Article discussion group: “Using wikis and forums for writing practice in ELICOS courses”

Getting started with the discussion.

Using wikis and forums for writing practice in ELICOS courses, by Jade Sleeman from La Trobe Melbourne International College. You can download the article here or access the whole issue from the English Australia website.

Introduction to the Article

In Jade’s article, she outlines how she used wikis and discussion forums in an advanced class of Academic English students to help them practice their writing. An interesting finding was the emergence of a community of practice, a term being used more and more in collaborative learning environments to represent a group who have an ongoing commitment to a shared goal. (Etienne Wenger’s book: “Communities of Practice” is an excellent introduction). So, how did Jade go about investigating the usefulness of Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and online forums? First, she posed two questions (see page 6):

  1. To what extent can Web 2.0 tools be used to create opportunities for collaborative writing beyond the classroom in an ELICOS course?
  2. Can the use of Web 2.0 tools for extra writing practice improve learning outcomes?

Then she decided upon an appropriate class to try out these ideas with over two weeks of the 5-week block (see page 6). She set the class of 15 students additional out-of-class writing activities to be completed in small groups on a Moodle wiki. These were then posted on the discussion forums and students were asked to provide each other with feedback before completing an in-class assessment task later in the week. Jade then set about analysing the students’ writing – see pages 7-17 for the findings of these analyses. A significant finding was:

“that students who began the study as modest or competent users of English (according to the IELTS band scale), and who participated actively by contributing to the wiki activities, were able to improve their results in academic writing. However, those students who on the pre-test were considered good users on the IELTS scale were not seen to improve their writing scores.” (pp. 17-18)

There were also interesting findings related to the difference between collaboration and cooperation in the learning tasks (pp. 9-11) and she also suggests that the notion of “legitimate peripheral participation … a stage of tentative participation that newcomers engage in, in relation to the more proficient members of a community of practice” (p. 12) is a useful way to think about less proficient students’ less prominent participation in activities.

Initial Discussion Questions

Jade has posed these questions to get us started.

  1. Have you or anyone you know used wikis or forums in your own classrooms? If so, what challenges or advantages do you think they offer?
  2. How do you perceive “peripheral participation”- do you think this has advantages for English language learners in online contexts?

Head on over to the AusELT Facebook page to discuss these questions!

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