Category Archives: blogging

A parting of the ways

Five Paces
Originally uploaded by Charlotte Augusta

I’m shutting up shop. My blog and I are parting ways. My primary intererest has shifted away from autonomous language-learning and teaching. I am still interested in teaching and learning, but not within the field of autonomy.

Rather than adapt the blog, I’ll leave it here (for posterity, ya know), and create a new one.

Before that, I’ll take the opportunity to put my thoughts in order, and summarize as briefly as possible why I originally started this blog, and where I am now and why I want to change directions. This will be an exercise in mental self-discipline, best illustrated by the quote:

I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time.

(I thought this was Mark Twain, but Wikipedia tells me it is by Blaise Pascal,

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte,

although Wikipedia adds (rather unhelpfully)

This quote has been also attributed to Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot, Cicero, and others besides.

One thing I’ve learned from blogging here: I’m a lone ranger. I don’t blog in order to create community. I know it’s not politically correct to say so, but I couldn’t care less about community, frankly, tho I do care about the individuals who’ve dropped by here and taken the trouble to leave a comment. Thank you. I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed the company.

I write, selfishly, primarily for myself, to marshal my thoughts, and gain insight into what I really mean. As E.M. Forster wrote, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?”

Making time

After tracking the amount of time I was spending online just reading posts in my Google Reader (even just scanning them), I decided to throw them all out, and give myself an extra hour per day. They’re fascinating, and most of them are still in my blogroll (sidebar). But I really need the extra time as classes start in 2 weeks’ time.

(Photo credit: mdpNY on Flickr

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.

Blogrolls and feeds

When I first started blogging, I used Bloglines as my aggregator, along with millions of other beginner bloggers.

About 6 months ago, after Google bought Blogger, I started using Google Reader, and found it so user-friendly I abandoned Bloglines in a fit of mid-life-crisis fickleness.

With Bloglines, I faithfully kept all my feeds, adding to them, but rarely culling any, tho I don’t think that has anything to do with Bloglines’ structure or format. With Google Reader, however, I soon found myself unsubscribing from feeds that bored me, that didn’t update frequently (in my case, less than twice a month), or that updated too frequently (like 10 or more per day).

My blogroll today is made up of quite different feeds from when I started 6 months ago or so. However, today I noticed one feed that’s still there, or that’s amongst the long-standing survivors.

Why has it survived?

  • the writer posts once every few days
  • the posts are fairly long, thoughtful and thought-provoking
  • the writer covers many topics, but the focus is pretty much singular
  • every now and then, the writer includes a blog entry on blogging and/or Internet tools, like a “top-ten pick of the month”
  • every blog post includes links to source blogs, articles and other online resources, which makes for a rich reading experience
  • the writer demonstrates intellectual honesty, modesty, fairness and a sense of humour
  • (tho I don’t think it’s a reason why I remain subscribed to this blogger, because other long-term survivors in my Google Reader include more commercially-toned blogs), the writer is not trumpeting his own service or product (tho he does plug his wife’s business, and also has GoogleAds).

(For the curious, the blog in question is Steve Olson’s blog.

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.

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.

Digital natives?

(Graphic by Wesley Fryer on Flickr.)

A lot has been written about youngsters these days as digital natives, i.e. people who grew up in digital environments, using digital devices, as opposed to “digital immigrants”, i.e. the older generation who grew up in a different age and have adopted these devices later in life. (Marc Prensky was, I think, the first to use this metaphor, see here).

So there I am in class, the old fuddy-duddy, surrounded by kids who weren’t even born when I came to this country, and I ask them to sign up for a Yahoo!Group. It takes them about 30 minutes to work their way through the sign-up page (they are all Japanese natives and the instructions are all in Japanese). Many are incensed that the cute ID they dreamt up is taken. It takes some of them a full 10 minutes to share their indignation with their neighbours: not only is their ID taken, but, man what a drag, that means they actually have to think up a new one! Can you believe it? I can hear some muttering “I’m fed up!” I’m starting to feel the same.

For the true-grit ones who make it through, the final page tells them an email has been sent to the email address they used to register with and that until they reply to that, the registration process isn’t quite complete (this is all written in the students’ native language). With this email open in front of them, what do I hear? “Teacher! Teacher!! Wadda we do now?”

(Sigh) “Why don’t you check your email. You might have received a new message.”

They check their email, not without effort. It’s obviously not something they do a lot (these students may be cell-phone natives, but not computer natives).

“Oh! I got an email!! Now wadda I do, teacher?”

(Me): “Errrm, well, I think the email tells you what to do.”

My bad. The email does tell them what to do, that is correct. The trouble is, that’s not the only thing it tells them. It also includes a bunch of potentially useful information, like the address to email messages to the group, etc. I tell one girl the instructions are in the email, then watch, slack-jawed, as she scrolls to the end of the message at top speed, saying “Where? Where?” Maybe she’s a very fast reader? It’s all a blur to me.

Digital natives. Yeah, right.

Update: I told my better half about this, and here’s what she had to say:

The students are not confident. Even if they read the message and the instructions, they’re not sure that they understood correctly. Rather than make a mistake, they want to be told exactly what to do. That way they are sure. They’re just not confident. What you should say is, “Follow the instructions in the email.”

Blogging about blogging – learn from a pro

Darren Rowse is a professional blogger. Here he writes about how he various blogs grew and why. Some useful tips and info, even for me who isn’t and does not (as yet) aspire to be a professional blogger.

Darren’s entry is short but sweet. Here are some sample:

What you do the day after you get on the front page of Digg is in
my opinion just as important (if not more) than what you did to get on
the front page itself…

it’s the most basic post I’ve ever written – however sometimes basic is what people are after…

Write for real people – after all, it’s not just the web 2.0 crowd who surf the web.