Thoughts on: Using PB Works vs. using Google Drive to facilitate collaboration in the ESL classroom


At the beginning of the semester I created a PB Works wiki for my current ESL students. My goal was to create a space where my students could collaborate and discuss topics in English in a less formal setting than the every-day classroom. Over the course of the term, I have come to realize that it can be quite difficult to get students to engage with the wiki on a regular basis on their own. The wiki has slowly turned into an extension of our class work where I post weekly topics that relate to what we have been studying for us to discuss. While I think there may still be some benefit to asking students to build and engage with the wiki, the benefit of facilitating less formal interaction in English seems to have disappeared (as of now).

In an effort to experiment and try to separate the formal writing we do from the informal topic writing I want the students to engage in on the wiki, I created a Google Drive folder in which my students can post their writing assignments (the formal ones). Today was the first day we used Google Drive, and while it went fairly smoothly, I’m left feeling like it’s not really creating anything that wasn’t already done in the wiki. Right now it feels like just another thing to keep track of.

However, had we used Google Drive (or some other tool, Dropbox perhaps) from the beginning of the semester, the outcome might be much different. I just imagine creating an online space for both formal and informal writing, in addition to our every-day pen-and-paper writing assignments/practice. Looking back at my impulse to separate the formal and informal written work we do in class, I think my goals could be summed up as follows:

  1. To create an online portfolio of student work that can be used to document student progress as the term goes on
  2. To create an easily accessible repository of written work to share with fellow teachers (my students’ other teachers)
  3. To build student confidence in using online tools (that will undoubtedly be encountered should they continue their education in an American university setting)

Using PB Works (as we have been using it) seems to address all of the goals, but I think Google Drive might address the first goal a bit more effectively. With Google Drive, I can give feedback on writing assignments right on the document. While this can also be done through a wiki, the formatting of the Google documents is closer to the formatting that would be expected of student writing at the university level (formally). Formatting documents/writing in a formal way in the wiki has proven to be more difficult.

My train of thought on this matter has fizzled out, but I’m sure I will continue to reflect on my experience using these tools in the classroom as the term progresses.