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Wikis

My school filter blocks wikispaces, so I use the wiki tools located in our Blackboard. My subject area allows me to do in my classroom what many librarians would do in collaboration with teachers, so I thought I’d talk about a project I’m working on with my AP students right now–a project that could also become a research activity. My students are currently studying Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which for me is like feeding them candy!). Early on in our study of the novel, I divided my class into five groups and assigned each a topic or motif to trace as we read. The topics include: marriage; manners/social conventions; characters (what we learn about them and from whom); pride and prejudice; and letters (one scholar has pointed out that letters are the most important indicator of social responsibility in Austen’s work). Twice per week, my students have met with their group members to locate and record specific examples of their own topics, which they have then posted to our class wikis. These wikis will then become resources for students to consult when they eventually write essays in which they analyze the novel.

As we have worked on this project, I have also provided my students with access to a well-respected Jane Austen wiki, http://www.pemberley.com/. If you were to visit course websites established for professors of Austen studies and Regency novels, you would find that most include links to this rich and valuable resource. (One really nice feature: a searchable full-text version of the novel. If a student wishes to find references to the use of “pride” and “prejudice,” this search feature comes in very handy. It’s also a hypertext document with links explaining references, etc.) Thus, my students are building their own wikis for a very specific purpose, and in doing so they are consulting another wiki. If I wanted to, I could then also turn this into a research project. I could have my students build a bibliography of scholarly texts to consult when studying a particular topic, such as Comedies of Manners.

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4 Responses to “Wikis”

  1. What an excellent project! The students benefit in multiple ways and I agree that this could transition into a research project for your students. I think that what you are doing takes a great deal of preparation which you’ve obviously done. The searchable text of the novel on the Wiki resource you provided is an excellent aid for students. How long will this project last and can you tell us about any student motivational effects of this approach to the project? I’m curious about student reactions.

  2. Mary, this is really a cool idea. While you are an Austen lover, it can be dry or intimidating to some students, so this is a great idea to generate some motivation and critical thinking. I also love the name of your blog!

  3. Thank you both for your feedback! I wish I could give you access to the student wikis, which they began presenting today. (Another reason I love my Smartboard!) The presentations were really impressive, and it was interesting to see the different ways in which students used wiki tools to develop layered documents. Some students had never created wikis before. They were intimidated at first, but wikis pretty intuitive once you get the design idea. What I like best is the non-linear shape such a document can take.

    Yes, it’s true that students found Austen dry….at first. In Chapter 36 (only about 100 pages into the novel), Darcy proposes. Elizabeth gives him a detailed rejection, and then he responds to her objections in an engrossingly juicy letter. I showed some short films clips of those scenes from two film adaptations (the 1995 BBC series, with the divine Colin Firth as Darcy) and the 2005 feature film (with Keara Knightly as Elizabeth and the sublime Judy Dench as Lady Catherine). Now every girl in class is in love with Darcy, it’s the best novel they’ve ever read, and one student is having all of her classmates over to watch the complete film next weekend.

    Sometimes, teaching English is a little bit like being a drug dealer….only the drugs are legal and good for you!

    • Mary, what a great project! Austen can be a bit dry – exploring her most famous work through an online source and class wiki is a great idea. And kudos to introducing a whole new group of teenage girls to Colin Firth’s Darcy (they need an alternative to Twilight’s Edward and Jacob). I went to Wellesley, and sophomore year you could always find someone in the dorm to watch the BBC version with over the weekend.


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