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This study attempts to explore and analyse the role of computers in the process of teaching and learning English in an Argentinean private school of English. The main aim is to investigate and understand the use of computers in the classroom and to discover whether they contribute to foster the process of learning English. The different teaching situations are examined as well as the activities carried out in the classroom and the student's and teacher's roles.
The environments in which students learn and the ways in which people work and live are constantly being transformed by existing and emerging technologies. Hence, technological changes appears to influence everyone in society and challenge the traditional process of teaching and learning, as well as the way in which education is managed. The emergence of the radio, television, tape players and videos became important resources for teachers to support their lessons and the same occurred in the seventies and eighties when personal computers reached the markets.
It seems to be useful to carry out this research in order to find the advantages that technology, especially computers, offers to education considering two groups of learners from two different school of English in Olavarría, which is a city in the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Many theories have been presented by various researches and there is still controversy among this topic. Thus, delving into such important aspects is essential to be experimented in order to formulate our own conclusions. This paper will be aimed at gathering meaningful findings which may help teachers in general to start considering the use of computers and the Internet in the different classrooms. (change or accommodate)
Warschauer (1996) suggests that technology turned out to be an essential tool in education as it provides students with valuable connections with teachers, other schools and pupils, as well as a wide network of professionals around the globe. Nowadays, these significant technologies are used in education in order to improve it and make students take full advantage of them. Nevertheless, fostering the use of computers seems to be complex issue to be implemented in Argentinean's classrooms due to the lack of resources. As a result, few schools have the possibility to take advantage of the available technology and teachers tend to avoid this new tool.
The purpose of this work is to show whether the use of computers and the Internet stimulates students to learn a foreign language and help them to develop the different macro skills efficiently. Expectations are directed towards the activities that learners are able to do with technology that they would not be able to do without it. The findings of this research will bring valuable foundations to reflect upon the advantages of introducing computer assisted language learning (CALL) in the process of teaching and learning a foreign language.
The roles of computers in the classroom
The integration of computers in education has been discussed widely and much attention has been devoted to their role in the classrooms. The first implementation of computers in education was around the 1960s but their use was very limited. From that time onwards, the developments of computers grew and the role it has in education nowadays is that of an instructional tool for delivering information that can stimulate teaching and learning.
Computer assisted language learning (CALL) is becoming a relevant area and might help teachers to motivate students to learn through technology. Bergel and González (2009) states that web-based tools might cater for real life communicative needs, and they allow students to become more autonomous and to interact with other learners, teachers and society in general. It has also been stated that "â€¦ certain types of learners may be better suited to some CALL materials than other students" (Chapelle & Jamieson, 1986, p. 27). The authors assured that students who are not field independent, for example, show a significant preference for using CALL.
There are three stages of Computer assisted language learning identifiable in recent years. According to Warschauer (1996), there exists three phases of CALL:
Behaviouristic: is based on behaviourist learning theory, and it focuses on repetitive language drills. In this stage, the computer is viewed as a tutor acting as a medium for sending instructions and materials to students.
Communicative: The second phase of CALL emerged in the !970s and 1980s when the communicative approach to the teaching of a foreign language was in vogue. This stage emerged when educators felt that the drilling approach did not allow enough authentic communication. The computer is used for skill practice, but there no drilling techniques are used. There is more learner choice, control and interaction. Now, the emphasis is on learning as a creative process of discovery, expression and development. "In this case, the purpose of the CALL activity is not so much to have students discover the right answer, but rather to stimulate students' discussion, writing, or critical thinking" (Warschauer, 1996, p. 3).
Integrative: it focuses on a social o socio-cognitive view of learning. The use of language in a more authentic context is emphasised, which encourages students to construct meaning using computers. This phase is based on two important technological developments: multimedia and the Internet. Multimedia technology, brings many advantages and it can only be found in a computer. "What makes multimedia even more powerful is that it also entails hypermedia. That means that the multimedia resources are all linked together and that learners can navigate their own path simply by pointing and clicking a mouse" (Warschauer, 1996, p. 4).
The Internet with the Web 2.0 offers all users the possibility to create, upload and edit texts, besides other interactive tools. Learners can create and exchange information freely.
The development from one stage to another does not mean the rejection of the previous stage. All of them are integrated and complement to each other. At present, CALL is in vogue and many researchers have agreed on the advantages it gives to learn a foreign language. It is noticeable that CALL might give the possibility to learn a language as it can be "a tutor which offers language drills or skill practice; a stimulus for discussion and interaction; or a tool for writing and research. With the advent of the Internet, it can also be a medium of global communication and a source of limitless authentic materials" (Warschauer, 1996, p. 7).
As said by Garret (1991), computers can "serve a variety of uses for language teaching but the use of the computer does not constitute a method but a medium in which a variety of methods, approaches, and pedagogical philosophies may be implemented" (p. 75). Teachers appear to be the ones who are responsible for introducing new technological methods to their classes and guide students towards a better learning.
Computers as teaching and learning tools
Reading and vocabulary: using computers in the classroom for reading, which include articles taken from the Internet, might support the development of reading skills among students. Kasper (2000) states that these reading materials which are taken from the Internet supply a variety of modern, authentic texts if compared to materials sourced from textbooks.
As some researchers have conducted various studies on the use of technology in foreign language teaching, there is one empirical study which showed that two dissimilar group of students were given the same language activity, but in different modes: in the traditional pen-and-paper format and using computers. After the activity, Bruce & Levin (1997) were able to identify the different degrees of motivation towards both tasks arguing that computer-assisted version of the activity was found more highly motivating and beneficial for the group of learners which were observed.
The skill of writing, for example, is at present the subject of a considerable amount of research. Mills (1996) affirms that writing is mainly a social act concerned first and foremost with cognition and always associated to context. In general, writing seems to be a solitary act in which students generally fulfil an assignment either at home or at school to be handed in to their teachers. "The social aspects of writing are diminished when there is a restriction on the social space where readers and writers come together" (Mills, 1996, p. 2). Thus, using the tools that the internet is offering might help to abridge the distance between writers and readers.
Communication with native speakers allows learners to practise specific skills such as discussing, asking for clarification, negotiating meaning, persuading others, clarifying different aspects, asking for information, etcetera. Warschauer and Meskill (2000) state that "Computer based discussion which takes place outside the classroom increases students' opportunities to communicate in another forum, affording both general language practice and practice in writing" (p. 8).
According to Larson (1999), the transactional nature of the Internet and the pedagogical relevance of state-of-the-art web-based interactive technologies make web-based instruction a viable vehicle for foreign language education. There could more research done in this area to further investigate the option of using the Internet to facilitate foreign language learning and thus, main findings will serve as sharing research-based knowledge which will enrich the different investigations that have been done so far.
Bergel and González (Ibid.) argues that word-processors, blogs, wikis and emails among others seem to contribute to the learning of a foreign language and increase students' motivation promoting contact with authentic language. Computers ought to be integrated in the school environment as it has become an increasingly important feature of the learning situation for students in general, as well as a significant element to the teaching of a foreign language and that is the reason why teachers should find a way to introduce it in the teaching-learning situation
The invention of the printing press has transformed the intellectual life of the world and has improved the learning conditions. By the same token, computers have done a similar work nowadays for, with the click of a mouse, we are able to see what is taking place in the world. Therefore, Larson (Ibid.) claims that it is extremely significant to consider these opportunities that technology offers to the educational system taking account of the students' level that is the most suitable in each situation.
In the present study, the advantages of using technology for learning a foreign language will be discussed, trying to demonstrate such advantages upon a group of learners. What role does the instructor (teacher) play in this aspect, and how important is the instructor's presence? What is the technology's effect on the learning of the foreign language and skills? Do students enjoy the experience and feel motivated? Do students perceive that they improved their skill or performance in learning with the help of technology? The answers to these questions will be examined in the present research.