Using Google Classroom and wikis to make learning English personal, relevant and engaging.

I’ve always been interested in experimenting with new technologies to improve the teaching and learning process. This, together with my (slight) obsession with being well organised and the desire to break down the barriers presented in my teaching context (limited resources, an unreliable internet connection and time constraints) has led me to become a wiki and Google Classroom enthusiast.

Using a wiki and Google Classroom has become an integral part of learning English for my students. Both of these tools have allowed me to break down the classroom walls (no more spatial or temporal barriers) and ensure students are actively engaged in their learning. Wikis For anyone unfamiliar with them, wikis are websites which anyone who has permission (i.e teachers and students) can edit and add content to. The kind of content you have on your wiki will, to a certain extent, depend on how interactive you want it to be and how strict (or not) the permissions you grant are. Similar to a blog page, students can consult and comment on information the teacher uploads, sharing their ideas and opinions. However, a wiki is much more dynamic than a blog in that students can also create, share and edit content.

One of the most important benefits of using a wiki is that students are actively involved in the construction of their own knowledge and learning. Passive learning goes out of the window. It promotes student-centred learning, autonomy and responsibility. Students are encouraged to:

  • consult information: notifications about homework, tests, deadlines etc.
  • find and use class materials and resources, extension and reinforcement activities and exercises
  • ask questions and resolve doubts
  • collaborate
  • be curious
  • be creative

Using a wiki also facilitates differentiated learning. Students can choose the activities they complete according to interests, needs and level. Learning is more personal, relevant and engaging. Communicating with classmates offers more opportunities for peer teaching and learning. Did you know that a shrimp’s heart is in its head? I didn't either, nor did the rest of the class. We all do now…

A wiki gives students a voice (especially important for those students who are otherwise too shy to participate in class.) Wikis provide an opportunity to engage in class discussions and debates and provide an authentic audience for communication and critical thinking. They also provide a place to showcase students’ work. Wikis help teachers help students. They offer lots of opportunities for formative assessment. Teachers can monitor students’ contributions and progress, answer questions, resolve doubts, give advice and provide feedback inside and outside of class time.

Google Classroom

Similar to a wiki, Google Classroom has enabled me to reach more students, more often and make learning English a more dynamic and authentic experience. I began using Classroom when I introduced the flipped learning model to one class this year. Google Classroom is a free web service provided by Google for teachers and students. Teachers can create an online classroom, invite students, upload material and resources, create, distribute and grade assignments. Everything is organised, in one place, in their Google Classroom. No excuse for not finding things!

Work doesn’t disappear from the classroom if students don’t do it. They can consult their assignment history in their work folder at any time and are able to see work that has been completed on time, handed in late or is still pending. Parents can also opt in to receive this information with weekly notifications from Google Classroom.

Just like using a wiki, Google Classroom breaks down spatial and temporal barriers and facilitates teacher-student communication either via the private or public messaging system. Again, teachers can easily answer questions, resolve doubts and give feedback when needed. The class comments system also allows peer learning to take place as students can ask and answer questions, share information and ideas. The question option as a task is great for getting students to think critically about an issue and respond to their classmates’ replies. Some students who are reluctant to voice their opinions in class, are able to find their voice in the Google Classroom (which the teacher can then focus on in class to involve students who wouldn’t otherwise participate e.g Lucia had an interesting point of view about….)

Both a wiki and Google Classroom make integrating other web tools really easy Classroom is compatible with lots of other apps such as www.edpuzzle.com, www.quizlet.com, www.kahoot.com, www.quizizz.com… Students can access activities and tasks easier and the teacher can provide a variety of task types using some of these tools, increasing engagement and motivation. Wikis make it equally easy to embed documents, images, videos, activities created using other web tools such as Google Forms, Docs, and other apps including the ones mentioned above.

How do I know if using these web tools has had a positive impact on teaching and learning?

One of the most telling signs is levels of engagement. Are students connecting, communicating (with the teacher and each other), collaborating...? Are students using these tools to help them achieve their learning goals? Are the learning outcomes positive? Finally, the best way to know if something is having the desired effect is to ask… I always ask my students to complete a questionnaire at the end of each term/school year about their experience using our wiki or Google Classroom. As well as rating things such as user experience, activity types etc, I also ask them to suggest ideas for using these tools in the future.

For anyone interested in setting up a wiki the software you choose will depend on your context. Until recently our wiki was hosted on www.wikispaces.com. Unfortunately this platform closed down in July and I am currently in the process of creating a new wiki using www.sites.google.com. Alternatives to Google Sites include www.wikidot.com, www.pbworks.com and Wiki Platforms. I can definitely recommend using either a wiki or Google Classroom to reach more students, more often and make learning English personal, relevant and engaging.

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