Saturday, 15 January 2011

Using Moodle Forums in Creative Writing Class


I did this with a group who are studying on our L2 Pre-Access Diploma in Progression, a new course which we are piloting aimed at students who were diagnosed as requiring a foundation year prior to studying @ L3.  We had been working on planning and drafting a piece of creative writing and this was pretty much complete with some excellent work from the students.  Definitely not for the faint-hearted  as their stories range from civil war in East Timor, to experiencing the Rwandan genocide as a child - but well-written & so, so compelling.

Using the Moodle Forums

So the writing was finished & I was wondering what we could do with it as the students had put so much into it.  I had used Moodle forums before for online discussion but not for showcasing student work & peer commentary and I thought this might be a good opportunity.

The first thing I did, before the class was to set up a forum on Moodle entitled "My Story" with very clear instructions / prompts for students.  My experience of using Moodle forums before has been that starting them off in class makes it more likely that they will access it outside the classroom.

In class, students clicked on 'reply' and then copied & pasted their stories into the reply.  So we ended up with a linear collection of threads - each one containing a story.  

The instructions then asked students to read and comment on at least 2 other stories & ask at least 2 questions.  I became involved at this point, asking questions of the first students to post, just to get the ball rolling.  Once learners had commented on at least 2 other posts & asked a couple of questions, the idea was that they went back to their own post and replied to the questions other students had posted.  I had already posted a few comments and questions just in case any student hadn't had their story visited.  So the forum threads which started off looking very linear began to look a bit more like a spider's web with comments & questions sprouting out of each thread & linking the stories together.

This final part didn't really happen in as much detail as I would have liked as we ran out of time, but I have encouraged students to do it at home and we will revisit for at least a hour in class next week so they can become more comfortable & confident using the forums, and also so they gain practice of sensitively giving peer feedback and of forming and asking perceptive questions.

Once students do get more familiar with this practice, I will use it again.  It is simple to set up, students enjoyed it, they were able to work collaboratively & get ideas from the questions posted by their peers and the Moodle threads can be used as evidence for the External Verifier (EV) of working together etc.  Also, I think if they get into the habit of adding to forum posts outside the class they will become more involved in the course in general and also create a strong group dynamic.  Other advantages would include being able to access from home if learners are unwell - not just accessing the materials & handouts, but also actually joining in class discussion & interacting with their peers.  It also makes their Moodle site feel 'alive' rather than just being a repository for handouts & power points.

Even though this is a mature group of learners without any 'trouble-makers', we still had a group discussion at the very beginning about the importance of respecting each other's work, of constructive, positive criticism & I think this is crucial with this sort of activity.  "Think before you post!", being very much the motto!

I'm looking forward to continuing it next week & hopefully when we return to it I will remember to allocate more class time to it!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sick Note

So this is my first blog . . . And it feels a bit strange . . .

Background: I am a teacher.  English of many different varieties (Lang. Lit. ESOL / EFL).  I teach in Oxford at the College of Further Education.  I'm also a teacher trainer and I am about to start teaching on a new University Diploma in ILT and we are asking the teachers on the course to record their professional development & reflections on a blog.  There have been some reservations about the idea of "going public", so I thought the least I could do was take part in the same way as all the others.

So this is me.  Going "public".  I suppose I should have a sort of mission statement about what I hope to get from this experiment . . . although I'm not exactly sure yet. Certainly, being able to discuss the technical ins and outs with t.he rest of the course is the main idea at the moment . . . but I do hope that in some sense this will be the tiny acorn from which a great oak of some description springs forth.

Why "sick note"?  Why indeed . . .

Earlier this week, I had my second and third days off sick in 8 years of working at the college.   A murderously bad flu.  So I found myself at home on a Monday (but not on holiday) for maybe the first time in my life and thought it might just be the ideal time to do some low impact work.  I've had a word document with various weblinks & thoughts relating to ILT / multimedia & general use of IT to enhance learning for several years now.  And I add to it at least once a week - often more frequently than that & occasionally a little less frequently.  But its always there.  Being added to.  But never actually used.  I tell myself at work that I must make time to reflect & explore and it's terrible lying to yourself so I though this week - off sick - not at work, but not on holiday - it was time to stop adding to the list and time to start reading it.  Time to join the dots - or at least the disparate array of links and half-thoughts - into something that makes sense.

So this is me.  Starting small . . . armed only with a blog and good thoughts . . . with no particular direction home . . . and certainly in blogworld (for now at least) a complete unknown (with no followers) . . . and surely destined to be . . . like a rolling stone?

So when the ILT Diploma course gets up and running proper and I am forced to be a bit more serious . . . and actually set some vaguely 'SMART(!)' targets & remember this was all inspired by a day off sick and the idea of doing things . . . differently . . . I can rest easy with the fact that my first blog concluded with a bit of Bob Dylan . . . and (stretching things a little now) hope that my "going electric" will be every bit as enjoyable as Bob's . . .  . . . Hmmm - maybe I CAN do 'SMART' targets after all . . . . .

Signing off blog#1 now with a link to someone else who advocates (if not 'going electric') then definitely doing things differently . . .