WordPress compared for individual and paired projects

Lisa Merschel, Lecturer, Romance Studies

Lisa Merschel was one of fourteen faculty and one graduate student who participated in a Spring 2010 CIT Fellowship for language faculty interested in exploring with colleagues the most effective and most efficient ways to increase students’ oral production in the target language, in order to increase students’ language learning.

Merschel focused on enhancing a project (Tarea Calificada) she has used in her in course for several semesters. For the project, students research a location where DukeEngage has programs, present information about that destination, and create a letter asking for funding from DukeEngage to embark on their travel to this place.

Merschel decided to enhance how students present their research and letter. She required students to submit their materials in a multimedia format, given the increasing need for applications and information being presented in a more dynamic format. The students were asked to create a WordPress site to house the letter of application outlining their reasons for wanting to go on the program, a 1-2 minute audio introduction, and, optionally, pictures or video of the Duke Engage program, to which they were to refer in their letter.

WordPress is an open source web publishing system provided by Duke, where students can easily create websites using pre-created templates. They can also include a blog in their site, if desired.


Merschel was cautious of overloading students with collaborative assignments. To help her determine whether the students should work together or alone on the project, she gave a survey to gauge their attitudes towards working collaboratively on a project outside of class. She surveyed their comfort working with specific technologies and asked them which features of a multimedia assignment should be evaluated (grammatical accuracy, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.).

The survey data showed that students had limited experience with creating websites and mixed opinions on working in groups. Based on these results, Merschel decided to establish different parameters for each of her two classes and gauge the outcomes. In both classes, students were assigned to investigate individually the DukeEngage website and evaluate which program in Latin America was most interesting to them. She differentiated how and when students worked together on the assignment.

Components of Class A Assignment:

  • Students individually researched programs in Latin America and prepared to present their choice in class.
  • Students were grouped in threes. Each student presented their chosen program to the other students in their group (which acted as a DukeEngage review committee).
  • The committee (the other two students in the group) took notes and asked the candidate to elaborate on one or more points.
  • Students individually prepared their hypothetical application to DukeEngage in the form of a WordPress site.
  • Each student reviewed and commented on two students’ sites.

Class A rubric (individual work)

Components of Class B Assignment:

  • Students individually researched programs in Latin America and prepared to present their choice in class.
  • In pairs, students presented the merits of the program to their partner, who listened, took notes, and asked questions.
  • Students had to agree (through negotiation and argumentation) on just one program to apply jointly.
  • Pairs created their application together in a WordPress site.
  • Each student had to comment on the sites of other pairs.

Class B rubric (paired work)

Through a post-project survey, Lisa found that students were pleased overall with the assignment. She did have a number of lessons she learned throughout the project that she will apply to future iterations of this project.


Lessons Learned:

  • Students do not need an in-class orientation. Be sure to provide resources and help when they run into trouble.
  • Working on the project in pairs seemed to produce the best outcomes. Students worked through many technical difficulties when they had a partner, were more excited in the project, and it took less work by dividing tasks.
  • Discuss the sites in class instead of requiring commenting on the WordPress sites. This eliminates the perception of busy work and would wrap up the activity in class.
  • Although 60% of students felt visual appeal of the website should be graded, since it did not relate specifically to their ability to communicate in Spanish, it was not graded. The website was just a vehicle for the assignment.
  • Be flexible about the outcome and how students use the technology. Students appreciated the choice to do an audio or a video introduction.
  • Have students create just one page of content to simplify the assignment and organization. This eliminates extra stress related to using technology.
  • Have all instructions, grading sheet, and links to other students’ WordPress sites housed either in an umbrella WordPress site, or in a folder in Blackboard.
  • Work with the instructional technology lab coordinator to get the project up and running.

Overall, the technology made the project more interesting and didn’t result in many problems. The project raises students’ cross-cultural awareness, allows them to practice the functions, grammar and vocabulary being studied, asks them to negotiate and argue in the target language, and promotes writing and oral proficiency.