More on reflective learning…

This is a fab short video on the benefits of setting up an eportfolio for reflective learning.

I thought this might be a good time to remind myself of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 1984).

According to this theory, learning is a cyclical process consisting of four stages:

1. Concrete experience
2. Review and reflection
3. Forming abstract concepts, ie learning from the experience, followed by
4. Experimentation, ie testing in new situations

Ideally, learning activities should include a number of such cycles, enabling students to use what they’ve learned in the next learning activity. As regards course design, it’s important that students are given the time (and skills?) to reflect on each activity in a timely manner. A reflective blog completed a week after a learning event, for instance, wouldn’t be nearly as effective as one completed immediately following the event.

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development.
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

Action research and the reflective practitioner

I’ve been reading about action research, and trying to think of ways of incorporating this easily into everyday teaching. Sowa (2009) points out that even though teachers in her study ‘recognized the benefits of conducting action research projects, many of them stated that they did not think they would conduct these projects because of time constraints and testing’.

However, all educators will come across problems with their teaching, and perhaps action research simply presents a more formal framework to address those problems. A couple of years ago I taught English to a group of ESOL students. They were a very diverse group – from Iraq, Uganda, Romania, Kosovo – with difficult social backgrounds, and I had problems engaging a number of the students. I battled on, trying out a number of ad-hoc strategies to keep their interest, but perhaps if I’d taken a step back, and asked myself the right questions, I might have achieved a better response.

The Centre for Collaborative Research offers a template for an action-research proposal. First of all, start with an overarching question you’re trying to solve, eg ‘How can I improve the engagement of my diverse student group?’. Under that general question, ask a series of action-research questions, eg ‘How might collaborative activities, eg class wiki, class trips, improve the engagement of my students?’. Each question results in an action-research cycle, as illustrated in the image below: plan action – implement – collect evidence – evaluate evidence – reflect.

(c) Center for Collaborative Action Research, Pepperdine University

After the action research cycles have been completed, time should be given for final reflection on what has been learned.

I can see that implementing such a cycle, even if only in a very small way, could build your confidence as a teacher. It simply requires jumping off that treadmill once in a while to give yourself the space to reflect on what you’re doing…

Sowa, P. (2009). Understanding our learners and developing reflective practice: Conducting action research with English language learners. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(8), pp.1026-1032.

Riel, M. (2010). Understanding Action Research, Center For Collaborative Action Research, Pepperdine Univerity. Accessed online on 21 February 2010 from

Constructivism and CBL

Stephen Gance (2002) contends that constructivism and computer-based learning (CBL) are not necessarily compatible, and that much CBL follows behaviourist “drill and practice” methodologies. The article was written pre-Web 2.0, but I think it’s still true today. Many computer-based language courses still feature behaviourist-inspired feeding of information and testing. There is a place for “drill and practice” in language teaching: the odd exercise for learning irregular conjugations, for instance, but if we believe constructivist tenets that we are active learners, and we learn better in an interactive environment, this shouldn’t be the dominant methodology. I think there’s an assumption that technology is inherently progressive, and whilst many computer- or web-based courses demonstrate improvements in technology, I agree with Gance that they don’t always demonstrate progress in educational practice.

Gance highlights ‘four pedagogical components commonly associated with constructivism’:

1. Engaged learners: a cognitively engaged learner who actively seeks to explore his or her environment for new information
2. Hands-on interaction: a constructivist pedagogy often includes a hands-on, dialogic interaction with the learning environment
3. Authentic, problem-solving tasks: a constructivist pedagogy often requires a learning context that creates a problem-solving situation that is authentic in nature
4. Social interaction: constructivist environments typically include a social component often interpreted as actual interaction with other learners and with mentors in the actual context of learning

Plenty of food for thought for my course-design assignment…

Gance, S. (2002). Are constructivism and computer-based learning environments incompatible? Interface on the Internet 2(3). Available


Just came across this interesting Web 2.0 tool called AnswerGarden. You pose a question, and users’ answers appear as a word cloud underneath. The answers have to be quite short (max. 20 characters), so could be a good way to focus on eg adjectives, or for brainstorming an idea with your class? Like a word cloud, the more popular the answer, the bigger the text size, and if you hover over an answer you can see how many times it has been submitted. Note you can add a password to ensure that only your students can access the content.

See below for an example. You could ask students to respond to the question, and then use the replies as a discussion point. Why not try it out now by adding your own answer?

How would you use AnswerGarden in your classroom?… at

Ways to use blogs in language learning

I’ve been investigating different ways to use blogs for language learning. Here follow some uses identified by Campbell (2003) and Murray & Hourigan (2008):

1) The tutor blog: for reading practice; provides links for further reading; gives class information, and links for self-study. (Ruby’s OLL blog is a good example.)

2) The learner blog: for writing practice, reflection on class activities. (For reflective writing, advanced students can write in the foreign language, but beginners might benefit more from writing in their native language.)

3) The class blog: as a collaborative forum for international language/cultural exchange; as a forum for exchanging ideas on a class-based project.

4) External teacher-selected blogs: use a source of authentic language for reading and completing comprehension/research tasks.

Murray & Hourigan (2008) suggest two different approaches when considering the use of a blog within the foreign-language classroom: the ‘expressivist’ approach, and the ‘socio-cognitivist’ approach. The former approach encourages the development of the student’s individual ‘voice’, involving creative self-expression and discovery, so might be more appropriate for reflective activities. The ‘socio-cognitivist approach’, on the other hand, is more concerned with higher-order thinking, problem-solving and ‘collective dissemination of knowledge’, and might be more suitable for a collaborative task. It is up to the teacher to decide which approach would be more apposite within the existing objectives of the course.

Regarding assessment, Murray & Hourigan (2008) suggest that you might consider several aspects of the blog’s make-up, offering percentages for content (in either the native or target language), design, delivery and collaboration. Within a language-learning context, the temptation would be to focus purely on the content, but I think it’s interesting to consider these other aspects, especially if we want to develop students’ electronic literacy. Content is all important, but so is the design and delivery in terms of creating an overall package that will draw readers to your blog.

Campbell, A. (2003). Weblogs for Use with ESL Classes. The Internet TESL Journal 9(2).

Murray, L. & Hourigan, T. (2008). Blogs for specific purposes: Expressivist or socio-cognitivist approach? ReCALL, 20(01), pp.82-97.

Blogging and shyness

I’ve read a couple of papers today that reported on the how blogging can be used to counteract in-class shyness. Ward (2004) claims that some of his quietest, most inhibited students were the most vocal once they were protected by the anonymity of a blog. Miceli et al. (2010) also found that blogs ‘seemed to be particularly successful in providing a forum for those who found it difficult to speak much during in-class discussion’. To quote one of their students,

“with the blog you can take your time, whereas with face to face you have to think on the spot. Often by the time I worked out what I wanted to say in class the discussion had moved on or someone stole my idea.”

Interestingly, Miceli et al. also reported that, at the other end of the spectrum, ‘the four who made the fewest contributions to the blog were students who consistently participated actively in in-class discussion’.
I really like this idea of using blogs to achieve a more equitable balance between those who contribute in class and those who feel more inhibited, allowing everybody to have their own “voice”.

Miceli, T., Murray, S.V. & Kennedy, C. (2010). Using an L2 blog to enhance learners’ participation and sense of community. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 23(4), 321-341.

Ward, J.M. (2004). Blog Assisted Language Learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1), 1–16.

Some thoughts on wiki creation and assessment

Just came across this teacher-support site which lists a number of questions to be asked before using a wiki with your students. I think this provides a really useful framework to start thinking about how to construct the wiki.

  • How do you envision using the wiki?
  • Who will be able to see the wiki? (the public? members only?)
  • Who will be able to edit the wiki? (the public? members only? vary by section?)
  • Who will be able to join the wiki? (students only? invited guests? the public?)
  • What parts of the wiki will you “protect” (lock from changes)?
  • Who will moderate the wiki for appropriateness, etc?
  • Who will have the ability to reset changes?
  • Will you, as the teacher, be notified of all changes?
  • Will the wiki have Individual or global memberships? (by individual students if you want an individual record of who made changes, or with one log-in per group or class?)

I would also like to add a few of my own:

  • How will you ensure that students have the technical skills to use the wiki?
  • How will you ensure that students feel comfortable editing each other’s work?
  • How will you assuage their fears about receiving criticism from others?
  • How will you ensure your students learn to see the medium as ‘collaborative’ rather than ‘competitive’?
  • How will you assess the wiki?
  • How will you encourage equitable user participation?

My final question has arisen after re-reading Jakob Nielsen’ article on participation inequality and the 90-9-1 rule: 90% of users are lurkers; 9% of users contribute from time to time, and 1% account for the majority of contributions. Theses statistics relate the internet community as a whole, but even in a class setting, some students are more likely to contribute than others.

As for assessment, Lamb (2004) describes the the wiki medium as ‘chaotic’ in which data can be edited and re-edited making attribution almost impossible. Assessment of collaborative works can be two-fold: the overall quality of the collaborative product, and the contribution each individual has made to the collaborative endeavour (Macdonald 2003). Since individual input would be so difficult to monitor and separate, one would have to consider assessing the wiki as a whole. Even though individuals have contributed components of the wiki, once these ideas have been submitted ‘the idea no longer belongs exclusively to the originator, but now becomes the property of the whole learning community’ (Wheeler et al. 2008). Perhaps, therefore, it seems more appropriate that the community as a whole be assessed rather than the individual contributions?

Need to read up a bit more on assessment of collaborative work within the wiki environment. If anyone know of any good studies or articles, please let me know!

Macdonald, J. (2003). Assessing online collaborative learning: process and product. Computers & Education, 40(4), 377 – 391.

Nielsen, J. (2006). Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. Available at: [Accessed January 27, 2011].

TeachersFirst: Wiki Walk-Through, n.d. Available at: [Accessed January 27, 2011].

Wheeler, S., Yeomans, P. & Wheeler, D. (2008). The good, the bad and the wiki: Evaluating student-generated content for collaborative learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(6), 987-995.