How does blogging fit in to L2 learning…today?

Blogging for second language learning has been a topic of discussion for over 10 years. Just as we discussed in our April 3 Brown Bag on blogging in the L2 classroom (and reviewed in Bob Godwin-Jones’ May 2003 Emerging Technologies column in Language Learning & Technology, “Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-line Collaboration“), blogging has been used for a variety of purposes for L2 learning, including developing fluency and voice in second-language writing, fostering community and motivation through dialogue with authentic audiences, promoting analytical and metacognitive skills, and more. These characteristics, as well as many tips and resources for trying out blogging in your classes, are elaborated in the 2-pg. handout distributed in the Brown Bag.

But, as Jason Kottke wrote in a recent and much talked-about (cough) blog post, “the blog is dead, long live the blog.” At a time when many bloggers have long since left their blogs and carry out business of posting status updates, commenting on news stories, and sharing pictures on sites like Facebook and Instagram, the idea is that blogs as a genre and technology that encourages longer-form, (mainly) written expression and reflection may not have as much a role as they used to.

Here at the CLS, we’ve heard recent 10-Minute Tech Talks by language faculty who say they use Blogger, WordPress, and other popular blogging tools to facilitate students’ journaling, reading responses, and other forms of interactive writing. And they’re not alone: Barbara Sawhill, who is a Spanish faculty member at Oberlin College, last year’s LLUNERALLT keynote speaker, and a frequent contributor (read: blogger) at the very useful and punchy Language Lab Unleashed, is just one among many who argue that, no, blogging is not dead; we should Keep Up, and Blog On. (Besides that, she gives great tips on keeping your students’ blogs open or closed, privacy questions, and the special ‘magic sauce’ that makes blogging work, so definitely give her post a read). 

In the Brown Bag, I mentioned several tools that might expand your mental definition of “blogging” beyond what you might have thought it was: blogging can be done with audio or video, like Joey Baer does with his posting of YouTube videos on ASL issues; tools like Tumblr can be used for hosting visual-heavy and text-lite posts, like this Nihongo Lessons example (a Japanese learner’s online Japanese notes); micro-blogging platform Twitter can be used by students to post very short, frequent posts about their interactions with the language outside the classroom, as our Columbia colleague Reyes Llopis-Garcia does with her #CB1201 class; and the Twitter-blogging hybrid (?) tool Medium can be used by students to write in a more sustained fashion, while still holding conversations/annotations on every paragraph of text, no matter how short–here’s a post I made while studying Korean, translating song lyrics, and then writing brief commentaries on the difficulty of translating each verse (compare with the original a few years ago here).

And, yet…. There are many, many legitimate concerns that language instructors have about blogging in their classrooms. I have my friend and CLS colleague Russ to thank for jotting down several of these from the lively Brown Bag instruction: 

  • How can you trust that your students will obtain accurate information about the target language, culture and society if they are reading blogs, with all their subjective views and opinions? How can you educate your students in the necessary skill of (as Howard Rheingold likes to say) “crap detection”?
  • Why use a blog for writing and commenting when social networking environments like Facebook and Google+ seem to promote more social interaction?
  • Does blogging force students and teachers to pay SO much attention to online updates, comments, and performances that they’re unable to concentrate, to focus, and even to have a private life?
  • More practically, how can blogs be used to help students improve their accuracy in writing? Should they?
  • Related to this, what are good ways to provide feedback and correction on students’ blog posts?
  • Should language teachers encourage students to voice their opinions online in an L2, when both the content and the form may not be ‘right’ or ‘perfect’?

Some preliminary answers to these questions can be found in the readings listed at the end of the Brown Bag handout, and in the notes from the whiteboard on that day (click twice on any image to enlarge).

And as for the rest…well, what do you think?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *