A few weeks ago I created a wiki for the CETP program in hopes that CETP participants would share experiences and words of wisdom about their homes and schools in Hungary. So far few have taken up the cause, and I suspect it has something to do with time. Updating a wiki about the place you’ve lived for nearly a year, not to mention working with the MediaWiki interface takes a certain amount of energy. In fact, I haven’t even had time to make one about Kaposvár or my school and it was my idea! To solve this problem, I endeavored to pass along the burden of typing up all the important information about my school, town, and Hungary to my students, a task that was recently partially completed.
The idea of a wiki was not new to any of my students. When we did state and country reports last semester, many of them handed in entire essays copied longhand from the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Most of them knew the idea, I doubt, however, that any of them had actually written a wiki before. As writers go they were not great, but they could write a wiki and practice never hurts. Plus, with a wiki they will have a chance to edit each other and collaborate on the assignment. The idea of creating original content on the Internet, however, I suspected was something new to them.
The wiki lessons constituted a good chunk of time, especially considering I only see each group of students between once and three times a week, it was a six day project, but with homework assignments it could be condensed down to three or four. The first day was spent priming the students for the next few weeks.
The idea of the CETP Wiki was to have good quality information available about places that rarely see tourists, even from within Hungary; places with sometimes fewer than 1,000 people living there that our organization places new teachers in each year. Other places are more like Kaposvár, under 100,000 but far from a booming metropolis. Googling some of the places returns little more than a map and directory listings for some businesses, even their Wikipedia entries are scant if existent. The best people to talk about these places are the people who live there.
To prove to my students they were experts on their subjects, I had them imagine they were participating in the American Field Service (AFS). They were first to imagine what kinds of things they would want to know about Mankato, MN, where they would spend the next year living and going to school far from the comforts of home. After that they were to make a list of things they would be sure to tell an AFS student that was moving to Kaposvár.
The next days were spent brainstorming and organizing thoughts about the three subject areas: Munkácsy High School for the ninth graders, Kaposvár for the eleventh graders, and Hungary for the twelfth graders. This is the part that could be substituted for homework, but given my experience with homework assignments in the past, I decided it all had to be done in class if I wanted it done. Days two and three were spent first on idea webs, then on outlining those webs, and then I assigned a topic to each group based on where their outlines were strongest. Day four we spent writing rough drafts on the topics I assigned. Finally, on days five and six we were in the lab.
Lab Day One
My school had at least three computer labs, none of which had enough computers for every student, and as I learned today, only some of which were connected to the Internet, and the labs I have access to for this project also did not have a teacher’s computer connected to a projector, so showing the students what their screen was supposed to look like was out of the question. Luckily, each class only had four or five groups, so keeping them on the same page (literally) was not too much of a challenge.
The only hiccup was that my first class was locked out of the system, so I instead had them write up their wiki entry on MS Word and then email it to me, and then I manually updated their pages for them. I had the next class write up their entry in Word and then copy and paste them into their group’s User: page.
Lab Day Two
The second day in the lab we spent editing. The first lab was suffering from a cripplingly slow Internet connection that made it difficult for some groups to sign in to the wiki, but once that was resolved, it went pretty smoothly. Each group was assigned to edit another group’s page. Once they were finished they were to copy and paste their edited section to the Munkácsy Mihály Gimnázium page. At the end of the day all the sections were added to the page, and it looked like it had come straight out of wikipedia.
Once they were all finished there was a short self-evaluation each group was to complete on their user’s talk page. It asked simple questions like: How much English did you speak? Could you have spoken more English? Did you follow the directions? Did you work as hard as you could? and What Mark do you think you earned? Their answers to these questions were taken into consideration when I graded their work.
The assignment had two primary goals. First, to encourage the students to think broadly about their community. For the students writing about Kaposvár their instinctive advice to the hypothetical AFS student was almost universally “don’t come here.” I’m sure there was a time when that would have been my reaction to the question, “what would you tell someone thinking about moving to Burnsville, MN?” and the point of this assignment was to teach the students that that is neither a helpful nor acceptable answer to that question.
The second goal was to get the students collaborating on something creative. The wiki environment is partiuclarly attractive for this because it allows students to easily go to another article and edit someone elses work, leaving behind a comprehensible log of changes for their peers to interpret.
In assessing student work, the highest mark was a five, which represented a perfect work, free of any grammatical or spelling mistakes, but a five also represented a group that worked together, including every member of the team every step of the way. They were assessed both on the quality of their original assignment and on the mistakes they were able to spot while they were editing.
The universal goal of all assignments in a conversational English class was also at play in the wiki project, namely, that the students should be able to communicate with each other well enough in English that they can work through a complicated problem without using their mother tongue. At the beginning of the term all my students were told that they could only get a 5 if they spoke English exclusively from the moment I walked into the room until class was dismissed. This assignment was no different, a group could only earn a 5 if every member completed all tasks speaking only English. The resulting distribution was focused highly around 4, a good mark, but not perfect, with a few groups earning a 4/5, or a strong 4, and a couple groups earned a 3. All groups successfully passed the assignment.
In addition to the group grade, each student was given an individual participation grade each day of the assignment. Again, students could only earn a 5 for the day if they were on task, speaking English, and following directions, and here again most students earned 4s.
The Wikis for my 11th and 12th classes are still in the works, and will be for quite some time. I teach teach these classes only once per week and spring break adds an extra two weeks to the timeline. We’ll be back in the lab again in May, and the pages for Kaposvár and Hungary will be produced then.