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BLOGGING: A MODERN APPROACH TO THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS
Marina Patrikeeva, PhD, docent
Natalia Komleva, PhD, docent
Mordovian N.P. Ogarev State University
In recent years the modernization of educational content observes clear trends in the search for new approaches to methodological activities. We regard blogging as one of the effective ways to solve this problem. The article presented is a kind of certain experience summing up: how to implement the idea of using blogs as a motivating tool for both teachers and students of higher education institutes.
Keywords: Blog, methodical work, methodological seminar, professional development, innovative technologies, creative approach, educational process, teaching skills
The transformation of all spheres of modern reality (economics, politics, social environment, and culture) resulted in the necessity for a change not only the content of education, but academic technologies as well, since the society requires highly competitive creatively thinking professionals who are able to adapt in a rapidly changing world. New approaches to teaching methodology and management of the educational system that will allow to motivate faculty members and develop their creative abilities are of great importance nowadays.
So the recent special urgency issues are about the development of advanced orientation in the didactic activities and introducing innovative technologies, which are aimed at improving the quality of the studies in universities. It is written a lot about optimization of the learning process by using Web 2.0 tools. Social networks such as Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/), Twitter (http://twitter.com/) and others are often used as means of communication in educational purposes. Wiki-pages and blogs are also a good helping hand for storing and processing materials, as each participant aside from an access to the information can also take part in its changes, replenishment, etc.
Blogs are considered as our particular interest here. What is it? An answer we can get easily, surfing the Internet: a blog (an English word blog, from Web log, a virtual ‘online journal or diary of events’) – a website the main content of which is regularly added records, posts, comments, images or multimedia. So it is definitely a suitable platform for any discussions or various competitions and quizzes for students, a publication of questions and tasks for examinations or surveys, audio and video links to additional materials and resources on the topic. It also provides an opportunity for the questionnaires, interviews, advice and more knowledge.
It’s seems obvious, that working as the lecturers of the Chair of Foreign Languages in the University our first experience of blogs using was exactly in this very area. It began with attempts to use it as a platform for showcase speaking assignments within the online course ‘From the Internet to USE (Universal State Exam)’, organized by The Goethe-Institut (German cultural institution operating worldwide). For this purpose, among a series of free service sources for blogging (such as www.livejournal.com, www.blog.ru, www.diary.ru, www.liveinternet.ru, http://blogs.mail.ru, http://my.ya.ru, http://blogspot.com) the last was chosen: http://sprechenege.blogspot.com/. Involvement of various multimedia tools gave an opportunity to expand its range of features. For example, with a voice avatar (http://www.voki.com/) we published sounded version of a speaking task in the blog that allowed students not only to read the task, but also to listen to foreign-language speech. We liked the idea, appreciated its creative realization and a possibility to use it further.
Next step in our blog exploration functions was the competition of students’ videos on the topic ‘Why I need a foreign language’ that we suggested on the platform Blogger.com (http://studentvideo2011.blogspot.com/). The announcement of the contest, its conditions, and at the end – the results were written in the first blog posts. Since the activity was performed in two categories – «German» and «English» – students’ video were placed on two different pages in accordance with the target language. The best works were chosen during the online voting, which took place in each category in the blog.
We should say that in the very beginning students’ reaction for this form of the competitive materials presentation was a bit wary. But gradually the competition attracted the considerable interest, and at the stage of voting a large number of visitors was recorded in the statistics of the blog on a daily basis.
To be fair, the blogging turned to be not very easy and we had to face some difficulties, both in terms of structure and design issues. However, the overall experience was positive, but it revealed some details, that led to the reflection on the possible changes or additions. It has allowed us to make certain conclusions and suggested a plan of further blog developing and expanding the range of its application in the process of education.
Thus the idea to use the blogosphere as an option to traditional methodological seminar on professional development, held regularly at every faculty chair, was born. In consideration of the new educational purposes the opportunities provided by the technology of Web 2.0, in our opinion, will suggest a new way of organizing this scope of work.
It isn’t necessary to mention again the importance and necessity of these seminars for teachers. The methodical work is a holistic system of collective and individual activities aimed at improving teaching skills, creativity, and as a consequence at making the quality and effectiveness of the educational process much better.
There is a huge variety of forms of the methodical work organizing: pedagogical councils, panel discussions, author’s seminars, model lessons, master classes, specialized workshops, retreats, separate consultations, work on curriculum plans, guidelines for managing the process of education, self-study, etc.
Traditionally, all of these forms of the professional development were supposed to create the necessary methodological framework in any faculty chair and intended for the accumulation of knowledge about new techniques and methods of teaching, work on the pedagogical programs, curriculum choices, changes in the state educational standards, etc.
We suggest а modern view of the problem and consider the idea of methodological seminars on the basis of a blogosphere as a creative approach to the educational practice of the chair. So it is possible to speak of the definite advantages of this type of work as it will help to achieve the following objectives:
1) to improve the methodical activity level and to use the Internet recourses rationally to upgrade teaching skills;
2) to help educators to adapt successfully to modern situation of the total ‘Internetalization’ and apply Web 2.0 technology as a part of the classes effectively;
3) to organize a system of the experience exchange with colleagues from other universities in the home country as well as with foreign ones;
4) to make optimal conditions for educators creative potential expression.
The central part of the blog could be devoted to discussion of some methodological issue. It is expedient to publish a plan for the seminar and reports of all participants. So a blogosphere as an alternative form to a chair seminar, obviously, gives several benefits for the teachers.
Firstly, numerous technical possibilities of the blogosphere can present not only the text of a report, but also good visual examples: pictures or video, etc. For this purpose, there are many web-based applications allowing to diversify and to visualize the information provided or create own materials and publish them in blogs, for example:
• as scratch-animation (http://scratch.mit.edu),
• voice avatars (http://www.voki.com/),
• or a variety of services to make smart cards MindMaps (http://mind42.com/, http://bubbl.us/, etc.),
• online-presentations (http://www.viewbook.com/, http://www.flyinside.com, http://prezi.com/, http://www.slideshare.net/,etc.).
Secondly, the dialogue supposed can be carried out in the form of comments for each post-report. This form of networking has several advantages in comparison to e-mail or chat rooms, for instance. All comments are available to be read for each participant and anyone registered in the blog can join the discussion. In addition, the communication in the forum is available at any time.
Thirdly, the discussion of methodological issues is accompanied with the direct involvement of teachers in the new Internet technologies used at the present stage of the educational process development. It promotes the fastest practical understanding and mastery of this innovation. It is also important that the use of Web 2.0 tools is possible without special knowledge and skills in computer science, so anyone can learn them without training.
Fourthly, the technical options of the blog, as well as a wide range of technologies Web 2.0, which can be combined with each other, would create, for example, constantly updated bank of inventive methods and techniques introduced by the educators of any chair in the educational process.
It should be also taken into account the characteristics of blogging, knowing of which would help to overcome the main difficulties in the creating of the so-called "methodological blog".
The theme and materials of the blog is supposed to be relevant and interesting for all participants, both teachers of the chair and moderators; they should also attract new visitors and provide a keen dialogue. All of this will solve the challenges that we set for ourselves, using this form of activity.
The structure of the blog must be carefully considered and clear to each participant. In addition to posts-reports it could be possible to publish and themes and plans to be discussed as separate gadgets or a separate unit, where teachers could formulate their demands or interests in topics or share their impressions of the debate, etc. At the same time by subscribing to the newsletter, you can receive information on the timing of the next discussion topic.
A separate site can be devoted to students. Here you can advertise on the contests and quizzes, links to material that promote foreign languages materials intended for students preparing for training abroad. All this will provide a natural connection between the classroom and extracurricular activities of learners.
Technically correct blogging and easy navigation contributes to the successful implementation of the assigned tasks. But we must not forget also about individuality and creativity in design.
But what is also important is to determine the conditions or rules for participation in the blog activity immediately. On the one hand, you can publish a number of topics for discussion, without any time limits for ongoing debate. This form will bring to the dialogue many colleagues, both Russian and foreign universities with whom the teachers of the chair have established close contacts, and it would be a good chance to exchange experiences. On the other hand we can talk about a subject relevant only to members of the chair, and in this case it is essential not to delay the dispute, so we can determine the time frame for this.
Thus, we believe the introduction of blogs in the pedagogical practice is a challenging type of work. This approach to the methodological topics discussing opens up new creative ideas for the tuition. The methodical work organized this way requires a great deal of preparatory efforts, but, as a matter of fact, it can be very useful and valuable.
So, according to our experience, suggestions, and conclusions blogging as a form of an educational activity can perform a great role in the academic development, since a technically well-composed, thought-out blog structure and a stimulating content will upgrade teaching skills, give a opportunity to knowledge sharing, raise students’ interest and improve the effectiveness of the educational process in general.