Technology in blended learning: practical application and educational value12-Nov-2012
Blogs have been my professional and personal passion for three years now. Before that I had only been a passive blog visitor. Then all of a sudden the institution I work for announced an annual competition among the ESOL teachers, aiming at developing teaching materials and activities, which extend language learning outside the classroom.
As a result, I decided that for the purpose of blended learning, which had been a well established sector in my school, I should create a blog. It did not take long to put the idea in practice and in April 2011 the AVO-Bell blog was born. Here I would cite Oscar Wilde’s quote, “Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.” By creating a blog I wanted to give learners colleagues and myself the opportunity to know more, to be more and to do more.
The initial aim of the blog was to collect piles of news; short and longer stories, reviews, essays, reports, articles, emails and Power Point presentations – all of them written and designed by AVO-Bell students. In this way they would have the chance to share ideas, write comments, make suggestions and publish their recent posts under various categories.
In Chapter 9 of Blended Learning © Macmillan Publishers Limited 2007, it is said, “Using a blog can establish good practices of learner autonomy. Learners have to be proactive in accessing the information you have posted to the blog and following the links to online resources. It is also important to state this directly when you introduce the blog as part of the course.” I would like to add that blogs provide an ideal blended learning approach.
Personally I have focused on several ways of integrating the blog in the courses I teach, and the rationale behind the idea is:
• to communicate with learners outside lesson time
• learners can do extra work, so the blog extends the classroom experience
• to pre-teach important vocabulary or grammar structure and apply the principle of the engage-study-activate lesson type
• to provide learners with hi-tech feedback in the form of useful input
• to offer different links that can provoke an interactive element
• to address learners directly to an online dictionary, such as Google or Yahoo
• to create and use diagrams such as time lines to illustrate grammar points (by using Power Point or graphic-design software)
• to share feedback with my learners
Using a blog for feedback is practical, useful and saves time in class. I usually ask my students well in advance if they would agree to see their mistakes posted on the web. For the purpose of privacy only their initials are mentioned but I always mention the language level of the course they attend.
Another very important aspect of the blog is that learners are able to comment on the blog entries. This is a really inspiring way of communication for them, though in the menu they can read what the Advice section states:
These are some useful rules for all the students from AVO-Bell /and visitors/ who would like to post articles in the blog or contribute to it:
1. Please, write in English only! (parents are allowed to post comments in Bulgarian)
2. Use polite, appropriate for the needs of the blog language.
3. When you post your homework assignments or project articles, do not copy from the Internet.
4. The blog has an educational and cultural purpose, it reflects our thoughts and is a mirror of our feelings. Let’s learn English through blogging and friendship!
I would like to share with you that for a year and a half, since the blog was created, it has really become a place of educational and cultural experience. If you explore all the categories, plus Business English; My Virtual Classroom; Students’ Projects and TOEFL® sections from the menu, you will see a lot of texts developed by my students, followed by my comments. There are also Power Point presentations, podcasts and videos; some of them uploaded by me, most of them prepared and posted by learners.
I am especially satisfied with the TOEFL section. Not only has it helped and encouraged my students to put themselves in perspective and do their best to prepare for the exam, but it also boosted their energy when they had to develop essays or voice their answers to speaking tasks. At present my colleagues use the information from the section as a valuable source of information and it is one of the most visited folders. They even listen to the podcasts with their groups, and then give their evaluation. In this way I am able to check whether my own evaluation has been precise. Podcasts, on the other hand, can lead to wonderful class discussions and support pronunciation work.
Last but not least, let me mention in brief all the links, which I attached to my blog. For sure, they offer an element of interactivity and excitement. They can take learners straight to different sources of information; they provide them with chances to practice the language more, and to be flexible when choosing a website according to their needs.
Let me finish by saying that the blog I created became an educational tool that helped me to do my job and to achieve professional satisfaction, inspiration and recognition by my colleagues. Thanks to it I became the winner of The AVO-Bell Quality Awards Competition for 2011 and received the unique opportunity to attend a course in blended learning in the UK.
Please see below for more articles in the ‘Technology in blended learning…’ series: