How do wikis work and what can world language educators do with them?

"Learning and understanding operate by making connections. We come to comprehend something when we can bring it into association with other things we already know. Mind and memory are themselves hyperenvironments" (Burbules & Callister, 2000, p. 48).

At their most basic level, then, wikis allow teachers and their students to collaboratively author documents, illustrate them with images, refer to related information by inserting hyperlinks, and interactively engage readers of their work with its content. That engagement can take many forms, including embedded audio, calendars, chat windows, documents, maps, music playlists, polls/surveys, PowerPoints, slide shows, spreadsheets, and videos. Many wiki platforms also make discussion forums available so that users can participate in ongoing discussions about the content displayed on the wiki.


Professional Productivity

The features described above open up a wide variety of possibilities for world language educators and their students (Martinez-Carrillo & Pentikousis, 2008). The most obvious one is that a wiki provides an easy way to manage the daily, administrative tasks of the classroom in ways that improve professional productivity. Teachers can set up a wiki and post their daily lesson plans (Shi, 2007) for each class on individual pages. They can embed text-based information like grammar explanations (Zayas, 2006), or multimedia such as audio clips (Shaffer, 2007), images (Vera, 2007), video clips, or worksheets (Krause, 2007), right into the plans. This makes it easy to gather and organize necessary resources (Shackelford, 2007) for any given lesson all in one place. It also simplifies adjusting the plans because the teacher can quickly move things around or add reminders about what needs to be addressed during the next class period. Furthermore, because wikis are self-archiving and searchable, teachers can quickly locate relevant materials the next time they teach the same unit.

Collaborative Lesson Planning & Articulation

Teachers can also share particularly successful plans with colleagues using e-mail or social bookmarking services such as Diigo or, and colleagues can make comments and offer additional ideas and suggestions using the discussion forum (Montgomery, 2006) associated with each page. Hence, these features can improve the quality of the lessons and foster articulation (Theisen, 2006b)--both across sections of the same course and across schools within the same district (Theisen, 2006).

Committee Work & Professional Development

Additionally, wikis provide a convenient means for managing the responsibilities associated with committee work and professional development. They can be used to share minutes from committee meetings (2020Plan, 2008), gather resources for projects (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, 1989), support language associations (Brooks & Dunn, 2007) and professional learning communities (Theisen & Trautwein, 2006), or collaboratively brainstorm ideas for grant proposals (Broening, 2007). Wikis can also serve as useful staging grounds for professional presentations (Montgomery, 2008), where content can remain available for participants who can then be encouraged to contribute to libraries of professional resources (Kendall & Montgomery, 2006b) and asked to collaboratively author materials (Kendall & Montgomery, 2006).



Wikis can facilitate communication with students and their parents (Haskins, 2007b). Teachers can embed a homework calendar (Fowler, 2008) that keeps students and their parents informed of due dates for assignments. They can also post course syllabi (Stout, 2006), assignment instructions, worksheets, assignment models (Almansi, 2007), rubrics, and links to related resources (Shackelford, 2007) so that students can access everything they need to complete assignments in a single location.

Extracurricular Activities

World language teachers can use wikis to manage the additional responsibilities often associated with teaching world languages. Teachers and students can use them to facilitate language clubs (Arielyn & Cathy, 2007), organize exchange trips (Abney, 2007) or coordinate study abroad programs (Gitsoaika, Kramer, et. al, 2005). The RSS feature (Martínez, 2006) of the wiki makes it possible for students and their parents to be automatically notified any time a page is updated. This eliminates the potential need for the teacher to exchange multiple e-mails about the same topic with hundreds of individuals each day.

Make-up Work & Tutoring

Teachers may also use wikis to "tutor" students who miss class due to field trips or illnesses by posting special instructions for absentees, as well as audio recordings of class discussions, copies of presentations (Cuerva, 2006), or video clips showed during class (Mara, 2007).

Students can discuss or raise questions about them in the discussion forum of each page with their peers. Teachers can easily respond to these queries if they are not satisfied with the answers that other students give, and because the responses are archived, these conversations become a searchable resource for other students who may have similar questions at a later time.



Wikis are useful for much more than simple exchanges of information, however. They can also serve as valuable instructional tools. The interactive features of a wiki, in conjunction with a layered approach like the one advocated by Weintraub (2000), can carefully scaffold student participation in various segments of a lesson or project in ways that progressively deepen their critical engagement with a piece of text or a particular cultural concept.
For example, teachers can administer pre-tests or short quizzes with the polling feature of a wiki and aggregate the results, allowing them to tailor instruction to better meet learners' needs. Using this same feature, students' prior knowledge can be activated with pre-reading activities or questionnaires.

These can become springboards for follow-up conversations held in the discussion forums.

Subject Author Replies Views Last Message
suggestions ChristineDawson ChristineDawson 1 208 Apr 21, 2008 by chericem1 chericem1
Music and Videos cartierm cartierm 2 292 Apr 21, 2008 by chericem1 chericem1
How would you use wikis for differentiation? chericem1 chericem1 0 213 Mar 17, 2008 by chericem1 chericem1

Support for Students with Special Needs

Wikis also release teachers from the spatial constraints of 8 1/2 x 11" paper by allowing them to create unlimited pages. Thus, teachers can strategically focus students' attention and better support students with special needs by posting only limited amounts of information on each page, by including visual examples of the information described in the text, color-coded prompts, or by embedding multimedia containing commentary, instructions, or brief summaries.


Pages can even be "hidden" (by leaving them unlinked) and then revealed only when teachers feel learners are ready for the next task. Instruction may be further differentiated by posting sets of task menus and asking individual students to place their avatars next to the tasks of their choice to "sign up" for activities that appeal to them like this: - chericem1 chericem1

Independent Study

Independent studies can be organized in a similar fashion--an especially useful option for students whose schedules are too full to accommodate enrollment in advanced classes. The teacher can group all such students into a single, hybrid course that can be offered online, facilitated through the wiki, and supplemented with occasional face-to-face meetings at lunch or some other time that is mutually convenient for all participants. This option is particularly attractive because it means that paired work, communicative projects, and the other oral and listening components of the course that are traditionally sacrificed in independent study situations can be maintained by having students interact with one another via Skype (Absalom, Cloke, & Rizzi, 2007b), chat, or discussion forums.

My status

Learners can post resources that they feel have been helpful in further developing their language proficiency, can create playlists of music in the target language for one another, and can respond asynchronously to audio files, documents, podcasts, or videos that others have posted.

Students enrolled in independent studies can also use their pages to share their favorite resources from social bookmarking sites like Diigo or by embedding RSS feeds.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Although a detailed explanation of RSS is beyond the scope of this paper, the general idea is that students and teachers can use it to "collect" content from blogs, news feeds from citizen journalists, or discussion forums on other wikis and "feed" that content into designated sections of a wiki. So, RSS offers a convenient way to provide a constant supply of fresh reading material that students participating in independent studies are likely to enjoy thinking about and discussing.

Language learning and the social web - a beginners' guide for language teachers

    All of these interactive features make it possible for students enrolled in independent studies to participate in communities of language learners who collaboratively construct rich learning environments filled with content that is of particular interest to everyone. If teachers encourage members of the wiki community to conscientiously tag the pages they create, when tag clouds are embedded, they will provide a clickable index to key topics, as well as a useful concept map of the content of the wiki for future independent study participants.

    1. access
    2. adaptation
    3. administrivia
    4. advocacy
    5. alignment
    6. anthropology
    7. apprenticeship of observation
    8. articulation
    9. assessment
    10. associations
    11. authority
    12. beliefs
    13. business
    14. change
    15. chat
    16. citizen journalism
    17. classroom management
    18. cognition
    19. cognitive flexibility
    20. collaboration
    21. communication
    22. community
    23. complexity
    24. connections
    25. constructivism
    26. content
    27. context
    28. control
    29. convergence
    30. cooperation
    31. coordination
    32. culture
    33. design
    34. diffusion of innovations
    35. digitization
    36. discussion
    37. dissemination
    38. distributed cognition
    39. embeddedness
    40. engagement
    41. ethics
    42. evaluation
    43. exchange
    44. experience
    45. feedback
    46. knowledge
    47. learning environments
    48. literacy
    49. multimedia
    50. organization
    51. patterns
    52. pedagogy
    53. perspective
    54. perspectives
    55. philosophy
    56. policy
    57. power
    58. practices
    59. presentational communication
    60. privilege
    61. problem-based learning
    62. process
    63. productivity
    64. products
    65. professional development
    66. professional learning communities
    67. proficiency
    68. program development
    69. proliferation
    70. purpose
    71. questions
    72. references
    73. relationships
    74. research
    75. resources
    76. responsiveness
    77. scaffolding
    78. social networks
    79. social technologies
    80. structure
    81. surveys
    82. survival mode
    83. synergy
    84. tag cloud
    85. teacher preparation
    86. technical information
    87. technology
    88. technology integration
    89. time
    90. tpck
    91. tprs
    92. transformation
    93. transliteracy
    94. understanding
    95. voice
    96. wearables
    97. widgets
    98. wiki
    99. wikis
    100. writing

    Curricular Content & Processes

    Group Work

    Wikis can support small group collaboration in many ways. Teachers can create separate wiki pages for each small group (Arnold, 2007) and post template-like prompts on them to guide students in dividing up project responsibilities, gathering necessary information, and working through the writing process. For research projects, teachers can send students to sites like WikiMindMap (Nyffenegger, 2007), where after selecting the country of their choice using a drop-down menu and typing their topic into the search box (no quotation marks), they can see a quick concept map of their assigned topic (based on Wikipedia content) that will help them divide up responsibilities by determining what specific aspects of the topic they wish to research. Students can then create individual group member pages off of their main group pages where they can each keep track of their own individual work. Group members can provide comments or suggestions in the discussion forum associated with each page, or alternatively, they may prefer to set up separate pages for each section of the project, and then collaboratively work together to author each page. Because page edits take place immediately, students can always be certain they are working on the most current version of the group's document. If someone accidentally erases another student's work or changes something that the rest of the group disagrees with, the revert feature of the wiki makes it possible to restore the page to the way it looked prior to when the changes were made. Additionally, because the wiki automatically logs each page change, the teacher can see at a glance who is changing what, and which students are contributing regularly to their group's efforts.

    Interdisciplinary & International Projects

    The ways in which wikis facilitate collaboration make them especially good tools for supporting interdisciplinary curriculum development across grade levels (Archer & Wehunt, 2007), collaborative projects across schools (Kattevilder, 2008), and collaborative international projects such as the International Collaborative Wiki that engages students in Canada and Jerusalem in joint explorations of literature and culture (Werber & Peters, 2006).
    Projects like these develop language proficiency in standards-based, contextualized ways by offering access to communication with authentic audiences in the target language (Absalom, Cloke, Rizzi, 2007), opportunities to discuss cultural perspectives (Absalom, Cloke, Rizzi, 2007c), and chances to make comparisons of language and culture in communities of interest to the learners within and beyond the confines of the classroom/school. They can also develop transliteracy skills (Thomas, Joseph, Laccetti, Mason, Mills, et. al, 2007) by engaging students in using multimedia and other emerging technologies to accomplish these tasks. The Flat Classroom Project is a good example of how middle school classrooms from around the world are doing this by involving students in the collaborative exploration of real-world issues through social technologies (Davis & Lindsay, 2007).

    Linguistic Skill Development

    A recent study by Martinez-Carrillo & Pentikousis (2008) found that the social nature of wikis made them especially effective in stimulating the development of language skills among university students enrolled in a second-year Spanish course. Specifically, their findings indicate that work with wikis supported students in acquiring vocabulary, developing reading comprehension skills, and strengthening writing skills. In explaining these findings, they note the dialectical connection between language use, which is often a collaborative process, and the communicative, community-oriented interactions that wikis support. They also highlight the ways in which the pedagogical orientation of the instructor toward an inquiry-based approach and a "cyclical process of asking, investigating, creating, discussing and reflecting" (p. ) mediated students' engagement with language and facilitated their appropriation of collaborative processes, cultural content, and technological skills. In other words, the mere use of the wiki may be less important in explaining their findings than the purposes for which it was used and the ways in which the instructor organized, implemented, and scaffolded that use.


    The inherently public, collaborative nature of wikis also makes them an especially effective tool for supporting advocacy efforts (Montgomery, 2007). Department or building administrators can use wikis to involve parents, students, and other faculty members in collaboratively maintaining a web presence for the language program or school building (Wolfson, 2007). They can be used to publicize language festivals (AFLTA, 2007), to create galleries of student work (Baumann, 2006) that demonstrate the growth of students' language skills, and to involve parents (Haskins, 2007) in reinforcing what their children are learning in world language classes. Additionally, teachers can create separate pages that function as cyberportfolios in which individual students can display work that is important to them (Wesley, 2007).

    Cautions & Consequences

    Nonetheless, many teachers are less than enthusiastic about these possibilities. Thoughtful administrators have raised legitimate questions regarding issues of equitable access, assessment, copyright, intellectual property, literacy, parental reactions, policy, privacy, standardized tests, and student safety. Other teachers are skeptical of the benefits that are promised, suggesting that while wikis may encourage cooperation, they fall far short of the collaboration they proclaim to support (Eaves, 2007). Nonetheless, those who have found ethically and professionally responsible ways to address these concerns insist that the technology is not the primary problem, but rather, the pedagogy and perspectives that underlie its use.

    These educators suggest solutions such as borrowing performance-based assessment strategies from the performing arts, providing learners with access to copyright-safe sources of multimedia such as Jamendo or Stock Xchng, and encouraging students to share their work under Creative Commons licenses. They advocate explicitly teaching critical literacy skills, initiating parent education programs, and developing "living policies" that foster stimulating learning environments rather than trying to comprehensively eliminate every potential problem that might occur. A number of other important priorities occupy their thoughts as well. They suggest the careful scaffolding of student interaction with opportunities for communication with culturally authentic communities, while simultaneously encouraging cybersafety initiatives that teach students to protect their privacy and develop healthy habits of interacting with others in virtual spaces. They explain that the skills students need to learn to stay safe in virtual environments mirror those that were once taught to keep them safe in physical environments. They emphasize that wikis can transform what is possible in language classes when teachers think of them as tools for designing learning communities and purposefully equip students with the understanding opportunities to use them responsibly as tools for creating content.

    However, even teachers who are not afraid of the technology may find it difficult to completely embrace the shifts in perspective and pedagogy necessary to safely and successfully integrate wikis as instructional tools. Engagement with any new technology is likely to disrupt familiar routines and to compel a re-examination of comfortable ways of doing things (not to mention well-established policies and precedents) that demands cognitive flexibility (Spiro, et. al, 1991).

    Knut Nærum's (2001) video, Medieval Helpdesk, illuminates the ways in which a limited understanding of how new technologies function, combined with inadequate personal technology skills, make it difficult for many teachers to recognize the potential benefits of wiki use. This is especially true of preservice teachers who do not yet have sufficient experience to enable them to see the ways in which new technologies function as effective tools for designing and implementing standards-based language instruction and assessment. Their vision is further impeded by the traditional notions of assessment and student achievement that they frequently hold. Teacher preparation programs have the responsibility to help preservice teachers acquire the transliteracy skills that will enable them to recognize the pedagogical possibilities inherent in emerging technologies. By equipping teacher candidates with opportunities to develop these critical skills, teacher preparation programs can foster the development of new attitudes toward assessment that will enable preservice teachers to develop these same skills in the K-12 students they serve.


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