I. Stritzelberger

Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Ostfildern (GERMANY)
By means of presenting the project "Immigration and Integration - Understanding Identity", which links our school with schools in Finland, Estonia, Italy and Spain, and the classroom project "Big Cities" the educational platform wikispaces is introduced and its potential in foreign language teaching shown.

When working on a topic with other institutions, personal visits are not always possible, and even when done, not always can a large audience for the presentation be guaranteed. That is why a project platform comes in useful, especially when the project partners are not mother tongue speakers of English and possibly shy in personal presentations.
In addition to overcoming students’ language deficits, the creation of a website gives each country the chance to work on the site when convenient. This already indicates the first possible pitfall: If no fixed timeframes are set for the next steps – be it summaries or peer evaluations – some contributions might be slack.

The educational website Wikispaces allows the teacher and organiser to establish a classroom to which each participating partner uploads their contributions. The content pages can be managed easily and do not require specialised computer knowledge. And once everybody has email access as a “member” of the classroom, students can do their tasks and fill in the appropriate pages. Again the advantages of a platform come in useful: students use dictionaries, as well as grammar and spell checks to improve their English contributions. Another pitfall to be avoided here is the liberal use of the copy-and-paste function. The rules should be clear beforehand: Only material produced by the student groups can be uploaded. This is especially important when one uses the site for classroom work and when a teacher wants to grade the students’ contributions.

A very important step should not be left out: Students must have the possibility to present “live” what they are collecting, organising and evaluating on the site.
For classroom projects this might be during a parents’ night or an open classroom, for international projects this might be during project meetings or as individual shows in the participating countries. This avoids another pitfall of students becoming disinterested. They do not want their work “buried in some dark corner” of the internet, on a CD or a deep cupboard – they want to show it. And those whose language confidence was not so big to begin with, have now won a lot of extra knowledge on the topic and on the language, to present it more confidently and more concisely.

This can clearly be seen in the classroom project “Big Cities” where the teacher can monitor the progress of the students during lessons, via monitoring the site and during the presentations.

The next step is vital and guarantees sustainable success in learning: The students are asked to evaluate the work of the others. Especially devised “evaluation sheets” avoid classmates’ comments like “nice”, which often mean they have not even read the other groups’ work.

Although hanging out in Facebook all day, students might hate computer homework. But if careful step-by-step planning accompanies these projects, the use of an educational platform is extremely fruitful.
Tasks can be divided up and done by individual expert groups and in the end they are shared by all. And the biggest advantage is: When paper copies have long been lost, the site stays accessible to all for future reference.