In the pre-Internet world most dialogue in the classroom was between the teacher and the student, but with the advent of the Net we now have a choice of writing and communicating to a wider audience. There is no one unified method of instruction, but some of the more popular choices are the World Wide Web, E-mail, language learning sites and virtual classrooms.
The Internet differs in fundamental aspects from traditional conversational speech and from writing as a medium of computer-mediated communication, as it has a lack of simultaneous feedback, which is so critical to successful conversation. However new innovative uses of screen capture software are making effective inroads into this deficiency.
Should Standard English be the approved medium when we have this exciting new possibility of truly creative language writing? Or should we let blogging run its interactive course, as it is indeed revolutionary in allowing publication of personal reactions, which would otherwise have no audience?
The Internet has no borders, but in the teaching process we must use it as an empowering tool, to methodically direct students to targets effectively according to students’ proficiency levels and language abilities.
The Internet – a 24/7 Resource
The Internet provides students with opportunities for exposure to natural and authentic language use, not only during but also outside the class. There is a wealth of information and unlimited resources that teachers can use in getting students to make worksheets for class, or in homework assignments. This makes learning English part of students’ daily lives providing functional communicative experiences and an ongoing process. However exposure is not enough to facilitate language acquisition and students need to be involved in meaningful tasks that integrate proper usage of computers and the Net e.g. WebQuests. The Internet has become a vital part of life and learning how to use it is an essential skill.
Through usage for learning English, students also develop basic information technology skills simultaneously e.g. word processing, Web-browsing, E-mail etc. and increase their competence in the highly competitive global marketplace. As the Internet offers a variety of topics it is appealing and can satisfy a diverse audience. The information available is current and frequently updated therefore providing a ‘living’ text. Using the Internet is fun as websites are full of animation, colors, sounds, pictures, interactive forms and digital video clips.
The Internet as a medium is highly motivating, thereby enhancing student autonomy and allowing them the opportunity to manage their own learning.
It is intrinsic, trendy and fascinating as realistically our technological society is still in its Internet infancy despite the apparent speed of advancement.
How Can This Resource Be Utilized From The ESL Perspective?
Many students are computer illiterate even in their own language and the ‘older generation’ especially display technophobia, or are genuinely frightened of ‘surfing’ in English. The teacher does not have to be an IT expert to employ modern technology, but should commence with identifying the different uses of computers by students; review the different parts of the computer and keyboard; familiarize them with some basic computer and word processing terms/definitions, netiquette and then proceed to the exploration and practice of some basic computer operations. This makes the tasks meaningful and not merely computer study in isolation.
The Internet is not always accessible in the educational setting due to the country or teaching institution’s financial situation. However the resourceful teacher can adapt lessons for the traditional classroom, if no computers are available and assign computer practice activities for homework, if appropriate.
It is important to remember that the primary goal is not to teach computers but a 4 skills course (reading, writing, listening and speaking) utilizing the Internet. Therefore pair work and group participation activities remain essential for collaboration, unlike the computer class where there is little or no interaction with classmates. By helping each other the students often duplicate this social skill in other learning activities.
We can begin with the online sources to do vocabulary and grammar exercises; then use the sites to complete tasks; then become creative and as student skills increase the teacher can design lessons accordingly.
The Internet gives students the opportunity to build knowledge together by expressing themselves in print and then assessing, evaluating, comparing and reflecting on their own views and those of others. They have the opportunity to talk with many people at the same time and not wait their turn, as in the conventional oral group classroom setting. Communication with native speakers allows learners to practice specific skills such as negotiating, persuading, clarifying meaning, requesting information, and engaging in true-life, authentic discussion.
By exchanging e-mails with other students from different parts of the world through ‘keypals’, there is meaningful communication with native speakers in real situations, improving writing skills, and allowing learners to participate in the culture of the target language, which additionally can enable them to learn how cultural background influences one’s own view of the world. It should be explained to students that having a keypal is their responsibility and they should answer/originate e-mail outside class, thus increasing autonomy.
Some further examples of using the Internet for ESL/TEFL/TESOL include:
- Business English – exploiting authentic materials; providing vocabulary practice; writing e-mails emphasizing tone, structures and layout; scanning practice; research resource for presentations using current and relevant information; commercial websites and Internet terminology.
- Youtube videos – improve listening skills and vocabulary.
- Distance learning courses – for students and teachers alike.
- E-mailing students pre-lesson with material/texts to be used in the classroom.
- Creating a publication together – newsletter, magazine etc.
- Checking designed ESL sites/authentic material.
- Teachers can find photocopiable worksheets/lesson plans/flashcards/games etc.
- Setting up self-access centres (SACs) depending on equipment and facilities, financing, student benefits.
- Customized learning programmes for vocabulary word lists, learning in chunks.
- Free Skype conversations.
What Are The Advantages?
- Internet use helps learners to gain input in the language learning process.
- This form of communication provides more equality of opportunity for self- expression and indeed more chances to interact in the written form. This increases confidence to experiment in the second language.
- It is the greatest source of information not in book form; can be used as an encyclopedia and can have real worth in promoting higher thinking skills. Students focus less on rote learning and basic understanding and employ logical skills for searching and then evaluate and judge the usefulness of gleaned information to put their work together.
- Some studies indicate that such ESL learners produce more written sentences when compared to the oral group situation in the classroom environment. It is also useful not only for the quantity but also the quality of language as learners have a greater variety of speech discourse and use more complex language.
- The Internet changes the interaction between learners and teachers as students can optimize their computer ‘talking’ time. Furthermore, it changes teacher and students' roles over content and discussion making learning more student-centered with the choice in topics raised and the student becoming involved in decision –making. The students construct their own knowledge and the teacher becomes a facilitator in the process.
- The Internet has unlimited supplemental language resources such as reading texts, pronunciation exercises etc. which students can access to improve technically in the language. Games with learning components are also fun activities, which the teacher can also create.
- Students can use authentic sites created by native speakers, rather than EFL learning type designed ones.
- The Internet is a platform for experiencing and presenting creative works such as essays, poetry and stories and for providing supplemental language activities in specific areas of language learning. Web pages and projects can be published or e-mailed to other students thus creating interest and motivation even outside the class.
What Are The Challenges/Disadvantages
- Communication with other non-native speakers may affect reading skills defectively and student control of input lacks the normal continuity and coherence normally modeled by the teacher. However this can be balanced by introducing native speakers into the tasks and effective teacher feedback.
- A multitude of materials can be accessed and integration of the materials into the second language may create difficulties, unless the teacher has specific goals for using the technology.
- There are delays and time wastages, which are inevitable due to training, familiarization, computer hardware/software problems etc. But the teacher must not neglect the communicative teaching approach, which must always be the priority in the lesson. For example the teacher can check student e-mails are error free before the correspondence is transmitted, thus incorporating listening and speaking skills into the exercises.
- Student monitoring/evaluation; plagiarism; inappropriate sites etc. need to have appropriate policies and planning in place to pre-empt foreseeable problems. The teacher must also be familiar with technological changes by undergoing CPD to ensure the Internet remains a fun and rewarding language experience, for all concerned.
The Internet is a highly versatile resource, provided it is used properly and with discretion. In the future human interaction will be enhanced as sound/video techniques such as voice recognition devices and webcams become more accessible and popular. Speaking is very different from writing, even if it is synchronous. On-line communication restructures class dynamics in a positive and effective manner, but it should be a teaching aid rather than a methodology. We can rest assured that we will always need great teachers.