Do you even PBworks, bro?
Apparently, I’ve been in the PBworks game for about 13 years to varying degrees of success. I thought such wikis had great potential and I was quite sure they’d be a big part educators’ toolkits for a while. It seems like that didn’t really happen or at least didn’t happen as widely as I expected.
I think PBworks seems a bit ancient by now, in internet terms. In the interest of full disclosure I will say I had an active Pbworks page from 2010-2019 so there is that. I started it in 2010 and just kept adding to it because it was easier than moving it. Okay, it was two pages to 2019 but that was all, I swear. This is how to go from “a man ahead of his time” to a “dinosaur” in just 11 quick years.
Not a lot of people know that my first ever rejected conference proposal was about using wikis with students.
Now that all the background info is out of the way we can get to the main point of this post. About 28 days ago, I got the following message from the good people at PBworks:
We noticed that you haven’t used your workspace named: practicalenglish for over 11 months.
As you may have heard, we reclaim workspaces that have fallen into disuse (PBworks Spring Cleaning).
Reclaiming these idle workspaces frees up thousands of potentially useful URLs for people who will actually put them to use. We’re planning to reclaim your workspace in 30 days.
If you want to keep your workspace, click here. If you’re not currently logged into your PBworks account, you’ll be asked to log in. You’ll know that your workspace has been removed from the deletion list once the warning message disappears.
If you’re truly no longer using your workspace, simply do nothing, and in 30 days, we’ll delete the unused workspace and reclaim its URL.
The PBworks Team
While I might say that July is not really spring by my definition (but this year who knows) I appreciated the message PBworks. Frankly speaking, the last time I thought about that page/space was last year when faced with the same question. At that time I mindlessly clicked to keep my workspace even though I suspected it was rarely visited and I had no real intention of doing anything with it.
This year, on the other hand, I decided to milk it for some sweet sweet blog #content. This year, on the other hand, I thought I would take a look and really see if it is worth keeping.
Looking at the space with fresh eyes was an interesting experience. The first thing I noticed was how
hideous old-fashioned it looks. I guess a lot has changed in 12 years. Nice to know that my lack of ability with layout and design has continued on.
Poking around the space, a few things caught my eye. The first is the title of course, “Practical English” which I was always a bit unsure about. I guess it was supposed to be the sort of English you’d need if you were in an English speaking country, something like “Survival English” at a more advanced level. I feel like many of the instructors, myself included, sort of invented their idea of what practical English could and should mean at the higher levels (at the lower levels as I recall there was some sort of general English textbook that seemed far from practical to me at the time).
It looks like there was info or input on 4 different topics. They were job interviews, health, travel, and directions. It feels like that was not a whole lot of topics for 10 weeks. Maybe we dove into them in great depth. The input for each section was mostly just examples of language. Not bad I guess.
I feel like there was more (or could/*should have been more) of a wiki feel with students making edits and creating pages and such but perhaps that was a different wikispace. Maybe I am misremembering or imagining I was more of a 21st century educator than I truly was.
When I take a close look at the mundanely titled page, “sentence meanings” I can see that the last edit was made by a user named “Beststudent ever” so there was some editing from students going on. I also found examples of students asking questions and clarifying grammar points and such.
Looking back through the space something I appreciated was my attempted bribe of students to find and fix typos. Bravo, 2008-2009, Mike.
Something else that piqued my interest was what seems to be follow-up notes I gave based on a commencement address I gave at the end of an intensive English program. I can’t believe my penchant for giving goodbye speeches goes back that far (here is a link to a goodbye speech I gave in 2013 in a completely different context but also in Korea). I don’t have vivid memories of giving the 2009 speech but damn there was some trite stuff in there. Einstein and insanity? C’mon! At the same time, I say good on me for mentioning podcasts as a learning tool 11 years ago. Graded readers too? Not bad. I am really not sure what I think anymore about this “think in English” business. Actually, I am not really sure what it means for everyone. (I blogged about the advice in the 2009 speech here back in 2016 and you can click through to see my 2016 annotations on the 2008 speech.) Lots of time travel in this post, I know.
I do distinctly remember that the “Now is the best time to be happy” thing mentioned or used in the speech was something I heard and borrowed/stole from Tim Murphey. It’s funny how an idea can take root in your practice and later just fall by the wayside. (The basic idea as remember from Murphey was that anytime anyone asks “What time is it?” everyone has to answer, “Now is the best time to be happy?”) I found it really fun and I think students did too. I also found it to be a nice way to switch gears and find a moment to pause and think.
Back to the wikispace. The sidebar looks pretty sad. Not at lot of great stuff there. I am not sure if those links were really the crème de la crème of sites for students in 2009 or I just shared whatever was handy. I will, however, give 2008-2009 Mike some credit for sharing corpus links with students.
I like the section where I answered (to the best of my ability) the grammar or usage questions that came up. I especially like this because I think a few students probably had similar questions so it was nice to address them there. I think it was also interesting that I said (for some reason) who the questions came from. I like the idea that students could feel (and see) that their questions can and will be answered.
As I scan through the commonly confused words section I can see words that I heard Korean students confuse for ages after writing this. I wonder if I was primed to hear such confusions. I also wonder if I felt the need to hammer home such distinctions because the students were already at such a high level.
I am honestly not sure what such a page would look like if I made it today but I keep coming back to the thought that the space was mostly (from what I can see now) just a way for me to deliver info and not really so much of a space for collaboration.
When considering the decision to keep or set the site free, I don’t really feel bad about hogging the name “Practical English” on PbWorks. I don’t imagine there are groups of students who will be deprived of the name because of my selfishness. I am leaning towards keeping the page active because I don’t see any harm in doing so. It’s not exactly an internet hot spot but maybe some student somewhere will get some benefit from me leaving it up. I have a few more days before I need to click to ensure the site’s survival for another 11 months. Any thoughts or votes?