Walking Stick Blogger

A Learning Space for Literacy and English Language Learners

An Open Letter to Literacy Educators About Blogging

I am an avid student blogger, and have been doing independent research into the process of using blogs for instruction of learners for the past year as three independent studies courses I have been taking to complete my Master’s of Distance Education at Athabasca University. I am also an adult literacy instructor at Northwest Community College, in Northwest BC. My interest in blogging is that it has been intrinsically very satisfying learning for me, more intense learning than anything else I have experienced as a learner. I would like nothing more than to pass on my experience as a blogger to my students, and pass the passion for developing one’s voice, one’s capacity for creative self-expression through the written word.

I am saddened, however, by the recognition that many of my learners are uninterested in any kind of writing if it is anything that is graded. They lack the inner fire, the intrinsic motivation to engage in academic writing. They see the writing exercises and assignments as a coercive writing activity for their teacher, and so largely go through the motions to pass the course requirements.

I would argue that learners will succeed with blogging only to the extent that they will identify compelling reasons for why they might want to write. I ask mature adult learners I work with what type of writing they engage in, and more and more frequently they refer to FaceBook or Bebo, or community forums, or chat rooms, or instant messaging, as examples of when they write. I ask them what they write and who they write for. Many share experiences with family members and friends. I ask what are some examples of poor writing you have seen, and many learners throw back their heads and laugh – the volume of discussion increases in the classroom, and many conversations break out spontaneously as the topic takes off. There are so many examples of poor writing, they assert. It is al around us, even in the daily newspaper! Many adult literacy learners express concerns over others’ unethical writings, for nasty comments and lies, spread over the network. Others express concerns about their own privacy, and the privacy of their family members. Many learners identify a wish to express their ideas more clearly, but don’t want to use the public network as the place for learning how to do so.

I asked students what are the most important reasons for learners to write, collect ideas, and communicate with others. Some learners express a desire to write stories about their family and friends. Other learners want to record thoughts and describe their life experiences to accompany a collection of pictures from the family album. Others want to do something to improve their community, and record events. Others want to find out more possible jobs, and still others want to share hobbies and interests.

Using a blog, one can link videos, others’ blogs, websites, photos, etc. I think it is important to ask learners what role they want to aspire to:

Do they want to learn to be a storyteller, weaving stories and sharing with others?
Do they want to practice their writing skills in privacy, out of public view, and have a tutor to guide them?
Do they want to take photos or write poems, and showcase them anonymously?
Do they want to learn how to engage in debate and argue effectively in public forums?
Do they want to want to document their personal learning journey, and share useful ideas and opinions with trusted others?
Do they want to develop the skills to be a public advocate and spokesperson to pass on community news to others?

The point is, blogging can aid learners to develop the skills to take on their aspiring roles. The main emphasis, however, needs to be on the mentoring process of the learners, not the grading activities of the instructors.

Edu-Blogging, if it is to work at all, must be voluntary, self-paced, and flexible. The foundation for successful blogging will be encouraging learners’ intrinsic motivation.

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netizenship • September 6, 2009

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