Image courtesy of Lorraine Santana
One of the things I love about Twitter is the online chats that occur based on areas of interest. This is a great way for anyone to have a say, regardless of class, position, or status. While I would love to participate more, time restraints and scheduling conflicts make it impossible for me to participate in the chats that I would love to take part in. As a result, I try to follow up by reading the tweets after the fact and the posted summaries as well.
Yesterday, I got to work in the morning and quickly read over the #ELTchat transcript and was pleasantly surprised to see a topic discussed that is close to my heart, that is student-generated content. Even this past weekend, I was discussing this very area of interest with other teachers during my session at the BC TEAL regional conference. While yesterday’s chat discussion predictably centred around the creation of content, I was mystified to find that little was mentioned about why this content is created and for what purpose. On top of that, not much at all was said about the use of student-generated content by other students as listening or reading material. The result of reading over that transcript has prompted me to take a deeper look at what student-generated material is and what is its ultimate purpose.
What is student-generated material?
In the most general sense, it is anything a student creates in the target language. That can take on a number of forms, but what it isn’t is teacher-created material with specific, set answers. In other words, it doesn’t encompass closed-ended, fill-in-the-blank, or factual based questions. What is does include is research, project, or open-ended questions. Most classes have used journal or story writing as an example of student-generated material, but more recently it can include recorded presentations, movies, or video blogging to become more multi-modal in approach.
What is the purpose of having students create material?
Here is where I have the biggest issue since most student create material is strictly used for assessment purposes, mostly discarded or forgotten upon marking. The real purpose should be two-fold, that of assessment AND sharing. I have made use of e-portfolios for some time now, based on the work of Helen C. Barrett who advocates for a balance of process and product (2009). The student creates material followed by feedback and guidance from the teacher and peers within a ‘workspace’. This gets refined to the point that this material can then be displayed in the ‘showcase’ and shared with others. The workspace material assessment should be primarily formative, while the collection of the showcase material is viewed holistically for summative assessment purposes. Instead of putting such a high value on one item, this system allows for both teacher and student to view the material in a systematic, linear way, seeing the progression over an extended period of time. This way, students can see the progress they have made and teachers don’t make the mistake of judging students without seeing the bigger picture.
In this way, the material that is created serves multiple purposes in regards to assessment, but this isn’t the only purpose for creating material. The creation itself should be intended for other audiences as well, not just for the teacher and possible peer-evaluation. The content of the work should be relevant for informational or entertainment purposes as well. This way, students don’t feel like their work is only words, content used to measure their language ability. It shows the student that their product is of merit because of the person who created it. Our students have so much more to share then their language skills. They are intelligent beings and their work should reflect their abilities beyond putting words together in logical sentences.
How can we showcase their material?
Before the advent of the internet, the primary means of showcasing student work was to have a bulletin board in the corridor. Now, through the use of blogs, websites, and social media, students can exhibit their work to a broader, more diverse audience including family and friends who may reside in other parts of the world. For example, a business English student can work on projects that are directly related to their field, developing material that can help them in the future to get a job. A student in an academic English program could develop training material for future students entering into the program, helping new learners understand the ins and outs of university life at that institution.
Again, the reason for collecting this material should extend much further than simply to assess their language skills. The content of the creation should not simply identify the person as an English student. Someone outside of the program should gain from reading, listening, or viewing the work, possibly not even knowing that this was created by an English language student.
What kind of feedback should be given?
This is a slightly tricky one to answer. You shouldn’t be correcting all of their mistakes for them, but you also do not want the material to communicate the wrong information, especially spelling and grammar mistakes. I tend to give very general feedback, possibly followed with a short refresher lesson on the area of difficulty. I might guide the student towards the answer, but won’t give them the solution directly. I want students to work through it on their own. The result is that the creation reflects the student instead of what I want from them.
Where else can you use the material?
My latest focus has been on the use of self-access material inside and outside of the classroom. I work with the students to find AND create material for the online self-access library. Much of that material continues to be used with different classes in the future (with permission from the creator). New students are made aware that some of the material (texts, videos, audio recordings, and so on) they are using in the self-access library was created by former students and they will be adding to it by the end of the time together. This requires a good deal of back and forth until the work is ready to be submitted, and not all material will be accepted. This editing process always involves some form of peer-editing as well, adding to the value of the creation process.
I would love to hear your comments on this subject. Anything that would help me see the larger picture is greatly appreciated. Remember, this is not a lecture, but a dialogue. Feel free to speak up.