Thursday, September 8, 2011

66. Web 2.0 and Composition for ESL

Making (and Not Making) Connections with Web 2.0 Technology in the ESL Composition Classroom
Sarah Nakamaru
National Council of Teachers of English, 2011

This short article is written in a self-reflection mode and describes the experiences of an ESL teacher with planning and delivering a specific composition class using wikis.

It begins with a wonderful quote I intend to catch here, which in a way captures some of the learning I have been facing through these readings to date. The idea that we, teachers, and educators in general, are just not ready or prepared to teach the learners of today. The shifts in technology have swept the foundations of our approaches from back at university, and if we do nothing to catch up we will loose an entire generation of learners, in ESl and in all educational subject areas.
Our students have changed radically. Today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. (Marc Prensky, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants)
The article refers to the idea of a basic disconnect there is between "digital natives" and instructors who may have adopted the technologies but were not born into that language as their native tongue. It could be argued that, to a certain extent, ESL adult learners, at least in Alberta, especially if coming from a professional background, may still fall under the "non native" category, and that may make them more in synch with our own reality as instructors born prior to the coming of Web 2.0 technologies.

Regardless of the era one would qualify as being part of, the article goes on to reiterate how online spaces can be set up and used to the maximum as participatory spaces, where learning can truly be constructed.

The author describes how she set up to use a wiki to reach three specific goals in her first attempt to integrate this technology in her writing class: making connections, as in creating a sense of community amongst students, making connections between the vocabulary and its context,  and connectivity, as a sense of actually using hyperlinks to connect three language skills areas: reading, writing and vocabulary.

With a sense of honesty and true understanding of first attempt mistakes, the author shows how two framework models were differently used, in two consecutive attempts, to reach these goals using a wiki. The main learnings from her article include:

  • realization of the cognitive load of using a new technology for ESL learners - frustration levels arose and would lead to challenges, lower rates of participation and perceptions of possibility of success
  • learning to open more than one unidirectional pathway between goals and ways to achieve them, and being more open to collaboration through the wiki space, rather than control everything from the get go
  • organize content by content mainly, rather than by skill
  • the idea that "wikis don't create community" (page 385) - connections and relationships are built through the tools but within people. The tools on their own do not guarantee the community of learners.
  • wikis were good for sharing content and connections, sharing comments amongst students, working on corrections and edits that allowed learners to see the progressions and the changes made.
  • the connectivity nature of the tool could be considered as a metaphor for the possibility of connections that learners and instructors can build together, in face to face or online spaces alike.

One final comment was made about the differences between nativeness and affiliation with technology which may be worth considering further. Learners may be familiar and consider themselves as well versed in a specific technology, especially in the social media realm, while they may still have challenges around the ability to fully adopt a variety of technologies, under the isntructors' lead, especially for educational purposes.

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