First of all, how is a wiki different from a blog? A blog is essentially an online journal or diary, usually written by one person, which is added to regularly. Most blogs allow visitors to add comments, which are then visible to the blog owner and also to subsequent visitors who can in turn comment further. A wiki, on the other hand, is like a public website, or public web page, started by one person, but which subsequent visitors can add to, delete or change as they wish. Instead of being a static web page or website like a blog, a wiki is more dynamic, and can have multiple authors. A wiki is like having a publicly accessible word processing document available online, which anyone can edit.
Essentially a wiki is not linear, like a blog. A blog consists of a number of postings, which are published on one web page, in reverse chronological order with the most recent posting at the top. A wiki has a non-linear structure, and pages may link back and forwards to other pages. One of the best-known wikis is Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), an online encyclopedia that anyone can add to or edit. Wikipedia demonstrates several aspects of social software: it is collaborative and grassroots, displays multiple authorship and is not 'owned' by anyone. Its accuracy is a matter of debate. However, one analysis compares its overall accuracy favourably to that of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The screenshot below shows the entry in Wikipedia for the word A wiki lends itself especially well to collaborative writing. The mechanics of using a wiki are relatively simple: learners can add new pages to a wiki, as well as edit previous entries/pages. One of the advantages of a wiki is that when a web page in a wiki is edited, changed or even deleted by mistake, previous versions of the page are automatically saved. This means that it is easy to see what changes have been made to pages by whom and when, and to restore an earlier version of a page. Below is the home page of a sample wiki using pbwiki (short for 'peanut butter wiki'), set up for a secondary school wiki project.
How to start using a wiki with learners
The best way to start using a wiki with a group of learners is to set up a simple collaborative writing project. A topic that we have found works well is that of '(in)famous people', in which pairs of learners write short descriptions of famous people that contain a number of humorous factual errors (but not grammatical errors!). These descriptions are then 'corrected' by another pair. The project outlined below can be used with learners of any level, and using any of the free wiki sites.
Step 1 - Preparation before lesson (approximately 30-60 minutes)
Using a free wiki site (such as pbwiki), the teacher sets up the first page of a wiki, outlining the topic of the project, and the steps the learners will need to take in the project. Below is a screenshot of the first page of the wiki set up in pbwiki. The teacher has added an image to the wiki page, and outlined the things the learners will need to do to complete the project.
Put learners in pairs and tell them that they are going to write a description of a famous person that contains a number of factual errors. You may first want to allow them to choose and research a famous person using an online encyclopedia such as Wikipedia. They may prepare this description on paper, or in a Word document, or you could take them to the computer room, where they could type their descriptions directly into the wiki. You may want to give the learners an example of a description of a famous person with factual errors, which you have already written yourself in the wiki. The one below is an example of an erroneous entry on Albert Einstein, in the process of being written, with the wiki page in Edit mode. You will need to give the learners clear directions on how to add a new page to the wiki, and then how to add their descriptions. Once all the pairs have added their description to the wiki, let them spend time reading the other pairs' descriptions.
Allocate one description to each pair from the previous class - make sure that it is not their own original description! The pair reads the description, clicks on the Edit tab for the wiki page and corrects any 'wrong' information in the description. Again, you may want to refer learners to an online encyclopedia such as Wikipedia for them to check any information about the famous person that they do not know. Depending on the level of the class, you could ask the pairs to now add two grammatical errors to the entry, while they are correcting the factual information. Corrections are done to the the wiki page in Edit mode. Each pair then goes back to their original description, and reads the corrections that were made. Are the descriptions now correct? If two new grammatical errors have been added, can they spot the deliberate errors and correct those, too?
Alternative (approximately 3-4 hours)
With higher-level learners a slightly more complex collaborative writing project could be set up on the same topic of famous people which uses online resources for research (see Chapter 8). In this version of the wiki project, pairs or small groups of learners each research a different facet of one famous person. For example, one famous writer, painter, musician or scientist is chosen by the class, and different aspects of their life are investigated by each pair, e.g. childhood, education, main works or influences on other artists/professionals. Each pair then prepares an entry on their topic, and creates a wiki page dedicated to this. All topics can link from the main wiki page. Groups can then read other groups' contributions and edit/change as necessary. The final result is a wiki with pages on various aspects of a famous person, rather like a mini encyclopedia. Considerations
As with the blogs project outlined earlier in this chapter, the wiki can be kept as an internal class project, and given the public nature of the Internet, it is probably worth asking other classes/learners (for example in the same school) to take a look at the wiki, and possibly to contribute to it. In the case of younger learners, a wiki project can be viewed by parents. Knowing that the wiki will be viewed by readers outside the classroom, and will be available on the Internet for public scrutiny, is an added incentive for learners. By giving the wiki a password, only those who know the password can edit it, which gives your wiki some measure of security, but still allows it to be accessed and read on the Internet.
How to set up a wiki
There are several free sites for setting up wikis, and some of the best-known are:
• Pbwiki (www.pbwiki.com)
• MediaWiki (http://www.mediawiki.org)
• Wikihost (http://wikihost.org)
As with blogs, setting up a wiki is a straightforward process, with no specialist technical knowledge or expertise needed.
Podcasts in language teaching
The closest analogy to a podcast is that of a radio or TV show, but the difference is that you can listen to or watch a podcast on a topic that interests you whenever you want to. A podcast can be downloaded automatically to your computer using RSS, podcatching software which is described in Chapter 12. Typically, a podcast will consist of a 'show' which is released either sporadically or at regular intervals, for example every day or once a week. A podcast can be on any topic, and can include music and video. Video podcasts are also known as Vodcasts or PodClips. A podcast can last anything upwards of a few minutes to an hour or more. Podcasts can be authentic - for example, BBC radio shows are often downloadable as podcasts - or specially made for language learners.
Podcast directories are one place to start looking for podcasts. You or your learners can click on a category and scroll though a list of podcasts, listening to and subscribing to any that interest you. A podcast directory aimed specifically at teachers and learners of English is Englishcaster (http://www.englishcaster.com).
There are two main uses of podcasts in teaching. Firstly, learners can listen to podcasts made by others and, secondly, they can produce their own podcasts. It is becoming increasingly common in tertiary education, for example, for professors to record lectures as podcasts, so that students who miss a class can download the lecture podcasts for later listening on their computers or mobile devices like an MP3 player. This is sometimes referred to as coursecasting. Lecturers may have standard lectures that have been recorded and are made available at certain points in the university term/semester, and they may also record new podcasts regularly for their students. Podcasts can also be used in a similar way in teacher training, where trainees listen to/watch podcasts on issues of teaching methodology.
The language teacher can direct their learners to podcasts already available on the Internet, for self-study purposes, or even use them for listening in class via a computer. These can be EFL/ESL podcasts made especially for learners, such as those found at the Englishcaster directory, or authentic podcasts.
One option for the language teacher is to encourage learners to find a podcast on a topic that interests them and get them to subscribe and then listen to it regularly in their free time. EFL/ESL podcasts are available for all levels of learners, covering a wide variety of topics, from vocabulary items to discussions on topics of interest, to jokes and to learning songs. Alternatively, you can encourage high-level learners to subscribe to authentic podcasts, for example from sites such as the BBC News (http://www.bbc.co.uk).
More demanding, but ultimately perhaps more rewarding, is the option of learners actually producing their own podcasts. Learner podcasts can be a 'one-off podcast, which is then stored on the Internet, or learners can produce a series of regular podcasts on a variety of topics, much like a radio show.
How to create Learner podcasts
Learner podcasts can consist of a series of short audio files, lasting from 10-20 seconds to several minutes, made by individual learners, or of longer podcasts, made by small groups . Here is an example of a class podcast project.
Step 1 - Setting up a podcast page (approximately 30 minutes)
Using a free podcast site like podOmatic (www.podomatic.com), the teacher sets up a podcast page for the project. This needs to be done at home or in the computer room before class. To record a podcast, the teacher needs a computer and Internet connection, and a microphone and speakers or a headset. Podcast sites are extremely easy to use and no specialist technical knowledge is needed. The podcast page provides a website for learners to post their podcasts to. The teacher can provide a short text description of the project, with photos and an example podcast. The teacher can also add a podcast as a briefing for the class, including the information that they would like learners to have in their own podcasts.
In pairs or individually, learners prepare and rehearse a short text about themselves. Tell them to include the following information:
• name and age.
• job or school year.
• hobbies or spare time activities.
• one unusual thing about themselves.
It is important to allow learners time to rehearse their texts several times so that they feel confident about being recorded. Although their podcasts should not be directly read out word by word, do allow learners to make notes to help them, as they will feel it is important to be as accurate as possible.
A podcast site such as podOmatic will allow learners to record, listen to and then re-record their podcasts until they are entirely happy with the results. Only then should learners publish their podcasts to the podcast project page. Recording and re-recording requires no special technical knowledge or software apart from Internet access to the podcast page already set up by the teacher, and a microphone and headphones for each student to record their podcast with. The recording software is incorporated into the podcast page and is very easy to use. In the single computer classroom, learners will need to take turns to record their podcasts. When learners are happy with the recordings of their individual podcasts, they publish them to the main podcast page.
Step 3 - Listening to learner podcasts (approximately 45-60 minutes)
In a subsequent class, put learners individually (or in pairs) with a computer and allow them to listen to all of their classmates' podcasts. In the single computer classroom, the podcasts can be played one by one, via speakers. Tell learners to note down what hobbies each person has, and also the unusual thing each person mentions. Once all the podcasts have been listened to, allow learners to compare notes in small groups. What have they found out about their classmates?
Step 4 - Follow-up (3-4 subsequent lessons)
Once learners have produced one short podcast, and are familiar with the podcasting site and how to use it, they can start to produce regular podcasts on the topics which are covered in class. The more learners practise preparing podcast texts, rehearsing them and recording them, the more confident they will become, and the more 'natural' their recordings will start to sound. And the quicker they will carry them out.