PikiFriends is an interactive website where students can post blogs, pictures, and short messages on each other’s page. The purpose of creating PikiFriends was to help EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students practice elements of the English language. But the purpose of this website reaches far beyond just the basic elements of English language acquisition. Students begin by writing a brief introduction about themselves on their home page. The About Me section is a great way for students to identify commonalities amongst each other. From there, students are able to practice writing short notes to each other or venture into posting a blog.
Jeff Dionne has done a wonderful job creating a site that is both kid-friendly and, perhaps more importantly, safe. Teachers are able to monitor student postings to ensure responsible digital citizenship. This is a teaching tool, not only academically, but also socially. In addition, participation in PikiFriends supports the elements of NETS (National Educational Technology Standards). It was because of all this that I chose to join the PikiFriends community.
The current students are using PikiFriends for a variety of purposes. Jeff’s students are posting blogs asking questions for others to answer. They are comparing Japanese and American cultures, but it’s not all academic. Jeff’s students like to post pictures and blogs that give a snapshot into their personal lives. My students also post a wide variety of blogs which range from the academic all the way to the downright funny. The purpose of joining PikiFriends was to give my students the opportunity to learn about the Japanese culture from a Japanese student’s perspective. My students and I were able to ask pertinent questions about the Japanese culture while we were studying Feudal Japan. The connection between the past and present is a powerful experience and my students have really enjoyed learning about the Japanese culture from their peers.
A secondary reason for joining PikiFriends was to introduce my students to a safe, interactive, online environment. I know that my “superstars” (as Jeff calls them) really enjoy PikiFriends. I think that they love the fact that they are communicating with fellow students from across the Pacific. They commiserate over finals and homework, while bonding over music and movies. I think that my students will continue with PikiFriends long after they leave my class. However, I also know that with each successive class, more and more of my students will be signing up for PikiFriends so I expect that we will develop a long-time relationship with the other schools who are members of this online community.
Though Jeff and I have different purposes for our involvement in PikiFriends, the fact that we both love technology and interactive learning is what brought our schools together. I am hoping that my students are good models of the English language for Jeff’s EFL learners, but I am more concerned that they are engaged in learning, not only in academics, but in peripheral interests as well.
Jeff and I know that there are many doubters out there, many who think Web 2.0 and education are two separate entities. It is those people who need to check out PikiFriends. This educational Web 2.0 tool helps to inspire as well as enliven academic and social pursuits at the secondary level.
I feel that my involvement in PikiFriends has opened the doors for me to get to know my students on a different level. The posts, blogs, and comments are not only academic, but also personal. It’s a different way to interact with my students that is not normally possible within a 45-minute period with 36 other students. Some may doubt that distance education is interactive, but I assure you that everyone involved in the PikiFriends community interacts with each other.
When asked about his take on PikiFriends, Jeff states, “I may sound foolishly optimistic, but I believe Piki will set new precedents in secondary educational technology, particularly if we can reach the full version of PikiFriends (we’re still in beta) and people start spreading the word. I’m a full-time teacher myself, not some out-of-touch techie guy or high-flying exec. I have a very good understanding of what teachers and administrators need and most importantly what our students deserve from us. So I think I can confidently say that PikiFriends will be a very effective learning tool for countless secondary schools around the world.”
I think that PikiFriends is a valuable tool for teachers and students who want to branch out beyond the confines of a brick and mortar classroom. Collaborative learning is not a new endeavor; its existence, however, has been made easier with programs like PikiFriends.
Note: This article by Catherine Cabiness originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.