Vol. 12, Issue 3, March 2012

Webbing In - Farewell

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 of blogs?
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 Wikispaces (which I still use), but you can also use PBWorks or Wikia. Of course there is also Google Sites … but Google educational products really deserve a column of their own.

Wiki 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 use them?
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 their work!

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 online discussions.

Why do I use blogs instead of wikis?
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.

Another option 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 a blog!

How to get started:
Wordpress, Tumblr, Blog.com and Google’s Blogger 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!

Surveymonkey Survey

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. rebekka.eckhaus@hotmail.com

Please send your questions and responses to "Webbing In" at dialogue@nystesol.org.