructivism

3. Connectivism

Online Language Lessons – Idea Bank

It looks like more and more language teaching is being done on the web. Let me summarize what online language teachers have on offer, what they do or could do in theory.  I will list several examples from Curtis J. Bonk & Ke Zhang’s (2008) Empowering Online Learning, pp.  62-63.

Types of resources & activities for online language learners

  • online flashcards
  • electronic dictionaries, glossaries & corpora
  • webinars
  • videoconferencing
  • presentations / slide shows
  • simulations
  • webquests
  • mazes
  • grammar lessons
  • vocabulary lessons
  • voice games
  • word games
  • interactive speaking games
  • news portals
  • topic-specific websites
  • podcasts
  • videos
  • reading exercises
  • listening quizzes & exercises
  • collaborative writing tasks
  • digital storytelling
  • blogging
  • text & voice chat sessions
  • asynchronous discussions
  • pronunciation labs
  • progress reports
  • interactive quizzes
  • online conversation classes
  • placement tests
  • self-paced lessons
  • peer-to-peer practice conversations
  • expert mentoring, etc

What else is out there? Is there anything on the list you either have tried and liked or hated, or would like to try?

An Ideal E-Notebook

‘Spent the day contemplating Clarke’s e-note-taking advice.

Isn’t it amazing? They’ve got it all online but for proper note-taking tools.  I mean Moodle doesn’t have such a module or activity as a notebook. Nor does Blackboard Vista. Well, they do have blogs and notes sections, but they’re so-o badly designed that I do not want to comment.

What would one want to take notes for? According to Clarke (p. 25), there are 4 major reasons

to record the contents of a lecture, seminar or other learning activity so that you can later use the notes to help you revise (1.1) or aid your efforts in completing assignments (1.2)

to help you concentrate during a lecture. Undertaking an activity such as talking-notes during listening can assist you to focus on the content (2), while simply listening is often less effective.

to assist you to understand the content of the learning activity (3), since note-taking encourages you to analyse what you are hearing.

to convert the content of the learning activity into your own words. (4)

Ways of taking notes are also worth listing. You could write (Clarke, p. 26):

  • a comprehensive record of the content
  • an outline of the key points
  • a chart or a spidergram of the content
  • the references to other documents, sources and websites

Now where do we go from here? As it is necessary to take notes, we need a tool for that. If there is no such ready-made tool, we need to explore the affordances of the tools at our disposal for one of them might well serve the purpose.

Let’s see. I am using this blog to take notes and keep my thought organized. I should say it is efficient. But I do not need anyone to correct any mistakes I might have made. I would appreciate that, but that’s about it.

When it comes to language learning, the situation is more complex, because notebooks are frequently handed in for correction, and that means that blogs are not likely to make ideal e-notebooks unless both the teacher ans the student have equal access rights (A). Another thing is that you would not normally want to make your e-notebook publicly accessible if you were to hand it in for correction. There is a greater need for privacy (B).  In addition,  e-notebook entries need to be editable 24/7 (C) and should allow you to embed media (D) as well as add comments (E).  In terms of recording vocabulary, being able to insert a table (F) is critical.  The quality of notes depends on memory-boosting techniques that you use, such as tagging (G),  categorizing (H) and sorting (I) in addition to visuals. It is great to be able to sort your notes by alphabet, by date, by keyword or phrase, and some other criteria. Lastly, it never hurts to have a searchable (J) e-notebook.

Blogs tend to lack the sorting feature, but they allow you you to tag and categorize content.  Adding graphs and charts can also be a problem. I for one really like all sorts of spidergrams and flow-charts  –   they help me think. There is no technology out there that would allow that – none I would know of, at least.  The Moodle Glossary Module is a great notebook alternative, but it does not have a drawing toolbar, either. A possible workaround would be to combine regular and web-based  note-taking: whatever it is that’s easier to do the regular way such as drawing mindmaps can be done the usual way. Later,  you can scan and upload the respective pages for future reference attributing them to the right category and tagging them as you see fit.

At present I use both web-based and regular tools to take notes:

  • this blog (I might need one more  to blog in another language)
  • a private forum where I am all alone and happy and where I post all sorts of paragraphs and hyperlinks I encounter on the web – it functions as a kind of in-tray
  • I use the Moodle notes feature to make post-it notes – it is rather convenient, for I know which note goes with which course
  • I also have a size B5 160-sheet notebook where I scribble this and that when I am in an onsite lesson or teaching online
  • I also make use of traditional bright yellow post-it notes

That’s rather disorganized, eh? :)

E-Learning & Note-Taking

Alan Clarke (E-Learning Skills, 2004, p.  26) made my day today when I read this

E-learning does not provide an event at which you are required to take notes. All the content is presented in a form you could save as a file or print out. It would seem that you can capture everything. However, the danger is that, since you can save everything, there is no need to read the material or make any particular effort to understand the content. This can lead you into a false sense of security that you have a comprehensive record of everything and there is no need for you to do anything further.

A. Clarke has spotted and described the problem very well. Novice e-learners frequently have a lot of misconceptions as regards what they should or should not do, and note-taking  or rather their belief that saving files equals note-taking  is a topical one.  You have to take notes whatever your mode of study, you just have more tools at your disposal when you choose to take notes on the computer.

What you actually need to do is read the content and then analyse it. Word processors allow you to annotate electronic text that you have saved or highlight the key phrases using the bold, italic or highlight functions.

Hehe:) I guess my blog is an e-note-book in that sense. In addition to the formatting tools that Clarke suggests, I also use quotation marks and embed media when I deem that necessary.

Is Teaching & Learning PURELY WEB 2.0-wise a Must?

A nice basic summary (in somewhat broken Russian, but that is not an issue, the content offsets this minor drawback) with a lot of unstated assumptions, though. The basic supposition is that the learners MUST do everything online, and the question that is unanswered is WHY they have to do so. What is the main reason for doing whatever task entirely online either solo or on a team? Isn’t that because the teacher finds that convenient? What about the students? Another thing that bugs me about the status quo is that e-learners are always required to produce TEXT or TEXT/GRAPHICS for assessment purposes. Why not a voice recording? It would save loads of time, which is one of the primary aims of any instructional design. Requiring learners to type everything up, especially their discussions, is inefficient, unnatural and in many ways inconsiderate – when students are required to work in groups in a conventional classroom, one of the premises is that as a learner you can hear only your own groupmates while you are working towards the completion of the task, moreover, you do not jot everything down – you NOTE DOWN THE SALIENT POINTS, and get to LISTEN to summaries of what the other groups have arrived at. Quintessential summaries are available for those who want to reread something, too, but the main thing is that it is SYNCHRONOUS INTERACTIVE SPEAKING & LISTENING (which can be either F2F, regular phone or computer-mediated, or a combination thereof) that is the least time-consuming mode of knowledge sharing and building to date provided you have something to share. If you’ve got nothing to say it is an entirely different kettle of fish. Now what happens online is that you spend ages texting back and forth within your group, then you produce a written summary, and everyone gets to read it. The bottom line is the question why the general approach is that the e-learner is DEAF-MUTE? Isn’t that because the teaching community is either too slow to exercise lateral thinking, or technophobic, or wants to play safe (teachers opt for tools THEY are comfortable with, the learner has no choice apart from the usual “take it or leave it”), whereas the student population is new to the environment and thus does not know what options there are in general, and, as a result, accepts what is on offer (what other choice do you have really if you are required to text-blog-wiki in order to pass the online course you have signed up for)? To sum up, I am not advocating for the other extreme, I am just trying to say that
1. using WEB 2.0 tools for the sake of using them should not replace genuine teaching and learning
2. the e-learner should be advised on the available media, their possibilities and limitations in the light of the e-learner’s individual learning style
3. the e-tutor should receive training in multimodal instructional task design

What do EFL/ESL teachers tend to use blogs for?

Here is a quintessential summary of the ideas I have come across in my webquest.

ELT teachers tend to use blogs

  • to post links to interactive online quizzes for their students to do
  • to post links to reading matter & downloadable materials for their students to explore
  • to embed videos for their students to watch
  • to provide feedback after a F2F class
  • to pre-teach vocabulary by posting links to online dictionary entries
  • to publish their students’ work directly
  • to publish their students’ work indirectly by providing links to all the students’ own blogs
  • to initiate discussions by posting questions or texts and inviting comments
  • to let their students know what the homework is
  • to keep a record of the work done in class

There are also some other uses which primarily pertain to situations when the teacher’s target audience is not his/her own students.  If that is the case, ELT professionals use blogs

  • to post their random thoughts and observations to do with ELT
  • to describe their everyday life and/or leisure pursuits
  • to take notes when they google for teaching ideas
  • to publish their responses when they enrol in Web 2.0 teacher-training courses
  • to keep in touch with their colleagues, friends and family by linking to their blogs and/or allowing/inviting comments