Teaching Beyond the Classroom: Using Blogs
to Engage Students
by Kim Snyder and Anthony Halderman
Looking around you at this moment: how many Internet- or communication-enabled devices can you find within a ten foot radius? A hundred foot radius? Within a mile? The answer in most cases is probably many. All of us have multiple things vying for our attention throughout the day, be it the ding of an email coming into your smartphone, a Facebook update springing up on your laptop screen, or the announcer on a television or radio program attempting to pass on another piece of data.
Today’s students prove no different. They have layers of life outside of the classroom that beg for their attention. Family, work, and social interaction are all important components of life. Students, however, add an additional layer by signing up for college. They become learners, and this new role has to mesh with the existing demands placed on their limited amount of attention
Many of today’s English as a Second Language college students are familiar with interacting online, and classroom blogs help engage these ESL learners in writing and thinking about the focus of the class outside of the traditional classroom setting. It may seem like a trick to pry student focus away from other activities, but attempting to work within the bounds of current student practice, creating a simple classroom website helps to keep the classwork in the forefront of their thoughts after they walk out the classroom door.
Current software facilitates simple blog setup, and allows the instructors to manage and maintain teaching materials, handouts, homework submissions and more from their own computer. WordPress.com is a free option, and has numerous pages of helpful setup and maintenance advice, and also hosts a semester’s worth of material at no cost to the instructor or students.
Giving students the ability to interact with one another online raises the bar for creative thinking and reasoning, and puts research resources at their fingertips, providing a forum for sharing their findings and thoughts about current assignments, grammar exercises, and English language learning tips. Blogging their responses to readings and creating virtual journals help to halt the typical student complaints that they didn’t have access to a printer or paper, or they were absent from class. With the digital submission being as simple as typing their writing into a comments field, almost everyone can complete their assignments from a school computer, their laptop or even a smartphone.
By requiring participation in posting, writing, and replying to teacher and student created prompts, students engage in the process of learning more about the subject at hand, enriching their experiences and understanding, and can be inspired at a pace which aligns with today’s media availability. Helping students navigate the Internet, and providing them with a safe opportunity to participate in a public discourse is also beneficial. Their participation and engagement within this setting will hopefully inform their roles outside of the classroom, leading to additional opportunities and understanding.
Kim Snyder teaches graphics arts at Cuesta College, and has had several exhibitions. Anthony Halderman teaches English at both Cuesta College and Cal Poly University. His webpage provides online quizzes, iTunes songs with lyrics, PowerPoint, video podcasts, and other resources.
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