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ETEC 532 Literature Review

That which informed the final paper:

Incorporating Blogs and Discussion Forums for the Benefit of Language Learning: Literature Review

Vicki Schrader

University of British Columbia

ETEC 532

July 13, 2010

Literature Review

Students in an English Language Learners’ (ELL) classroom are typically there out of necessity.  It is not that they love learning English.  They need to learn English to reach other goals.  Often, in my situation as a high school ELL teacher, students are under heavy time constraints to learn the language of instruction while also completing the regular five year curriculum – ten years or more of learning within five years or less (Cummins, as cited in ESL Consultant, 2004).  They cannot afford inefficient instructional approaches.  Incorporating technology into an ELL classroom needs to be based in sound pedagogy to improve the learning environment and rate of acquisition for this group of learners.  Done right, heeding the successes and cautions of the research literature, technology integration may be the duly responsible move in respecting all that ELLs need to accomplish (which is, to learn English) in order to move forth to their greater goals.

A Change in Pedagogy

With the genuine goal of having capable students proceed with confidence in their ability, knowing their accomplishments are hard-earned and represent secure knowledge within them, I have run my classes precisely as Gee critiques: “Classrooms tend to encourage and reward individual knowledge stored in the head” (2007, p. 103, as cited in Mabrito and Medley, 2008).  Additional literature review, however, prompts serious critique of top-down approaches and consideration of social constructivist approaches to language learning whereby procedures will in fact enhance working knowledge of the language.  Communities of learning, easily constructed in guided online forums, fit perfectly within this constructivist approach, encouraging me that incorporating technology may be the best approach to language acquisition.

Connecting with Our Students

Teachers’ incorporation of technology may reconnect students with both us and the curricula we put upon them (Wesch, 2008, Anderson, 2008).  Wesch (2008) discusses the disconnect between the teacher at the front demanding attention and the students who appear to be listening and taking diligent notes on their laptops but are really on Facebook.  His solution is for teachers to reconnect what they teach and how they require students to learn with what students perceive as their ‘real world.’  Wesch (2008) suggests teachers embrace the existing technology students bring with them and regularly engage with them as learning technologies to reach meaningful objectives.  “The task of the online course designer and teacher now… is to choose, adapt, and perfect, through feedback, assessment, and reflection, educational activities that maximize the affordances of the Web” (Anderson, 2008, p. 68). In accordance with Anderson (2008), possibilities offered by Web 2.0 applications have potential to seriously enhance education in a socially constructivist way, reconnecting students with engaged learning.  Given that a percentage of my students, not inclined to be labeled by not having been born into an English-speaking family, are inclined to resent and disengage from their ELL course requirements, taking measures to reconnect them with engaged learning is only prudent.

Considering Student Perception; Giving Students a Voice

In Fisch (2007), Hsu, Wang and Comac (2008), and Wesch (2007), student perceptions toward learning via blogging are positive; students are motivated by the technological venue, perceiving it as relevant and appealing.  Students communicating through Wesch (2007) point out how we, teachers, continue to use tools – such as scantron, pencil and paper – which feel irrelevant to them.  Persistent use of these tools only further alienates students who are increasingly convinced that what we offer is archaic, causing further student disengagement.  In contrast, a pilot study in the use of audioblogs (Hsu, Wang and Comac, 2008), which are somewhat more complicated to set up than regular blogs, shows the majority of students perceived themselves as more successful in their efforts to learn English.  Hsu, Wang and Comac (2008) conclude that, with regular use and prompt, accurate and empowering teacher-given feedback in small classes (they recommend a10 student maximum), the audioblog is a beneficial easy-to-use tool that does not distract from the assignment at hand.  Our classes run between 12 and 22 students per class, so with Hsu, Wang and Comac’s (2008) admission that the time required to give proper feedback to the students also reduced the teacher’s available time for activities such as resource sourcing and course development, benefits of audioblogs should be interpreted cautiously and perhaps reserved for later – a secondary phase of technology integration in my classes.  Fisch’s (2007) interviews with students engaged in class-based blogging, however, report extremely positive outcomes.

Among positive attributes of blogging, students highlight the opportunity to see what others say, reflect, keep the discussion going, post questions, probe for further analysis, and not being limited by time (Fisch, 2007).  Students report greater opportunity to interact and build their own ideas rather than “just listening to what the teacher thinks” (Fisch, 2007).  They additionally report the blog as a debate environment for ideas they were not able to express during class and delineate types of blogging, such as “scribe posts,” where students take turns posting the day’s notes, and “live” or “fishbowl” blogging, where all students log in simultaneously during class and have a synchronous “in-class” discussion online (Fisch, 2007).  The scribe posts concern me: ideal for the legitimately ill student whom no one wants to fall behind, the scribe post also seems an enabler of student-driven truancy.  No teacher likes to admit his or her class could be any less than the pinnacle of mental stimulation and academic ecstasy, but truly it happens, and as previously stated, my particular demographic does have a percentage less inclined to accept their placement and more inclined to seek alternate geographical situations come class time.  However, the fishbowl blogging technique facilitates a welcome and participatory ambiance, allowing each individual a voice.  Students from Fisch’s school describe the fishbowl environment as one that feels safe and facilitates more connections than traditional discussions (Fisch, 2007).  I interpret this as an empowering vehicle, meeting students in a chat-like environment they relate to and are more inclined to determine is relevant and worthy of their time.  It may also put more pressure on them to verbalize (in written form) their thoughts as they can no longer hide under the guise of limited class time.  Conversely, for more stimulating or controversial topics where students want to voice an opinion, the fishbowl counters the everyone-talking-at-once problem, allowing each to be ‘heard’ simultaneously.  Students would not have to wait to be called on, could express longer thoughts without becoming intimidated partway through speaking, and see what they say before they ‘say’ it.  There is both power and sound pedagogy in enabling students’ voices and building strong learning communities as an extension of the face-to-face classroom.

Web 2.0 Applications: New Genres for Literacy and Understanding

Richardson (2004, as cited in Downes, 2004) and Alexander (2006) identify blogging as a genre of writing unto its own, with its reverse-chronological structure and extensive hyperlinking.  Blogs’ valuable potential for literacy and critical thinking skill development (Richardson, 2004, as cited in Downes, 2004) and increased prevalence and relevance prompt consideration that this emerging literary form should be included in a language class.  Downes (2004) also cites the blog as a forum for sharing culture and personal interests; with cultural diversity inherent in the ELL classroom, cultural investigation and idea-sharing have perpetual potential as roads to greater interpersonal and intercultural understanding.

The Mechanics of Language

Writing is a critically important element of academic language acquisition, so to incorporate blogging and other Web 2.0 applications in my instructional practice, they must benefit writing skills.  Arslan and Şahin-Kızıl (2010), in a quasi-experimental study, determined that blogging software enhanced the content and organization of ELLs’ writing.  Transcending limitations of the regular classroom, blogging gifted these students with time, exposure and resources, critical elements for language learners who need to process, explore and play with language before they can excel in it.  Arslan and Şahin-Kızıl (2010) caution that writing mechanics such as grammar and vocabulary did not improve and that part of the benefit seems to come from the sense of an audience beyond just the teacher, so it is important to supplement with additional lessons and feedback from others.

Keeping the importance of writing and grammar in mind, discussion forums (DFs) give support to modal verb usage (Montero, Watts, and Garcia-Carbonell, 2007).  According to Montero, Watts, and Garcia-Carbonell (2007), DFs reflect oral language and so use modal verbs similarly. So then, provided students have been instructed in proper modal verb usage, discussion forums should be a good arena in which to practice them with the support of the community of learners.  Montero, Watts, and Garcia-Carbonell (2007) also point out DFs “promote [student] involvement in discussion threads which produce meaningful communication in real contexts, making discussion forums an active language learning tool” (n.p.).  Written text reflective of speech, DFs may be sensible vehicles toward the development of both writing skills and emergent oral language skills.


The more active we can make learning for our students, prompting them to become engaged and responsible for the construction of knowledge, guiding them as they go, the more expeditious their learning should become, thus furthering their progress towards their goals beyond language learning.  The literature supports blogging and discussion forums as sensible active learning tools for the advancement of language education.


Alexander, B. (2006).  Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning?  EDUCAUSE Review, 41(2), 33-44.   Retrieved from

Anderson, T. (2008).  Towards a Theory of Online Learning. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University.  Retrieved from

Arslan, R.Ş. and Şahin-Kızıl, A. (2010).  How can the use of blog software facilitate the writing process of English language learners?  Computer Assisted Language Learning 23(3), 183 – 197.  doi: 10.1080/09588221.2010.486575.

Downes, S. (2004).   Educational Blogging.   EDUCAUSE Review, 5 (38).   Retrieved from

ESL Consultant (2004). Fast Facts About ESL Learners [handout]. Vancouver School Board, Vancouver, Canada.

Fisch, K. (2007).  Blogging: In Their Own Words.  The Fischbowl.   Retrieved from

Hsu, H.-Y., Wang, S.-K., Comac, L. (2008).  Using audioblogs to assist English-language learning: an investigation into student perception. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 21(2), 181-198. doi: 10.1080/09588220801943775. Retrieved from

Mabrito, M., Medley, R.  (2008).  Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts.   Innovate. 4(6).   Retrieved from h’t_Read-__Understanding_the_Net_Generation’s_Texts.pdf

Montero B., Watts F., Garcia-Carbonell A. (2007).  Discussion forum interactions: Text and context.  System35(4), 566-582.  doi:10.1016/j.system.2007.04.002

Tapscott, D. (2004). The net generation and the school. Custom Course Materials ETEC 532.  (Reprinted from Milken Family Foundation

Wesch, M. (2007).  A Vision of Students Today (and What Teachers Must Do).  Retrieved from

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