I have just spent a few furious hours registering students for a blog-site so that our French Second Language students can create blogs for a competition. The students were encouraged to create a blog on any site, Blogger, WordPress, etc, but we also created a secure (moderated) blog on Kidblog for those that needed a more gentle introduction to blogging. From what I could see, for many students the process of blogging is somewhat daunting.
I became involved at the level of setting up the blog, and was not able to teach students how to use a blog.
While the purpose of the competition is clearly to get students to write in the target language (French), in most cases I could see students were simply using the blog to upload a few pictures, and very little text was added at all. This confirms my experiences with my English classes as well. If they can avoid writing anything longer than a tweet or status update, they will. Clearly micro-blogging is winning out over the longer format, rather like one-day cricket seems to draw far larger crowds than the five-day format of the game.
And yet, the blogs on the Mind Sports Club that I run are lengthy and meaty. The boys use the blogs for the purpose of discussing their real interests, and seem quite happy to create hundreds of pages of arcane text. They don’t appear to have any problems using the interface, even though it is far more complex than kidblog!
There seems to be a message in these observations, and it is that motivation and mastery of technology are closely linked. The so-called Digital Natives do not display any facility with technology if they do not see a need for it. When we use technology we need to make very sure that the technology will engage students and complement the learning, rather than become an obstacle to the learning.
The other lesson is that writing is a chore, which everyone will avoid, if it does not spring from the interest and passion of the writer.
We also need to make sure that the technology is carefully scaffolded. Many teachers, especially those less technologically inclined, tend to believe that kids will be better than them, simply because they are kids. Nothing could be further from the truth!