Sunday, 25 May 2014

‘Super fast’ learning - Using wikis for EFL courses

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So far we’ve mentioned blogs and blogging as one of the most popular tools that Web 2.0 has offered to teachers. But there’s another web application that is gaining popularity in EFL teaching: the wiki, an interactive and dynamic website that allows you to add, modify and delete content in collaboration with others. As blogs, they’re free and easy to create, but, while blogs are public, the wikis give you the option to create a private space in which only invited members can participate. 

Whether public or private, depending on the organizer’s settings, all users or members of a wiki site can create, edit and contribute to an apparent nonfinite number of pages, and it doesn’t only allow you to add texts or photos, but also videos, gadgets, widgets and more. In other words, it provides different editing tools and templates, as well as it allows you to add several web applications.

Wikis can be used for different educational purposes: for syllabus, to make content accessible in seminars, as platform for course projects or workshops, for forums and discussions and as an extra-classroom space for teaching and learning. Wikis can be beneficial for both students and teachers in many ways, because they:

a.     Improve communication and interaction: the students have the opportunity to share opinions and information either through commenting on the teachers’ or their partners’ works and pages.

b.     Encourage students’ participation: wiki’s options of posting comments or having discussions fosters the students’ participation, as well as the teacher can give them the task of commenting about something specific that leads to whole class discussion.

c.     Promote collaborative work: the fact that the students are integral part of the wiki space, with the possibility of editing and collaborating to the site’s content, may give the students a sense of community and responsibility. Also, specific tasks prepared by the teacher may demand collaborative work from them.

d.     Facilitate projects: wiki is a space where students can play an important part at, as well as it’s ideal to create specific class or groups projects. Platforms such as Wikispaces, for example, have a ‘Classroom’ modality apart from the traditional wiki, where the creator of the page has the tool to start projects by giving specific assignments to a determined group of users.

e.     Help to develop students’ reading and writing skills: teachers have the opportunity to provide students with more material for them to read and also to send particular writing tasks, but the fact of only writing a comment about a particular page content is already writing practice. Besides the fact that not only the teacher, but also their peers, will have access to their writing gives the student a feeling of commitment with what they write.

f.        Provide a space for sharing resources: as it was mentioned before, not only can we send our students extra material for them to work on, we can also lead them to blogs or sites where they can find more material and even have material used in class available for them (e.g. presentations, worksheets, and so on)

g.     Improve students-students and teacher-students relationship: as the sense of community increases, students get to know a bit more about each other, but also the teacher knows more about the students, almost as much as they get to know about their teacher. This gives teachers a great advantage, since lessons can be planned around the students’ favorite topics and even taking into account their wishes and past experiences. Sometimes, Wikis can give you more information about our students than a one-day Needs Analysis.

h.      Develops creativity: both teachers and students’ creativity have a space to grow in a Wiki. Since you can create as many pages as you like, add gadgets and any kind of audiovisual material (e.g., pictures, videos, podcasts and so on), teachers have the opportunity to adventure and propose a variety of activities and tasks that might not have been possible in a traditional classroom. Teachers and students practically have no limits when it comes to resources since the web gives us a large amount of material, which encourages us to do something different.

There’s a lot of material on the web devoted to the use of Wikis in the classroom and I could recommend you the next:

This article by Vanderbilt University may give you more ideas on how to use a wiki, and the writers even give you real examples of how other instructors are using wikis. 
Also, it’s interesting the fact that they mention the difference between working with a wiki and using a blog.

Since we’ve mentioned online learning in previous posts, this article can also be of your interest: ‘Why Wikis? Student Perceptions of Using Wikis in Online Coursework’ by Faye Deters, Kristen Cuthrell and Joe Stapleton, which shows the perceptions of a particular group of students in online instructions about using wikis. It also reflects around the benefits and limitations of this tool.

Finally, I recommend you to read ‘Use of Wikis in Second/Foreign Language Classes: A Literature Review‘, by Mimi Li. In this article, the author examines and reviews literature regarding the use of Wikis in the ELT classroom, (i.e. theories, tasks, wiki applications) and categorizing it into different topics. This is an article which can help you if you’re interested in the state of the topic so far and gives you a base for further academic research.

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