Blogs in Language Learning Education Essay Example

Blogs in Language Learning: Enhancing Students’ Writing through Blogs

The phenomenon of EFL (English as a foreign language) is topical in the current course of time. English is an international language that contributes to the course of connecting people on the worldwide scale both in cultural, religious, business, educational, social and other scopes.

As a result, the issue of proper, timely and constructive teaching of the currently discussed language becomes more urgent and miscellaneous. It is apparent that the methods and techniques teachers have used to incorporate in their traditional lessons before are no longer sufficiently efficient and appropriate. Therefore, the foreign/second language teaching staff is targeted at continuous in-depth search for new and more potentially efficient ways that tend to help the EFL students learn a new language in such a way that not only the knowledge is acquired, but also skills are developed and implemented into the course of teaching.

The scope that has provided a significant contribution to the given field in the recent years of study and research is the one that deals with the use of advanced technologies. These technologies support both synchronous and asynchronous communication. The aim of development of linguistic skills in both these directions while learning EFL is crucial as far as the communicative patterns may be different, and the students should be taught to react and cooperate with other speakers in terms of any of them.

The dramatic and intensive growth of advanced technologies in terms of the teaching practice has been impressive within the first language (L1) courses that were taught at the schools throughout the Sultanate of Oman previously. It is important to highlight that the past few decades were characterized by a significantly narrowed focus, namely, the modern technological process concentrated on a versatility of computer applications, as well as a diversity of tools necessary for completion of every particular task. Such tools may include word processors, bulletin board discussions, e-mail services and online chats, Web page projects, etc.

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For instance, it is appropriate to refer in more details to the incorporation of the e-mail services and online chats, as well as Web page projects as the crucial premises that preceded the actual development of the direction of the implementation of blogs in the educational process. To be more precise, it was a preliminary stage of use of the Internet potential for the educational purposes.

The vivid examples of the aforementioned tools’ use are such as:

  • e-mail services as a tool for guidance and control of the EFL students in the process of study;
  • e-mails as an instrument targeted to improve written literacy of the learners and contribute to the improvement of the manner of opinion expression and open dialogue;
  • online chats that contribute to the overall enhancement of the communicational patterns, both traditional and unexpected ones; such an approach modelled diverse situations that usually happen in life, and require proper feedback, relevant comprehension, and corresponding vocabulary use;
  • online chats also help develop particular communicative models, and the learners practice how to behave in particular situations. After having analyzed the above-presented Internet tools targeted at improving the overall literacy of children, it is apparent that the use of blogs within the educational process in the EFL classroom is a more qualitative and perspective level of innovative intervention examples.

It is crucial to admit that the advanced modern technologies have contributed much both to the scope of communication by means of the second language (L2) use and expanded field of theoretical concepts concerning current writing pedagogy. The process approach to the currently discussed issue was formed and influenced significantly by the theories by Flower and Hayes (1981) and Peter Elbow’s views (1990). These scholars represented a strong and relevant basis for the course of teaching writing skills. The given approach focuses on the processes involved in writing practice as a major concern. Moreover, this approach does not concentrate on the product of writing.

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Furthermore, an important aspect of the process approach to the writing phenomenon involves a collaborative process. It is crucial to comprehend that it is not a private and solitary act, but a miscellaneous and multidimensional intercourse. Such a type of activity is covered by the concepts of social, cooperative/collaborative, and constructivist activities. The characteristic features that dominate in terms of the process writing approach are considered to focus on the recursive course of the following elements: brainstorming ideas, drafting, the consistent process of organization, consequent editing, and rewriting (Candlin& Hyland, 1999; Flower, 1994; Flower & Hayes, 1984; Hayes, 1996; Hayes & Flower, 1983; Matsuda, 2001; Tuzi, 2004).

It is crucial to state that the course of investigation of the major concerns of the second language pedagogy is similar in comparison with the writing practices incorporated in the context of the first language. Along with such, the teaching personnel that work with the EFL direction in the current course of time are eager to apply the technologies and innovative interventions into their everyday practice in order to enhance the learning outcomes and expand the overall potential of the EFL learning process. Such a high concern of involvement of innovative activities have provoked an emergence of a Computer Aided Language Learning (CALL) interest section within the professional organization of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The given section is dedicated to the teachers who are determined to use computer technology in their teaching practices, and strive to improve this process as much as possible. It is important to highlight that even the key dogmas of the Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL) phenomenon reveals the tendency according to which the general technology should not be limited to the use of computers during the classes. The major concern is considered to be communication. The communicational patterns that have been decided to be developed and improved are facilitated by the personal computers, but they should be understood as a medium, or an instrumental tool that contributes to the enhancement of the linguistic competence of the EFL students. Hence, the main focus should be positioned on the communicational acts, not the machine itself.

There are also particular organizations that have workshops for the currently discussed purpose. To be more precise, they are used for teaching aims, and the incorporation of technological potential, such as the American Council for Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), is one of the prerogatives of its use. For example, there exists such an organization as the Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO). The given company has been established and developed specifically for the purpose to unite technology and language for the sake of learning efficiency. There are various thematic journals in the given field, such as The Language Learning and Technology and The Computers and Composition. These editions have provided research and practical uses for teachers. This research has formed the background for further study and analysis. Every aforementioned development is targeted at facilitating the teaching personnel of the EFL direction in the incorporation and active practice of implementing technology into their instructional activities in the classroom. Furthermore, new journals, such as The Journal of Science Education and Technology and The Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, have appeared recently. All of them are supposed to be an effective facilitator of the teaching staff in terms of educational courses.

Statement of the Problem

There is a well-established body of literature that focuses on the computer-based Technology tools, such as word processors, computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools (e-mail, listservs, bulletin boards, and chats), Web page projects, or a combination of tools (PLZ Add new applications if there are any). Some literature examines the application of these technologies to various aspects of writing, such as syntax, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and speaking, content and language development, effect and motivation perspectives, current theoretical perspectives (e.g., constructivism, cognition, and metacognition), current writing pedagogy (e.g., process approach, post process, and genre), and teaching practices (error correction, feedback, peer editing, collaborative learning and writing, and solving problems). However, the research on L2 writing, particularly EFL writing and its use of technology is still relatively limited.

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The qualitative and quantitative outcomes concerning the usage of technologies with L2 writing, and especially the ones developed for EFL writing, have shown that technologies are capable of providing a positive impact on students’ performance, EFL skills, as well as writing (Bloch, 2002; Chun, 1994; Ghaleb, 1993; Hertel, 2003; Knoy, Lin, Liu, & Yuan, 2001; Kramsch, A’Ness, & Lam, 2000; Sullivan & Pratt, 1996; Warschauer, 1996; Wresch, 1993) and on students’ attitudes and motivation (Batschelet& Woodson, 1991; Hertel, 2003; Knoy et al., 2001; Kubota, 1999; Warschauer, 1996, 2000; Warschauer, Turbee, & Roberts, 1996). The contemporary scholars working in the given field also investigate the currently discussed aspect of technologies’ incorporation in the course of learning. To be more precise, the investigation conducted by Reiners, Renner and Schreiber (2005) resulted in the following conclusion: “Students said they preferred the mobile computing devices over pencil and paper because it made the work seem easier, especially writing, and that it was fun. Work was completed on time and not lost like homework papers often were” (p. 11). Granito and Chernobilsky (2012) also confirm that contemporary innovative technologies contribute to the increase of students’ motivation significantly. Nonetheless, a peculiar drawback has been detected in terms of their research, namely, that the learners who are not interested in new technological developments are not expected to benefit from the innovative approach to the educational process (Granito & Chernobilsky, 2012).

Heafner (2004) highlights that such an approach may be advocated provided the teachers involve “the use of technology as a means to motivate their students by engaging them in the learning process with the use of a familiar instructional tool that improves students’ self-efficacy and self-worth” (p. 49).

The findings acquired due to in-depth investigation of the preliminary experience in the field of interest (cf. Bloch and others) show that the EFL learners are highly motivated to write, especially in case they are provided with the task aimed at using innovative technology. It means that the students receive a particular challenge and are granted with an excellent opportunity to involve creative approach.

Nevertheless, there are also peculiar studies that have reported no significant differences between the traditional educational process and the use of technology, or revealed negative outcomes (Biesenbach-Lucas, 2000; Gonzalez-Bueno & Perez, 2000; Gousseva- Goodwin, 2000; Kehagia& Cox, 1997; Pérez, 2003; Schultz, 2000).

Kerawalla et al (2007) present more up-to-date and maximally grounded evaluation of the use of blogs in the course of learning a foreign language. This tendency may be connected with such particular aspects of the currently discussed intervention as increased distraction from the completion of the educational task, lack of justified reasons for sheer academic use that results in conception of blogs as a fun activity, not a solid academic one, and vague criteria for subsequent assessment.

Nonetheless, the research on the given aspect of the issue in question is limited and insufficient for credible and grounded conclusions. The limited study is connected with the fact that the use of blogs in the educational process is an emerging technology tool for teaching. Regardless such a background of the issue of concern, the potential efficiency of the blogs is supported by the experiences and perceptions of educators in the field of L1 writing and rhetoric, as well as my experience in teaching EFL since 1998 in several Omani schools and my interests in L2 writing and technology.

Chan and Ridgway (2006) dwell on the consistent evidence that is capable of supporting and illustrating vividly that the innovative technologies enhance the EFL learning process does not exist. Nevertheless, “the technologies are new and it is important to explore new and effective ways of using them to enhance the process of teaching and learning” (Chan & Ridgway, 2006, p.

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It is crucial to comprehend how the actual EFL learning process functions in order to develop qualitative and constructive interventions. Students at the Omani Basic Education schools are taught English according to the implementation of a new curriculum. This curriculum is targeted at providing a blend of the four skills, such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking, during every EFL lesson. Despite such a consistent approach, there is an apparent lack of focus on one of the crucial skills, namely, the writing one. Furthermore, the EFK learners are rarely provided with the authentic writing tasks, both during their classroom activity and in the exam. Such an attitude forms a wrongful conception since the learners think they need only verbal skills, and the writing ones are of secondary importance. As a direct consequence, I have noted that EFL Omani students at the Basic Education schools often consider writing to be the most difficult skill and subsequently the most difficult and challenging exam. In such a way, a considerable gap in EFL competence appears.

Thus, it is relevant to state that the population of students at the Omani Basic Education schools represents a particularly specific and challenging group for the teaching impact and for a researchers’ comprehension. The given study is approached with the assumption that the potential success of EFL students depends on becoming proficient in English and acquiring an ability to write properly. It is also assumed every constructive and consistent way aimed at reaching a decent level of proficiency in writing should be considered to be worth to pursue. Finally, it is relevant to learn whether such a new pedagogical tool as blogging in the Omani educational environment will serve the aforementioned purpose. Thus, the major interest concerns how innovative-English-speaking students, namely the learners from the Basic Education Schools in Oman, can benefit from the use of blogs as a pedagogical tool in an EFL writing class.

Blogs and Blogging

A notion of a blog, which is a central concept of the given study, should be comprehended as “an online chronological collection of personal commentary and links” (Edu cause Learning Initiative, 2005). Weblogs are more often referred to as blogs. Such an Internet phenomenon presents an asynchronous communication tool. The given tool is considered primarily to be a comparatively new development. Nevertheless, there were claims made by Winerwhich that blogs emerged simultaneously with the introduction of the World Wide Web. According to Campbell (2003), a weblog can be understood as “an online journal that an individual can continuously update with his/her own words, ideas and thoughts through software that enables him or her to easily do so.”
To create a blog does not require being a professional specialist in HTML or other software items. Moreover, blogs provide an excellent opportunity to establish a collaborative environment whereby students can read each other’s posts, as well as comment, share, discuss, debate and generate grounded conclusions. The new technologies introduction has encouraged ESOL/EFL teachers to start thinking of the potential challenges and benefits for learning and teaching in the second language classroom.

Rationale of the Study

The purpose of the present study is to explore the use of blogs profoundly and thoroughly in order to enhance EFL writing in the Basic Education Schools in Oman. As far as I have been an EFL teacher for the past thirteen years in Oman, I have some experience and a general vision of potential and major benefits, as well as drawbacks of the actual EFL learning in the contemporary educational establishments. According to my observations, EFL Omani students are considering writing skills as the most difficult skill to master. Therefore, it is appropriate to examine this complicated issue by means of designing, introducing and implementing of a new pedagogical tool with the help of the EFL teachers at the English department. To be more precise, my task is to develop a new pedagogical tool, and my colleagues will implement it and evaluate subsequently.

The fact that students consider writing skills to be the most difficult and challenging since the traditional writing experience the students have in terms of writing activity is limited to the audience of the classroom. The main problems connected with this difficulty include lack of objective judgment, limited audience, and comprehension of a writing activity as a classroom activity, not EFL competence enhancement stage.

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The writing process approach has been adopted in order to develop a significant and potentially efficient sequence of techniques and interventions in terms of writing skills’ improvement. My vision of this improvement is based on the urgent necessity the students have to be sufficiently confident of accepting feedback, critique and evaluation from other readers and censors since on the current stage of development, they tend to depend on mine only. It means they should not do only minimum program offered by the curriculum, but expand their competence beyond the limits of the classroom.

As far as I am also a technology enthusiast who values the use of technology as a tool for teaching and learning, and has been profoundly interested in CALL, TELL, and CALICO, I am confident that blogs are one of the most motivating, multidimensional and perspective tools that should be used for the EFL practice. My central concern within the given context of the research course is to determine the affordances of blogs for developing the writing process approach in an Omani EFL classroom. Actually, I had numerous questions concerning the use of blogs for the writing purpose, but I narrowed my quest to one main question and six specific questions.

Research Questions

The main research question is as follows: What are the affordances of blogs for developing the writing process approach in an Omani EFL classroom?

The major concern of the current research course is represented by the following specific questions:

  1. How can blogs be used to develop a collaborative culture?
  2. How do students describe their experiences in keeping a blog?
  3. How can teachers use the blogs in EFL writing classes?
  4. What are the benefits and potential drawbacks of blogs’ affordances?
  5. What are the opportunities to challenging of blogging in EFL classroom?
  6. How do blogs develop the relationship between students and teachers?

Significance of the Study: The New Contribution of the Study

The current study is significant due to the scarcity of the previous research in terms of the use of blogs by teachers in the Arab world, specifically by the Arab EFL teachers. The relevant background for the incorporation of blogs by EFL teachers in Oman, within which both the ICT use and English guidelines have become national mandates, demands research that can provide insights. These insights are considered to be specific to the currently investigated population. Since the given issue of concern has insufficient research that properly unravels it, the significance of the given study is topical and perspective.