The Internet in the Classroom Teaching EFL in the 21st century
Teaching EFL in the 21st century increasingly involves teaching students how to sift through and evaluate information in English using the Internet and other new technology. This is especially important for English-language students who plan to study or work in countries with knowledge-based economies. “[T]he vast amount of information available on the Internet means that critical learning and literacy skills are more important than ever before,”Mark Warschauer wrote in a recent U.S. State Department publication. “We as teachers should help learners think critically at the microlevel, for example, by analyzing the perspectives and biases of individual World Wide Web sites.”1
As a teaching and learning tool, the Internet has much to offer: •Resources for teachers. Web sites like Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com) provide teaching ideas, discussion forums and ESL links for teachers and students alike. Using online programs like Puzzlemaker (www.puzzlemaker.com), teachers can create activities to supplement course book material.
•Fast and easy communication with the whole class. If students have Internet access outside the classroom, e-mail is an easy way for teachers to make announcements and for students to ask questions.
•Visual appeal. Colourful and original layout and graphics engage students in the learning process.
•Interactivity. The Internet’s multimedia applications allow students to practice all productive and receptive skills. With the proper equipment and audio/video players installed, students can watch English-language news reports, movie trailers and other video, as well as converse with others using Voice over IP (VoIP) networks like Skype (www.skype.com). This interactivity is especially useful for students in private lessons who have no classmates or other English speakers with whom to practice. There is also the opportunity for cross-cultural communication through “pen pal” programs (www.mylanguageexchange.com) that match language students with native speakers. Students can practice English outside the classroom in instant-message conversations, e-mail and chat rooms. Web logs are another way for students to practice authentic communication with their peers both in and outside the classroom. Aaron Patric Campbell’s students created individual blogs on LiveJournal.com, which has almost two million members. Campbell recommends weekly writing assignments based on what students have been studying in class. These blogs perform the same function as paper journals, but are available to the whole class and anyone in the LiveJournal community who stumbles across them – as Campbell notes, 90 percent of LiveJournal users are 25 or younger.2
Students may also benefit from a teacher-run blog geared specifically toward them. In addition to reinforcing vocabulary and language recently discussed in class, teachers can use these blogs to provide class information, remind students about upcoming assignments and quizzes, or clarify material from class, all while exposing students to natural language.3
•Encouraging students to learn both independently and in teams. Web-based activities allow students to work at their own pace and conduct further research if they are so inclined, which is an advantage for classes with students of varying skill levels. At the same time, however, the Internet also facilitates collaborative learning. Warschauer points out that students benefit when Internet use is incorporated into projects and problem-solving activities – for example, researching job opportunities and preparing resumes.4 Rather than learning language and technology skills for their own sake, students use them to achieve a further goal.
While the Internet has immense value as a learning tool, it has certain pitfalls:
•Access to/reliability of Internet technology. How EFL teachers use the Internet depends on the number of computers in the classroom, whether the computers have Internet connections, and the availability of other hardware and software including disk drives and projectors.
•Its intimidating size. With more than 11.5 billion visible pages,5 the Web can be overwhelming for students with limited previous exposure. Randall Davis emphasizes the importance of the teacher’s role in establishing learning objectives and providing students guidance: “We cannot send our students off without specific goals in mind, training on how to use the sites, procedures on how to accomplish the tasks, and an explanation on how students will be evaluated for the activity.”6
•Credibility/quality/offensive material. Students must learn to distinguish between official sources of information and self- published material, and how to evaluate the quality of both. Both teachers and students should also be aware that English usage online may be more informal, especially in e-mail and online conversations. When evaluating a Web site for use in a course, teachers can use many of the same criteria ITTT suggests for analyzing course books, including design, difficulty, relevance, interest and skills utilized.
•Safety. It is important that students know how to protect themselves online, especially with respect to sharing personal information. The Internet is an indispensable resource for teachers and students, but its use requires at least as much planning as more traditional classroom activities. While teachers should not rely on it exclusively, with proper planning the Internet can greatly enhance regular classroom activities and better prepare students to use and understand English in the modern world.
1. Warschauer, Mark, Heidi Shetzer and Christine Meloni. “Internet for English Teaching.” Published online by the Office of English Language Programs, U.S. Department of State, 2003.
2. Campbell, Aaron Patric. “Using LiveJournal for Authentic Communication in EFL Classes.” The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X, No. 9, September 2004.
3.–. “Weblogs for Use with ESL Classes.” The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 2, February 2003.
4. Warschauer, Mark et al.
5. “World Wide Web.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 December 2006
6. Davis, Randall. “Utopia or Chaos' The Impact of Technology on Language Teaching.” The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XII, No. 11, November 2006.
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