By Tarun Patel
Use of technology in English Language Learning
by Pushpa Dixit
Technology Aids for English-Language Learners:
A growing number of software programs and Web tools help educators teach academic English. Students work under an encouraging computer lab or language lab. They learn along with brightly colored posters and an impressive array of computers, projector, digital cameras, scanners, and printers, sets a vibrant scene. But it’s the students who bring character and action to the fore with their laughter, curiosity, and multimedia productions. An array of technology helps engage students and provides the structured one-on-one English practice they need. Computers should be provided in every classroom, and they should use the computer lab for their English Language Learning purpose.
Computers are most popular among students either because they are associated with fun and games or because they are considered to be fashionable. Student motivation is therefore increased, especially whenever a variety of activities are offered, which make them feel more independent. Imagine a language classroom where both students and teacher use technology effortlessly and naturally, integrating its multiple elements of learning and interaction-a classroom where students weave their learning into various studies and formats, reaching into spheres of knowledge previously it was unavailable. Imagine that you are that teacher, facilitating and scaffolding learning through the components of technology integration, leading your students into areas of inquiry that invite collaboration, cooperation, and construction of knowledge. Your daily lesson plans still aim for understanding, but in new and exciting ways, challenging students and teacher alike, supported by technology-infused learning. Your students might connect with students from another country–discovering, sharing, and communicating current issues in order to publish a collaborative news story online. They would conduct research in new ways-through virtual chat rooms, Web resources, online discussions with experts, and tele-collaboration with peers. In fact, the concept of “school” and “college’ become much more expansive, extending into other areas where networked learning is accessible. Students will be able to learn with assistance from online – tutors, from electronic dialogue journals with their peers, and from experiencing real-world situations. Teachers will be able to accommodate individual learning styles through use of different technology-enhanced learning modules. And, finally, assessment and evaluation will take on new meaning, addressed in part by technology’s ability to meet different learners’ needs. To some, this vision might be perceived as a bold, unattainable aspiration, full of uncertainties and complexities, destined for failure. But, if one believes that learning with technology has potential for greatness and is a precursor of the future, then these scenarios should become our goals. Time may prove our vision is true or false, but one thing is clear: The Pandora’s box of information technology has been opened. We cannot close it again and make our society or our schools and colleges the same as they were before.
One of the most promising uses of technology in education involves teachers helping students actively engage in learning. One can encompass many objectives, driven by the desire and need to help English teachers effectively integrate technology into the curriculum. However, the objective should be- to provide English teachers with examples, ideas, and a conceptual framework for integrating technology within the four basic skills for English Language Learning -reading, writing, listening, and speaking -through an online resource guide of lesson plans.
By demonstrating ways to integrate technology in everyday language learning curriculum through organizing instructional ideas by the four basic skills of language teaching/learning, teachers might be better equipped to understand, modify, and use technology in their own classroom. For example, telecommunications could be used for peer editing (writing), for use in literature circles (reading), or in discussions with an author (speaking and listening). Students who have difficulty in understanding text can be aided by technology’s ability to offer learning in multiple formats. They can access multimedia resources, for instance, in real-time through the Internet or stand-alone software, can get definitions of specialized vocabulary, link to other textual references, get additional background information, and listen to pronunciations of unknown words. These are just a few examples of how language teachers could use technology-integration models to enliven and increase learning. Through planning and teaching with technology, teachers will simply gain more knowledge, confidence, and expertise in the field, possibly acting as mentors and tutors to other teachers, spreading the excitement of technology-enhanced learning.
* Honing Skills by Integration of Technology:
Online tools and other technologies help students hone basic language skills they can later apply in authentic social settings. The students spend most of their day listening and not interacting with the language as much. But technology mixes things up, captures students’ attention, and engages them in a way traditional classroom instruction doesn’t. Students go to the computer lab and make PowerPoint presentations and write a lot of letters and essays. They like writing on the computer better than writing with a pencil. A multimedia reading program that helps students develop English fluency is one of the programs they use in the lab. Another application is language-learning software, which helps those associate images with English words and sentence structures to build their vocabulary. It’s really great, because it’s geared to individual students. The idea is that they are always being challenged.
Designing effective lesson plans using the Internet helps students explore ideas, acquire and synthesize information, and frame and solve problems. Internet projects provide students with opportunities to become more creative problem-solvers through understanding inter-relationships and experiencing real-life situations. Also, increasing the possibilities for tele-collaboration enables students to learn more about worlds beyond their physical spheres, further expanding their understandings and horizons.
1. Writing Skill – Publishing online:
One way to increase interest within and among students is to make writing authentic. And now, teachers have multiple ways to create and encourage writing with an audience in mind-through the vastly expanding technologies of the Internet. Students can experience the thrill of seeing their words made public, with the increasing popularity of online publishing and web pages. The writing process, when it is experienced online, has a new dimension, a distinct interactive quality. Research shows that using computers to write and publish is highly valuable, identifying levels of skills and ability. Writing skill is also improved by integrating computers and it makes a difference. It is seen that the students who used computers for writing at least once or twice a month had higher average writing scale scores than those who reported never or hardly ever using computers for this purpose. It also infers that publishing one’s writing is correlated with higher performance level of writing. Researchers found that students whose teachers asked them to define purpose and audience once or twice a month outperformed their peers whose teacher never or hardly ever asked them to do so. The difference what the students found is expressed in the comment of one of these students.
“The difference I feel when I am writing for the Internet is that you know everyone is going to see it-not just the teacher. I try to use stronger words. I try to be more careful in how I say things. You know that it will be seen by everybody. I say things in different ways than I would in something that was just going to be a grade. Something tells you that this has to be good, so I try to put more thought into it.”
Through this student’s words we can sense how important the process of writing becomes when it is authentic, when it is for someone else besides the teacher. English teachers have always struggled with the fact that they are usually the only reader of students’ writing. Now they have viable alternatives through technology integration that not only provide students with opportunities to experience an authentic audience, but increase student motivation to refine and improve writing. As it is realized that writing can and should be for someone else besides the teacher is a powerful incentive to becoming involved in English Language Learning. Publishing and reading online is one of the many ways the Internet can capture and maintain interest in the English Language Learning classroom.
Some of the teachers believe that students don’t really acquire language by performing computer tasks divorced from an authentic learning environment. Instead, they need social interactions that make them actively use language to negotiate meaning. Much of today’s language-learning software is rooted in old Second Language Acquisition and English as a Second Language research that treats listening, speaking, reading, and writing as separate areas and posits that students can learn general language out of context, and then apply it specifically later. The key is to use technologies that allow learners to focus on text and to engage with real-life audiences and issues. The biggest problem related to English-language learning is not so much developing oral-conversation skills, but gaining academic written-language skills. One of the things that has been seen is that when students talk about things in online discussions, they use more complicated vocabulary, because it is easier to see what’s been written by others and incorporate it into their own writing.
The Internet itself can provide a lot of food for thought. The final outcome of their research can be typed using a word processor. A word processor can be used in writing compositions, in preparing a class newsletter or in producing a school home page. In such a Web page students can publish their project work so that it can reach a wider audience. That makes them feel more responsible for the final product and consequently makes them work more laboriously.
2. Reading skills hrough Internet
When someone announces they have been online, they have most likely been reading and writing. Most of us correspond on a daily basis by using e-mail and have trouble logging off of the Internet because there is always something more to read. Yet reading the Internet is an aspect that is oftentimes overlooked or de-emphasized in classroom curriculum. Navigating the sources on the Internet gives teachers the opportunity to teach analytical skills, helping students evaluate authenticity and appropriateness. The Internet has explicitly taught students that different methods of discourse need to be read differently. The acquisition of English Language Learning places great demands upon the reader, since it imposes various forms of interpretive constructs. And through reading the Internet, students experience the multiple aspects of reading, of bringing personal meaning to text. Web site, for example, lists several methods for analyzing and judging. Internet sites that can help both students and teacher decide if it is worth further research. Reading advertisements, brochures, journals, job-requirements, etc. online enriches reading ability as well as provides information too. Reading emails, newsletters and reports makes a student more comprehensive in English Language. To develop the reading skill, student can be given a role play of a news reader. It should be recorded and later on it should be shown to the class and judged by the teacher as well as the students that what mistakes were made by the particular student while reading the news. The criteria should be given to the students and made them aware of those criteria well in advance. Another and most interesting task is to read e-books and one can hone the reading skill.
3. Speaking skill: Using Technology
The teacher can ask a class to develop a multi-cultural calendar. After discussing two or three different cultures, brainstorm with students various other cultures and have pairs of students decide what ethnic or religious culture they would like to learn about. After researching holidays and customs of cultures have students enter data in a calendar layout. Create the calendar by using the Calendar Wizard. In a separate word document, have students write a synopsis of the holiday customs. Display the calendar in class and discuss the various holidays as they appear through the school year.
Through the interaction of computer-based learning, teachers of language learning should be able to increase student interaction, learning, and reflection, empowering students to create their own knowledge structures and become active participants in the learning process. It is through this understanding of the unbreakable relationship between technology and language learning that English teachers can move their students to a deeper level of understanding-beyond a surface knowledge of mere facts to a more intense and satisfying scrutiny of the world around them. And, by making technology-integration a viable and essential part of their everyday instruction, these teachers can take advantage of technology’s abilities to effectively transform learning in the classroom, creating unlimited opportunities for excellence.
By sending E-mail and joining newsgroups, students can communicate with people they have never met. They can also interact with their own classmates. Furthermore, some Internet activities give students positive and negative feedback by automatically correcting their on-line exercises. Although students can still use their books, they are given the chance to escape from canned knowledge and discover thousands of information sources. As a result, their education fulfils the need for interdisciplinary learning in a multicultural world. A foreign language is studied in a cultural context. In a world where the use of the Internet becomes more and more widespread, an English Language teacher’s duty is to facilitate students’ access to the web and make them feel citizens of a global classroom, practicing communication on a global level.
4. Listening skill: Use of Language Labs
If a student is desired of enhancing his/her listening skill one has to communicate with electronic pen friends, something that most students would enjoy. Teachers should explain how it all works and help students find their key pals. Two different groups from different countries can arrange to send E-mail regularly to one another. This can be done quite easily thanks to the web sites providing lists of students looking for communication. It is also possible for two or more students to join a chat-room and talk on-line through e-mail. Chatting will provide you both the skills simultaneously, listening as well as speaking with the native speaker.
There is a wide range of on-line applications which are already available for use in the foreign language class. These include dictionaries and encyclopedias, links for teachers, chat-rooms, pronunciation tutors, grammar and vocabulary quizzes, games and puzzles, literary extracts. The World Wide Web (www) is a virtual library of information that can be accessed by any user around the clock. If someone wants to read or listen to the news, for example, there are a number of sources offering the latest news either printed or recorded. The most important newspapers and magazines in the world are available on-line and the same is the case with radio and TV channels.
The Internet and the rise of computer-mediated communication in particular have reshaped the uses of computers for language learning. The recent shift to global information-based economies means that students will need to learn how to deal with large amounts of information and have to be able to communicate across languages and cultures. At the same time, the role of the teacher has changed as well. Teachers are not the only source of information any more, but act as facilitators so that students can actively interpret and organize the information they are given, fitting it into prior knowledge. Students have become active participants in learning and are encouraged to be explorers and creators of language rather than passive recipients of it. This allows the learners of a language to communicate inexpensively with other learners or native speakers. It also provides an opportunity to develop both the skills- listening and the speaking skill simultaneously. Audio-video aids and also listening of BBC and CNN channels can help the students in honing the listening skills.
The conversation about technology in class-rooms is trapped in the wrong subject. The question should not be: “Does the technology work as a fix for the old?” It ought to be: “How can we develop and choose visions that will use this immensely powerful technology to create and support powerful new forms of learning?” These technology-integration ideas are just a few of many that could be used to develop lesson plans organized through the four basic Language Learning Skills, supporting English teachers in their instructional planning. By showing teachers how technology can be incorporated into the curriculum, as well as offering additional ideas for technology integration within the technology-based learning could be a natural part of all instructional design for teachers of English Language Learning. After all, our relationship with language is very much like what students experience when learning with technology-working in spaces unbounded by rules and amenable to adaptation and creativity. Examples of technology-enriched curricula that link the basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening with corresponding models and ideas for instructional intervention might just well create the spark that English teachers need to develop instruction that benefits from new and multiple ways of English Language Learning.
As we approach the 21st century, we realize that technology as such is not the answer to all our problems. What really matters is how we use technology. Computers can/will never substitute teachers but they offer new opportunities for better language practice. They may actually make the process of language learning significantly richer and play a key role in the reform of a country’s educational system. The next generation of students will feel a lot more confident with information technology than we do. As a result, they will also be able to use the Internet to communicate more effectively, practice language skills more thoroughly and solve language learning problems more easily.
The teachers who adapt technology for English language teaching as a second language are really benefited. The students I have seen using it really enjoy it and are learning a lot of the academic words they need. Their vocabulary is enriched and they can become fluent in English speaking. The audio-visual aids make the class room environment live and interesting to the students. They can learn English by the direct method and in a very natural way.
** ELTWeekly would like to thank Pushpa Dixit for contributing this research paper.
ELT Research Paper , ELTWeekly Issue#29