Issues with Weblogs in Language Learning

Language Learning – it’s one thing to know how to create and use a weblog, but entirely another to use it for language learning purposes. How can a teacher integrate the use of weblogs into classroom-based teaching practices?

Pedagogical Approach:

  • ‘student-centered’ versus ‘teacher-centered’ uses of weblogs
  • ‘open’ versus ‘closed’ uses of weblogs
  • moving toward self-direction and learner autonomy versus ‘weblogs as homework dumps’
  • David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle
  • Vygotsky and social constructivism

Choice of Software:

What makes a weblog different from other vehicles of online communication?
This is a very important question to consider before embarking down the road of blended learning, for the type of software chosen will influence strongly the patterns of communication amongst students and ultimately the type of learning that will take place. Listed below are some brief descriptions of various types of software teachers could use with their students.

  • Email: This is perfect text-based medium for private, one-on-one communication. It could be used for keypal exchanges, or teacher-student interaction.
  • Discussion Forums: These should be used for many-to-many communication, for messages are ordered in a structure, making it easy to keep track of numerous threads of discussion. Discussion forums are ideal for communities of learning where the group and its mission is emphasized over the needs of the individual. Privacy levels can vary. Yahoo! Groups is one example of a free and easy to use discussion forum with extra features, such as photo gallery, file repository, etc.
  • Learning Management System (LMS): Also called a CMS (Course Management System), an LMS is specifically designed to support educational or “schooling” activities. For this reason, their design often replicates the structure and practices of the educational institution: centralization, control, and content delivery. In addition to discussion forums, an LMS also offers features to support homework submission, testing, grading, tracking, etc. If you run a traditional classroom, you’ll love what an LMS can do for you. Blackboard and Moodle are two common examples.
  • Wikis: These are simply websites that anyone can come along and edit. They are ideal for the collaborative construction of a public document. If you want groups of students to create an online resource as part of their learning activities, then a wiki might be the way to go.
  • Weblogs: Unlike the discussion forum, weblogs emphasize individuals and their relation to a community centered around that individual’s interests. Weblogs are designed with personal Webpublishing in mind, allowing learners to express themselves in an individualized space and form connections with others based on what learners read and link to. They are, in a sense, vehicles for open, free-wheeling social networking.

Without understanding the differences between different forms of software, teachers run the risk of selcting an inappropriate one, forfeiting the potential that the chosen software affords. This is like selecting a hammer to put a screw in the wall. Yes, the screw will most likely go in, but it has lost the full extent of its functionality. Indeed, there are numerous examples on the internet of teachers using weblogs as vehicles for homework submission or classroom based discussion. Yes, it sort of works, but not nearly as well as a discussion forum or LMS would have. Using weblogs in this way, teachers inadvertantly destroy the unique potential that weblogs offer learners. Read more about Communication Dynamics and have a look at this powerpoint presentation.

Ethical Issues – it is imperative to consider ethical issues before embarking on a classroom blogging journey.

  • real names or anonymous ones?
  • how to deal with unwanted visitors
  • ownership and copyright
  • plagiarism
  • privacy and safety – see this site about blog safety.

Articles for Further Reading:

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