By Ewan McIntosh
Blogs, podcasts and wikis are what we refer to as ‘social software’ and this is a very revealing piece of jargon. For in the current UK classroom socialising is positively discouraged. I began to encourage socialising offline, in the classroom, and online, on blogs and podcasts, and saw a monumental improvement in students’ work and grades.
The reasons for the best work were clear: students were not doing their work for me, for their parents or even for themselves. I couldn’t expect every student to have an innate desire to learn, could I? No, they were doing it “for their public”. My students had about 30,000 different readers and 11,000 listeners hanging on their every word, subscribed free of charge to our school blogs and podcast, waiting to see what had happened on the latest school trip or charity day at school.
Podcasting is where an individual can create an audio file – in school we call it a radio show – on their computer. They place it on a blog and instantly the show’s subscribers receive the latest edition. It’s as simple as that. I’m surprised that more schools weren’t doing it when we launched Europe’s first schools podcast in collaboration with students in a Polish partner school. That was in May 2005, when podcasting was six months old. Now there are numerous schools realising the potential of students who weren’t performing as well as they could have done. And the only differences? Firstly, students were using a computer or MP3 recorder to capture their thoughts. It’s tech and it’s fun. Secondly, they were realising very quickly, from their web statistics and comments left on their blogs, that large numbers of people were listening to their work. On a regular basis. They now had an audience to keep happy, to keep entertained, to keep interested. Making interesting and entertaining copy is more than we ask in the curriculum of speaking tests and assessments.
I challenge anyone to reckon that blogging, podcasting and wikis are not a big deal. In my experience it’s only those who don’t know (and some who, with ignorant pride, refuse to ever learn) that would even bother to question that. It’s not that I or any other blogger have some kind of cause to fight, a cause from which we stand to gain.
It’s just that these social technologies work for something in learning. And lots of people are using them.