It seems somewhat solipsistic to write my first post about other blogs I’ve kept, but I suppose to some extent all blogs are exercises in solopsism, so here goes nothing….
My first blog was an attempt to set up an online teacher development group. I tried far too hard with all the wrong things (using particular applications, stipulating rules for participation) and not hard enough with the really important things (writing quality content, and often). I’m probably a little hard on myself there, it was a noble endeavour… and anyone interested can read more about it here. We did gather a truly diverse group of people, from all over the world, who then proceeded not to talk to each other.
What I did learn from that experience is that there are existing networks for that kind of thing. That groups form organically out of the discussion, rather than discussion forming out of artificially created groups.
My second blog is ongoing, and has been much more successful. At least, I judge it to be more successful by rather arbitrary means. This one is the blog I manage for my students, and through this blog I have learnt to relinquish control. The blog was set up originally to deliver media and content to university students, English majors, and to give them a collaboration space. Of course, it evolved pretty quickly once it became apparent that the students weren’t watching the videos, reading all the articles or listening to all the music I’d tracked down for them (at least, not as much or as many as I’d hoped). Although I’d never seen myself as a controlling teacher, I realised that it wouldn’t work unless it was the students’ own space. The long summer vacation was the ideal opportunity to test this out, and I set them the task of posting one item a week and commenting on two others over the break. The links flooded in, and the interaction in the comments was great to see.
There are a couple of niggling doubts, though.
Firstly, if the students are required to do something, how autonomous is it? I allowed total freedom of posting (which meant a lot of cute cat videos, cute boy band videos, and people falling over). But I still asked them to do it. I suppose we can differentiate between the autonomy of philosophy, and the autonomy of educational institutions. Theoretically, the learner can make an autonomous decision to refuse the teacher’s ideas or methods, but this may mean failure (to pass the course and/or to improve their English). For this reason, I didn’t make the blog a requirement, but if one doesn’t require students to attend self access centres or use VLE’s, how do you justify the expense and effort of creating and maintaining them? How to balance the the dream of autonomy with the reality of institutional education?
The other problem I don’t actually see as a problem, but some people might. That is, how much language do they learn? Probably very little, but I’d argue that not everything has to directly input, practice or test new language.
Again, you can read more of my thoughts on the student blogging here.
First post, I hope future posts will be a bit more focused!