May 13, 2006

Tips for starting blogging with students

Thanks to an email from Bee, I've been re-reading a post by Aaron Campbell on Dekita, which list a few key points to bear in mind when starting students blogging. This is particularly helpful for me as I'm doing the same and this week felt somewhat I was getting bogged down in technical and administrative problem-solving and lost sight of the aim - of getting students to read blogs and write in their own blogs of what they read (or discover) elsewhere on the Internet.

On Thursday I had the students in the lab for an hour or so, adding their classmates's blogs to their own blog's sidebar.

Yesterday (Friday), the assignment was to read about RSS (I'd prepared links to some pages in Japanese), to create their own aggregator account, and add their classmates' blogs to their aggregator. This also proved problematic, as I am beginning to foresee. I spent the entire time fire-fighting. As I had just spent the previous hour doing exactly the same thing (I'm really surprised so many students are completely computer illiterate; yet a survey of freshmen students shows that just over 60% have a computer at home).

You really want to know what kind of problems I had? Really? OK, if you insist.

The previous week's assignment had been to create a blog and email me the blog address. About half did. I then put those blogs in my own blog sidebar.

"Sir? My blog's not listed on your blog! Why not?"
"Did you email me the blog URL?"
"Oh. No."

"Sir, my blog's not listed. And I sent you the address."
"Let me check my email again....No, I didn't receive yours."
"But here's the email I sent!"
"Let 's check exactly WHERE you sent it to... Aha... my email address is @gmail.com. You sent your message to @gmaLL.com...."

Several students spent the hour making a new blog simply because they had forgotten their password and were unable to persuade blogger.com to tell them what it was. So they now have two (some of them three!) blogs on the Internet...and they still need to catch up with the rest of the class on RSS and an aggregator.

A couple of students ignored or failed to heed my urging that they NOT use their complete real name or their student ID or their email address in anything other than their profile. As the blogs are all on Blogger, not on the university website, and as they are all adults in my British eyes, eventually it's their decision. I just want to be sure they appreciate what they are doing and why I suggest they don't do this.

I need to remember that this class is not primarily about blogging, or even about using the Internet: it's a speaking and listening class. I'm hoping the blogs will be places they can use to reflect on language-learning and on their intellectual life at college in general.

With a different group of students I'd spent the first hour on Friday helping them set up accounts at Flickr. I'd had an ambitious plan of 5 or 6 different tasks for this group, which, after recalling my experiences earlier in the week, I'd pared down to just 2: write about your Golden Week on the Moodle, and set up an account at Flickr (I'd hoped to have them take a photo with their cell-phone, post it to Flickr, then tell their classmates about it on the Moodle, but abandoned that). This class has 44 students registered and meets just once a week. The first time we met, 26 students attended, and attendance has never been that high since (this is a compulsory class). In the second week, I took all 18 who attended to the lab and got them registered on the class Moodle.

So Friday's class, I hadn't anticipated of course, that most of the students who attended that day would be students who were ABSENT in week 2 when we registered on Moodle, and would NOT be registered. So the first half-hour was spent dealing with that. The second half was spent helping them create their Flickr accounts. This has become more complicated since Flickr now ties everything to Yahoo. In other words, you must first create a Yahoo ID, and unfortunately a Yahoo! Japan ID isn't recognized. They have to put in all kinds of info, all in English, so I was running around explaining what a "zip code" is (for instance) and what they should put in there.

Instead, I should have had them explore Flickr and write about it, link to a photo they liked or something (many of them were wowed with the photos), instead of setting up an account first.

Key words: priorities, anticipation

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