Working with wikis
An interview with Usoa Sol
Blogs and wikis are a great way of storing and showcasing students' works. In the last issue of the Mac Mag Online we explored the world of blogging. This term we turn to wikis. Described by Ward Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki software, as 'the simplest online database that could possibly work', wikis are gaining increasing popularity for their interactive possibilities and user-friendliness.
To answer our questions this term is Usoa Sol, a Secondary teacher and keen wiki user at Sant Gregori School in Barcelona.
When did you first set up your wiki?
I set it up two years ago and, initially, I tested it out using my students as guinea pigs, posting materials for them to access, but without 'officially' presenting it to them. After that first year, and having seen how motivated students were with the online materials and extra resources, I decided to turn Usoa’s English wiki into Sant Gregori’s English wiki, that is, the school’s English wiki. We officially launched the wiki at the parent-teacher meeting at the outset of the 2009-2010 academic year and gave the students the link in class. Since then, the wiki has gone from strength to strength and is used by the entire English Department at school.
Was it easy to set up?
Setting it up actually only took about five minutes. But, of course, once you have the basic outline, you need to customise it, choosing the colour you like, adding the sections you think will prove useful to your students and, generally, making your wiki look fun and appealing by embedding gadgets and regularly updating the information.
Even if you’re an “ICT-newbie”, using a PBworks wiki is really straightforward. Once you sign up, you receive a daily email from PBworks for a week. Each email shows you how to perform different functions on your wiki.
Apart from that, what I really like about PBworks is that they have a wiki called PBworks Educators’ Community (http://educators.pbworks.com/), where you can see how other people are using their PBworks wiki. An online teacher training website is also available at http://pbworksadmintraining.pbworks.com/ for teachers to learn how to fully exploit a wiki. These websites also have really practical tutorials.
Why did you decide to use a wiki rather than a blog?
When I first got the project underway, I wanted to offer something that would be completely new and really exciting for my students. They were already familiar with blogs (as they had started one in Spanish class), but had never seen a wiki before, so I thought that’d really grab their attention and stir their curiosity. I also think that a wiki offers more interactive possibilities than a blog. It enables students to work on the same text simultaneously, as well as edit and comment on each other’s work. This means they can actually contribute to the wiki very actively, which gives them a sense of ownership and accomplishment.
How do you use the wiki with your students?
Depending on the students’ age, the wiki serves a different purpose and is therefore used differently:
• In 2nd cycle of Primary, it’s used to upload students’ work for parents and the students themselves to read and listen to.
• In 3rd cycle of Primary, we also post songs and chants we do in class to help the students learn them, as well as videos of the students performing the songs and chants in class.
• In ESO, the students use the wiki at home to revise for exams (by way of practice exercises and vocabulary games) and, occasionally, to carry out some tasks they’re set for homework. But they also use it when we have lessons in the computer room, where students are generally given a task related to the wiki to be performed in groups. This way, students learn how to give their input by uploading their own texts and adding their own comments.
• In Batxillerat, the wiki is basically a repertoire of extra exercises and reference files as well supplementary readings and audiovisual materials. What’s more, the wiki is used to showcase the best examples of the students’ work.
Here's an example of an activity I did with my ESO 4 group using the Web tool Toondoo. As you can see, the wiki presents an ideal forum for setting up such an activity:
The students continued the story in pairs and each pair uploaded their version to the wiki:
What would you say have been the greatest benefits of the wiki so far?
Without a doubt, the greatest benefit would have to be the students’ enthusiasm for English! They get a real buzz from showcasing their work for everyone to see and are amazed at all the new materials they can access through the wiki. They also feel really proud of themselves when they learn to upload texts on their own.
Besides that, the digital medium really grabs their attention and lots of students have admitted to studying much more now since the advent of the wiki than they used to in the past. They aren’t that keen on copying new words in their notebooks, but they’ll spend an hour playing online language games to learn the same words!
And last but not least, the way the wiki encourages them to read and comment on each other’s work has definitely been a great plus. Last year, for instance, my ESO 1 students created an online film using the Dvolver website and, after having posted their films, their homework was to comment on their classmates’ films on the wiki. I gave them the weekend to do so and was positively surprised to see that most students had already done their homework by Friday night!
You have an extensive store of resources! How often do you add new material?
I usually add new material every week and I try to find something new for every unit. I also create and upload vocabulary games, as well as the student’s written work and the speaking activities we do in class (such as the recorded dialogues). Before every test, I upload practice exercises for students to study and revise the material covered. In addition, I post extra materials related to the unit we’re working on in class.
Do you have any advice for any teachers about setting up a wiki?
Just go for it! Learning to use a wiki is just a matter of trial and error, of experimenting and discovering how it works. It’s very intuitive and, technically speaking, very simple. In fact, editing a wiki is just like working on a Word document, as you basically need to use the Edit button to add material or make changes and the Save button to save the changes you have made.
I also think it’s really useful to have a look at other people’s wikis, because that’s where you can get a lot of inspiration for your own wiki. All in all, having your own wiki is all about not feeling overwhelmed and simply giving it a try! Your students will definitely love you for it and all your work and efforts will undoubtedly pay off!
Many thanks to Usoa for sharing these useful tips with us!
Usoa Sol is a teacher and teacher trainer. You can visit her wiki at http://santgregorienglish.pbworks.com/