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.

7 thoughts on “Creating

  1. Thank you very much for this, you have echoed many of my own thoughts on the subject. I have recently become a full time online resource developer, we use Moodle, Edmodo, and we’re starting to work in Mahara as well. It will be great to have online learner portfolios, as you said, it breaks my heart to see their hard work getting filed away in paper portfolios…or worse, recycled after 2-3 years of storage! My biggest challenge in the transition from classroom to online LMS is staying away from too much gap-fill, matching, choose the best whatever…and really engaging the learners in their own direction in pursuit of content that is relevant to them and will also serve to enhance their language acquisition. I have found a lot of success with class Wikis and assignments that start online but end in the classroom, either in the flesh, or via SMART Board…we’re lucky to have such tools at our disposal, but the honest truth is, the students put in more time, attention, and effort when the material is guided by their particular interests within a given unit/topic, and I really feel they take more away as well. Thank you sir, I’m new to this world of Tweets and Blogs, but you are setting a fine example. Paul

    1. Great to hear from you, Paul. I appreciate the comment and your valuable experience with online learning.

      You hit on a good point regarding student motivation. There is no doubt that students who are given a task that they are interested in will be more engaged in the learning process. An article worth mentioning regarding student motivation is from Zoltan Dornyei (actually, pretty much anything from Dornyei is fantastic). Further down in the article, Dornyei diagrams Motivational Teaching Practice which deals with this same idea. I may explore this more in a blog post.

      I am happy that you are jumping into the world of Twitter and blogging. I look forward to our future exchanges!

  2. Last week I gave a presentation at IH Bydgoszcz (Poland) as a guest speaker on Student-Centred Teaching. I strongly advocated that we give learners realistic goals/outcomes to work and get them to produce things which apply to them and can be taken away. Just like what you wrote here. Why get my Young Learners to write about their day using construed data when we could get them to create a comic book strip instead 🙂

    Each summer I teach on the Pre-Sessional programme at Newcastle University (UK). I read German at university and my university teacher didn’t use to give us the answers but would give us general feedback and try to guide us towards the right answer. It was the most irritating thing in the world. When you write something which is stylistically/grammatically wrong and you are told you need to improve it but you rack your brains and you don’t know how to improve it, it’s quite discouraging.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It is nice to hear from someone who is doing this with younger students.

      Feedback is one of those difficult things. Just telling someone that this or that is incorrect isn’t helpful, you also need to be a guide, helping them find the answer as well. Otherwise, as you have stated, it can be very frustrating and counter-productive.

      Thanks again for sharing!

    2. That does sound irritating, with my Settlement EAL (English as an Additional Language) CLB (Canadian Language Benchmarks) 4-8 online learners I have been working on a solution to the feedback problem. As Nathan said, we shouldn’t, and really can’t, correct every little thing, so what I have been trying out is feedback that includes correction of the most glaring errors (especially those that impede understanding), general supportive comments, and recurring error help in the form of links to websites that have detailed information for the mistake in question.

      This system came about when I started to realize that there were some problem areas for all learners in general (preposition and article use being the most frequent), I searched out good resources for each problem area and made a simple text file of the links organized by error type. Now when I correct, my feedback can include detailed error specific help in the form of a link, as well as my own comments and corrections. It’s been working well to date and learners report that they find the additional resources more useful than the ‘guide us towards the right answer’ method. How do you deal with this?

  3. Hi Nathan,
    The chat topic was my suggestion, but unfortunately I couldn’t take part (it’s midnight my time, and on a school night!). Looking at the transcript, those participating struggled a little to with understand the topic as I stated it, so it went in a slightly different direction, which is just fine..

    My original suggestion was;
    Reusing student-generated content across skills, for example…
    – students plan and deliver an oral presentation, then use their slides as a plan
    for a report, or
    – students have a debate and then plan and write a for and against discussion

    I was thinking more of using something generated in spoken language for writing, and vice versa. I know some programs have separate classes for spoken and written language skills and so sometimes these opportunities are missed, so I was trying to generate discussion about how teachers are reusing learner created content in these ways.

    But, as you have so eloquently discussed, there are many other ways to use learner-generated content.

    This comment of yours hits the mark exactly:
    “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.”

    We often talk of authenticity in terms of input for learners, but not so often for output, such as the purpose of or audience for language students generate in language learning activities and tasks.

    As you’ve put it:
    “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.”

    Much as you described the ‘showcase’ of student work, we are creating a class newsletter from student writing throughout the semester. The reuse is that the writing (after teacher feedback, redrafts, etc.) is read, selected and edited by peers, on some pieces students are working together to combine, refine, enhance their individual pieces. We are planning to publish them in a newsletter that is shared with the whole class (and others).

    Another comment of yours reminded me of another way students have had a purpose and audience:
    “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.”
    Early in the semester students wrote reviews of programs, websites and apps for learning English and then shared these on a forum, so other students could read and make decisions about using these websites, etc. for self-access. Anecdotally, this has led to more students trying out more self-access resources. Some of these reviews will be included in the newsletter so students are reminded about them for the long summer holidays.

    I think I may have generated an idea for a blog post of my own in my response to yours! Thank you.


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