Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reflections on Claire's ESL-WOW Project Presentation

Claire B. Siskin did a presentation about the ESL-Writing Online Workshop (WOW) Project that she's involved in, which is funded by FIPSE, Funding for the Improvement of Post-secondary Education (see FIPSE usually awards grants in projects where 'innovation' is involved. ESL-WOW is somewhat similar to PURDUE's ONLINE WRITING LAB (OWL) project (, but the difference is ESL-WOW is completely devoted to ESL. According to Claire, they plan to have all the materials and learning resources completely available to everyone- but this won't materialize until 2013! Although, she hopes that they would be able to make some of the materials available online in 2012 :-) Basically, ESL-WOW develops materials for ESL students that are easy to understand; they hope to employ ESL (live) tutors for the first year, and they hope that the site would become a place where students can 'interact' with the available materials on their own; in other words, students will have to be autonomous learners making use of 'computer scaffolding'. In the chat discussion, Dennis O. provided some good examples of 'computer scaffolding' i.e. glossary, peer editing, etc. Vance and others also suggested the use of twitter applications on their site, creating a Facebook group where students could meet and learn together. While human scaffolding i.e. asking people/teachers for support is always desirable, sometimes in projects like this, it would be very difficult to maintain. Claire pointed out two of her main concerns: dissemination (informing people about this) and sustainability (making sure that the site survives the test of time). I think getting the word out won't be much of a problem since basic marketing and promotional techniques can be employed. Besides, with the advent of personal learning networks (PLNs) and social networks, the simple word-of-mouth advertising will do- so long as people keep on sharing information about ESL-WOW. Claire's second concern, sustainability, is I think more problematic, as she pointed some good examples of NING sites that were created but ultimately met untimely death since people did not bother to go back or pay them a visit. In other words, without the human support/following, the site full of wonderful and available resources can just become a memorial site for those lost ESL souls. What they hope is for students to keep on coming back and making use of these resources; well I think as long as they are free and downloadable, students (new and old) will keep on coming back. The thing is, we're talking about second language writing. For ESL students, writing is extremely difficult. And sometimes, no matter what resources are available to them, they do not see how they can successfully make use of them. In some cases, students are perenially lazy. It's easier to ask, than do the search themselves. Only those who are extremely motivated will go out of their way to search and make sense of the resources they've found online.

The open resources will be archived in a Moodle, and for the first few years, live tutors will also be available on the moodle site to offer virtual support.

The recording of Claire's is available at

You can read the chat transcript here,

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