Wikis in the World Language Classroom: Transforming Teaching, Learning, & Learning to Teach Through Technology

by Cherice Montgomery, Michigan State University
May 29, 2008

What does it mean to be literate and why should world language educators care?

“Literacy has always been about using the most powerful cultural tools available to make and communicate meaning. At the present, those tools happen to be multimedia tools that use video, graphics, sound, and traditional text in a hypermedia format. If we or our students don't know how to critically use these tools to their fullest meaning-constructive potential, then we—and they—are illiterate" (Wilhelm, 2000, p. 7).

With the 21st Century now upon us, information (and our access to it) continues to proliferate at a remarkable rate (Dimkovski & Deeb, 2007; Lyman & Varian, 2000). The nature of that information, the tools we use to "write" it, the surfaces on which we inscribe it, the ways in which we disseminate it, and the manner in which it influences us are also being transformed. According to anthropologist Michael Wesch (2007), the sociocultural fabric of society is changing, and by extension, so is the definition of literacy--what it means to be well-equipped to function within that society.

In other words, the ways in which people communicate, interpret, and understand information have been fundamentally altered by its digitization, the convergence of emerging technologies, the global expansion of social networks, and the rapid development and diffusion of innovations they make possible (Burbules & Callister, 2000; Leu, et. al, 2004; Wesch, 2007). These changes have evoked new terms such as "hyperreading" (Burbules & Callister, 2000), new forms of multimedia authoring such as machinima (Lowood, 2007; Tavares, Gil, & Roque, 2005), new ways of doing business like goldfarming and Second Life (Wang, 2006), and new fields such as Digital Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition (, 2006; Grabill & Hicks, 2005; Hocks, 2003). Intensified interaction among people and ideas from diverse cultures and environments has produced new opportunities, but also more complex problem sets. Since such problems are the result of a synergy of contexts, their solutions are also likely to be dynamic and distributed among multiple fields, domains, communities, and cultures (Jonassen, 2003). To function in a society that is so globally complex and multifaceted, learners must possess profound understanding of a wide variety of subjects, skillfully select between multiple perspectives and frames of reference, and employ cognitive flexibility to analyze, interpret, synthesize and represent information from ill-structured domains in powerful ways (Jonassen, 2003; Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991).

Yet, in spite of substantive attention to school reform and technology integration, change has been slow in the classrooms, curriculum, culture, and concomitant teaching practices of most American schools (and language classrooms) (Cuban, 2001; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). I propose that this is due to the fact that such change is multilayered and multifaceted. It requires not only access to new technologies, the development of new literacies, and the implementation of new instructional practices, but also the cultivation of new ways of seeing that facilitate the design and application of transformative pedagogies. This paper explores the use of a wiki as a tool for developing literacies that initiate, implement, and sustain transformative change in preservice teachers, world language methods courses, teacher preparation programs, and the K-12 schools they serve.


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Wesch, Michael. (2007, March 8). Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us Video - Final Version. YouTube. Retrieved May 3, 2007, from