Having considered the impact of Computer Assisted Language Learning and Computer Mediated Communication on the EFL classroom, Zöe Handley now examines how Web 2.0 technologies are changing the way students learn.
To begin, let’s look at the two main features which distinguish Web 2.0 from Web 1.0:
The first is the possibility for any web-user to create web pages for themselves without needing access to dedicated software and without learning to code in HTML. Wikipedia is probably the best known product of the ‘user-generated content’ revolution.
The second defining feature of Web 2.0 is its ‘social dimension’ – its ability to link together networks of users with common interests. Facebook is perhaps the most popular application of this type.
But what does it mean for teachers of English as a Foreign Language?
The ‘writable web’ (Kárpáti, 2009) has drawn attention from EFL researchers for a number of reasons. Firstly, it makes it easier for teachers and students to publish their writing, which means it is easier for teachers to set up authentic writing activities with “a real purpose and real audience” (Mak and Coniam, 2008: 438). Secondly, outside education, the ease of publication and the social dimension of Web 2.0 have encouraged users to communicate through writing; and in large quantities, too (Kárpáti, 2009). If this can be harnessed in EFL teaching, Web 2.0 technologies such as wikis, blogs, and fan fiction sites (e.g. Live Journal) have the potential to overcome one of the greatest challenges teachers face – getting students to write! Finally, technologies such as wikis, which keep a log of edits to an article, provide students with a ‘window on the writing process’ (Karpati, 2009).
It is this last aspect of Web 2.0 – the possibility to present writing as a process – which has received attention from researchers investigating new technologies in primary and secondary EFL.
Mak and Coniam (2008) describe a project in which year 7 learners of English at a secondary school in Hong Kong worked together in groups of four to produce a wiki-based brochure about their new school. Their findings suggest that wiki projects can promote process writing and the production of larger amounts of writing than normal. Analysis of the students’ contributions to the wikis found that, while at first students simply added to the brochures, as the project progressed they began to revise each others’ contributions and write more collaboratively, alternating between developing and expanding on the existing wiki content.
The social dimension
The social dimension of Web 2.0 is most evident in social networking tools, such as Facebook and Ning. However, as we have seen (Mak and Coniam, 2008) wikis are also collaborative writing tools, and as such have a social dimension. For example, MediaWiki, the platform behind Wikipedia, provides discussion pages for this purpose. As such, wikis may be able to support the development of ‘communities of practice’ and ‘collective knowledge building’ (Karpati, 2009). This dimension of wikis was investigated by Lund (2008) in a study in which a group of Norwegian sixth-formers worked together to produce a wiki on their perceptions of the USA. Lund found that, while the dyads initially worked autonomously, they gradually branched out and the groups became more interdependent and engaged in a ‘collective Zone of Proximal Development’.
Social networking tools can also support the development of communities of practice. Because they do not require students to be in the same place at the same time, they could make it much easier to establish such communities in distance language learning contexts. Despite the development of social networks dedicated to language learning, such as LiveMocha, and dedicated groups (e.g. Uppsala Tandem Language Learning Group) and applications (e.g. Language Exchange) within Facebook, social networking tools have, however, been little explored in CALL research. A notable exception is Yang (2010) who set up and evaluated a Ning social network for English learners of Mandarin.
In summary, Web 2.0 could be harnessed to support EFL in a number of ways: to motivate students to write, to highlight writing as a process, and to develop communities of practice.
Does it work like this in practice? I’m very keen to hear about your experiences of using Web 2.0 in the classroom.