Bringing Theory into Practice

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Wikis have been described as “an integrated space for reading and writing” (Nakamaru, 2011a, p. 274), a “collaborative learning environment” (Xie & Wang, 2011, p. 689), and as “a platform for user participation and creativity” (Nakamaru, 2011b, p. 378). However, these positive reviews do not mean that a wiki is necessarily the perfect solution for incorporating technology into the language classroom. Even studies which conclude that wikis can be useful in the EAL classroom also caution that this technology does not always lead to increased engagement (Nakamaru, 2011a, p. 273), may not be appropriate for all learners (Nakamaru, 2011b, p. 388), and is even referred to as “far from perfect” (Xie & Wang, 2011, p. 689). To heed these warnings, it is important not to use a new technology such as a wiki simply for the sake of using a new technology, but rather to “repurpose” the technology for specific contexts, taking advantage of teachers’ specialized pedagogical knowledge (Mishra & Koehler, 2009, p. 16).


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Mishra and Koehler (2009) suggest that teachers must take their pedagogical content
knowledge (PCK) and integrate this with any new technological knowledge (resulting in TPCK) in order to "go beyond" simply knowing about the three aspects of technology, pedagogy, and content in isolation (p. 16). As we learn about new technologies in our daily lives outside of the classroom, it may be tempting to bring into the classroom what knowledge we know about a particular technology without considering the rest of the TPACK framework. Benson and Ward (2013) discuss TPACK specifically in terms of online teaching and learning, however the statement that an "understanding of the unique ways in which technology interacts with subject matter expertise and pedagogical skills to promote student learning" as an effective form of teaching is an idea that could readily pertain to face-to-face teaching and learning as well (p. 154). Thus, the thought of bringing any new technology into the classroom must be addressed with careful thought and exploration of those unique features which may affect classroom learning in unforeseen ways.

Benson and Ward (2013) concluded that the conversation around the use of technology in higher education exists largely without examination of the factors of pedagogy and content (p. 168) and observed in their study that a high level of technical knowledge did not necessarily guarantee an integration of that technical knowledge with content and pedagogical knowledge (p. 170). In fact, Benson and Ward (2013) note that "technology skills learned in isolation may even have a negative impact on an instructor's ability to see the complex application of that technology in a pedagogically and contextually sound manner" (p. 170). Thus the idea of moving beyond simply using a technology in the classroom for the sake of using technology and integrating pedagogical and contextual knowledge allows for unique opportunities to enhance the learning experience. Romrell, Kidder, and Wood (2014) considered this type of integration of technology to be at "the highest levels of the SAMR framework", a framework discussed in relation to the use of technology in the classroom by substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition, having "the potential for transforming learning" (p. 12).

A Shared Space

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In a social constructivist classroom, the influence of social interactions and experiences are recognized as shaping the way students learn "and the ways students understand and interpret concepts" (Schreiber & Valle, 2013, p. 396). A wiki provides a shared space for learners to work together to create meaning using written language as well as promoting an awareness of their readers (Xie & Wang, 2011, p. 689). As learners work together to build content on a wiki page they are engaging in building networks as they interact with classmates. Storch (2002) described Vygotsky's theory of social constructivism in relation to learning by stating that "knowledge is constructed by interactions of individuals within society, and learning is the internalization of the social interaction" (p. 121). Thus we can conclude that since a wiki has the potential for shared interactions between learners that the use of a wiki in the classroom has the potential for learners to internalize those interactions and gain knowledge, making it an effective learning tool.

This interplay between and among learners goes beyond simply being friendly and moves towards helping to create a sense of community among the learners, a benefit of using a wiki for a collaborative class project. Building a sense of community requires that learners feel safe participating together and also that there is a sense of trust (Larrotta, 2009, p. 77). Pugh (2011) supports this view, stating that "the more students feel safe participating, the more they will interact with other students and the more English they will consequently acquire" (p. 6). Since "wikis provide an adequate space to express one's opinion by expanding the boundaries of classroom-level engagement" (Hewege & Perera, 2013, p. 65), this technology is well suited for a trusting, safe community environment.

Baghdadi (2011) supports the "cooperation and mutual support" found in online learning as opposed to the sense of competition which can be found in "traditional learning classes" (p. 13). Hewege and Perera (2013) found in their study "evidence that wikis facilitate collaborative learning and, moreover, students seem to enjoy it" (p. 65). Providing a positive space for learning and constructing new knowledge has powerful effects for learners, such as the ability to "enhance independent thinking and provide students with a platform to pre-test their views and opinions" (Hewege & Perera, 2013, p.66). For Nakamaru's (2011b) wiki class project, "the wiki became a (virtual) tool that mediated language and writing development", allowing the learners to express in a very concrete way the connections they were making with their reading and writing in English (p. 387). Sze (2008) found that the use of a wiki in the classroom was a very positive experience, and learners "were motivated and excited about the project throughout" for various reasons, including the exposure to a new, easy-to-use medium in order to express themselves, and the promise of a "real audience for their writing", i.e. other learner groups (The Students' Response).


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However, simply providing access to a class wiki and expecting learners to continue to engage and participate with enthusiasm and creativity is not enough. As Nakamura (2011a) states, wikis “are not a magic bullet for increasing motivation” as a study of a wiki writing project found that although those learners who engaged with the wiki were more likely to pass their final exam, there was also "a depressingly low level of engagement" from learners overall (p. 289). In a similar vein, Lee and Wang (2013) found that the students taking part in their wiki project "expressed enjoyment of the collaborative experience", however full participation of all group members was not attained (p. 245). Xie and Wang (2011) found that their wiki project "showed great promise" and "effectively promote[d] students writing...and awareness of the readers" although "some inherent limitations" are also noted such as inefficient communication and usability (p. 689).

Baghdadi (2011) stated that "to be effective, members of learning communities must meet the needs of the other learners through proactive participation" (p. 15). Group participation is never a simple dynamic, especially in the adult EAL classroom where various cultures and backgrounds play into how learners may interact with each other. Choi's (2008) study showed that "co-operation varied among groups" and recommended "a more complete penalty and reward system" (p. 44). Kwan and Yunus (2015) found that in their wiki group project "not all members did their share of the workload and there was uneven participation" due to "a lack of commitment as well as a tendency to work at the last minute" (p. 64). Also, some students simply "preferred working alone" (Kwan & Yunus, 2015, p. 65). Lee and Wang (2013) found that there were multiple reasons why learners in their wiki project did not fully participate, "including challenges caused by asynchronous communication, time pressure, personal incapability, and roles not taken seriously by the group" (p. 245).

Hewege and Perera (2013) found that successful use of a wiki in the classroom included "establishing proper checks and balances for monitoring learning" (p. 57). It was also found that "some students desperately needed more specific instructions to follow" (Hewege & Perera, 2013, p. 64), therefore setting "conditions or guidelines for wiki contributions" was recommended (p. 66). Kwan and Yunus (2015) found that learners in their wiki study sometimes preferred to communicate using means outside of the wiki, such as Facebook, as well as meeting face-to-face with other group members as this was seen to be "clearer and had less room for misunderstandings and confusion" (p. 65). Chou and Chen (2008) found that although a wiki project was motivating and supported collaborative group work, "constant guidance from the instructor was necessary" (p. 580).

The controversial matter of plagiarism was also raised in Hewege and Perera's (2013) study, as the students would copy and paste materials from other parts of the Internet without proper citations, causing a time-consuming issue for teachers and tutors to deal with (p. 64). Wiseman and Belknap (2013) also emphasize the concern of plagiarism (p. 366) when using the otherwise "open, user-friendly, and efficient interface" (p. 360) of wikis in the ESL classroom. Wiseman and Belknap (2013) postulate that the ease with which learners can copy and paste into a wiki assignment gives this particular form of technology "a negative perception among some educators" (p. 366). A possible method to address the potential issue of plagiarism when using wikis could be to develop specific guidelines for learners and "to scaffold tasks in increments and assign specific roles for group projects" (Wiseman & Belknap, 2013, p. 368).

Choi (2008) found that students participating in a wiki project required "more training and practices in how to give and receive the most useful comments" (p. 43) and that some students wanted more feedback on their writing throughout the writing process (p. 44). Thus it is important for instructors to provide explicit guidelines for learners as to how they are expected to interact on the wiki, as well as providing regular opportunities to check-in with the instructor in order to obtain feedback, rather than one summative evaluation at the end of the writing assignment. Choi (2008) also recommends "inter-group interactions and comments" rather than having learners only interact with those in their own group (p. 44). A wiki is well-suited for this type of interaction with many places for learners to leave comments and engage in casual, short discussions.


The use of a wiki in the EAL classroom is a popular choice for instructors wishing to integrate technology into their lessons as it provides opportunities for collaboration and community-building among learners. In order to successfully incorporate a wiki into the classroom, technological knowledge alone is insufficient and instructors must draw on their unique pedagogical understandings of their specific classroom contexts and content in order to reach the full potential of the TPACK and SAMR models provided by researchers (Mishra & Koehler, 2009; Romrell et al, 2014). In order to fully coordinate and encourage maximum group participation with the wiki, alternative, learner-preferred methods of group communication must be provided (Kwan & Yunus, 2015), and training and guidelines as to expectations for learners to contribute to their wiki pages and create discussions and/or comments for their classmates are necessary for learners to fully engage in the project (Hewege & Perera, 2013). Concerns surrounding plagiarism should be brought to the attention of learners as well, in order to bring to light the consequences in academia for the increasingly common and all-to-easy copy-and-paste action so ubiquitous in Internet use today (Hewege & Perera, 2013; Wiseman & Belknap, 2013).