|Vol. 12, Issue
3, March 2012
I am sad to report that this will be my final
column for Dialogue. I have enjoyed sharing my experiments with using
technology in the ESL classroom with you. I also appreciate all the feedback
I have received over the last two years. Thanks!
Eugenia D. Coutavas
Blogs vs Wikis: The Smackdown.
While attending a professional conference a year ago,
my friend and colleague, Rebekka Eckhaus, jokingly suggested we write a
column together. Given that she was a big proponent of blogs and I of wikis
– the stage was set. Although a friendly competitive exercise, do not be
fooled. One of us really wants to win. Please vote at the end of the
column, and may the best platform win!
By: Eugenia D. Coutavas
By: Rebekka Eckhaus
|What are they?
Wikis are websites. They are created by one person but can be
maintained, updated and used by many people, so they become a
platform where your students can post materials and exchange
feedback. In a writing class, for example, you can have each student
create their own portfolio. In this way, their peers (and you) can
visit, read, and comment on everyone’s work. Or for lower levels you
can start a prompt and have each student add to it, thus creating a
cooperative writing piece. Wikis are secure – as administrator you
can limit those who can update the site. Wikipedia is the most
famous example of a wiki.
When do I use them?
When I first started about two years ago, I used to create wikis for
only one class a semester. Now I use them for all classes I teach
regardless of level or skill. I teach in academic programs, but a
class wiki would also work for literacy programs, for high school
students, and even for private tutoring situations.
Why do I use them?
I use them because the set-up is
simple and students really appreciate having an easily accessible
and personalized website to support our in-class work. They also
really like being able to add to the site – especially in writing
classes. Sharing one’s essays and commenting on peer’s work is
important and gratifying for students. It helps them learn the
editing process firsthand and teaches them that multiple draft
writing and peer feedback is essential for improving writing.
Students can also help each other by sharing links for research
projects. For listening and speaking classes it is in many ways more helpful. Students can see and hear each other improve as
speakers. If you upload weekly podcasts or videos, by the end of the
semester you will have a great overview of students’ improvement.
This really helps boost self-confidence.
Like blogs, wikis
also support a variety of materials including audio files, videos,
images, links, and documents. In one of my last wikis, I uploaded
podcasts my students had produced. They were very happy to be able
to share their work – in the form of this unique website - with
friends and family abroad.
Why do I use wikis instead
Unlike blogs, a wiki is a ready-made community
that naturally facilitates collaboration and so is perfect for the
classroom. As a teacher I strive to create a safe environment for
experimentation and feedback. Students are involved from its
inception and that inspires a sense of ownership and pride in their
output. Your students can all easily work on a group project. That
is something you cannot do on a blog. Wikis are more flexible than
blogs because they allow students to interact and negotiate meaning
all while communicating to create something together.
How to get started:
In a previous column on
wikis I recommended
(which I still use), but you can also use
Of course there is also Google Sites … but Google educational
products really deserve a column of their own.
users unite and be heard! Vote for me because you know and love
using wikis as much as my students and I do!
|What are they?
Blogs are also websites. They are similar to a newspaper in that a
person creates articles or “posts.” The most recent post will always
appear first, and readers can comment on each of the posts. Usually,
one person creates and maintains the blog, but posting and
commenting, in addition to linking blogs, creates virtual
communities. The finished product is a blog community where bloggers
can share their news in a written piece, podcast, or video. For example,
important websites like The New York Times have blogs because they
allow readers to create communities around the news.
When do I use them?
I use blogs in all levels of
ESL and for business English classes. Blogs are a great place to
publish students’ final drafts of writing assignments and
multi-media projects. Tech-saavy students can even help with set-up
and may surprise you with their innovations.
Why do I
I love using blogs because they are a fairly
simple and free way to give your students a professional-looking
publishing opportunity. I began by simply posting students’ writing
assignments, but then I realized that blogs were much more versitile. Last
semester, I posted the final version of each student’s best writing
piece from the course. On the final day, they presented their pieces
and created audio recordings as they read them to the class. These
audio recordings were published along with their writing. By
utilizing the features of the blog, I was able to address writing,
reading, listening, speaking, and pronunciation skills. Since the
blog is "public", even their friends and family back home can access
Another classroom application of the blog is
commenting. Students and teachers can comment on posts. Commenting
holds students accountable for their work because they know the
quality of their work can be seen not only by their instructors, but
also by their peers. My business English students have dramatically
improved the quality of their articles throughout the semester since
they know that their classmates will be reading their writing. While
posts may be higher-stakes, comments are usually low-stakes and
casual. This allows students to express their opinions and create
Why do I use blogs instead of
Unlike wikis, you can publish impressive finished
projects in your classes, give students the chance to share their
work, and provide high- and low-stakes writing opportunities. Blogs
offer polished products with a wide variety of formatting templates
that allow students to express their personal style and preferences.
I have found that the free wiki templates are often more functional
than aesthetically pleasing. While both blogs and wikis create
communities, the public aspect of blogs adds a higher level of
accountability. Since the content of the blog can be publically
accessed, instructors can choose to manage class blogs themselves so
that they can control the published content.
is for instructors to have students create individual blogs and link
these blogs in order to create a class community. Because students
will be administering their own blogs, teachers can focus on
commenting on the students’ work or facilitating discussions as
other students comment. There are so many reasons to use blogs.
Students can even upload pictures and share links to YouTube videos
and other media. What a great way to modernize the classic student
journaling exercise - by having students put their entries online as
How to get started:
are all free blogsites that take you through a simple set-up
process. As with all technology, leave yourself some time to set up
your blogsite and learn the ins-and-outs. The more you learn, the
better you will be able to manage the blog. The better you can
manage the blog, the less frustrated you will get and the more fun
you will have.
Blog users unite and be heard! Vote
for me because you know and love using blogs as much as my students
and I do!
Eugenia "Debbie" Coutavas received a B.A. in History of Art with a minor in photography from the University of La Verne in Athens, Greece, and an M.A. in TESOL from Hunter College. In addition to teaching for more than ten years, Debbie was also the Web site coordinator for Hunter College's IELI Web site.
Rebekka Eckhaus is an instructor at Baruch College, CUNY and St.
John’s University. She has taught ESL and Business English in various
academic programs, in-company, and in a work placement program. She has also
developed training workshops, worked in Chile, and holds an
M.A. in TESOL
from Hunter College, CUNY.
Please send your questions and responses to "Webbing In" at email@example.com.