English and ICT Literacy
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English and Computer

Computer through linguistics

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 Using Using computers in language teaching

Computers have made a triumphal entry into education in the past decade, and only a dyed-in-the wool Luddite would deny that they have brought significant benefits to teachers and students alike. However, an uncritical use of computers can be just as disadvantageous to students as a refusal to have anything to do with them. In this article I discuss some of the ways that computers can be used in English language teaching, with a view to helping colleagues make the most of the opportunities they offer to ESL students.

It is helpful to think of the computer as having the following main roles in the language classroom:

teacher- the computer teaches students new language tester - the computer tests students on language already learnedtool- the computer assists students to do certain tasks data source- the computer provides students with the information they need to perform a particular task communication facilitator - the computer allows students to communicate with others in different locations 

Computer as teacher. In the early days of computers and programmed learning, some students sat at a terminal for extended periods following an individualized learning program. Although we have come a long way from the rather naïve thought, held by some at that time, that the computer could eventually come to replace the teacher, there has been a return to a much more sophisticated kind of computerized teaching using multimedia CD ROMS. In such programs, students can listen to dialogues or watch video clips. They can click on pictures to call up the names of the objects they see. They can speak into the microphone and immediately hear a recording of what they have said. The program can keep a record of their progress, e.g. the vocabulary learned, and offer remedial help if necessary. Many of these CD ROM programs are offered as complete language courses. They require students to spend hours on their own in front of the computer screen, usually attached to a microphone headset. For this reason alone I prefer not to use them in my language teaching. Another of their serious drawbacks, in my view, is the fact that in many cases the course content and sequence is fixed. The teacher has no chance to include materials that are of interest and importance to the particular students in his or her class.

As an alternative to large CD ROM packages, there is an increasing number of  useful sites on the World Wide Web, where students can get instruction and practice  in language skills such as reading, listening and writing. Some  examples.

Computer as a tester. The computer is very good at what is known as drill and practice; it will tirelessly present the learner with questions and announce if the answer is right or wrong. In its primitive manifestations in this particular role in language teaching, it has been rightly criticised. The main reason for the criticism is simple: many early drill and practice programs were very unsophisticated; either multiple-choice or demanding a single word answer. They were not programmed to accept varying input and the only feedback they gave was Right or Wrong. So for example, if the computer expected the answer "does not" and the student typed "doesn't" or " doesnot" or " does not ", she would have been told she was wrong without any further comment. It is not surprising that such programs gave computers a bad name with many language teachers. Unfortunately, there are now very many of these primitive drill and kill programs flooding the Internet.

Despite their obvious disadvantages, such programs are nevertheless popular with many students. This is probably because the student is in full control, the computer is extremely patient and gives private, unthreatening feedback. Most programs also keep the score and have cute animations and sounds, which many students like.

There are some programs which do offer more useful feedback than right or wrong, or that can accept varying input. Such programs blur the role of the computer as teacher or tester and can be recommended to students who enjoy learning grammar or vocabulary in this way. If two or more students sit at the same computer, then they can generate a fair amount of authentic communication while discussing the answers together.

Computer as a tool. It is in this area that I think the computer has been an unequivocal success in language teaching. Spreadsheets, databases, presentation slide generators, concordancers and web page producers all have their place in the language classroom, particularly in one where the main curricular focus is task-based or project-work. But in my opinion, by far the most important role of the computer in the language classroom is its use as a writing tool. It has played a significant part in the introduction of the writing process, by allowing students easily to produce multiple drafts of the same piece of work.. Students with messy handwriting can now do a piece of work to be proud of, and those with poor spelling skills can, after sufficient training in using the spell check, produce a piece of writing largely free of spelling mistakes. 

Computer as a data source. I'm sure I don't need to say much about the Internet as a provider of information. Anyone who has done a search on the World Wide Web will know that there is already more information out there than an individual could process in hundred lifetimes, and the amount is growing by the second. This huge source of information is an indispensable resource for much project work, but there are serious negative implications. I shudder to think of how much time has been wasted and will continue to be wasted by students who aimlessly wander the Web with no particular aim in mind and with little or no guidance. I generally do not turn my students free to search the web for information. Instead, I find a few useful sites beforehand and tell the students to start there; anyone who finishes the task in hand can then be let loose!

As an alternative to the Web, there are very many CD ROMs, e.g. encyclopaedias, that present information in a more compact, reliable and easily accessible form.

Computer as communication facilitator. The Internet is the principal medium by which students can communicate with others at a distance, (e.g. by e-mail or by participating in discussion forums). In fact at Frankfurt International School the single most popular use of computers by students in their free time is to write e-mails to their friends. Some teachers have set up joint projects with a school in another location and others encourage students to take part in discussion groups. There is no doubt that such activities are motivating for students and allow them to participate in many authentic language tasks. However, cautious teachers may wish to closely supervise their students' messages. Recent research has shown up the extremely primitive quality of much of the language used in electronic exchanges!

.............................

Computers in education have been disparaged as: Answers in search of a problem. And certainly many computer activities of dubious pedagogical value have been devised in the past simply to justify the existence of an expensive computer in the classroom. Nowadays, however, I think it is much more clearly understood that the computer can play a useful part in the language class only if the teacher first asks: What is it that I want my students to learn today, and what is the best way for them to learn it? In most cases, the answer will probably not involve the computer, but there will be occasions when the computer is the most suitable and, for the students, most enjoyable way to get the job done.

ReferencesThe Internet and ELT    Eastment, D. 1999 The British Council

This is a brief but useful overview of the issues concerning the use of the Internet in English language teaching.

CALL Environments    Egbert, J & Hanson-Smith, E (eds.) 1999 TESOL, Va.

Despite the unpromising title, this is a good and very comprehensive account of the use of computers in language teaching. It contains detailed discussions of the pedagogical value of the entire spectrum of computer-based language activities.

Dave Sperling's Internet Guide    Sperling, D. 1998 Prentice Hall, New Jersey

This is a comprehensive listing of Internet sites for English language learners and teachers. Sperling also runs a very good ESL website called Dave's ESL Café at http://www.eslcafe.com.

................Call for contributions

I am looking for contributors of content for this website. In particular, I  would like to build up a stock of materials to help students with their work  in other subjects. There are examples of what I mean in the Learners/School Subject  Help pages of the Students section of this website. If you are interested  in contributing, please read the webpage containing more  details on how to do so.

computers in language teaching

Computers have made a triumphal entry into education in the past decade, and only a dyed-in-the wool Luddite would deny that they have brought significant benefits to teachers and students alike. However, an uncritical use of computers can be just as disadvantageous to students as a refusal to have anything to do with them. In this article I discuss some of the ways that computers can be used in English language teaching, with a view to helping colleagues make the most of the opportunities they offer to ESL students.

It is helpful to think of the computer as having the following main roles in the language classroom:

teacher- the computer teaches students new language tester - the computer tests students on language already learnedtool- the computer assists students to do certain tasks data source- the computer provides students with the information they need to perform a particular task communication facilitator - the computer allows students to communicate with others in different locations 

Computer as teacher. In the early days of computers and programmed learning, some students sat at a terminal for extended periods following an individualized learning program. Although we have come a long way from the rather naïve thought, held by some at that time, that the computer could eventually come to replace the teacher, there has been a return to a much more sophisticated kind of computerized teaching using multimedia CD ROMS. In such programs, students can listen to dialogues or watch video clips. They can click on pictures to call up the names of the objects they see. They can speak into the microphone and immediately hear a recording of what they have said. The program can keep a record of their progress, e.g. the vocabulary learned, and offer remedial help if necessary. Many of these CD ROM programs are offered as complete language courses. They require students to spend hours on their own in front of the computer screen, usually attached to a microphone headset. For this reason alone I prefer not to use them in my language teaching. Another of their serious drawbacks, in my view, is the fact that in many cases the course content and sequence is fixed. The teacher has no chance to include materials that are of interest and importance to the particular students in his or her class.

As an alternative to large CD ROM packages, there is an increasing number of  useful sites on the World Wide Web, where students can get instruction and practice  in language skills such as reading, listening and writing. Some  examples.

Computer as a tester. The computer is very good at what is known as drill and practice; it will tirelessly present the learner with questions and announce if the answer is right or wrong. In its primitive manifestations in this particular role in language teaching, it has been rightly criticised. The main reason for the criticism is simple: many early drill and practice programs were very unsophisticated; either multiple-choice or demanding a single word answer. They were not programmed to accept varying input and the only feedback they gave was Right or Wrong. So for example, if the computer expected the answer "does not" and the student typed "doesn't" or " doesnot" or " does not ", she would have been told she was wrong without any further comment. It is not surprising that such programs gave computers a bad name with many language teachers. Unfortunately, there are now very many of these primitive drill and kill programs flooding the Internet.

Despite their obvious disadvantages, such programs are nevertheless popular with many students. This is probably because the student is in full control, the computer is extremely patient and gives private, unthreatening feedback. Most programs also keep the score and have cute animations and sounds, which many students like.

There are some programs which do offer more useful feedback than right or wrong, or that can accept varying input. Such programs blur the role of the computer as teacher or tester and can be recommended to students who enjoy learning grammar or vocabulary in this way. If two or more students sit at the same computer, then they can generate a fair amount of authentic communication while discussing the answers together.

Computer as a tool. It is in this area that I think the computer has been an unequivocal success in language teaching. Spreadsheets, databases, presentation slide generators, concordancers and web page producers all have their place in the language classroom, particularly in one where the main curricular focus is task-based or project-work. But in my opinion, by far the most important role of the computer in the language classroom is its use as a writing tool. It has played a significant part in the introduction of the writing process, by allowing students easily to produce multiple drafts of the same piece of work.. Students with messy handwriting can now do a piece of work to be proud of, and those with poor spelling skills can, after sufficient training in using the spell check, produce a piece of writing largely free of spelling mistakes. 

Computer as a data source. I'm sure I don't need to say much about the Internet as a provider of information. Anyone who has done a search on the World Wide Web will know that there is already more information out there than an individual could process in hundred lifetimes, and the amount is growing by the second. This huge source of information is an indispensable resource for much project work, but there are serious negative implications. I shudder to think of how much time has been wasted and will continue to be wasted by students who aimlessly wander the Web with no particular aim in mind and with little or no guidance. I generally do not turn my students free to search the web for information. Instead, I find a few useful sites beforehand and tell the students to start there; anyone who finishes the task in hand can then be let loose!

As an alternative to the Web, there are very many CD ROMs, e.g. encyclopaedias, that present information in a more compact, reliable and easily accessible form.

Computer as communication facilitator. The Internet is the principal medium by which students can communicate with others at a distance, (e.g. by e-mail or by participating in discussion forums). In fact at Frankfurt International School the single most popular use of computers by students in their free time is to write e-mails to their friends. Some teachers have set up joint projects with a school in another location and others encourage students to take part in discussion groups. There is no doubt that such activities are motivating for students and allow them to participate in many authentic language tasks. However, cautious teachers may wish to closely supervise their students' messages. Recent research has shown up the extremely primitive quality of much of the language used in electronic exchanges!

.............................

Computers in education have been disparaged as: Answers in search of a problem. And certainly many computer activities of dubious pedagogical value have been devised in the past simply to justify the existence of an expensive computer in the classroom. Nowadays, however, I think it is much more clearly understood that the computer can play a useful part in the language class only if the teacher first asks: What is it that I want my students to learn today, and what is the best way for them to learn it? In most cases, the answer will probably not involve the computer, but there will be occasions when the computer is the most suitable and, for the students, most enjoyable way to get the job done.

ReferencesThe Internet and ELT    Eastment, D. 1999 The British Council

This is a brief but useful overview of the issues concerning the use of the Internet in English language teaching.

CALL Environments    Egbert, J & Hanson-Smith, E (eds.) 1999 TESOL, Va.

Despite the unpromising title, this is a good and very comprehensive account of the use of computers in language teaching. It contains detailed discussions of the pedagogical value of the entire spectrum of computer-based language activities.

Dave Sperling's Internet Guide    Sperling, D. 1998 Prentice Hall, New Jersey

This is a comprehensive listing of Internet sites for English language learners and teachers. Sperling also runs a very good ESL website called Dave's ESL Café at http://www.eslcafe.com.

................Call for contributions

I am looking for contributors of content for this website. In particular, I  would like to build up a stock of materials to help students with their work  in other subjects. There are examples of what I mean in the Learners/School Subject  Help pages of the Students section of this website. If you are interested  in contributing, please read the webpage containing more  details on how to do so.

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Computers in education

The use education in schools

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Over the past decade large investments have been made in ICTs in education. Some of the key issues facing educators and policymakers today include the following: (Source: Knowledge Maps: ICTs in Education, InfoDev)

Impact on learning and achievementMonitoring and evaluationEquityCostsBest practicesToolsTeachers and teachingContent and curriculumPolicy

Impact on learning and achievement It is generally believed that ICTs can empower teachers and learners, making significant contributions to learning and achievement. However, current research on the impacts of ICTs on student achievement yields few conclusive statements, pro or con, about the use of ICTs in education. Studies have shown that even in the most advanced schools in industrialized countries, ICTs are generally not considered central to the teaching and learning process. Moreover, there appears to be a mismatch between methods used to measure effects and the type of learning promoted. Standardized testing, for example, tends to measure the results of traditional teaching practices, rather than new knowledge and skills related to the use of ICTs. It is clear that more research needs to be conducted to understand the complex links between ICTs, learning, and achievement.

 

Monitoring and evaluation Many of the issues and challenges associated with ICTs in education initiatives are known by policymakers, donor staff, and educators. However, data on the nature and complexity of these issues remains limited because of the lack of good monitoring and evaluation tools and processes. Where evaluation data is available much of the work is seen to suffer from important biases. Another problem in this area is the lack of a common set of indicators for ICTs in education. And, where data has been collected, it is often quantitative data related to infrastructure (number of computers, for example) rather than data that can help policymakers gauge the impact of ICT interventions on student learning.

If ICTs are to become effective and integral tools in education, and if accountability is to be demonstrated to donors and stakeholders, monitoring and evaluation must be a priority area of focus.

 

Equity It is clear that there are equity issues related to the uses of ICTs in education. There is a real danger that uses of ICTs can further marginalize groups already excluded or on the edge of educational practices and innovations. On the other hand, with supportive policies and careful planning and monitoring, ICTs hold out the promise of facilitating greater inclusion of such groups.

While there is much research on the impact of ICTs and marginalized groups in industrialized countries, there has been limited research into these issues in developing countries. There seems to be little question, however, that ICTs generally give preference to schools and learners in urban areas and in areas where existing infrastructure is the best. Research related to equity and ICTs to date has focused primarily on access to particular technologies. Much less attention has been given to how specific types and uses of ICTs are related to equity issues.

 

Costs Little is known about the true costs of ICTs in education. There have been few rigorous costs studies, particularly in developing countries. Given current budgetary and resource constraints, a widespread investment in ICTs in education is probably not possible in most developing countries. It is, therefore, critically important to better understand the costs and benefits associated with ICT types and uses in various educational situations in order to effectively target scarce resources. There is some evidence, for instance, that computers may be most cost-effective when placed in common areas such as libraries and teacher-training institutes. One of the most cost-effective uses of ICTs in education may be their role in improving organizational and systemic efficiencies, including combating corruption.

Distance education is often cited as a cost-saving investment. Indeed, economics of scale are achievable in distance education, although such programs typically require large up-front investments. Some of these costs may be shifted from the public sector to the individual users, but this in itself raises significant equity and access issues. Again, a thorough examination of the true costs and benefits of distance education is required.

Financing mechanisms for ICTs in education initiatives are quite varied. Due to the high up-front costs and large recurrent costs, countries and communities typically employ a great variety of financing and cost recovery mechanisms. Public-private partnerships and user fees are important components of financing ICTs in education in many countries, although more research is needed to determine the impact and effectiveness of these mechanisms.

 

ICT projects and practices Globalization and innovations in technology have led to an increased used of ICTs in all sectors - and education is no exception. Uses of ICTs in education are widespread and are continually growing worldwide.

In large scale, donor-supported projects that utilize ICTs to benefit education, the ICT components typically assist in

supplying computers and connectivity and building school computer labsenabling instruction in computer programming and computer literacy,developing and disseminating new curricula in electronic formatdistance learning, andenabling better administration in the education sector, particularly through the development of education management information systems.

Where ICTs are used for learning, evidence suggests that they are chiefly used to present and disseminate information, as tools for presentation rather than the often cited promotion of “21st century skills.” It is clear that much more information is needed on the ICT components of donor-supported projects, including how ICTs are actually being used to support educational objectives. In addition, this information needs to be better incorporated into the planning and delivery of new ICT projects.

 

Tools Technology changes rapidly – and so do the specific tools available for education. As new technologies are introduced, it is critical that their cost and impact in various educational situations is thoroughly examined. While evidence shows that it is the actual application of the ICT tool that is the most important determinant of its effectiveness for educational purposes, the choice of tools is quite large, and each tool has its own advantages and disadvantages. Policymakers and donor groups are often bombarded with information and studies from vendors on the suitability of their particular products or services. As a result, there is a great need for independent research on the appropriateness of specific ICT tools to help meet educational goals.

Radio and TV have been providing educational programming in some countries for many years. Many related new technologies, including satellite broadcasting and multi-channel learning, have the potential to greatly increase access to education. Today, the Internet is not widely available in most developing countries, but new Internet technologies and mobile Internet centers hold promise for “connecting” teachers, learners, and communities.

 

Teachers and Teaching The use of ICTs in the classroom or in distance education does not diminish the role of the teacher; neither does it automatically change teaching practices. Experience has shown that a variety of support and enabling mechanisms must be implemented to optimize teacher use of ICTs. While traditional teacher leadership skills and practices are still important, teachers must also have access to relevant, timely, and on-going professional development. They must have the time and resources to explore this new knowledge base and develop new skills.

Support of school administrators and, in some cases, the community, is critical if ICTs are to be used effectively. In addition, teachers must have adequate access to functioning computers (or other technologies) and sufficient technical support. Shifting pedagogies, redesigning curriculum and assessment tools, and providing more autonomy to local schools all contribute to the optimal use of ICTs in education.

 

Content and Curriculum Accessing information is the main use of ICTs in education. While ICTs, and the Internet in particular, provide access to a world of educational resources, those resources are rarely in a format that makes them easily accessible and relevant to most teachers and learners in developing countries. Simply importing educational content through ICTs is fraught with difficulties, as well as questions of relevance to local needs. Experience shows that unless electronic educational resources are directly related to the curriculum, and to the assessment methods used to evaluate educational outcomes (especially standardized testing), ICT interventions may not have positive educational impacts.

 

Policy ICTs can be important drivers for educational reform. They can help in anti-corruption efforts, aid in decentralization, and play a key role in data collection and analysis. Still, there are many policy questions around the use of ICTs in education, not the least of which revolves around which part of the government is responsible for such policies. Some of the key policy questions revolve around access, equity, finance, and best practices in scaling-up.

As a relatively new field, there is no standard repository for existing ICTs in education-related national policies. And, it is clear that successful policy formulation requires consultation with a diverse group of stakeholders, many of which may be outside of the traditional educational system. Furthermore, innovations in technology and new products are introduced in the global marketplace at a much faster pace than most educational systems are able to use them effectively. This issue of timing is an important one as educators and policymakers operate with an eye to longer term educational goals.

For more information about these issues see: Knowledge Maps: ICTs in Education, InfoDev

 

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