Thursday, 7 May 2009

Traditional school assignments don't work online

I and a colleague have been testing how to incorporate an ongoing international school project into regular language lessons. For this last grading period we are both teaching an English course with an environmental theme, and we have given our students some online assignments to do on our project Ning. After signing up, the students have taken part in a couple of discussions , based on prompts, watching some videos and reading certain background material. A lot needs to be learned about building discussions, as I wrote in an earlier post.

Then they were given titles for essay to be written and uploaded in their Ning blogs. About half of my group chose not to publish their essays, but gave me a handwritten paper instead. I don't know all their reasoning behind this, but some, I'm sure were afraid of negative peer feedback about their English, or writing in general. It would be a valuable learning experience to dare to put themselves out there, and strive at getting better and better at expressing their thoughts in English. I need to be clear on my pep talk next time I assign something like this. I am still in two minds, though, about whether to include all the students in an English course in online projects or whether to just offer it as an option to those who are keen. I will have to keep experimenting to formulate my philosophy on this.

One lesson I learned from this, is that ready-chewed schooly essay titles given by the
teacher don't work at all in an online blog environment. Firstly, there will be too many very similar posts that won't receive the same attention and comments as a variety of different posts.

Secondly, these topics don't really allow students to have a voice of their own. This was aptly pointed out in one student's reply to a comment to her post:

Come on, don't take this too seriously :D This is my english essay, not a "real" blog post.
Teaches me to carefully think about assignments for the next online unit. Students must be able to choose to write about something that they find important.

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