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Published by: PUSAT PEMBANGUNAN AKADEMIK on Jun 06, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Nadzrah Abu Bakar Kemboja Ismail
This paper reports on a study incorporating blog projects as part of an integrated English projectassignment. Students did the project outside classroom hours to practice their language skillsin an authentic environment, using blogs to communicate with each other. This study seeks toassess the usefulness of blogs in developing students’ ability to write constructively. We collecteddata through questionnaires that requested students’ feedback on their attitudes and perspectivespertaining to the integrated blog project and how the project motivated them and helped themincrease their interest in writing in English. We found that students had a positive attitude aboutblogging. The students perceived blogging as an interesting and motivating learning environmentbecause interacting through blogs helped with the critical thinking and peer feedback facets of their writing projects. We also found that social interaction helped students improve their writingskills.
Teaching English to non-English speakingstudents is very challenging. The Englishlanguage classroom has always been associatedwith competencies, grammar, tasks, exercises,and drill activities that position teaching andlearning a language as an educational activitythat is separated from society. Thus, the waysin which students are taught are con
ned toclassroom learning and fall within a limitedscope of knowledge. Allum found that, as aresult, students were found to be unmotivatedand uninterested in learning the language(2002). New paradigms in language teachingand learning are needed to encourage studentsto acquire and improve their second language or foreign language pro
ciency in a social context(Vygotsky, 1978), which affects the nature andquality of language learning. Allum found thatthe conventional way of teaching English wasnot attractive enough for students who werereluctant to use and learn the language (2000).This conventional approach does not re
ectthe current trend in teaching and learningEnglish, in which the classroom is situated in asocial context. This brings in the signi
cance of the social constructivist view of learning, whichin
uences education speci
cally in the areas of pedagogy and curriculum design.Technology has in
uenced pedagogy, and thisis evinced by the latest teaching approach usinga technology known as “Blended Learning”,as discussed by Sharma and Barret. Theyuse this methodology in a language coursethat combines a face-to-face (F2F) classroomcomponent with appropriate use of technology(p.7). The term “technology” refers to theInternet, CD-ROMs and interactive whiteboardsand computer-based communication (includingchat, email, blogs and wikis) to enrich teachingand learning. The growing popularity of blogsas educational tools can be explained byresearch in this area. Many researchers, suchas Downess (2004) and Hall and Davison(2007), have claimed that students’ writingskills improve when they blog. Another studyconducted by Kavaliauskien
and Vai
 (2006) indicated that the experience of writing onblogs (for an audience) provides opportunitiesto help students improve their knowledge of English. Nadzrah (2007) found that blogslet students compose writing with speci
cpurposes that can encourage them to enhancetheir writing in the language constructively.“Blogs”, also known as weblogs or online journals (personal journals), which haverecently become a collaborative technology,are a new way for people to express their thoughts in public. This form of writing has
ISBN :1985-5826 AJTLHE, Vol.1, No.5, 45-57
become popular among Internet users. Mostblog writers (“bloggers”) use this environmentfor self-expression and empowerment, aswriting in blogs helps people become morethoughtful and critical in their writing (Blood,2002). Blood (2002) differentiates between twotypes of blogs. The
rst type is that of journals,which function as an electronic diary in whichbloggers can express their thoughts, ideas,and opinions, among other things. The secondtype is the
lter-style blog, where bloggerspost links to other web content with associatedcommentary. Blogs are best described asweb sites that are updated frequently andin chronological order that let bloggers andreaders to communicate with each other byleaving comments and suggestions on thecontent of the blogs or by discussing new ideas.Although a blog can be devoted to only oneuser and one topic, it can also have more thanone contributing writer. As Feng, Lianghuan,and Long (2000) indicated, the developmentof collaborative technology has strengthenedonline virtual communities in which peoplecommunicate, share ideas or information, andkeep in touch with each other.Blogs can also be used to publish and exchangepersonal knowledge. The idea of using blogs inlanguage learning is similar to the use of journalwriting described by McLeod (2001; cited inLowe, 2004), which he de
ned as a way to “helpstudents explore and assimilate new ideas,create links between familiar and the unfamiliar,mull over possibilities, [and explain] them toothers. The analogue for this kind of studentwriting is the expert’s notebook …” (2001, p.152). Knowledge building becomes importantas the students construct their own meaningsin writing and interpret these meanings basedupon their worldviews.
Social Constructivism in LanguageLearning
We take a social constructivist approachto understand how language learning isconstructed in blogging. From the socialconstructivist’s perspective, knowledge is theprocess by which students construct meaningfrom past experiences in a social context. In aclassroom environment, students create their own meanings and develop ideas throughinteraction with peers and teachers (Jones& Brader–Araje, 2002). The whole processof learning thus encourages students to uselanguage and new knowledge in differentsituations, including using language to expressthemselves, to explain, to negotiate, andto compromise with peers while discussingideas. This process of language learning canbe transferred to other language skills suchas writing. This learning concept re
ects whata social constructivist classroom is all about.Using blogs, especially group blogging, as awriting activity in the English classroom cancreate a learning environment that encouragesstudents to work collaboratively in a socialcontext.The most practical description of constructivelearning is that found in the report of Miers (2004in Seitzinger, 2006) on a learning managementsystem for the technology school of the future.In this study, we use Miers's description tounderstand blogs as a learning tool. Thereport says that “constructivist learning shouldengage students in meaningful learning and …the critical features are the learning should be:• Active and manipulative, engagingstudents in interactions and explorationswith learning materials and provid[ing]opportunities for them to observe theresults of their manipulations• Constructive and re
ective, enablingstudents to integrate new ideas with prior knowledge to make meaning and enablelearning through re
ectionIntentional, providing opportunities for students to articulate their learning goalsand monitor their progress in achievingthemAuthentic, challenging and real-world (or simulated), facilitating better understandingand transfer of learning to new situationsCooperative, collaborative, andconversational, providing students withopportunities to interact with each other toclarify, share ideas, to seek assistance, tonegotiate problems and discuss solutions.”Miers (2004 in Seitzinger, 2006)
Blogs in the Language Classroom
Modern technology has come to dominate theclassroom and teaching using computers has
become a common phenomenon. The use of computers in the classroom has increasedtremendously, and it is quickly becoming oneof the learning tools used in language classes(Nadzrah, 2005). In fact, it has been used asa writing tool to promote active writing amongstudents. In writing, blogs can be used as atool and a platform for students to be creativein their writing. The ease of using blogs for writing development means that they providean advantage for writers who publish their writing online. When students have accessto the Internet, blogs can easily replace or become an alternative to traditional journalwriting. Blogs have also gained popularity ineducation, particularly in language classes.Educators use blogs in three different waysand with different purposes. These three blogtypes are tutor blogs, learner blogs and classblogs.1. Tutor blogs: The tutor creates and monitorsa tutor blog to provide daily reading practicefor students. The tutor blog providesdifferent English Web sites for studentsto explore. It also serves as a resource of links for self-study. This type of blog can beused as a platform to encourage students toparticipate in online verbal communication.It can also provide a space for tutors topost learning information, such as assignedtasks and course information.2. Learner blogs: Students create and runlearner blogs, either individually or as asmall collaborative group. Students usethis type of blog as a platform to expressthemselves through free writing. It can alsobe a forum in which students can discusstheir writing.3. Class blogs: – This type of blog is run by theentire class. It can be used as a discussionplatform for project-based languagelearning, and as a free-form bulletin boardwhere students can post any informationfor others to read. In addition, a class blogcan serve as a space for an internationalclassroom language exchange.There are many advantages of using blogsas a writing tool. According to Godwin-Jones(2006) online writing (writing on blogs):encourages feedback and represents bothwriting and reading activity;stimulates debate, critical analysis, andencourages articulation of ideas andopinions;offers opportunities for collaborativelearning: projects, debates or interactivetravel logs;provides an environment in which studentscan develop skills of persuasion andargumentation;creates a more student-centred learningenvironment (students control the content);andoffers informal language reading.However, there is a question of whether blogging in the classroom enhances education.Several studies on educational blogging haveindicated that blogging enhances learningopportunities and encourages communicationand collaboration by providing an interactivespace in which students can interact. Williamsand Jacob (2004) pointed out that students gavepositive feedback on the use of blogs as learningtools, and that blogs increased interactivity andre
ective activities. Pinkman (2005) stronglystressed that blogs are authentic, interesting,and communicative resources that can servea vari¬ety of purposes in the foreign languageclassroom (p. 21). The students in her studytook the opportunity to practice language skillsand communicate with others while blogging,as it encouraged students to go beyond theclassroom and interact with people.Although educational blogging is not a newphenomenon, the use of blogs in teachingand learning in higher education in Malaysiais still in an early stage. The research in thisarea is even more nascent. We are interestedin studying students’ attitude and perceptionabout blogging as an activity for languagelearning. We are also determined to
nd outhow students use blogs as a platform for their writing and how they use this learningenvironment to construct their learning. Thesocial learning environment created in blogsallows students to use a language actively.We thus take a social constructivist approachto examining how students create meaning intheir learning through by interacting throughblogging.

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