Pete, one of the members of the ESL/EFL weblog session, decided to install a weblog on his own website rather than use a hosting service. He said it was less scary to set up than he anticipated. He did a good job. One of these days I’m going to do that!

Comments: Some thoughts about weblogs in ELT is a post he made right around the time our session was ending. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I am so glad he posted this because I think it hits on many of the concerns that educators have. It also shows us how some are viewing weblogs. It seems to get to a comparison, either-or, type of check-list. I wonder why the discussion can’t center around the possibilities!

He wonders about how well learner writing can be served by this kind of random audience. He talks about the audience for weblogs being essentially unknown.

I don’t think you can rely on the random audience although it can be quite wonderful from time to time. I think we, as educators, need to set up that audience, be it within our own classroom, another group (such as retired citizens, other teachers, friends, other classes, etc.). It won’t just occur. The point is you have the means to expand that audience for your students in many ways. We’ve not had that before. Generally, the audience is the teacher and/or other peers in the class.

Pete also felt that the power relationship implicit in a weblog might be unhelpful. He noted that weblogs are owned – they ‘belong’ to an individual or group. He goes on to say that an e-mail list is basically a community of equals.

Here again, I think that an educator working with a group can oversee and make sure that everyone feels ownership. With my students’ blogs, I run a parallel blog that discusses what we are doing, but I make sure they know what I am writing. I also include their thoughts and ideas in my blog and build my community by recognizing them in many ways. That said, I do think that, as educators, we have a responsibility to oversee what is going on with the students and empower them while at the same time guiding them in the learning process. That’s our role. To do less would be misuse of the responsibility we have as educators. I guess I just do not see it as a power relationship implicit in a weblog, as relates to working with students. I see email lists and weblogs as different ways of learning and see no need to compare the two. They offer different ways to do different things.

Next, he addresses student journal writing, and the privacy issue.

I agree. I can see using journal writing as a way to reflect on what they are learning, but I would not be interested in using weblogs for students to use as journals to write about anything they wanted. If you as the teacher are overseeing what they are reflecting about it can be a way to get them to make connections, share learnings, and ask questions concerning the curriculum you are teaching. I think this is good. While I do see that personal journal writing can be good for some, I do worry about what some write and what effect that might have on them in many areas down the road. I think private journal writing about certain subjects is best kept private. I also think we could never sell this type of weblogging to our administrative educators and I have no interest in going down that road.

Pete also thinks that there is often an assumption that publishing student writing is a good thing, and he feels a little uncomfortable with this. . He goes further to say that it is often suggested that providing writers with an audience leads to increased motivation. He suggests that perhaps students could do this more successfully through an organised e-mail exchange. Plus, he’s not sure he actually wants his learners to be spending time reading other people’s weblogs as they might be better served reading novels, articles, etc.

I do think that publishing student writing is a good thing. When my students published and knew that an audience of high school journalism students would be reading their work I found that they were very motivated and excited. At first, they were scared that their work would not be good enough. There was hesitancy on their part. This gave me the opportunity as their teacher to explain the value of opening yourself to help from others, taking a risk to improve, and trying your best. Boy, did they try, and it’s like having many other voices that are cheering and helping your students along as they endeavor to become better writers. So blogging is hard work, both on the student and the teacher. Both have roles, but weblogging helps you become a team working toward a goal. That said, it doesn’t just happen. Just like good teaching in any other setting doesn’t just happen. The teacher guides the ship. Weblogs spell possibilities for me, and I wish we would all focus on that. Just imagine ™ã it boggles (or should I say ‘bloggles’ the mind?)

I think there is one other piece to weblogs that just doesn’t get discussed much and that is the dialogue that happens between the teacher and the class. This is crucial to the learning process. We can learn so much from the students, and it’s not us telling them what to do, but learning together and then tweaking the process to meet our educational goals.

His closing remark wasSo what exactly do weblogs allow us to do that we couldn’t do before? And what do they allow us to do more effectively?”

I say, go forward and explore possibilities and we all can answer that. I’m just at the beginning of the process, but I know for sure that it’s a tool that gets many voices heard by many. Let’s shape it