Thursday, 18 October 2012

Working on the Web with Teachers - A Class Blogging Workshop

We’ve had a busy start to the school year here in Turkey (hence the lack of recent activity on this blog), part of which is down to the revamping and extension of our online programme. Whereas last year we just had a pbworks site, this year each class has its own blog (following a trial run with one class last year) and this is not only in the 5th grade but in the 4th grade as well. As I mentioned in a previous post, we wanted to move away from pbworks as the main site due to the problems kids had with simple things like creating an account and logging in (yet more proof that the ‘digital native’ label is not always accurate) and the fact that setting up pages and activities was time consuming. With the focus now on blogs, it’s much easier for the kids to get involved and be productive (but more on that in another post…)

One consequence of this expansion is that the web programme in the primary school is no longer just the concern of one person (that person last year being me). With each class having its own blog, all of the 4th and 5th grade teachers need to be actively involved and, naturally, this raised some questions and concerns amongst those colleagues who haven’t done much online or ‘techy’ stuff in class before.

It was therefore suggested back in September that I do a workshop on class blogging to introduce all the teachers to it and help get them started. At first when planning the session, I thought about what kind of PowerPoint I would need to put together and how I could best demo the use of Posterous (our choice of platform for the class blogs). Luckily, before I had spent too much time preparing things, I realised that, of course, I didn’t really need to prepare much at all. After all, I incorporate ideas from the dogme school of thought into my lessons so why not apply the same principles for a workshop?

What we need to do more of as teachers and presenters - Image by @gemmateaches via eltpics

Having taken that leap of faith, I turned up for the session with nothing more than my laptop and a few board markers. Just as I was hooking the projector up, one of my colleagues asked “Dave, what exactly is a blog?” Perfect! I couldn’t have found a better way to kick off the workshop myself. In full teacher mode, I threw the question open to the floor and we constructed our own definition of a blog. The conversation then shifted to how a blog could be of benefit to our students. Lots of ideas came out like potentially increased motivation to write, the ‘excitement’ factor, ease of use and so on. There were also some pluses for teachers we discussed too such as being able to see students’ written work as and when they do it and not having to lug piles of notebooks around.

We next started to discuss possible issues that could arise with using blogs as well as solutions and preventative measures. There were the usual concerns about online safety and privacy which gave me an opportunity to highlight some of the security features blogs have such as moderating comments and posts. We also talked about the importance of talking to the students about being safe online before they start to use the blogs.

All we really needed to talk about blogs - Image by @aClilToClimb via eltpics

Dealing with errors was the main concern. Many teachers were concerned about creating a poor impression with parents and/or school administration if students’ posts were littered with mistakes. This evolved into an interesting discussion about our reactions to mistakes. In the end, we all agreed that the blog could be useful for changing perceptions amongst various stakeholders by showing that work done enthusiastically and creatively with a few errors shouldn’t be a problem and could even be preferable to a few stale sentences written in perfect grammar. We also discussed how we could draw students’ attention to mistakes either through comments on the blog or in class, thus turning these errors into valuable learning moments.

The final stage of discussion centred around what we could do with the blog and how we could fit it in with the project work and written tasks included in our programme. The great thing about all this discussion was that all the ideas were coming from my colleagues and I was just noting them down. I didn’t need to suggest much at all - it was all generated by the people in the room, which was much preferable to me throwing a bunch of ideas at them.

We wrapped things up with a quick demo of how to set up a Posterous account and post to a space. Keeping in line with the way the workshop had panned out with minimal lecturing from me, I suggested that each of the teachers go away and send in their reflections on the session to the blog via email thus giving them an insider’s view of how to post as well as allowing the discussion to continue. Another great thing is that even a few weeks on, they are still posting to the space, asking questions and sharing ideas about what to do with the blogs. In fact, the ‘practice page’ is slowly becoming something very much like what I wanted the wiki for teachers I tried (but failed) to get off the ground a while ago to be.

And now, I’m so glad I went with my instincts and did the session in this way. Had I gone ahead and planned out a full session with a couple of hours spent (at least) on making a slideshow, it would have been more presentation than workshop, more my ideas than theirs and less inclusive and formative. By going in without a fixed plan, everyone was able to chip in and we decided on the best way forward together. If I can get my students to do the same this year, I will be most pleased!