Book Chapter on the Chemistry Language Wiki at Brown University


Chapter 20 in the newly published book Authenticity in the Language Classroom and Beyond: Adult Learners is a case study of the Chemistry Language Wiki that I helped develop at Brown University.

I co-authored the chapter Developing Specialized Discourse Resources for International Teaching Assistants Using a Multimedia Wiki with three Brown colleagues: Barbara Gourlay, David Kanig, and Joan Lusk.

The International Teaching Assistants (ITAs) from chemistry already knew a great deal of chemistry and had demonstrated good reading a writing skills in English, including technical English. However, they had not had much opportunity to use English technical and chemical vocabulary in face-to-face interactions. Chemistry ITAs needed to hear how teachers and students used spoken language in the discipline, including how technical words were articulated, ideas phrased, and information emphasized. Our materials provide typical models, exercises, and activities for these chemistry ITAs.


A wiki seemed the most promising means to deliver the content because it is easy to update and conveniently accessible both by students and content developers. A wiki can provide large amounts of material to a large number of users and also can make ancillary materials available to more focused audiences, such as a section designed for our chemistry ITAs that models how to express certain mathematically-based expressions.

Offering the materials on the Web provides nonlinear access and flexibility, permitting users to work with the terms or activities that interest them most at their own pace. The wiki also has granularity, meaning that ITAs can more easily locate and work with small units of information. With the Web-based delivery of materials, access is easy through any computer with an Internet connection. Audio files are compressed without compromising audio quality, and they are so brief that a broadband connection is not essential for good performance.

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