How should we really use the Internet in TESOL?
Chris Alexander 2006 (Language Lab Co-ordinator, Intercollege)
The Internet being mainly a free resource is increasingly being used in TESOL, and the exponential growth of ESOL Websites is, I suppose, a testament to how important the Internet has become in TESOL. Yet realising the potential of this exciting and constantly expanding medium is not a straightforward undertaking. In this article, I will present some practical guidelines for teachers wishing to use the Internet (possibly in an ICT language lab) and then give some clear lesson examples of how these guidelines could be observed.
These simplified guidelines are based on an extensive Doctoral research project undertaken at Intercollege (The International University of Cyprus).
1. Have clear lesson aims and then look for suitable sites: don’t get caught in the Web
Have aims that are perspicuously reflected in lesson materials; not stating lesson aims might be confusing for students. Even though, this may, at first sight appear obvious advice to any teacher, teachers preparing Internet lessons may lose sight of this seemingly fundamental TESOL lesson-planning principle. This could be a consequence and drawback of using the Internet i.e. to what degree do lesson aims determine the sites or to what extent do lesson sites determine lesson aims. With regard to the latter, a weakness of this approach is that unsuitable sites may be used as a basis for determining lesson aims and teachers may lose sight of how to inextricably link sites to course content.
2. Explain to students how their Internet lesson will relate to their course in general: don’t lose sight of this fundamental TESOL principle
Teachers should tangibly relate Internet lesson materials to College exams/tests; in this way teachers might be more able to measure attainment. This guideline is particularly important if teachers intend to use the Internet regularly. A possible outcome of not perceiving a higher rate of language acquisition is it increases teachers’ awareness of the drawbacks of using the ESOL Internet. Moreover, students may want to see a clear connection between what they do in their Internet lessons and on what they will be tested.
Also, relate the Internet lesson to the course in general. Windeatt et al. (2002: 11) for instance hold, with regard to post-Internet-lesson-lab work, that ‘anything done in the computer room should be transferable back to the normal classroom’. Moreover, Windeatt et al maintain (Ibid.11) that students should have something physical to take away with them so that they have a record for follow-up work or end-of-course revision. Students therefore may need hard-copy lesson handouts and well as electronic-version handouts to accompany their Internet use.
3. Use technology to reinforce existing practice: students want a teacher to teach them, they don’t want a guide on the side
Technology should be used in a way that reinforces existing non-ICT practice i.e. the teacher should remain the teacher and not become just the facilitator. Moreover, why should teachers relinquish their age-old role? Internet lessons that have the highest potential for learning are probably where teachers have a planned amalgam of non-ICT and ICT roles, and students have timed chunks of autonomous ICT study (refer to the online lesson examples on the link below). Introducing autonomous learning without addressing the learning experience and expectations of students may lead to a degree of student resistance i.e. students may expect to be taught traditionally, and so may not identify with being autonomous learners. Furthermore, relying wholly on interactive, self-correcting ESOL Internet activities may lead to a compromise of teachers’ control/regulation of the lesson i.e. maybe students expect to be controlled/monitored by the teacher and not the Internet.
Another argument for combining traditional with ICT, is the possibility of unreliable Internet connection i.e. this may rationalise the need to incorporate non-ICT elements in lessons. If there is no or very slow Internet (site) connection, the teacher would not have to cancel the lesson, she could concentrate on the non-ICT lesson elements (refer to the online lesson examples on the link below). Finally, a lot of ESOL Internet activities seem to be narrowing the FL curriculum to mainly grammar and vocabulary practice. However, the main drive of non-Internet related FL curricula is to broaden the scope of activity by engaging with communication and intercultural learning. This was a strong argument to consider combining ICT and non-ICT teaching.
Combing ICT with non-ICT is in accord with Albaugh (1997 stated in Jones 2004: 17) who attaches weight to teachers tending to ‘adopt a new technology when that technology helps them to do what they are currently doing better’.
4. Choose suitable sites level-wise and topic-wise: if you’re not critical of the site content, your students will be
Finding suitable course-relevant Internet lesson sites can be a difficult undertaking. Godwin-Jones (1999: 12-16) for instance holds the opinion that a troublesome issue with Internet-use is locating desirable Websites that are appropriate in terms of language level, media format, interest and reliable information. Furthermore, it will be very time consuming to search/choose suitable lesson sites and prepare lesson handouts in Word or PowerPoint format. Teachers should always pre-screen sites sufficiently well to prepare pro-actively for student questions, and if necessary teach something. This also suggests that teachers should not relinquish their traditional deliverer-of-content role.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of ESOL-publisher editorial support i.e. there is a dearth of appropriately pre-screened textbook-complementary ESOL-Internet exercises. Also, try to find sites with comparable vocabulary to which the students have been exposed in their non-ICT classes. One drawback of some interactive sites is that students may not be doing them properly e.g. students can find the answer to sites without reading anything. Windeatt et al. (2000: 10) state referring to Internet usage, that in some cases, before beginning an activity on the computer, it will be necessary to pre-teach vocabulary, or a specific function or structure.
Long lists of ESOL resources do not seem to help teachers much. This suggests that teachers require more than just categorised hand-picked Internet lists or lists of well-known ESOL homepages; teachers need effective pedagogical guidance on how to use the Internet materials.
5. How many sites should an Internet lesson have? How much time should a student spend on each site? Find the balance.
Timing and sequencing of Internet-site materials is an important and complex lesson-planning issue.
· Do not rely on one lesson site just in case it does not work; use several reliable sites.
· Beware of ELT-game sites; students will be drawn to game sites when they should be doing other tasks.
· Have a set of core Internet exercises for weaker students and additional exercises for students that finish earlier. Even though teachers have to devise ways of dealing with less able students in the non-ICT classroom, teachers may need more time to pre-screen and organise Internet materials so as to know which sites should be core for all students to cover, and which ones ought to be additional for more able students.
An example of how the above guidelines might be operationalised is available on:
http://www.englishlab.intercol.edu/internetlessons/ (click ‘an example of sound Internet pedagogy’)
Seven Internet lessons are also available on the site below NB these lessons are suitable for approximately beginner to lower-intermediate level. These lessons were written by Katarzyna Rysiewicz (Intercollege)
Albaugh, P. (1997). The role of skepticism in preparing teachers for the use of technology. 'Education for community': a town and gown discussion panel, Westerville, OH, January 26, 1997.
Godwin-Jones, B. (1999). Emerging Technologies—Web Metadata. Language
Learning and Technology. Vol 3 No1 July 1999: 12-16.
Jones, Andrew (2004). A review of the research literature on barriers to the uptake of ICT by teachers. Available online at DfES/BECTA. Available: http://www.becta.org.uk/page_documents/research/barriers.pdf
Windeatt, S., Hardisty, D., and Eastment, D. (2002). The Internet. Oxford: OUP
Copyright © 2006 Christopher Alexander - all rights reserved