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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?
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