STUDENT PERSPECTIVES ON PARTICIPATING IN WEBHEADS, A COMMUNITY OF ONLINE LANGUAGE LEARNERS AND TEACHERS
This presentation will report on progress with a student-teacher project in an online ESL class called Writing for Webheads. WfW is a unique example of a well established (online since 1998) yet informal community of self directed learners and teachers interested in developing language learning and teaching skills through exploration of free online CMC (computer-mediated communication) tools ranging from a simple email list and a complex of personal homepages, to synchronous meetings online utilizing voice and webcam conferencing. Online events include a logged live chat session every week, occasional online conference presentations such as this one, and spontaneous instant messaging sessions incorporating text, voice, and video (to the extent possible by participants - not required).
Presenters in this session will include students who will, in conjunction with the teacher participants, prepare a paper discussing positive aspects of their participation in the community as well as negative ones. Positive aspects include communicative sharing with teachers and other language learners on genres ranging from free discussion to longer debates on the world situation, as seen from different viewpoints in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Germany, Australia, India, etc. Besides surmounting geopolitical borders between students and teachers, distinctions between learners and teachers diminish as they inform each other on their best practices and get answers to all kinds of questions pertaining to use of CMC tools.
On the negative side, students find it hard to follow the discussions, the topics are sometimes beyond their grasp, and sometimes teacher-related matters predominate, and consequently students sometimes report feeling alienated. However, the student participants are motivated in learning English and are willing to use CMCs in their learning processes, and indicate that overall they find Webheads beneficial to their learning.
Our paper will present evidence of trust and commitment throughout the activities, ranging from help with Powerpoint presentations put online, co-production of websites, and keeping of commitments to participate in regular weekly sessions as well as to meet online with people at conferences as in the present case. As time and willingness of online participants allows, the Webheads teacher and student panelists can augment our presentation with a brief tour of the Webheads web pages, as well as Tapped In, Yahoo Messenger voice and/or video conference chat, and iVisit.
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