Category Archives: blogging with students

Blogging with students (4)

Because the task I described at the end of my previous post, proved a little too challenging for my students, I re-cast it (see below). I’m trying to lead them to an understanding of web 2.0

What is good blogging?

  1. Visit this blog, then this one. Which is better (more interesting, more useful) do you think? Why is it better?
  2. Now visit this blog, then this one. Which is better do you think? Why is it better?
  3. Now visit this blog, then this one. Which is better do you think? Why?
  4. Now go back to the blog you chose in question 1. Write the answers to these questions on your blog.
    1. Who is the blog author?
    2. What is his/her name?
    3. Which country and town do they live in?
    4. Do you want to write a comment on their blog?
    5. Why (or why not) write a comment?
    6. Is it easy to write a comment?
    7. If you write a comment, can the blog author reply to your comment?
    8. Can the blog author contact you?
    9. How?

I followed this up with a quick look at the BBC websites which invite readers to post their photos and videos.

Here are some news photos for you to see from the BBC: 1, 2, 3.
Who took these pictures?
The BBC lets readers send in their photos (see here). What do you think about this idea?

I feel like I’m re-inventing the wheel here. Thousands of people have probably already put together a list of instructions and tasks for EFL students beginning blogging, and they’re no doubt all much better than my attempt. But I couldn’t find any suitable ones in an hour’s worth of Googling. If you know some, or want to collaborate, please drop me a line.

(Credit: a very warm thanks to Aaron and Sean for lending me their students’ blogs.)

Blogging with students (3)

I then set them the following task:

Look again at my blog entry British Sports News. Then answer the questions below on your blog.

  1. Good blogging is NOT:
    1. a diary: Dear Blog, Today I got up at 6.30. I had
      a cup of coffee for breakfast. I brushed my teeth. I went to work by train. Then
      I came home. I had dinner and went to bed at 11 pm.
      This is not a good blog. Why not? (Discuss with your classmates and write your answer on your blog).
    2. Today, I visited this website. It was interesting. Then I visited that website. It was interesting, too. This is not a good blog. Why not? (Discuss with your classmates and write your answer on your
    3. Today, I found this news article. Please read it:

      Police have confirmed they are now investigating the discovery of two car bombs in the West End of London. Police said the second device was found in a Mercedes hours after the car had been given a parking ticket in Cockspur Street and towed to Park Lane.Another Mercedes, with a bomb made up of 60 litres of petrol, gas cylinders and nails, had been found outside a nightclub in Haymarket at 0130 BST.Both devices were similar, viable and clearly linked, police said.At a news conference on Friday evening, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, said the discovery of the second device was “obviously troubling”.“There was a considerable amount of fuel and gas canisters, as in the first vehicle. There was also a substantial quantity of nails,” he said.

      This is not a good blog. Why not? (Discuss with your classmates and write your answer on your blog).

Woah! This was hard, this required thinking!

Blogging with students (2)

This post follows my previous entry on Blogging with students.

Today I had another session with the one class I teach this year where we are using the Internet as an integral part of the class. Yesterday, I wrote a model blog entry in order to

  • encourage them to write in English
  • show them what I expect in a blog entry

Because part of this course is reading news articles in English, vocabulary-building is obviously key. Having attended a workshop given by the creators of Lexxica last year, I signed up for an account, created a group for my students and today had them take the Lexxica vocab assessment test, V-check. It is really quite impressive. I also invited them to play with the games and flashcards and to write a brief response on their blogs.

Apart from the course title, I have been given no directives, guidance or objectives for this course, which will not surprise those who read an earlier blog entry on instructional objectives and university EFL classes (in Japan). So I have to make my own.

Although it’s a little late (almost at the end of the first semester!), better late than never, eh? I’m making my own list, but I thought I would ask the students what they expected from the course. This isn’t as dumb as it sounds (really!). (If you agree this isn’t dumb, skip to the next blog entry).

Over 10 years ago, when I first started writing course descriptions (because there weren’t any), it was because I was interviewing English native-speakers for part-time positions and they kept embarrassing me by rudely asking “where’s the course description?” Imagine! I approached my Japanese colleagues about this, first to check that there weren’t any, second, to obtain guidance and third to see if the department could show consistency and fairness by creating course descriptions for all the department courses, not just those taught by English native-speakers (the furriners).

Guess what I found out, boys and girls? Oh, Japanese teachers don’t need course descriptions; they already know what to teach. How? From the course title.

So if it’s called “Eigo Hyougen” (English Expression), for instance, everyone knows that it’s a writing-in-English class to be taught mainly in Japanese and asking students to translate discrete, context-less items from Japanese into English. Got it? How come you didn’t know that? The joys of living in a high-context culture.

So you see, as participants since birth in this high-context culture, my students are likely to have a much better idea of what this class is than I do.

Asking them is also a smart move because, even if they don’t know, in this culture it seems that often the standard is what people expect; therefore, if I first find out what my students expect from this class, and follow that, I probably won’t go far wrong.

(An example: if a course has a title written in Roman script, and is taught by someone with a non-Japanese name, then it’s probably “Eikaiwa” (English conversation), regardless of what the course description says. I recently heard of the case where a university year-book was being produced and photos and short profiles were being prepared for all the teaching staff, of which there were quite a few non-Japanese, some of whom taught Engineering, some of whom taught English. Regardless, all the furriners had the caption “English instructor” pasted under their photo. They’re furrners, right? What the hell else they going to teach?!? What planet are you from?!?!)

Blogging with students

This post follows on from my post Assessing student blogs.

I created a blog entry and asked students to write their own blog entry using mine as a model. Here’s my model below. Any comments or suggestions as a model blog post are of course welcome. There are 6 points about this blog entry I pointed out to students:

  1. The topic
  2. The title, where I found it and a link to the original article.
  3. Flesh out some detail of the topic – the “what?”
  4. and of the people referred to in it – the “who?” – with links to resource websites (in this case Wikipedia in English and Japanese) so that readers who are unfamiliar with the names or references can find out more about them.
  5. Two key points of the article.
  6. A personal comment, in this case implying why I selected this article.

My blog today is about sport. It is about tennis.

I found this news article on the BBC website. The title is “Sharapova and Mauresmo go through”.

It is about the Wimbledon tennis championship, which is taking place now. Wimbledon (in Japanese here) is a suburb of London, and it is famous for the Wimbledon tennis championship (in Japanese here) which takes place there every year in June.

This article is about the Russian tennis player Sharapova (in Japanese here).

The article says that Sharapova beat the French player Severine Bremond 6-0 6-3, so she is still in the championship. Her next game will be against the Japanese player Ai Sugiyama.

I like tennis. I used to play when I was younger. I used to watch
Wimbledon on television every year.

Assessing student blogs

Searching for help with assessing student blogs took a long time. I first found Aaron’s summary on Dekita of Jill Walker’s list of what works and what does not.

In only one class at the moment am I using blogs. I’m having students write in their own blogs about news articles they find on the web. It has taken 2-3 months for students to get used to blogging and searching on the Internet, using their Bloglines aggregators to keep track of what their classmates are writing, etc. So I have not paid much attention to the actual content of what they have been writing.

Until now.

The class is about reading news items in English. It is not a writing class, and anyway I am not prepared to spend the hours trying to decipher and correcting their English. Students write in Japanese.

It is clear from reading just a random sample of students’ blogs that they do not have a clear idea of what to write. I ask them only for their summary of the news item and any comments they may have, such as why they chose this item, what they feel its import is.

Can you guess what they write? “I found this news article. It was interesting,” and variations.

Erm, I feel I should do something about this. What?

Giving students specific instructions has been working for me recently, both in terms of having students do sufficient work of a satisfactory standard, and in terms of cutting down on prep and post-prep time. So what kind of instructions should I give them?

I thought I recalled seeing something that might be suitable on Will Richardson’s blog, but, while I found some interesting things (who could not?), I didn’t find what I was looking for.

On Will’s blog, I found a link to Konrad Glogowski’s Blog of Proximal Development, which was one of the first to be in my aggregator, but which I stopped following a while back. In his post Making Assessment Personally Relevant I found two graphics that Konrad has used with this students to evaluate and help them self-evaluate their blogging work. I found both very useful: the Individual Progress Report and the self-assessment sheet.

Thanks, Konrad, for making these available. His post also gave me the idea of having students work on a long-term project, rather than looking anew for fresh news items each week.

I might also make a template for students to use when writing: probably a simple lsit of questions. This might also allow them to write (simpel) responses in English: they would just be answering the questions.

How aggregate displays change user behavior

Here’s something that I thought might have valuable implications for teaching, particularly teaching using web2.0 tools (and particularly after reading Dan’s post about being engaging).

Aggregate displays are everywhere, from the book ratings at to the most-emailed articles at the New York Times to the number of diggs at They’re a primary element of social design. They not only let people know how their actions relate to others, but they also alter the behavior of those who view them.

In other words, it was found that posting the ratings or download figures alongside the songs, influenced people in their choice of song rating or download.

Well, duh! you might say (or you might say bandwagon effect). Still, when I read this, I started thinking of possible ways to use the info to persuade students to make more use of their blogs or other social software/web2.0 tools that I’m waving in front of them (that’s a figure of speech). Haven’t worked out the details yet. I’m thinking, not of trying to sell music to students, but of possibly posting the visit counter numbers of my students’ blogs, or perhaps the “highest number of hits this week” kind of popularity contest. To make things more fun.

Anyone already using this kind of info with students?

(The original article, by sociology professor Duncan Watts of Columbia Uni, is over here: despite the title, the article is not about Justin Timberlake, in fact he’s not even mentioned. Go figure.) And the experiment’s website is here.

The article also refers to another article which examines the Columbia experiment, and comes to a more cycnical conclusion. Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0 writes:

All of a sudden it’s crystal clear what Web 2.0 really is — the greatest platform ever for harnessing randomly imitative social behavior. Before Web 2.0, achieving utterly arbitrary results took time and effort. Now, with platforms like Digg, we can get nowhere in a fraction of the time it used to take.

WOW — I am humbled and awestru by the power of technology, and the power of randomly socialized human beings to snuff out each others’ critical faculties and personal tastes.

This reminds me of another article I read about Andrew Keen, bemoaning the “cacophony” the internet has spawned. That article (you’ll need to register with the Guardian to read it) and Scott Karp’s article are missing something: web2.0 is not a project designed to produce great art or great writing necessarily, but to break the idea that only a few elites can (and should) decide for the rest of us what we should read, listen to, watch and think; that a few should decide what is valuable and what is not. Of course there is a lot of dross out there, but there is also some excellent stuff, that would not exist if we had to wait for some “expert” to find it and tell us about it.

Update: I see , has a similar view.

Blogging with students (2)

Steve Herder asks a couple of questions:

Q1) How much L1 vs. L2 you use when getting the students set up to this point?
A1) I have used almost entirely L1 (theirs! not mine), throwing in some English words which I think would be useful to know (create, account, register, login, logout, URL, password, user name, ID, firewall, subject, body, upload, download, address, dashboard, post (noun and verb), entry, comment). This setting up is already taking much longer than I had anticipated. I want this over and done with as soon as possible, yet I don’t want to rush it and have most students only half-understand, or not properly signed up.

Q2) Do you feel they are working with you during this process or are they somewhat resisting?
A2) “They” are not one entity but 27 or so individuals, so I can’t answer for all of them. Most seem willing, as they are learning something new and I’m there to help out on the spot with problems. A few are slow and I think this is simply due to their inexperience and inexpertise using computers. During the last session, 1 student asked me how to change the colour and design and several students listened and then went quickly to their own “templates” and tried it out. This was satisfying: they are starting to take the ball and run with it, not just follow directions.

I’m assuming students see the blogs and the Y!Group as simply a class requirement, like having a quiz every week. I’m hoping that, through using these tools, they will eventually realize the independence that is being offered them, both by me and by the tools themselves. The discovery of how to change the look of their blog was one such realization, albeit a small one. It’s not just how to change your blog’s appearance, it’s that the teacher hasn’t mandated a particular look and the student is free to make any changes they like.

I’m also assuming it will take a while for this to sink in.

Blogging with students

It is taking a lot longer than I had anticipated setting students up with the software and accounts I want to use in class. Students are simply not accustomed to blogging, creating accounts, creating profiles, the difference (in privacy and exposure) between a subscription-only Yahoo!Group and a completely public blog.

Last week, it took 90 minutes to get (most of) the students set up with a Yahoo!Group membership and their own blog (and hence Google account).

Yesterday’s class objectives were
a) to post something on their own blog (have they remembered their Google ID? Their password?)

b) to create a Bloglines account (I considered using Google Reader, as they all have a Google account already, but I could not find a way to do it on the Google Japan page. I was in a hurry and not in the best condition, as I have since found how to do it.),

then c) add their classmates’ blogs to their bloglines reader.

then d) visit their classmates’ blogs (or read them in Bloglines) and leave a commment on at least 1 of them.

I also wanted to show them a video about RSS and one about online safety,
but we ran out of time, and only did a), b) and part of c).

I plan to use the blogs for sharing news stories and comments on those news stories; the Yahoo!Groups will be for sharing reflections and comments on the class itself, including problems and difficulties. I hope to have students who’ve discovered through their mistakes, for instance, what to do when you’ve forgotten your password, or how to find your blog when you’ve forgotten the URL, write help files (hopefully flash movies, but that’s asking too much at first) which we’ll store in Yahoo!Group’s “files” section.

I’m hoping that the existence and use of the Yahoo!Group will
a) help them see how their blogs could be used in a similar way to share information with their community/class,
b) prompt them to learn from each other, rather than just from the instructor; and hopefully to see how the technology makes learning from each other simple, quick and preferable to an environment where the instructor is the source of knowledge (certainly of the knowledge that matters).

Yahoo groups (2)

Yesterday brought up 2 other issues to consider when using Yahoo!Groups in class: firewalls and web-access.

Everyone signed up (or I signed them up) ok. They got their welcome message from Yahoo!Groups and the one from me. But nothing after that. Messages they send to the group get stopped by the firewall. Everyone got a message titled (in English) Barracuda Spam Firewall, but the content was all garbage characters, completely illegible.

I asked about this today and was told that students need to add the yahoo group to their white list. How do they do that? “They’ll get a message from Barracuda. The instructions are all in there.”
“Erm, I think they already got that message.”

The other issue is web-access to the group’s messages. To ensure maximum privacy, I had switched this option off when creating the group. Now that no-one in the group was getting each other’s messages, at least until we learned how to add the group to our white list, perhaps we could at least read the messages via the web. Perusing the group settings, I couldn’t find a way to change this setting (this in Yahoo!Japan).

I also, belatedly, realized that signing students up directly means students do not get a Yahoo!Japan ID (unless they happen to have one already). If they had one, they could sign in to the group and read and send messages that way.

Yahoo groups: things to bear in mind

Last year I used Moodle as a repository for class-related materials and files, and for communication with students including their feedback on what we were doing.

There were numerous, mostly trivial, problems, mostly technical. But the biggest problem was the large amount of time it took to manage. I have therefore decided not to use Moodle this year. I would, however, like to hear students’ feedback on what we are doing, as well as encourage them to reflect on their learning and to share those reflections with their classmates.

So I’ve decided to use Yahoo!Groups. This forum includes a “briefcase” where files can be uploaded and stored, so that covers most of the Moodle functions that I used last year.

I’ve already written about one difficulty
with Yahoo!Groups, altho it’s not Yahoo!Groups’ fault.

Here are some other problems and things to bear in mind. This list will help me better prepare next time, and might be of interest to others thinking of using this platform:

1) When creating the group, you can decide whether the messages and the members are readable on the web. I chose “no” for both options, as I wanted the maximum privacy. I’m glad I chose this (see #4) below).

2) Is it required? After assigning 1 class to sign up as their homework, I checked the membership to find no-one had done so. Thinking this was because of not being sure what to do, in the next class I told them to tell me their email address and I would sign them up. To which 1 student asked “Is it compulsory, then?” In this particular class, I’m not in a position to make it compulsory (it’s not written in the syllabus). This is something I had not made clear from the beginning. I had to revise my position.

3) Signing up: There are 2 ways to get students signed up: a) if you know their email addresses, you just type those in directly. Students get sent an email asking them to confirm that they wish to join. They still have to click the link or reply to the confirmation email to complete the registration process. This way is by far the easiest, as you know that all the students who respond to the invitation email must be students in your class. AND you know their names (i.e. you can match a name to the email address, see b) below).

b) if you don’t know their email addresses, you give the students the email address or the website to visit to sign up. They sign up, but 99% of them won’t think to add their name. In order to ensure the privacy of the group (I typed up the instructions for joining on a handout and passed it out in class), I now have to send an email to everyone who has applied to join asking them their name before approving their application (in order to be sure they actually are students in my class). Amongst this lot there are (always) a few who have typed in an erroneous email address.

4) After they are signed up, the first assignment is to introduce yourself to the group. I’ve just read the first half-dozen intros from one class: without exception they all have written their precise date of birth and their blood-type. This is a private group (as I mentioned in #1 above), but still, what’s to stop a less than scrupulous, web-savvy student from using this info to google another student, or even guess their password? Many people in Japan, to judge by the warnings posted on ATM machines, use their date of birth as their password (in fact, until this year, our computer centre assigned students their date of birth as their initial, temporary, password for logging in to the uni LAN; students were told to change this as soon as possible, but many did not).

I’ll probably be posting more about my and my students’ use of Yahoo!Groups this semester.