Wikis and second language learning: What's all the fuss?
There is currently a lot of interest in wikis for educational purposes. What is a wiki? Is this interest valid? What is all the excitement about? A review of current literature suggests the following general reasons for this interest and its relevance to students.
A wiki is essentially a website that
- is easy to create, easy to author, easy to use (like an online virtual word processor) .. thus students of almost any age can help build
- supports dynamic content; this can come in many different digital forms (not just text but pictures, slide shows, audio and video as well) all of which can be added, arranged, edited, reviewed and commented upon by some, any, or all students ..
- promotes reflection , review and revision of one's work ; ..individual students can find, filter and assemble digital content that reflects their interest, and understanding of a class assignment .. and review, revise it if their ideas or understanding of concepts change as a result of interactions with their peers
- promotes collaboration with peers .. thus students can not only share their own understanding of a project but review the work of their peers to then learn from one another, negotiate understanding, collectively construct meaning and then work as a group to collate this work and then present it as a finished group presentation
- promotes tracking of development .. students can view a history of the wiki's revisions to track what revisions were made, when and by whom .. to make comparisons between iterations .. and track their development / learning
- is free and accessibile 24/7 .. thus students can work individually or as groups at home or at college
- can be made available to a real audience .. thus students can opt to present their finished presentations so that they can be shared with a real audience whether that be the class, the school, the region, the world AND invite that audience's reviews and comments
A TV like commercial for why an educator might want to use a wiki. (alwaygolf, 2007)
Duration - 1:12 min
Wikis in second language learning
On a macro level, second language learning involves practicing and mastering a communicative process. Much of that mastery is realized through the creation of many presentations - initially short but gradually getting longer as the student masters grammar and expands their vocabulary. A wiki can support that development through its ability to
1. record revisions at any stage of the writing proces
2. invite students to work collaboratively at any or all stages of the writing process
3. support a variety of digital media that can be used to support a student's message
4. share the product of the writing process with a real and broad audience.
1) Revision / archiving
Students create writing presentations in a wiki much like they would in a word processor. However each editing of a wiki presentation is automatically saved as an iteration that can be viewed or even restored at a later time . As a result, that writing process is made much more transparent to a student then can be realized using conventional paper. Students can see the various iterations that led up to their final presentation to review the stages of their presentation's development. But these iterations can also be shared with friends, peers and instructors to invite their comment. As a result, a student can receive more frequent and potentially more meaningful feedback to reflect upon their work which can then be used to determine how to improve the effectiveness of their message. Thus students move closer to understanding the true focus of writing presentations - to ensure their message is clearly presented and its purpose clearly understood by an audience.
On a micro level, language development typically requires students to practice construction and discriminant selection of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation to learn how to clearly communicate in a foreign language. Wikis afford students the chance to review and build upon previous work. For example, beginners may be asked to construct simple sentences with the limited vocabulary that they have. As they learn more about new, more complex vocabulary, grammar or syntax structures, they can return to these simple sentences to add what they have learned to these earlier sentences to make them more complex.
Note how the same iterations recorded by the wiki can also help students to review what they have learned and identify where and how their learning took place. Thus for possibly the first time, we have the opportunity to help students develop the life long skill of learning not only a language but "how they learn" a language (Dealtry, 2004) .
This same writing process can also be done via small groups thus inviting still more learning opportunities. Here students can check their understanding of ideas by practicing and using new key words, grammar constructions and syntax with their peers, reflecting on their peers responses. Then students can collaborate with others in their group on the choice of these same language tools with the goal of finding the best way to communicate a desired message. Such a process moves students away from understanding language learning as memorizing and discriminating how to apply various vocabulary, grammar and formulaic writing patterns to communicate. Instead students come to understand language learning as a collaborative and communicative activity first. Communicating a clear message becomes their motivation to learn.
3) Inclusion of digital media
Thanks to social networking tools such as instant messaging, Facebook and YouTube, a significant part of today's student culture encourages the use and development of a number of digital communications skills - one of those skills is actually writing (Lenhart et al., 2008) . A wiki can invite students to include these same skills to support clear communication of their message. This brings into a formal learning environment, these student interests and skills. It also invites practice and discussion on integrating other communicative strategies such as the selection of fonts, graphics, sounds, photos and videos to support such messages. By doing so, students are not only more motivated but also learn the importance of aligning visual or aural messages with those communicated through their writing to again strengthen their message - a communicative approach that is highly relevant in today's society.
4) share their message with a real and broad audience.
Traditional presentation practice has been done by students for an audience of one - the teacher - or perhaps for a class of students but rarely further. With the help of a wiki, students can now review, reflect and refine their message to a point where they feel ready to present their work to a real and much broader audience. These audiences can now be in the target language, something that was much more difficult to realize before. These audiences could be more proficient second language students in the same school or native speakers in another part of the world. These same audiences can also be invited to engage in a dialogue with students on the message of their presentation. As a result, students learn through one of the most important forms of assessment - real feedback from a real audience on the effectiveness of their efforts to construct a purposeful and targeted message.
Typical obstacles to expect in realizing effective use of wikis
In order to be successful, second language teachers can typically expect to face the following technical and pedagogical challenges.To begin, teachers need to ensure that whatever wiki tool they choose, is easy to access and use. Students should not be faced with the need to draw away already limited time for language learning, to learn how to use the technology to realize their presentation. Teachers should note that the majority of wikis require users to apply wiki code to realize them. Fortunately some wiki utilities such as Wetpaint (Wetpaint) exist that make the need for knowing even this simple code unnecessary.
Teachers should also understand and support the principles of constructivist instruction to realize effective student collaboration. This entails realizing a clear alignment of group based, collaborative activities with sound language learning objectives and their assessment. Note also the importance of a clear rubric to outline how students will be assessed. The absence of a traditional linear sequenced activity structure may be daunting for some students not accustomed to the more open structure of group collaboration.. thus the importance of a clear rubric to outline to students what is required, and within what limitations. This almost always entails providing students with time and resource parameters, and inviting students to take time to understand and assess who their intended audience is.
The absence of conventional traditional teacher filtering of online content can also seem foreboding. The responsibility for control of content selection shifts to the student. Teachers can invite students to engage in this filtering information literacy exercise so that they learn to judge and take control of it themselves. While this can seem a daunting responsibility for students to assume, often students learn to take on the responsibility for filtering not because of the teacher's need for it but because of their intended audience's need for it.
Important follow up resources and examples
alwaygolf (2007) ‘Teaching with WIKI’, YouTube, [online] Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=related&v=mdOKUeT0O-o (Accessed 15 January 2009).
Dealtry, Richard (2004) ‘Emerald: Professional Practice - The savvy learner’, Journal of Workplace Learning, 16(1/2), pp. 101-109, [online] Available from: http://www.emeraldinsight.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/Insight/viewPDF.jsp?Filename=html/Output/Published/EmeraldFullTextArticle/Pdf/0860160110.pdf (Accessed 3 December 2008).
Department of Education and Training - Western Australia ‘Wikis in the Classroom’, [online] Available from: http://www.det.wa.edu.au/education/cmis/eval/curriculum/ict/wikis/ (Accessed 13 November 2008).
Ferris, S.P. and Wilder, Hilary (2006) ‘Uses and Potentials of Wikis in the Classroom’, Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 2(5), [online] Available from: http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=258&action=article (Accessed 7 January 2009).
Fryer, Wes ‘Teach Digital: Curriculum by Wes Fryer wiki / wikis’, Teach Digital" Curriculum by Wes Fryer | wikis, wiki, [online] Available from: http://teachdigital.pbwiki.com/wikis (Accessed 13 January 2009).
Lamb, Brian (2004) ‘Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not ’, EDUCAUSE Review, 39(5), pp. 36-48, [online] Available from: http://connect.educause.edu/Library/EDUCAUSE+Review/WideOpenSpacesWikisReadyo/40498 (Accessed 7 January 2009).
Lenhart, Amanda, Arafeh, Sousan, Smith, Aaron and Rankin Macgill, Alexandra (2008) Writing, Technology and Teens, Reports: Family, Friends & Community, US, [online] Available from: http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Writing_Report_FINAL3.pdf (Accessed 15 January 2009).
Lefever, Lee (2007) ‘Video: Wikis in Plain English’, Common Craft - Explanations In Plain English, [online] Available from: http://www.commoncraft.com/video-wikis-plain-english (Accessed 13 November 2008).
Leuf, Bo and Cunningham, Ward ‘For Teachers New to Wikis’, [online] Available from: http://writingwiki.org/default.aspx/WritingWiki/For%20Teachers%20New%20to%20Wikis.html (Accessed 13 November 2008).
Patterson, Reginald (n.d.) ‘Using Wiki - the Right Way - a knol by Reginald Patterson’, [online] Available from: http://knol.google.com/k/reginald-patterson/using-wiki-the-right-way/t7omkuodtii0/4# (Accessed 11 January 2009).
Peachey, Nik (2008) ‘Learning technology teacher development blog: Using wikis with EFL students’, [online] Available from: http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com/2008/05/using-wikis-with-efl-students.html (Accessed 13 November 2008).
Wetpaint ‘Group Project Wikis - Wikis in Education’, Wikis in Education, wiki, [online] Available from: http://wikisineducation.wetpaint.com/page/Group+Project+Wikis (Accessed 10 January 2009).
Wetpaint ‘Higher-Ed Wikis - Wikis in Education’, Wikis in Education, wiki, [online] Available from: http://wikisineducation.wetpaint.com/page/Higher-Ed+Wikis (Accessed 10 January 2009).
Wetpaint ‘Student Created Wikis ’, Wikis in Education, [online] Available from: http://wikisineducation.wetpaint.com/page/Student+Created+Wikis (Accessed 10 January 2009).
Wetpaint ‘Wikis in Education ’, Wikis in Education, wiki, [online] Available from: http://wikisineducation.wetpaint.com/ (Accessed 10 January 2009).
Wetpaint ‘Wikis in the Classroom ’, Wikis in Education, wiki, [online] Available from: http://wikisineducation.wetpaint.com/page/Wikis+in+the+Classroom (Accessed 10 January 2009).