Using RSS & aggregation technologies for business English teaching
Since blogging itself has evidently made few inroads in BE teaching, it's not surprising that the BE community has so far paid scant attention to syndication and aggregation technologies as learning resources. It'll be interesting to see how these tools are eventually deployed, as they seem to offer enormous potential to both facilitate learner-centered teaching and to build learning communities.
How? Here's a five-step sequence for in-company BE teachers wanting to try out RSS and aggregation with their clients:
- To "seed" the process, have Ss list three critical areas for their professional growth and/or job performance; examples could range from "redesign product packaging for re-launch" to "improve presentation skills". Take a class and help them through the aggregator set-up, and show them how to search for feeds in English that correspond to their list. Popularity rankings such as those in Furl will help assure quality sites, and you can show the Ss a favorite blog or two (like my new presentions blog fave, Cliff Atkinson). But it's important that feed selection is student-driven, and probably best out of class. Now your Ss have relevant, timely, rich language resources streaming onto their desktop - language that has been selected by Ss and should therefore be of intrinsic interest. Ss will spend a few minutes a day reading independently, and you have a rich source of class material.
- Have Ss build their feeds by clicking through other blogs sourced/quoted in the "starter" feeds set up originally. Encourage Ss to select a "theme" for their own blog, from among these resources, focusing on whatever they feel most passionate about (note: this may well be a non-job-related theme), and encourage Ss to blog away, now that they have ideas to catch, expand, and reflect upon. "Themed" blogs are often both easier to write and of higher quality for readers. (NOTE: have Ss take care with proprietary corporate information. You probably don't want your client's marketing strategy on Blogger for the world to see.)
- Have Ss in a group (or among several individual classes, or among different groups) subscribe to each other's blogs via a feed exchange, and compare Furled resources. Encourage Ss to comment on other Ss posts. Develop class activities based on sharing, comparing, contrasting Ss interests and how they overlap or not. Focus on direct job application of aggregated resources.
- From your side, keep up with Ss work and Ss focus by subscribing to all feeds, and checking Furled resources regularly. Maintain a class blog as well as a personal blog and syndicate both to Ss. In both, post and link to notable student blog production, company news, or anything you note that will be of interest to your Ss. In your blogs, include learner training observations to prompt S reflection on learning process. Comment frequently on S posts.
- "Stretch goal": contact and link up with schools and/or teachers working for the same company, but in other country branches (e.g. if you teach in the marketing department of Acme International in Caracas, work through the Ss contacts, and hook up with the Ts of your Ss peers in Acme International in Sao Paolo, or Madrid, or Kyoto). Exchange feeds among Ss, nurture carefully with teaching peers abroad, and you've got a lovely online community based on true communication in the target language and focused on rich, relevant content.