What is a blog?

I was recently asked to work with a group of students on blogging. The students had been asked to write a weekly assessed blog of between 500 and 700 words and were having difficulty.

As I thought about it, I realised that I did not have enough information about what the students were expected to do, and neither – I think – did the students.

It made me start thinking about blogs and what they are. My problem – I think – was that I was trying to think of a blog as a genre, and I don’t think it can be categorised in that way. At the moment a blog is simply a medium.

If we agree that genres are “staged, goal oriented, social processes in speakers engage as members of our culture” (Martin, 1992, p. 505), then blogs cannot be seen in that way. There is no common idea of goal orientation for a blog, audiences are unclear and there are no fixed stages, in general, although particular blogs are often clear about there own aims.

So what is a blog?

To take a few quotations from Wikipedia:

“A blog is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries (“posts”)”.

“Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject or topic, ranging from politics to sports. Others function as more personal online diaries, and others function more as online brand advertising of a particular individual or company. A typical blog combines text, digital images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic.

“The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important contribution to the popularity of many blogs. ”

So blogs:

  • can be discussions, give information, provide commentary, be personal dairies, or advertisements.
  •  can include images and other media and links to related sites,
  •  are often informal, diary style,
  • are written regularly,
  • allow discussion.

So I wonder what the lecture I communicated with wanted her students to do. I asked her and she didn’t reply so I don’t know.

And is the Wikipedia definition useful.

Looking at a few blogs, I read:

  • My blog provides information, commentary and discussion and is relatively informal. It does include images and links as well as discussion. I often use it as a way to try to sort out my thoughts about a particular issue. The opinions are not as supported as well as they would need to be in a published article.
  • I don’t know how Alex Ding’s Teaching EAP blog fits into this /). It is carefully thought out, serious, well referenced, written regularly, but certainly not informal. Steve Kirk’s The Teaping Point is similar.
  • Pat Thompson’s Patter blog, includes opinion and discussion, as well as useful information and publicity for her books. It is written very regularly and relatively informally.
  • The IATEFL blog mainly gives information. It is written regularly.
  • The TESOL president’s blog gives information as well as commentary and discussion.

So like all writing blogs are variable and depend on purpose and audience. The only things that characterise them are their regularity,  their medium and the fact that they allow – maybe hope for – discussion. Some blogs give information; others include discussion. Some are informal; others are formal. What I take from all this is that asking a student to write a blog is not enough. As with all writing, the purpose of the blog and the intended audience need to be clearly specified.

References

Martin, J. R. (1992). English text: System and structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

How to write – What to write.

I’ve often quoted Frank Smith when discussing writing.  In Writing and the writer, Smith distinguishes between “composition” and “transcription” in writing. “Composition” is deciding what you want to say, and “transcription” is what you have to do to say it. His advice is “The rule is simple: Composition and transcription must be separated, and transcription must come last. It is asking too much of anyone, and especially of students trying to improve all aspects of their writing ability, to expect that they can concern themselves with polished transcription at the same time that they are trying to compose. The effort to concentrate on spelling, handwriting, and punctuation at the same time that one is struggling with ideas and their expression not only interferes with composition but creates the least favorable situation in which to develop transcription skills as well” (Smith, 1982, p. 24).

After watching Juzo Itami’s 1995 film Shizukana seikatsu (A quiet life) recently I decided to read  Nobel prize winner Kenzaburu Oe – on whose novel the film is based. In his novel The Changeling, he deals with a similar situation: Continue reading

IATEFL ESP SIG PCE, 2016 – Overview

I’ve just returned from the IATEFL English for Specific Purposes (ESP) Special Interest Group (SIG) Pre-Conference Event (PCE) in Birmingham, UK.

The theme of the PCE was tensions and debates in ESP and EAP.

As usual it was a very interesting day with teachers from many parts of the world discussing how they go about trying to meet the academic and professional linguistic needs of their students, sometimes with limited resources. Continue reading

TESOL-IATEFL ESP discussion

I recently took part in a TESOL – IATEFL online discussion about how ESP projects can create positive social change.
Kevin Knight – the organiser – gave us the following task:
You are all members of a task force team to provide language training for employees of multinational corporation. The HR department of the company is interested in your ideas about providing not only in-house training but also involving local universities in the training of its employees. In addition, the HR department is wondering how such training could be connected to its annual report on Corporate Social Responsibility. Share your ideas in connection with the big picture: How ESP projects can create positive social change.

Continue reading

Where Next for EAP?

There has been much discussion recently about what exactly students have to do in order to succeed in HE. Gillett & Hammond (2009), for example, identified a range of tasks that need to be managed in order to succeed and Nesi & Gardner (2012) looked in great detail  at the genres which students need to work with. This has been a very useful contribution to the development of EAP.  However, Feak (2011) identifies the difficulties that some students might have with these genres in multidisciplinary degrees and courses.  Furthermore, my  recent experience working with students from one discipline, business students, has shown that many of the assignments that the students have to produce are much more complicated and not so easily classified.  I’d like to show some examples of these and ask how we can best help our insessional students to deal with them.

Continue reading

Feedback – Who is it for?

I was visiting a colleague’s office recently and he showed me a piece of student work from another university where he was an external examiner. The piece of work was covered with red ticks, crosses, under-linings, crossings out and illegible comments. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that this feedback – if that’s what it was – was not very useful and that it was something that he – as an external examiner – should comment on. As I was leaving the office, I suddenly thought of something and went back to look at the text again. As I thought, the text was on formal examination paper and it was clear that the writing we had been looking at was an examination answer, something that the students would (might) never see again. It made me realise that comment/feedback on student writing – as with all writing – depends on purpose and audience, something that does not seem to have been discussed elsewhere. Continue reading

IATEFL ESP SIG PCE – My Presentation

The theme of the Pre-Conference Event  was employability and transferability in EAP and ESP. It was a joint event with BALEAP – the global forum for EAP practitioners. Thinking about this topic from a needs analysis point of view, I tried to investigate from different angles how institutions of higher education are dealing with this issue. My conclusion was that they they are trying to deal with it, but there is a large amount of confusion, especially with regard to professional and academic genres. One example I mentioned – and so did others – was when students are asked to write a report for their manager – a professional genre – but are required to give references – typical of academic genres.

Continue reading

IATEFL ESP SIG PCE 2015 – Overview

I’ve just returned from the IATEFL English for Specific Purposes (ESP) Special Interest Group (SIG) Pre-Conference Event (PCE) in Manchester, UK.

This was a joint pre-conference event between the IATEFL English for Specific Purposes Special Interest Group (ESPSIG) & BALEAP, the global forum for EAP professionals.

The theme of the PCE was employability and transferability in EAP and ESP.

As usual it was a very interesting day with teachers from many parts of the world discussing how they go about trying to meet the academic and professional linguistic needs of their students, sometimes with limited resources.
Continue reading

Development of EAP, through BALEAP PIMs

I’ve been asked to give a short talk at the next BALEAP PIM on the the history of BALEAP PIMs (Professional Issues Meetings). As I was preparing this, I thought it would be interesting to see how the topics, as shown by the titles of the presentations, have changed over the years. Continue reading