Dr. Jo Mynard – Koryo International College, Nagoya, Japan
Jo Mynard’s presentation was entitled “How Blogging can Promote Learner Autonomy". In her talk, she reported findings from an ongoing research project with different groups of Japanese female college students.
Jo began by reviewing the reported benefits of blogging for language learners. A blog shares features with handwritten diaries or journals but also has aspects that set it apart. Blogs provide learners with an authentic outlet for practising their language as well as giving them valuable experience of writing for an audience. Blogging is a collaborative pursuit in that a blog invites responses from readers.
Little research has been done into the question of whether blogs have the potential to develop learners’ autonomy; however, Jo suggested that if we consider some key facets of autonomous behaviour such as decision making, taking control or making connections, then it would seem that that potential might exist.
Jo’s primary focus in her research is the capacity for critical reflection. So, as well as seeing if blogging is a useful activity for language learning, her research aimed to examine student blogs for evidence of reflection.
Three groups of students have been involved in the research over the past three years. All students were first year college students. Two groups kept their blogs while on study abroad programmes (in the UK in 2005 and 2006). The third group kept blogs in Japan.
Jo stressed that that the aim of the research was not to compare groups but to gather initial impressions on the usefulness of blogs as tools for reflection and language learning. Data was collected by questionnaires, interviews, researcher observations and analysis of blog content and, sometimes, language.
The findings revealed that students (in all groups) were generally positive about blogging, feeling that it had helped them to develop their language skills. In particular, students were keen on the social nature of blogging. There was evidence of students personalizing language that they had previously studied in class.
There was also evidence of reflection. Citing Klaus Schweinhorst’s example of Glenn Gould recording and playing back his playing, Jo said that some students had re-read and edited their own blog postings. Furthermore, analysis of content revealed that a third of blog postings had a reflective element. Students reflected on their language ability, on activities they had done in class or on the differences between British and Japanese culture.
As the studies were preliminary, a lot of issues were raised. For example, for the group in Japan blogs were required and graded, while for the other groups blogs were optional. This issue led to an interesting discussion about whether it is fair to ask students to do reflective blogs and then grade them for it. Another issue raised was the question of how much guidance a teacher should give. While some students were able to choose topics to write about, others might have benefited from being give topics, especially those students who did not study abroad.
Jo also offered recommendations for those thinking of using blogs. Firstly, students should be encouraged to read and respond to each other’s blogs. Students reported that that they were motivated to write more because they knew people were reading their blogs. Secondly, allowing students to personalize their blogs allows them to feel that they have ownership of them. And finally, it would be useful to highlight for students some strategies for achieving more accurate writing. At times, students’ enthusiasm to post outstripped their desire to check their writing for accuracy.