A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my big pedagogy project this semester, to redesign my Portuguese language class final composition, writing a Wikipedia page together in the target language. I'm happy to report that it was a total success!
Here's a screenshot of the page before our intervention:
As you can see, it was only about 2 paragraphs long, with few pictures and very little information. And... (drumroll please): here is the new article!
I'm so proud of my students' effort, not only to write a quality project in a foreign language, but also to learn the code and do some skill-building. So, what is our assessment? I saw several advantages:
- The students grew in their writing and editing ability in the foreign language. Writing a Wikipedia article instead of a traditional composition made them pay more attention to details and nuance in the language, and more likely to take time to make it right. Additionally, since each of them chose to update a section of particular interest to them, they were more motivated to make a quality project.
- Students learned about writing in a different academic register. Most students had no experience writing in the neutral, informative, encyclopedic Wikipedia style, a tone distinct from both conversational "me-centered" speech commonly used in the foreign language classroom, as well as separate from the more argumentative style of an academic essay.
- Students gained in their own cultural awareness, negotiating the translation or adaptation of certain terms as they established internal Wikipedia links. Internal links are the backbone of a good Wikipedia article, and students were often surprised what articles already existed for Nashville-themed topics in Portuguese (for example "Honky tonk" or the "Tennessee Titans" or the "Mississippian culture"). Likewise, the addition of a strong article opens up new cultural information to Portuguese-speakers, hopefully forming a cross-cultural dialogue.
- Students gained tangible coding skills. Wikipedia is pretty coding "light," so our digital native students negotiated it with ease. Even so, they had to solve problems in the code with much of the coding language in Portuguese .With just a short coding introduction and a collaborative workshop, the students were pros. I even had volunteers to spend extra time making tables (coding all in Portuguese) for demographics, climate, and universities in Nashville.
Now, despite the benefits, there were a few drawbacks, most of which had to do with the amount of effort the project requred. Learning the coding, going through two rounds of drafts with peer and instructor editing occupied my students in-class and out-of-class time for nearly two weeks (Not to mention the hours I spent fixing grammar and coding errors!). Additionally, the project took up approximately 3-4 days of class instruction which might otherwise have been used to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening, the core skills to be developed in a language course.
That being said, I think the benefits outweighed the drawbacks, and I will be doing the project again when I teach Portuguese. Next time, I will make several changes, mostly to the schedule. I plan to start the process early on in the semester, and add an additional step: Translation of a short piece on a Portuguese Wikipedia page to English. The students will be able to do this early on in the semester, and will learn the coding in English for the first time (which will ease the transition). Most importantly, instead of just generating American cultural content for Portuguese speakers, we will be introducing unknown pieces of Lusophone culture to English-speaking audiences. This will be a nice preparatory step for the final composition. With the article in Portuguese, I will expand the 4-week process into about 6, leaving more room for peer review, assuring that students have access to spell-check, etc. In the end, I wound up being the sort of filter that my students passed through, both for grammar and coding. I'd love for it to be a more organic, student-centered peer-editing approach (And it will save me a ton of work)!
Finally, next time I'll be incorporating more student feedback from the beginning, perhaps tracking their progress with the use of surveys. I'm even thinking of turning my project into a paper publishable in a journal of SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning). I was so excited with the results, and I'd love to hear your feedback!