In my search for new tools for my international projects last school year I tried a wiki and a Ning network. After using Moodle before I was convinced that these 'flashier' tools would be more attractive for my students, most of whom are already well familiar with Facebook and other such networks. I hoped that the more personalized ‘bells and whistles’ would do the trick for enhanced activity and learning.
Yesterday I read an interesting blog post by Jennifer, whose thoughts about using Ning actually made me sit down to reflect on my experiences. Compared with my previous projects, in which we used different simple discussion forums, the Ning actually produced far less discussion or interaction, even though I had expected the opposite. It seemed to me that active students were far more focused on creating their own profile pages and posting ‘inside joke’ comments to their own classmates than trying to get any intercultural communication started. In addition, there were a fair number of totally passive students, who did nothing but sign in, if that! Students didn’t comment on any of the beautiful photos either – probably because they were uploaded by teachers, although depicting interesting cultural student events at the participating schools. Interestingly, no student uploaded any pictures, although some did share a couple of videos they liked. Nobody took to writing any blog posts either, despite me trying to encourage this by writing one as an example. Again it was a teacher's initial input, maybe this is the flaw - the initiative should come from interested and self-motivated students, I feel.
I am wondering whether active students are happy with their existing private networks and simply find these school ones an uninteresting extra burden. And those who are not into this kind of activity outside school can’t be bothered at school either, or find it too hard for some reason (not tech-savvy enough, afraid of using a foreign language, especially when classmates might read what you write??). Just like Jennifer, I am asking myself whether the ‘pretty packages’ of these networks are actually too distracting and time-consuming for students. In addition, possibly some more introverted students find putting themselves out there in a school context too revealing and would rather hide, just like in ordinary classroom situations.
Actually I’m now thinking I might have to reconsider making everybody in my EFL classes participate in online projects. Maybe they should be the welcome new challenge for students who already have a blog or other online presence to perhaps widen their networks internationally and stretch themselves in their use of English? After all, there is enough drivel on the net as it is - why should my reluctant students add to it in their dreadful 'finglish'!