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Gift Culture and the Global ELT CLassroom

June 14, 2011

Gift culture here refers to the willingness that exists today to contribute to the global melting pot of knowledge that can be found mostly online i.e. user generated content (UCG) made available on the web for anyone who wants to read, listen to or look at it online with neither desire nor demand for compensation.  Examples include blogs, YouTube, Flickr but the list is long.  Educational institutions have been looking at how to put this generous behaviour to good learning use.

In the face to face classroom, UCG might refer to a piece of writing or a recording a student or group of students has produced for review by peers or even a presentation of research findings given to peers to assist in decision making, as in the case of webquests, but unless a record is made of it for reference later, its usefulness is limited to that one occasion in that one place and that one set of peers.  If we extend the possibilities into a face to face class supported with an online component, value increases by making those same artifacts i.e. the piece of writing or a recording available via a class website along with the peer feedback each piece received.  Add to this a wiki of useful words required to complete the initial task, or a list of web resources and their descriptions (reviews) and maybe a voting system to show how useful learners find it.  We might also want to have a discussion board to allow learners to share their impressions or a blog where each lesson can be scribed or minuted for the benefit of absentees or as a reminder during revision.  All of these would become the primary tools for interaction with content and peers in a fully online course and are all student generated.

This may all sound a bit idealistic but with the right support and guidance via a simple, accessible, shallow-learning-curve ‘hold-all’ platform, it is definitely achievable.  It would be lovely to let the students loose on the web and its vast abyss of information and ways of uploading things and trust that they will come up with beautiful, purposeful, helpful content.  However, students need to learn how to ‘take it with a pinch of salt’, how to participate meaningfully, how to evaluate their output and their experience and how to tell others what they think of their work in a personally and culturally sensitive way and teachers need to learn how to let them get on with it and nudge them in the right direction when appropriate.

What is the advantage of this?  In addition to being a naturally motivating medium (Kukulsa-Hulme, 2010, Morgenstern et al, 2003) for young adults, meaningful use of UCG facilitates the creative process, exposes creators to more ‘critics’ improving awareness of audience and appropriacy, gives them more control over what becomes a more exploratory learning experience, learners learn from others’ contributions and leads to greater interaction with the target language and the other learners.  Cook and Light (2003) suggest that learners have input into the design process as well, which is not so different from the needs analysis undertaken with many adult classes although this would require considerable flexibility in the planning process, which in itself might be more difficult to attain in online learning than face to face.

The main obstacle to this is that learners want as much one on one time with the teacher as possible, only trust what is produced by native speakers so a tension between quality and freedom is produced.  I would argue against moderating contributions before they are made public is helpful as it exacerbates teacher dependency and increases moderating workload, though  some (private?) tutor feedback would be valuable as well.   Awareness that not everything on the internet is totally correct is very healthy too.


Cook, J. and Light, A. (2006) ‘New patterns of power and participation? Designing ICT for informal and community learning’, E-learning, vol.3, no.1, pp.51–61; also available online at
(Accessed 14 June 2011).

Kukulsa-Hulme (2007) H807 Course Materials.  Open University

Morgenstern, D., Plasencia, A. and Seiz, R. (2003) ‘Students as designers and content creators: an online multimedia exchange between the U.S. and Spain’ [online], Campus Technology, 11 January 2003, (Accessed 14 June 2011).


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