I’m a great fan of using all the web 2.0 tools I can find to facilitate and encourage my students in their learning. And they are learning to love blogging! I’m an eager blogger myself and many of my teaching ideas are posted on my blog Teaching English using Web 2.0.
All my students studying International English write blogs; in fact, I usually have them write every week after class. It’s a great way for me to keep track of what they’re working on and how well they know the material. They started writing on their blogs in August, and it was a great surprise to all of them when last week in class we accidentally looked at our site statistics.
(To be honest I look frequently at my own blog stats — and love it when I see readers from faraway places like Barbados, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala and Cambodia. Clustrmaps is a great widget to keep you updated if you’re as curious as I am!)
Anyway, the students started to look and compare hits on their English class blogs, and we were amazed. I honestly thought I was the only one reading their posts apart from the other students in class, who from time to time are asked to comment on their classmates’ writing. I even smiled a little when my students wrote things like “as you might remember from the last time I wrote.” Then last Friday, we found that one of the students had almost 2000 pageviews!
People all over the world are reading their posts, from countries like Brazil, Germany, Australia, Canada, UK, Russia, India and the Netherlands. I think that was a real eye opener for my students. In fact when we googled “megacities” recently (following an assignment we had four weeks ago) one of our students’ blogs on the subject popped up. It started a discussion in class about how having an audience (in this case, a global audience) changes the way we write. I know they look on writing assignments from a different angle now. As I walk through the classroom, I’m hearing comments like: we need to check our sources; people are actually reading what we are writing! How can I get as many readers as you have?
Here in Norway, what they write is sometimes a lot more interesting to other Norwegian students than what they find in the 2006 textbooks we use, which are already outdated in many areas. And as we talked about the importance of providing credible information in our posts, I found the perfect opportunity to talk about using at least three different sources and not relying on Wikipedia alone. That was certainly a fun class for me.
On average most of the students had at least 700 pageviews on their blogs. One student reported that “all together I’ve had 1943 pageviews, and this seems to be increasing because in March alone I had 1080 pageviews! Most of my visitors are from Norway but also USA and the UK. In addition I have pageviews from Canada, Germany, Brazil, India, France, Denmark, Pakistan, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Russia, Israel and Thailand.” Exciting.
Canadian educator Chris Kennedy did a recent presentation for TEDxUBC on how writing for a real life audience is addictive. Kennedy and others created an opportunity for 25 students to be student reporters for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. When writing on blogs the students found that the better they wrote, and the more interesting the topic, the larger the audience. They also got to see other students’ work and that helped them improve their own writing. I think Kennedy’s points match exactly what we discovered in class last week. Good writing skills matter! Chris Kennedy’s talk on TED is well worth the 17 minutes (and also has a lot to tell us about what young people do and don’t know about using technology to communicate).
Norway’s school reform
Norway went through a major national education reform in 2006 with the aim to raise the quality of its education system. The reform is known as Knowledge Promotion, and a major aim was to strengthen the basic curriculum for Norwegian pupils, with information and communications technology (ICT) as one of the five basic competencies now integrated into their learning experience. By introducing this reform, the focus most definitely was on the use of ICT in schools and by 2010 all high school students were equipped with laptops. It is obvious that there is great potential in ICT-supported learning. The world has changed to such a degree that a school that is not trying to exploit the possibilities inherent in the technology is not doing its best for its students.
Our intentions might be the best, but teachers in Norway are still struggling to find areas where they can make use of ICT to enhance learning. I think this is mainly because the pedagogy (in most cases) hasn’t changed at all. It’s still very teacher-directed, and when you try to introduce computers into a classroom where textbooks and the standard question/answer cycle are the norm, you most likely will encounter problems. In the same classrooms where teachers lecture and use PowerPoint presentations, students are using Facebook, YouTube and Skype.
Norway must shift from teacher centered to student centered learning if we hope to see our reform achieved. We need to steer away from the teacher asking all the questions.
The power of OneNote
Seems to me that teachers and students need more help when it comes to finding areas where the computer is a strength and not a distraction. My school participated in a project with Microsoft where we introduced the program OneNote for all our first year students. (Microsoft Office OneNote is a digital notebook that provides a flexible way to gather notes and information and has powerful search capabilities.) This is a tool with amazing potential, when you consider that in Norway students can bring their own laptops to exams. Everything they have written and saved during the 3 years they are in high school is accessible. The only limitation we still have on exams is the use of the internet.
OneNote has proven to be a real help for students both in note taking and in the gathering of information. When they are searching the net and want to save pages, they can do so by printing the pages to OneNote. OneNote includes the source of the material and the date it was saved — exactly what is needed when using material written by others on the exam.
Although I would love to teach in a school without concerns about exams, we have to face reality and prepare our students as best we can. Writing blogs and saving notes in OneNote is a great combination and works really well. My students made a video about OneNote for me to use in my workshop at the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in South Africa last November.
There is no doubt that the students love working this way!