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To blog or not to blog

Inés G. Sal
Jefa del Departamento de Inglés – EOI ELX

20000 blogs a dayIn this article I will relate my personal experience as a blogfesora and I hope I can entice some of you to join the blogosphere.

The term blog is a contraction of web log, a sort of diary or record of thoughts, that you put on the Internet for others to read. The first recorded blogs date from 1999 and since then the original idea hasn’t stopped growing: the blog search engine Technorati http://technorati.com/ estimates that there are over 100 million worldwide – from personal to political to vlog or video blogs, phlog or photo blog and finally to our field, the EFL teaching world, and in particular the EOI microcosm. Even the British Library is now starting to collect them!

Our environment has the ideal growth conditions for blogs. Most of our students are highly motivated, computer literate adults who appreciate the furthering of their learning outside the classroom limits.

My background in education is mainly British where I taught for 13 years at the University of Brighton and in comprehensive schools and Sixth Form Colleges teaching ELE. In the UK, technology is very present in education and I had the chance to pioneer interactive technology such as interactive whiteboards, computerised language labs, and hot potatoes software etc. I arrived in the Comunidad Valenciana 5 years ago and became an EOI teacher in 2007.

BlogsIn 2009, I came across some very interesting examples of EOI blogs in the EOI Valencia, maintained by a veteran award-winning blogfesora Marisa de Dios.

Her experience was so positive that this academic year I decided to take the plunge and start one.

As I was teaching two Yr 1 Advanced Level groups, I thought it was sensible to aim at that level.  Three of us teach that level across the school, so I managed to convince my two colleagues to join in the effort and we began a blog in Wordpress http://wordpress.com/ available both in English and Spanish. The instructions are really straightforward and although it took us a long time to choose a theme (layout) out of the 86 different possibilities, we finally settled for one and then, in haste, we chose a rather serious name http://yourenglishlessons.wordpress.com/.

The whole process is quite intuitive, there are tutorials, and there is support available from the Wordpress team. It is best to look at plenty of other blogs beforehand, then weigh the pros and cons of your favourite ones before you make a decision.

My advice for you is to think of a jazzy name beforehand, as when you have to make a fast decision the Muses go AWOL. Having a colleague to share the blog with is a fantastic idea as maintaining a blog does mean a lot of extra work on top of your normal work load: well worth it though, however time-consuming.

I really like collaborative work as I feel three brains together not only support but complement each other. Sara Vergel had two Yr 1 Advanced Level groups just like me: we co-edit the blog and Encarni Miñarro, with one group and many other management commitments, takes more of an advisory role and provides us with some great material and encouragement along the way. It would have been no doubt, a much poorer experience without the team work.

I ran a questionnaire with some questions on whether the students had much experience with blogs. Did they maintain one themselves? Did they read them? Were they accustomed to learning English online? This helped to get their backgrounds, and also helped for research purposes as part of my doctoral thesis. As expected, many had heard of them but fewer had hands-on experience. At the end of the year they will complete another questionnaire to record their blogging experience.

WordleWe learnt a lot this year and it has been very rewarding in many ways. But the best compliment has come in the number of hits our blog receives daily: as an editor you can access very useful statistics such as number of hits on a given post. We had a pool of 150 students at the beginning of the year and so far our busiest day, with 410 hits, was May 10th, and for example today at around 18.00 I have just checked and we have had 153, so there is traffic! The comments and feedback has been very encouraging.

Now nearing the end of the cycle for the present cohort, I am a convinced advocate of its benefits which I will try to outline.

For the students

First, it pushes back the limits of the classroom. It creates a parallel world of exercises, videos, explanations, and interactive work that supports and extends the topics students are studying in class.

But equally important, it allows interaction between students in a way the classroom environment restrains. Students can interact with each other, read each other’s work and comment on it. They have the opportunity of watching and listening to each other’s presentations, or video clips, and they have an extension of the classroom atmosphere at any time and from anywhere. It makes them a stronger learning community.

For the teachers

You have an instant record of the work created for a particular course, of good links found and a good source of feedback from students. You can see the evolution of your students’ work at a click away. You share your work with the world and you can edit resources with personal touches in a fun way, with video clips, images, and plenty of humour.

As a teacher you also become part of a community. You see what colleagues are doing all over the world. Onestopblogs http://blogs.onestopenglish.com/ is an “aggregator”, that is, it selects some of what they feel are the best EFL blogs and it makes an impressive collection: at the moment it has links to 165 EFL blogs.

The future

Having seen the potential of blogs, next year I would like to have a class blog where the students are members and can upload work themselves and take a more active role.

I would also like to see a cycle blog with resources for each level: links to exercises, current affairs and exam samples which could be fed by teachers of that level, not just in our school but also across other neighbouring and sharing EEOOII.

We will be stronger if we combine efforts and share resources.

How would YOU like to take part in this project?

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EDITA: Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Alicante
COORDINACIÓN: Juan Tomás García Asensi
ISSN: 1886-1792