What do teacher candidates think of working with a wiki?

“By creating a connection to a place . .. a commitment to the welfare of those who inhabit the place is created” (Rodgers, 2006, p. 1270).

When educators are asked to develop a face-to-face course, content typically plays a prominent role in their thinking. Other components that are critical to the success of the learning experience, including the cultural, psychological, and social "infrastructure" that supports students' interaction with content, are seldom consciously addressed. Although these components of the learning environment are directly responsible for much of students' ultimate success with content, many educators have a tendency to take these features for granted, attributing them to factors beyond their control (such as the personality of the class, the intelligence of the students, and so forth).

Yet, Kellogg & Erickson (2002) argue that collective awareness is necessary in order for shared understandings of behaviors, events, and meanings to arise. They explain that this collective awareness, or "social translucence" (p. 4), is constituted by increased visibility, a self-conscious awareness of one's visibility, a recognition that others are aware of one's presence, and the sense of individual accountability that such self-conscious recognition produces. They indicate that shared understandings typically emerge as a result of repeated interactions with others that occur over time, and suggest that online experiences and environments are fragmented in ways that make the development of this social translucence more difficult than it would otherwise be if bounded by a physical place.

I believe that a lack of attention to the cultural, psychological, and social dynamics of a community plays a greater role in fragmentation and the lack of social translucence than whether an experience occurs in an online environment or not. In fact, wikis may even have the potential to combat this fragmentation. Burbules and Callister (2000) explain, "The text or publication becomes a medium of actual community-building, and not just a mode of communication within it" (p. 166). In other words, by serving as a "boundary object" (Cobb, McClain, Lamberg, & Dean, 2003) around which conversations can occur about shared content, tasks, and purposes, wikis provide the raw materials and infrastructure from which community can emerge. However, the extent to which this occurs depends on the degree to which purposeful attention is devoted to developing that community.

Several scholars have advocated for a dialogic approach to learning environments (Mononen-Aaltonen, 1998) ; Mononen-Aaltonen & Tella, 2000) in world language classrooms. In keeping with their sentiments, Howard Rheingold (1997) compares online environments to conversations. He argues that communities do not simply "emerge," but rather, that they "grow" from a combination of favorable conditions and careful nurturing. He encourages educators to think of online learning environments as social spaces and to view themselves as hosts or hostesses at social gatherings. He notes that there are a number of specific behaviors that space organizers can engage in to facilitate the development of a self-sustaining online community. These behaviors include welcoming new participants, facilitating conversations, encouraging contributions, directing people to existing resources, and mediating misunderstandings. He offers a number of practical suggestions that provide an excellent guide for educators who are new to facilitating online interactions.

Trust is another factor that is closely linked to the development of community, as well as to people's willingness to collaborate within it. Interpersonal relationships depend upon trust, and the value placed on a piece of information is also closely linked to how much trust one places in it and in the credibility of its source. Ultimately, fostering and maintaining relationships of trust--with data, with other people, with institutions, and with cultures--enables learning. Relationships of trust make it possible for learners to feel secure even in the face of ambiguous, uncertain, and unpredictable circumstances. Many beginning language learners struggle with the ambiguity and uncertainty of language learning. They expect words, structures, and even cultures to behave in predictable ways, and the anxiety they experience when this does not happen is often heightened by their concerns about their personal performance. These fears are further heightened in online and hybrid courses by the very public nature of working in an online space. Hence, everything that language educators do to reduce uncertainty and increase predictability at the beginning of the course will contribute to participants' willingness to take the risks essential for learning--particularly in an online community.

Additionally, expectations that would normally be stated in general terms and then further negotiated in person over time must be made more explicit at the beginning of an online or hybrid course. Establishing clear routines and procedures adds a degree of predictability to online interactions and helps to establish community norms that, in the absence of nonverbal social cues, take on an important function in shaping individual participation and group behavior. A face-to-face, hands-on orientation session that acquaints students with the combination of technologies that will be used during the course, and alerts them to things they may not know or anticipate regarding the use of these technologies, is a productive way to begin. Communicating standards for the contribution of content, well-defined expectations for annotation and ethical attribution, and conventions for file naming and formatting will also strengthen the quality of content that is contributed, while making it easier to access in the future. Educators can establish the structure of both the content and the interaction that takes place around that content by inserting "templates" into the pages. Students will generally follow whatever pattern is established as long as the pattern is clearly apparent. Hence, research on visual cognition can guide educators' attempts to mediate students' engagement with the content, structure, and processes of wiki work (Anderson & Woodill, 2004; McLoughlin & Krakowski, 2001; Sankey, 2002). Such careful attention to the physical organization and structure of the wiki can also scaffold community building, and in many cases, functions as a helpful surrogate for some of the common supports inherent in a face-to-face course that are difficult to duplicate in an online environment.

Although I did not conduct any formal research regarding the wiki, I did solicit informal feedback from teacher candidates who were currently using it, as well as from program graduates who had used it during the previous year by sending a general message to both groups containing these prompts:

  • What pages or features were most valuable to you?
  • Is there anything you didn't like about the wiki?
  • Did the process of working with the wiki influence your thinking or your teaching in any way?
  • And for those of you who are in your first or second year of teaching, do you access the wiki now, and if so, for what purposes?

Feedback from those who gave me permission to publish their comments appears below. In some cases, the contributors requested that their feedback be used anonymously, and in all cases, I have titled the comments.

Community, Content, & Conversation

This may seem like an obvious comment about the Wiki, but I love that so many different people can put their ideas together in the same place. I can look for or at a variety of ideas and opinions in the same place. Working with TPRS is a challenging but amazing opportunity, but since I'm still new to it all, I'm constantly looking for more ideas and a different spin on what I see in my classroom. Many TPRS websites sound similar and I value including textbook-focused activities (that I can find easily on the wiki or other links on these pages) as well with adaptations to the vocab and style of my classroom. I also think the discussions are helpful. Even a guest that is not able to post can still gain a new understanding or see a new perspective from reading these opinions and ideas.

It's very helpful!!

Bridget Leonard - leonar77 leonar77

Community, Collaboration, & Conversation

What I find to be the most useful about using a wiki is the sense of community that one feels once they’re on a wiki. As a language teacher, collaboration is very important to me. Not only with other teachers in my building, but also with other language teachers around the state and even the U.S. In a way, it’s more effective than face to face communication since all a user has to do is go to the website to do so.

The languagelinks2006 wiki that the msu interns are a part of may feel a lot like ANGEL in a way, yet different. It’s still very possible to communicate and exchange files using both, but I prefer the interactive nature of the wiki. Everyone on it can add to the pages on the wiki, and so it’s easier to “have a conversation inside of the pages” in a manner of speaking. However, many files have been lost by some msu interns in this wiki since there seems to be no place to store your own files; just one of it’s annoyances.

As I'm nearing the end of my internship year, I am definitely looking firward to using the wiki as I look towards my first job in teaching. My plans for using the wiki include not only connecting with future MSU interns, and keeping in touch with the current interns next year, but also as a tool for helping out future colleagues. Teaching is only getting tougher, and the rate of change of the profession is such that a tool like the languagelinks wiki would be an incredibly useful tool for any language teacher.

Carolina S. - senorastafford senorastafford

Community, Confidence, Content, & Conversations

I love the wiki! It has been an essential resource for me throughout my internship year. I think it is amazing that we can all connect in one space and share ideas and thoughts on similar issues. The support that is provided by being a part of this online community has been a huge part of my confidence throughout the year. Not only could we share files and resources to be used in our lesson plans, but we could hold conversations about what is going on in our classrooms, schools, even our personal lives.

In addition to that support, the wiki provides the users with the many different perspectives of the members of the space. If I post an activity that I haven't thought through completely, it can be brought to my attention by someone else who has better foresight. This saves me (and my students) time and frustration. This is just one of the many advantages I have experienced with this tool.

I will definitely continue to use the wiki in the future. I'm hoping to be able to contribute to conversations and share my experiences with others who find themselves asking questions similar to those we (interns) asked last year.

Gretchen Gibbs- mllegibbs mllegibbs


Mary Cartier - cartierm cartierm

Content, Navigation, & Skills

I would have to say that over all the wiki was really helpful. Sometimes it was hard to connect to and sometimes there was just not enough time in the day to participate in it - BUT I think that it was really helpful in terms of helping me to learn how to be more resourceful. Learning how to navigate a site like this has helped me become better at finding and navigating other teaching sites and picking out things that I can adapt for my own purposes.
I think it is a pretty big asset to me now especially since it has grown a lot. Some of the pages that were most useful to me were just some of the general links that were provided like reading strategies and things. I wish I could come up with more concrete examples. One of my favorite links has been the instructional strategies link. It is easiest for me to find examples that I can adapt as opposed to some sort of activity that is set for one specific thing and is hard to connect to other areas. I hope this is helpful! Good luck with your presentation!


Instructional Strategies

Especially as an intern with very little experience the Instructional strategies page has been extremely helpful. The discussions that we are required to do for class are great as well.

Not a lot of info for you, but hopefully it helps!

A. Cote - fraucote1 fraucote1

Content, Navigation, Curriculum, & Contributions

Obviously the Spanish page is very useful for gathering resources. But I have also found the "First Days of School" and "Classroom Management" pages to be particularly helpful, especially starting in a new environment as a first year teacher. I think the coolest thing about the wiki is the broad spectrum of topics pertinent to educators (both in general and specific to world languages) that it covers. There is probably not a scenario that isn't covered on the site - and if something is absent, it's so easy to edit the wiki to add it on.

The only frustration I have with the wiki is finding very specific information on it. It is an incredible and abundant resource, and it is incredibly well organized - even still it is sometimes hard to find the kinds of resources I am looking for (due to mislabeling, or, maybe the resource could fall under several categories but has been placed in only one location, etc.) For this problem however, the "search" utility is usually helpful.

Using the wiki broadened my ideas about the possibility of integrating a technology-based social networking program into the curriculum. It would be very cool if you could develop a wiki for each class, with a page dedicated to each topic or unit - have students contribute through discussions and upload projects.

I continue to access the wiki. I try upload work I have done with my students at least once every two weeks. I know it is important to continue because I still use ideas I gather from the wiki in my classroom. I see the wiki as having a very bright future, if it continues to be utilized and accessed in the same way it was originally intended.

Sarah Paquette

In summary, while teacher candidates expressed that the wiki has been beneficial to them, very few directly addressed whether or not it had influenced their perspectives, affected their thinking, or influenced their classroom practice in any significant way. Instead, their comments typically focused on the utility of its content and the manner in which it fostered the development of a supportive community of professional practice that facilitated the collaborative exchange of ideas. Nonetheless, at least one alluded to the access it provides her to other perspectives, and several mentioned that it has caused them to rethink curriculum and to develop professional skills that are applicable in contexts beyond the wiki. These comments hint that engagement with the wiki over time may have the potential to mediate students' cognition and to support the transfer of understanding across contexts. Further investigation of these issues is needed, and could prove a valuable contribution to scholarly research.

Scholarly References

Rodgers, Carol. (2006). "The turning of one's soul"—Learning to teach for social justice: The Putney Graduate School of Teacher Education (1950–1964). Teachers College Record, 108(7), 1266-1295.

Multimedia References (& Student Comments)

Anonymous. (2007). Content & navigation wiki comments. Used with permission.

Cartier, Mary. (2007). Content wiki comments (mp3 file). Used with permission.

Cote, Ashleigh. (2007). Instructional strategies wiki comments. Used with permission.

Free Buttons. (n.d.). Blur metal. Freebuttons.com. Retrieved March 17, 2008, from http://www.freebuttons.com/index.php?page=freebuttons&buttonName=BlurMetal&color=3

Gibbs, Gretchen. (2008). Community, confidence, content, & conversations wiki comments. Used with permission.

Leonard, Bridget. (2007). Community, content, & conversation wiki comments. Used with permission.

Paquette, Sarah. (2007). Content, navigation, curriculum, & contributions wiki comments. Used with permission.

S., Carolina. (2007). Community, collaboration, & conversation wiki comments. Used with permission.