Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wikis and teaching

I am thinking about wikis today. How do I use them in teaching business English? Before I answer my own question, this side comment: business English teaching is often not the stuffed-suit affair it appears to be. Using wikis to teach business English to business people is like playing with an octopus. Lots of arms, wiggling in different directions.

About a year ago, I created a wiki for a group of business English students. It was my slightly desperate response to their sporadic attendance in their weekly 90 minute face to face meeting with me. "Meeting" describes it well, because lesson it wasn't, in other words, no sustained or consistent teaching and learning was possible.

The octopus part: the wiki I made has about 8 arms, or pages. How they wiggle is the students grab different arms and give them a shake from time to time. Different students grab different pages of the wiki. One likes to follow the assignments page, and is methodically working through them, dressing things up with extra links, opinions and so on. Another goes for the page of grammar exercises and vocabulary (Quizlet-based, mostly). Then there's a guy who found some really funny youtubes and dropped them into the wiki. And there's one student who has never written a word.

That's not at all how I envisioned it! I thought the wiki would run parallel to our face to face meetings, providing a consistent source of learning and lessons that everyone would do in order and use when they couldn't attend the f2f. A way to keep everybody in step...

This use of a wiki is far from the wikis described in "the literature" but everyone, including me, is really happy with it. Recently I've started using bits of the wiki materials as warmers in our lessons, just to keep up awareness.


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