TESOL 2006: Weblogs

Friday at the TESOL conference was blog day: I attended four sessions on blogs, all interesting. I have a few highlights on two sessions, followed by notes on Joel Bloch's work.

Charles Schroen, a professor of English at Geogia Perimeter College, uses blogs in his courses to expand the course outside the classroom and to promote interaction. He crafts the blog assignments so that they build in complexity. Students (provided with detailed instructions online) begin with creating a blog outside of class. After several assignments of posting, he begins having them interact with a simple activity of going to 5 classmates' blogs, finding one grammatically correct sentence, and noting in the comments the one thought to be correct. I asked Schroen, "Yes, this creates interaction, but what is it good for?" He responded that it was for getting the students' feet wet for their later assignments that would develop interaction in more substantial ways. Schroen is on target. I think we sometimes forget that students don't have our background, that it's better to ease them into accomplishing future goals.

Christine Meloni, Donald Weasenforth, and Sigrun Biesenbach-Lucas presented the results of their research on students using blogs. They had two different groups of students using class blogs, and the difference between the two groups due to teacher influence was tremendous. One teacher evaluated blog entries, participated sometimes in discussions, and talked about the blogs during class when appropriate. The other teacher didn't. The ratio of blog postings for 7 assignments in the classes (former to latter) was 517 to 63, or a little more than an 8:1 ratio. The presenters also noted that other research has shown that blogging can have a detrimental effect on reading and writing (blogging is not academic writing) and that critical evaluation is made more difficult due to being innundated with information. Technology is not neutral.

Besides the presentation sessions, I went to Joel Bloch's discussion session on blogs. Although we didn't discuss them, he had a list of ten questions/statements, which are posted at his TESOL blog. The first on on the list is, "Technology is never neutral; it affects the writing process and is affected by the writing process." He also has posted on his blog podcasts of his papers at TESOL 2006, one on "Intercultural Rhetoric and ESL/EFL Writing: Cyberspace: The Search for Intercultural Rhetoric Online" and the other one titled "The Institution and Globalization of Plagiarism: Bringing Students' Voices into the Debate over Plagiarism in the Academy."