Using Blogs in the Classroom

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have defined literacy as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.” They go on to say that “literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”
Since the inculcation of the internet into the common American academic experience—something that is still in its infant stages, according to Daniel Selber (re-imagining computer literacy, 470)—the meanings and implications of literacy have evolved. No longer are the basic skills of language acquisition and communication proficient enough on their own to constitute what might be called modern literacy.
Literacy in the modern world has grown to include not only the traditional skills of communication—reading, writing, listening, and speaking (Making it happen, pp. 23)—but new-media skills as well. Computer literacy and a “continuum of learning” are now espoused to re-shape global ideas of what it means to be literate.
Computers and the internet have had such a large impact on communication—both locally and globally— that proficiency in the skills required to use them is absolutely vital to the functionality of the user.
That new-media have reshaped communication in America is an unarguable fact. Commerce and communication are handled online by millions of people everyday. Computers, as a tool, have made their way into nearly every faucet of American life—from social networking, video-conferencing, data collection and interpretation, to everyday commerce, computers have become a standard tool for communication. Computers have found their way into the classroom as well. Many universities now require, at the least, basic computing skills as a requirement for admission.
I am currently interning for the University’s TOEFL and University Readiness Preparation course, here at C.S.U. Stanislaus. The course is intended to prepare students for the TOEFL (test of English as a foreign language), as well as for their experiences, both in and out of class, once they are admitted to the University. In short, it is our job, to make sure that these international students, who are a part of our program, are equipped with the literacy skills necessary for communication and navigation through their academic and personal lives here in America. To say that this is a big task is an understatement. To help with this goal, one of our interns has created a class blog website, which we use in conjunction with daily assignments and activities.
The blog is a wonderful tool for the classroom. It adds to the value of our student’s experiences, by giving them a common forum to discuss issues and participate in conversations. It acts as both a class unifier—creating a sense of community through online participation—and as a literacy tool.
The use of this “new-media” in our classroom has two very specific purposes. One, it allows us to get students to communicate ideas using their second-language, thereby improving upon their communication skills; but it also allows them to, almost unnoticeably, build upon their computer literacy skills as well.
Most of our students are at the University to begin work on their master’s degrees. It is our job to insure that they are ready to handle the demands of the American University classroom requirements. Many courses in the programs require a certain degree of computer literacy skills, either to participate in class blogs, or online discussions, or to simply navigate through the University’s Blackboard online class system. In short, without adequate computer literacy, our students would be very ill-prepared to take on the challenges of a modern university classroom.
The blog allows us to give our students training in both their language use and their computer literacy skills.
As I stated earlier, the class website is also useful as a community and a way to generate camaraderie amongst our students, many of whom may be missing home and feeling lonely. We can post pictures of ourselves and each other on the site, as well as write each other messages, share stories, and in general, document our classroom experience. They can then share this information with friends back home. In this way, our site can even be used as a kind of academic online journal, documenting their experiences so far here at the University. In this way, the blog serves as a social networking tool, even if that network is rather small, consisting of just students and teachers in a single class.
We also use the blog to spur in class discussions. We can find interesting content on the web and link it to the blog. We can then start a thread on a particular content, which generates online discussion. These discussions most often then find their way into our classroom. With ESL students it is important to get them speaking, listening, reading and writing. These are the four major natural learning stages of language acquisition (LSRW). Our blog allows us to incorporate all of these in a much easier fashion then we would be able to with classroom discussion alone.
Were our conversations limited to in-class discussions, we would have to demand that the students write a journal or response to a teacher prompt. This would raise the affective filter and contribute to student apprehension, which would then affect their writing and speaking. By allowing them to comment on web content, they are able to have discussions about things that actually interest them—more than say, a TOEFL prep text book prompt—like celebrity news, current events, etc. Also, the blog allows them to practice the four major skills of language acquisition. They have to read each other’s comments before they can respond, and when they do, they do so in writing. When we come to class and discuss the content, they get to listen to each other’s ideas about the content, and respond verbally to one another. The blog allows us to cover all four bases of the language acquisition process, without it feeling forced or contrived; something I’m sure our students appreciate.

1 comment for “Using Blogs in the Classroom

  1. mcalou
    October 22, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Excellent scouting report. your web site is amazing! I’m impressed! I like the connection for ESL learners. I was unsure how to incorporate strategies. Now I have a great example. I like Mariana’s comment about using “listening, speaking, writing, and reading.” Thank you.

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