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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wiki Waste of Time?

This year I set up a wiki for one of my classes. The class in question is a group of six year old children, mostly in their second year of English, and with whom I have been imparting my own content-based syllabus instead of using a course book.

The purpose of wikis, generally, is to encourage the sharing of information, allowing members to edit and add to the entries. This was not my objective in this case, but I preferred the look and navegability of the wiki to a traditional blog, like this one. In a blog, entries are in chronological order, making it difficult to find older posts if those posts are not tagged adequately, or if the user is not aware of how blogs work. In the wiki, there would be a menu of all the pages I created, in the order that I wished to publish them, and a home page with links to every single page.

Home page of our class wiki

The other main reason why I chose an Edu Wikispace, free at the time, was that I could make it private. Personally, I would love to share with the world everything that we have been doing, but I wanted to have the possibility of posting photos and videos of the children for their parents to see, and therefore privacy was a big issue.

Wikispaces makes it really simple to embed almost any kind of multimedia content including Youtube videos, Glogs, documents which can be downloaded, RSS feeds, slideshows etc.

At the beginning of the year, I sent a letter out to all the parents explaining that we wouldn't be using a course book and for this reason, I had set up a website where they would be able to see all the topics we were covering in class. They would be able to look at the page with their child to practice the language we had been learning. On the wiki I include all the songs and videos we have seen in class, so that the children can see them again if they want to. I explained that the webpage would be completely private and that each child would receive a username and password that would be necessary to access the site. The parents seemed to think it was a good idea, and they all filled in the consent slip I added to the bottom of the letter. I proceeded to create bulk user accounts and gave each child a copy of their username and password.

I regularly update the wiki with new content, as you will see from the screenshot above. I assumed that most of the parents were visiting from time to time. On a couple of occasions, parents had asked me for another copy of their access details, which they had misplaced.

So it was to my surprise, this morning, when I looked at the wikis stas and saw that it had hardly been visited at all. Five different users (although this could include anonymous users from search engines that had tried to access the site) entered the wiki in the first month, but after that only an average of two or three users had visited per month. There are ten children in the class, so my impression is that only a small number of them have seen the wiki more than once or twice.

My priority now is to find out why there has been such little interest in the wiki. I actually thought parents would be interested in what their young children were doing in their lessons, and would take this opportunity to find out. I hoped that they would sit down with their children and go over what they had been learning in their two weekly lessons. How wrong I seem to have been!

I am thinking of sending out a questionnaire towards the end of the year, on how useful they found the wiki and what problems they had. They all seemed to find the idea attractive, but few of them seem to have done much more. I imagine that time is a huge issue here, but it would only take a few minutes every week to see what's new. I'd like to know if you have any experiences of using wikis/blogs with very young learners as a wasy of encouraging them to interact with English outside of the classroom. Has anybody come up against any lack of interest, as I seem to have? Any ideas for questions to include in my questionnaire to parents.

This just goes to show that, although everybody uses technology in their day to day life, this does not automatically mean that they want to use it related to their own or their children's learning, especially if this requires more effort on their part.

And, thinking of the time and effort I have spent on this project - is it really worth it?


  1. Very interesting post and very much worth focusing on, I think. There is a lot of talk of learner autonomy going on, even for younger kids and many people like you are trying out these things with students of all ages. Some have success and others don't. As a result, I think it's really important to report and discuss things that haven't worked or that we perceive as failing, as you seem to suggest here. Seriously, I'm really pleased to have read this, but then I may be a bit odd! ; )

    One thing I would suggest is to perhaps not use a questionnaire. Why not get all or some of the parents in and conduct a focus group/ group interview? Invite parents to volunteer a bit of time and ask them what they think about having online resources and allow them to discuss openly their thoughts about their child's English learning, you might uncover a lot more than you think.

    My mind is very much in 'research mode' at the moment on my MA and so I'm looking at this from that perspective, but I really think you could use this experience to learn a lot and I'd be fascinated to hear about what you discover. Obviously you have invested time and effort and see a purpose in it, so a bit of action research might really help.

    Well, there are some thoughts from me. Good luck! : )

  2. Hi Michelle,

    This is really interesting but not that surprising really. Many parents pay for private classes in Spain as a glorified babysitting service or as status symbol. I guess there are few parents that have the time and umph to get involved in their childs' learning in such a hands on way.

    It's not surprising if you consider that there are parents at my school that haven't been to a parents' evening all year and their children are failing subjects here and there and struggling in many areas.

    People in general are busy and parents perhaps even busier! It's quite depressing I imagine putting in all that hard work and then parents not really using it.

    But I'm sure you're not alone. I think that it's probaly more common out there than you think. All this talk and use of shiny stuff doesn't guarantee that kids, Ss and parents are going to use it.....

    Thanks for sharing this with us......


  3. Hi Richard,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.
    I think your idea of having a meeting with parents a good one, but I'm not sure if it's practical in this particular situation. It's both the time factor and the logistics. Many of the children are dropped off and picked up by grandparents, others are double-parked and rushed - our school is on a busy road with no free parking nearby. Both parents usually work, often both mornings and afternoons. This is the reason why I didn't have a meeting to explain/demonstrate at the beginning of year but sent out a letter. I also think that some parent's may find a meeting as a bit of a confrontation - with a questionnaire it could be anonymous and they may feel freer to be honest than in front of other parents - the whole saving face thing is very important here, as you well know!
    I do think it's worth trying to find out more though, and whether or not the parents think it a valuable resource. I have spent a bit of time on this, but nowhere near as much as I have designing their course - something that students and parents don't realise or take into consideration. As long as their children are learning, that's good enough.

    I probably won't be doing any investigation into this until nearer the summer, but I promise to report back once I have some information.


  4. Hey Michelle,

    You give a good summary there about why questionnaires would be a better option! I definitely think it's worth investigating though, good luck with it. You never know, maybe a couple of the parents will suggest something really useful.


  5. Hi Leahn,

    I know we've talked about the functions and uses of private academies (from a parent's point of view) many times, on various blog posts - often coming to a depressing conclusion. You are right about the lack of interest of many parents, especially when things are going well. And of course, the techy stuff may sound nice and look good, but if people haven't got the time... and some have mroe important worries such as whether they will be paid at the end of the month, even the funcionarios!

    I think it's something worth looking into though - extra effort on the teacher's part always seems like a bonus, but parents also have to realise that we are not going to work our socks off doing extra unpaid curricular work just for the fun of it, when nobody else is interested!

    Thanks for commenting on all my posts, L :)

  6. That was quick, Richard! I had only just this second commented!
    I'll definitely keep you informed.

  7. Hi Michelle,

    I think a huge part of the problem is time and motivation. I often forget that my students are only with me two hours a week and the work I set them to do outside of class has to compete with schoolwork, exam revision, socialising and sleep!

    Also, was the wiki there for reference or did they have homework set based on it? As much as we would like to encourage our learners to do more outside the classroom, a lot don't have the motivation to do so unless there is a specific need to.

    I would agree that a questionnaire might be better than a meeting too, as parents may feel they're being put on the spotlight and "chastized" for not using the wiki!

    T :)

  8. Hi T!

    In the case the children are only 6 so it's not really lack of motivation on their part, but they need an adult to help them access the wiki and navigate through the menu, as they are not proper readers yet. As you say, I don't set them specific homework, but just tell the kids when there's something new up, e.g. two weeks ago when I put up their superhero story. The child that often shows the most interest says he hasn't got a computer at home, which is a shame! I'm now wondering whether I could make the wiki more child friendly... although I would probably have to make it public, which wouldn't be a problem as long as I don't publish photos or videos of the students themselves. Now there is food for thought and something to investigate!

    Thanks for commenting!

  9. I'm afraid I'm not in a position to offer any advice Michelle, but I did want to thank you for offering us your 'failure'. It's all very easy to report success, but I think we learn more from failing. Seriously, it's a great help. Do keep me posted about any feedback or conclusions.

  10. Hi Michelle, I echo all the comments. When I worked in Portugal, the young learners' class was little more than baby-sitting, so I can empathise completely. I found it demoralising, to say the least. If I may, I'd offer two things that may help: If you are using technology, using screen-capturing software with a microphone is excellent. There is free software out there. Then there's no worry about children's photos, but you can still hear them and see what they can see on the computer - even better if they're actually doing an interactive activity. Secondly, if there was some disguised homework to interact with the parents in there somewhere, there would be a reason to visit. If the children went home with printed out work from the wiki, with missing pieces to be completed online, the parents would know what they had to do. Maybe grade the parents?!

  11. Hi Michelle,

    This is a fantastic and accurate report - I have had some success with at home online activities but not much more - and in some cases, much less - in others huge success. It comes down to need...I'm beginning to find - in class or outside of class, it seem that motivation is very, very strongly linked to whether or not English is something "necessary."

    Teachers are not the only ones for whom time is a major factor in whether or not someone will do something... and also ease, convenience, efficiency - learning curves and applicable benefits... for everyone involved.

    David has given you some excellent pointers, though.

    (p.s. there is also the issue of the platform to be honest, my students never worked on our wiki but I had some success with the Ning...however one of my students who has kids does a lot of homework with his children because their school site contains a lot of learning games and it's a required part of his child's course).

  12. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for sharing. In a non-ELT aspect of my life, I have also tried implementing an online platform for parents at my children's elementary school here in Barcelona. Our results are about the same, I have between 2-5 visits per month (not counting my own!).

    I am also contemplating ways to promote engagement and ask for feedback. The (very) few parents who use it, find it helpful, but they are really still the minority. I'm wondering how "connected" Spain really is among non-office workers?

    In your own case, are you confident the parents speak some English? Maybe the mix of technology + English is too overwhelming? Most of the parents I know who put such young children in private lessons is because they don't speak English "y no quiere que le pase al niño lo que me pasa a mi".
    I'll be interested to see what you find out after talking to some parents. And good for you for trying new things.

  13. Yep, we've got a huge online place where parents can go to see pics, get feedback on their kids, and find out lesson content. Out of over 30 schools, the average parent views are 10-15% country-wide.

    Parents prefer live feedback and they prefer it to be individualized. General stuff put online doesn't seem to interest them.


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