Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Emerging Technologies: Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-Line Collaboration

Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Emerging Technologies: Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-Line Collaboration

Article excerpt

Language professionals have embraced the world of collaborative opportunities the Internet has introduced. Many tools--e-mail, discussion forums, chat--are by now familiar to many language teachers. Recent innovations--blogs, wikis, and RSS feeds--may be less familiar but offer powerful opportunities for online collaboration for both language professionals and learners. The underlying technology of the new tools is XML ("extensible markup language") which separates content from formatting, encourages use of meta-data, and enables machine processing of Internet documents. The latter is key in the ability to link automatically disparate documents of interest to individuals or groups. The new collaborative opportunities this enables have led some to consider the growing importance of XML as the signal of the arrival of the second-generation Web.


Asynchronous Tools

First-generation tools are far from disappearing from the Internet landscape. E-mail continues to be a viable tool for tandem learning and classroom exchanges. Now that most e-mail programs support formatted text and graphics, e-mail is more attractive and versatile than in the days of plain ASCII. Multimedia can now be embedded directly in messages and non-Roman characters are more easily supported. However, many instructors have increasingly turned to discussion forums as the principal tool for written exchanges among class members. Compared to e-mail, discussion forums facilitate group exchanges, and they maintain automatically a log of all messages in a threaded, hierarchical structure. Some instructors find that students consider language structure somewhat more in contributing to discussion forums (as a form of semi-public display) than in writing e-mail (a quick and easy private and informal system). Discussion forums are often seen as an equalizing tool, which encourage universal participation in discussion compared to face-to-face dialogue. It will be interesting to see whether new voice-based forums such as Wimba change that dynamic.

Of course, it is the encouragement of peer-to-peer networking and buddy learning, so central to a constructivist learning approach, which has made discussion forums the mainstay of Web courses in most disciplines. Language teachers have found that students at many different levels benefit from the extra writing done in discussion forums and from its use to communicate meaningfully in real contexts. While dedicated software for creating discussion forums exists (such as WWWBoard), many instructors have access to built-in forum creation in a learning management system (LMS) such as WebCT or Blackboard. Features across the different systems are very similar, although the look and feel may differ significantly. Some dedicated products, such as WebCrossing, offer additional add-ons such as polls, live messaging, and enhanced monitoring. Although most commonly used as part of a class, there are certainly uses of forums outside that setting as well, as in learner participation in native speaker forums. For commonly studied languages, there are on-line forums available on a wide variety of topics, often organized by media outlets or interest groups. As one recent study of their use by language learners points out, students need to approach such forums with a good understanding of the conventions used and of the cultural dynamics at work.

Synchronous Tools

Language learners face even more the issue of knowing rules and conventions when entering chat rooms, whether they be a variation of a MOO or just a generic, text-based chat. Often there are shortcuts and etiquette, which can prove confusing and frustrating to new users. Nevertheless, some language teachers have embraced the use of chat as an effective communication tool. The speed of chat exchanges forces short, spontaneous messages, which more closely mimic spoken exchanges than is the case in discussion forums. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.