Here’s a brief summary (in progress!) of our #ELTchat of October 4, 2017 on the topic of the best Web 2.0 tools for teaching and practicing writing skills. This topic was originally suggested by Fiona Price (you can suggest a topic for a future #ELTchat here).
In some sections I mostly just quote tweets. In others, I describe the gist of what was said in prose. I also add a few of my own thoughts here and there in an attempt to extract some basic possible takeaways or questions to consider. I use bold to highlight some of the seemingly most important bits. Please note that in places I’ve very lightly edited the syntax/punctuation of some tweets to make them read a bit more smoothly outside the context of twitter itself. Also, see the transcript for more than I include here.
(As I’m posting it on October 24 this currently summarizes only the first 60% or so of the chat transcript. I will complete it when I have time, but thought that there was just enough here to post now and continue later). Enjoy!
Defining what we mean by “2.0” tools: typically collaborative, digital, and relevant/current writing (via typing) platforms.
Staring things off Matthew asked: “What *are* the things we talk about when we talk about this topic? Associations?”. Angelos, always on the #ELTchat ball, quickly answered: “When it comes to web 2.0 and writing the first thing that comes to mind is: collaboration“. To which Matthew replied: “I think [collaboration is] maybe the essence of “2.0” right? And the primary difference when using digital/online tools?”. Gemma also responded to the initial prompt: “Online platforms. Wikis and so on”. Angelos said: “and of course that it is current and relevant – people these days type; they don’t write”.
If these writing tools are largely about collaborative possibilities, is collaboration necessarily always a good thing?
With the collaborative nature of many Web 2.0 writing tools brought up early on, there was a thread of inquiry – starting right near the beginning and popping up throughout the chat – focused on exploring this a bit. Matthew asked: “So, is using [collaborative] Web 2.0 tools not only productive, but matching the space of actual writing activity itself?”.
To which David responded: “I don’t think so, at least considering real applications. When do we collaborate in writing at work for e.g.? Infrequently at best“. Drawing on her deep well of experience, Glenys responded mentioning that it “depends on where you work. My colleagues & I quite often prepared all kinds of texts together. Used whiteboard in those olden days.”
We agreed that collaboration/interaction is, as Angelos put it, “about the process of learning. Same rationale as with encouraging peer-correction, pairwork, etc”. David wondered whether we include peer-correction in “collaboration” or just constructing a text cooperatively and Angelos maybe channeled a bit of Vygotsky, etc.: “we consider learning as a social act, don’t we? Together we learn better”. Matthew responded: “Agree. But I also think that sometimes these days we’re egged on AWAY from activity that is socially isolated/’unshared’, [and this is] not always [a good thing]“. Tyson chimed in: “Wow. On spot with one of my questions about this”. (This is one of the things that’s so great about #ELTchat and, really, any platform that allows teachers to energetically share and explore together – you never know what questions get light shed on them and what curiosities get fed in all the crosstalk!).
David was pretty clear that he thought most real-world writing tasks themselves were not in fact highly collaborative and it’s important to recognize this. Matthew picked this up, asking: “What if the writing process is [sometimes?] better left as an isolated (but not isolating) activity? That’s what it used to be, no?”. And David, once again: “I think so. There’s the assumption it’s easier to collaborate with tech, but it’s easy to pass around a paper too”. So, essentially we agreed that one major aspect of Web 2.0 writing tools was their facilitation of collaboration, but that it’s important not to be too starry-eyed about it all and keep aims and outcomes in mind. After all, we’ve been doing collaborative writing activities for ages, long before so many online tools became available.
Fiona offered an example of when it is a a key factor: “On projects for example? Potentially more effective?” and Gemma agreed, noting that “projects go thru stages…So collaboration could mean: proof-reading, peer reviews, editing, expanding on topic/content“.
Rachel may have summed things up on this issue quite nicely by reminding us that it all “really depends how it’s handled and when it takes place. Students can collaborate outside class without T interference, and it depends on
Marking writing work using Web 2.0 tools
Sue then brought in the issue of marking: “It is harder to mark online work. My students using a Mac send garbled stuff to me at home. I like the old-fashioned way sometimes“.
Angelos could relate, but added that he is “now…marking everything online (and I think it makes me focus on details better)“. It’s not a painless transition to make, however. Angelos said that it “takes a lot of practice and time”. Gemma agreed here, adding that she “used to hate it but find marking texts on LMS so much quicker. All in same place, easy too see who’s copying“.
So, if ‘copying’ and/or plagiarism is a particular issue in your context, then perhaps using certain Web 2.0 tools and an online LMS to manage written work would be advantageous.
I think Sue’s point about ease of use/function and the teacher’s experience is important because we always need to include ourselves as the instructors in the equation when assessing essentially everything we do/may do in class. Something may be great for our learners for X and Y reasons, but contributes to teacher burnout as its hidden cost. I know I have, in the past, not accounted for this as much as I should have.
Is writing ‘fun’? Old-school vs. Web 2.0
It was mentioned that using Web 2.0 tools can bring in an element of fun. Thinking of some students and teachers he’d worked with in the past (and maybe himself, too!) who tended to think of writing as the ‘serious/boring/difficult’ member of the language skills team (listening, speaking, reading, and writing), Matthew posed this question: “Was writing *not fun* before we started using more collaborative Web 2.0 type tools?
Angelos recalled that “certainly the writing [he] did as a learner” wasn’t always big on fun. Gemma pointed out that it depends on the “atmosphere/vibe in class. Fun if the students feel at ease, not fun maybe if not confident“.
So, perhaps if we’re deciding whether or not or to what extend to use Web 2.0 tools for writing work we’re wise to poll our students. Do they feel more ‘at ease’ writing using more traditional tools, or Web 2.0 tools? In which environment/with which tools do they feel more confident? Do they want more practice in one or the other mode to increase their confidence in it?
Web 2.0 Tools We’ve Used & Can Recommend
Sue: “I quite like padlet for sharing ideas”.
Gemma: “Use LMS. Students do writing tasks there, I get notifications of them submitting. In past group in edmodo, students posted 1st draft there”…”Students then used WriteImprove for 1st revision. Resubmitted on Edmodo. I marked. Have common error & tips file Delta tutor passed on”. (Several other chatters said they’d used and liked WriteImprove).
Matthew: “Some Web 2.0 writing tool resources from Larry Ferlazzo: http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2008/10/19/the-best-places-where-students-can-write-online/ and OUP’s 3-Part “Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools” here: https://t.co/tewuBTjPVa“.
Marisa: “Screencasts for peer feedback if the class is new or unfriendly students”…”Wikis are great for collaboration – I don’t use them enough that way”.
Sue: I” use pbworks [for a course wiki], like it is fit for purpose”.
[to be con’t.]
BONUS: Here’s a fun David Crystal clip in which he cites research showing that contrary to popular belief, people are writing more than ever (just in different ways) and the quality of the written language is not, in fact, going to pot. 🙂