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.


Wiki Project: Pictures make everything more fun


We worked on our class wiki today in the computer lab. My students had been asked to finish their profiles last week, and only one or two students did as much. I was feeling kind of discouraged about their seeming lack of interest in the wiki, but today revitalized my hope that the project may be a success after all.

One issue that students were facing was a lack of motivation and sometimes the technology to access the wiki outside of class time. During class today we did some online practice with parts of sentences and then I showed them how to take pictures with Photo Booth and upload them to the wiki. Everyone immediately got either super excited or super frustrated with the task. The students that had more previous experience with online social media tools that allow for pictures to be uploaded took off with the task and proceeded to take a series of great photos of themselves and our class. The students that seemed to have less experience with social media and computers in general became frustrated, probably because they felt left behind. With a little assistance, all the students managed to upload a picture to their profile and the level of engagement with the wiki increased overall.

Photo on 2013-02-06 at 11.40


Wiki Update


Last week I implemented a wiki into my Intro Level adult ESL class. I pitched the idea to the students the previous week and tried to explain that we can interact on the wiki in a less formal way than we do during class time. I set up profile pages for each student to edit and make their own, and I set up discussion pages where we can post topics of interest and talk about them together. We spent our computer lab day last week exploring the wiki and editing our profiles. So far, only one student has added pictures and finished his sentences on his profile.

I know that some of the students have just arrived from their home countries and they have yet to get their own computers, but I’m sort of surprised at how slow the involvement has been so far.

We will spend our lab day next week working on posting and commenting, but I hope I can convince my students to engage with the wiki outside of class time.