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Norwegian Wiki

by Margrethe Alexandroni

   

Description

The Norwegian materials (The Norwegian Wiki) took shape in an elegant symbiosis between our project and the launch of the UCL confluence Wiki, spearheaded by Chris Dillon, who is, fortunately, also learning Norwegian. The wiki presents an already large database of original texts in Norwegian created by Margrethe Alexandroni, aimed at various language levels, with exercises focusing on their language work, and, for some of the texts, audio files where the texts are read aloud. The texts come with comprehensive introductions to Norwegian culture and history, and the screens have been designed with original photographs from Norway that add meaning to the presented texts.

norway

A host of the time allowed for creating this material went into learning how to use the new UCL wiki, to create and make available the original texts, sound files and images on this platform. In this we are grateful for the assistance of Chris Dillon. The material presents a body of texts and other media that are designed specifically with the needs of our Norwegian students in mind, with a focus on creativity and imagination that engages students in a different way than traditional language materials. The wiki proved a particularly useful medium for these texts. First of all, the wiki is more user friendly than traditional websites for teachers, who wish to create and publish their own materials - as the Norwegian teacher expressed it in a UCL forum for teaching and learning while presenting her wiki, "if I can do it, everybody can!" Texts and exercises can be easily modified in the wiki, and students have easy and global access to the materials for self-study or preparation for classes. Secondly, the link-structure of the wiki makes it possible for students to get immediate references to linguistic issues relating to the texts, for instance by clicking on words in a story students will access the grammar section of the wiki. Students are also encouraged to find their own way through the various levels of texts and exercises due to the navigation pattern of the wiki, and do not progress in a linear fashion as in a traditional book. This means that students can individualise their engagement with course materials and work specifically on texts and exercises they find particularly interesting and challenging - as a social medium the wiki allows students to take more active part in their own language learning. It goes without saying that learning how to use a wiki for preparing texts and other media for teaching Norwegian, will prove an invaluable experience and an important skill to be used in possible future distance learning programmes in the Scandinavian languages.

norway2

Evaluating the materials we have discussed how to include the creative work of students themselves in the wiki. The wiki is a social medium that allows a group of users to create and modify texts (as made famous with Wikipedia). During the work on the UCL wiki, students were allowed individual space to create their own texts individually and in groups. The medium allows, then, students to become creators of language, and it will be explored in the future how the presented materials in the Norwegian Wiki can be designed to integrate this part of the wiki into the students' work with the texts. Additionally, the Norwegian teacher will be adding texts and exercises to the wiki, and may find funding for assistance to further develope the platform.

 

Q&A with the creator Margrethe Alexandroni

What was your initial idea for the project and why was there a need for this particular material?

My initial idea was to make use of material that I had written over the years. It was my intention to present students with information about Norway not normally found in textbooks. Norwegian textbooks tend to be attractive, (colourful illustrations etc.), but the content is often extremely dreary, and of little or no interest to people studying Norwegian outside Norway. It is my opinion that students will learn more from an imaginative and creative text than from a text that although worthy comes across as too factual and dull.

How were the materials made?

With the technical help of Chris Dillon the material was put onto wiki pages.  I found the UCL wiki very easy to work with. The material was subsequently cleaned up and links were made from grammatical explanations to relevant texts and grammatical exercises. The major challenges were to present the material in a systematic manner. This work is still not finished.

norwegian_new
 

Description of the material

How would you evaluate of the material and the project?

I must admit that I found student enthusiasm rather disappointing.  They did not use the material, i.e. they did not post me exercises on the pages assigned for student work, even though I strongly encouraged them to do so and we practiced it in Language Space.  Students used to enjoy my texts very much when using my material in the traditional way, i.e. working from a sheet of paper. They would laugh at my stories saying: 'You wrote this, didn't you?'   When the material was transferred to the wiki the students appeared less positive.  Thinking about it now I realize that it was not the material itself that was the problem. Possibly the students would have felt more enthusiastic if I had been more in command on our visits to LS. They must have noticed that I was outside my comfort zone, and therefore could communicate no great enthusiasm for digital learning.  When asked, their conclusion was that using the material digitally in Language Space made a nice change, but all in all they preferred the traditional class room approach. Sibylle was a great help and support and I don't know what I would have done without her.

The students were definitely on my side though. Once I used an ordinary black marker pen on the electronic board by mistake. I only noticed it done when I was half way through a word. The students became quite hysterical digging out tissues and wanting to help wipe it off before it dried. Fortunately there was a bottle of cleaning solution at hand, which solved the problem.  That was when I realised that they really were on my side.  What I'm trying to say is this: The problem was neither the material itself nor my relationship with the students.  It was the fact that we were all on unfamiliar territory and that the students must have picked up on me feeling insecure and out of my depth.

I strongly believe in the value of oral work and free expression.  Being an experienced language learner I know that speaking a new language is more difficult than writing it.  This is why although enthusiastic about my digital material I would never abandon my interactive teaching method.  In the Department of Scandinavian we are fortunate enough to work with small groups which is ideal for a personal approach.      

Also; the present generation of students may be less enthusiastic about computers than the previous generation. For today's youngsters computers have always been there, which is why they might be less keen on them.  The sense of wonder and exitement is gone.

The above report was written during the summer of 2009.  I have since added to the material in the following ways:

  1. I have incorporated material written by the students.
  2. Work on a dictionary is well under way.  Vocab lists for many of the texts have been completed and the vocab entered in the dictionary. This dictionary differs from most Norwegian-English disctionaries as it includes the conjugation of strong and weak verbs.  (Always a problem for students to know whether a verb is regular or irregular).  When appropriate it includes explanations of idiomatic expressions.  I also asked the students to supply vocab lists with their own material, which they did.  To secure cosistent formatting throughout I tidied up their vocab lists and entered the vocab into the dictionary.  The students only have viewing access to the dictionary so this work they could not have done anyway.
  3. I have made a number of 'hot potato' (gap fill) exercises.  These have proved very popular with students and have been posted on Moodle.  The work on these exercises is on going.
  4. I have started work on sound files on structure exercises.  Structurally the Norwgegian language is fairly complicated as the word order keeps changing according to strict rules.  Native English speakers also have problems with gender and the accordance between pronoun, adjective and noun.  There are other problem areas too. Orally repeating the same structures again and again will help the structures to stick in the students' minds.  This approach was much used some 20-30 years ago but has since gone out of favour.  So far I have only written exercises on word order and adjectives, but I shall write more, and when the work is completed I will make the exercises into sound files.
  5. I have also added a few English texts that I have written.  The students can work with these texts in various ways; translate them into Norwegian, paraphrase them in Norwegian, use them as inspiration for similar texts written in Norwegian etc.
  6. One objection to the wiki was that it looks dull.  It is true that the use of different coloured text and background is difficult.  Recently Chris Dillon and I have tried to compensate for this by adding more photographs.  I am a keen photographer and have a vast store of beautiful photographs from Norway.  Chris has been very helpful in adding suitable photos to the wiki pages.

How to use the materials

I have enjoyed working on the project and intend to keep working with the material and develop it into an on-line text book with grammar and links to relevant texts and exercises. As the same text often contains several grammatical problems, different grammatical explanations will have links to the same text. This work has already started. Where appropriate Chris and I have also made links to relevant pages in Wikipedia. I will continue to encourage students to write things in their assigned spaces.  High quality student work will be incorporated into the main body of the wiki.

Last year I told my 1st year students, in particular, to use the material for revision and to post it to me for marking and comments, but none of them did so. This led me to believe that the material is perhaps better suited to good old-fashioned paper.  This year we spent only a couple of sessions in Language Space to better familiarize students with the material on offer. These days most students have their own lap top or PC.  This is good, as they are now working with the material from their own work stations. This is what I want to encourage for the academic year of 2010 - 2011.  Once the students get used to finding their way around the Norwegian wiki they will have a large body of useful and interesting material at their disposal; and this I believe will be the main function of the Norwegian wiki pages.

Also, the creative and imaginative nature of much of the material has encouraged students to work creatively, which in turn has encouraged them in their use of the Norwegian language.  They have embarked on imaginative pieces of writing with great enthusiasm, and sometimes produced work of some literary quality.  However, considering that students have different mindsets and inclinations I believe that the material is sufficiently varied for students of every preference to find something that they like and can identify with.

Again I have to stress that without the technical support and input of Chris Dillon the Norwegian wiki would never have happened.