Promises, problems and possibilities of the internet

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This is the last article in the seven-part series on language teaching and the Internet. In this series we have covered a broad range of topics:

1. The First Steps to Internet Connectivity (Vol. 20(10), pp. 40-44)--A definition of the Internet, what the Net can mean to teachers, and how to get on the Internet (including the necessary hardware, software, and a list of Internet providers);

2. "I'm on the Internet! Now what do I do?" (Vol. 20(11) pp. 48-55)--Describes some of the rules of etiquette, the so-called "netiquette," of email and discussion lists;

3. Language Forums in Cyberspace (Vol. 20(12) pp. 31-35)--Explains how to get started on discussion lists on the Net and describes some lists for teachers and students;

4. An Introduction to the World Wide Web (Vol. 21(1) pp. 32-34)--Gives a definition of the World Wide Web, provides a list and descriptions of Web browser software, and describes some interesting Web sites for teachers and students;

5. Resources for Teachers on the Net (Vol. 21(3) pp. 33-35)--Describes uses of the Net for professional development and for use in the classroom, how to use search engines to find what you want on the Net, and lists some places that are good resources for teachers on the Net;

6. Internet Technology: Some Classroom Perspectives (Vol. 21(5) pp. 42-49)--Shows how some teachers in Japan are using the Internet, including the World Wide Web, to teach reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The Internet is difficult to write about due to its immensity and because it is always changing. In this series, we have tried to give you the essential information you need to start using the Internet. However, we would be remiss if we did not mention some of the accompanying pitfalls of using it. This article examines a few of the problems one can encounter when using the Net for information and for the classroom, takes a positive look into the future, and ends with a resource list for people interested in finding out more about the Internet.

Personal Use for Correspondence, News, and Research

Some of the positive characteristics of the Net carry corresponding disadvantages. With the Internet you get fast communication with email and excellent socializing on lists and MO*s. The downside is people often find they are getting too much correspondence, sometimes 50 to 100 messages a day, and can't cope. The answer would be to either cut down on the number of lists you join or to use the digest function that many lists provide (a digest allows you to receive all of the day's messages combined into one single message).

In addition, with the fast turn-around of email, some people have come to expect immediate replies and are upset if a day or two elapses without getting a response. You may have to deal with what you feel are unreasonable requests to accommodate other people's desire for information.

Email isn't always reliable. The problem could be with your software, hardware, or Internet provider. Sometimes the email software cannot handle the number of messages being received or saved and "crashes," or breaks down, causing you to lose incoming messages or to have trouble accessing old messages you have saved. To help avoid this, clean out your messages often and save your important messages as text files. Needless to say, make backup copies of these important messages on floppy disks or other backup media. If your hard disk crashes or your modem breaks down, you may lose mail. Also, Internet providers periodically close down for maintenance; usually they notify their customers in advance and then send you your messages later, but this does not help if someone sends you an urgent message during the system maintenance period.

Many of these problems cannot be prevented, so it would be a good idea to keep a separate list of all email addresses (called e-ddresses) of people you communicate with so that you can notify everyone about your email problem in one message after it occurs (or before if you have advanced warning). Because these problems happen often, when sending important messages, ask the recipient to confirm receipt of the message. (Some systems, such as Compuserve, let you request an automatic confirmation.) If you urgently need a reply, consider using the phone or fax.

With all the resources on the Web, you have access to lots of information and news at your fingertips whenever you want it, but is there enough time to digest it? In the April 22, 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine, in a letter to the editor referring to the murder of school children in Dunblane, Scotland, a person wrote:

Your story on the Dunblane tragedy gave me a reality check. I'd read about the tragedy on the Internet just after it happened. And it was lodged in my mind as an insignificant factoid among other events; but the reality of it struck me when I saw your photos of the smiling children who had probably been smiling, too, minutes before they were killed. (p. 4)

This lack of empathy with what we read from the Net is going to get worse, not better. Words scrolling up a screen do not have the impact of pictures, still or moving, to impinge on our consciousness; although the Internet, especially the Web, is considered to be multimedia, still much of the communication is in written form. Perhaps this detachment is tied to the phenomenon in which many people say they have trouble reading articles or papers off the screen and must print them out before they can read them either for pleasure or for proofreading. Something about lines scrolling up a screen or perhaps the limitations of the size of the average screen inhibit the way people read.

There are many sources of information for research purposes, but since anybody can post to the Internet or create a home page, and since hard news from traditional sources of information such as reputable newspapers, news magazines, and TV news programs can sometimes be found alongside gossip, rumor, and propaganda on the Net, there has been a loss of reliable authority. We need to approach what we read on the Net with the same critical skills with which we read other material.

Possible Problems in the Classroom

In addition to the plusses and minuses listed above, there are three other issues to consider about using the Internet: technical problems, student problems, and curriculum problems. These points are considered below in detail.

Technical Problems

As with all technology-based pedagogy, there is bound to be hardware and software problems. For example, even if you have enough computers installed with Web-browsing software, there may still be problems with access to the Web because of physical limitations on your school's connection to the Net (this is called "narrow bandwidth"). This might mean that your entire class may either not be able to access the Internet at the same time or that downloading may be exasperatingly slow. Teachers need to understand that technical problems are a fact of life in the CALL classroom, so they must have alternate lesson plans available for when these problems occur. It is also a very good idea to have a technical assistant available in the classroom to help out before and during the lesson.

Student Problems

There are three areas of student problems: the attitudes and aptitudes of students, the appropriacy of materials for students, and plagiarism.

Student attitudes and aptitudes: There are some students who either do not like working with technology or do not have a knack for it. How do you deal with this, especially if your class is a requirement for graduation? This problem needs special sensitivity on the part of the teacher or administrator. Perhaps circulating a computer attitude questionnaire at the beginning of the course to see if there are such students in the class would be a good way to address the problem. Any student indicating some apprehension could be given extra attention. In addition, providing an adequate computer orientation would help these students.

Appropriateness of materials for students. The Internet is based on the free exchange of information. This means that one can find anything on the Net, including the profane, pornography, hate-mongering, and foul language. How you deal with this is up to you and your situation. There is software such as Surf Watch that will allow you to deny access to certain topics if you feel this is necessary.

Plagiarism problems. The Internet offers an excellent alternative to the school library with its perhaps limited collection. However, the down side is that it is easy with the Internet, as with all electronic reference sources, to cut and paste with minimum effort, making it much easier to plagiarize. Extra care should be made to give students a clear explanation of what constitutes plagiarism, and how to avoid it.

Curriculum Problems

One curricular problem is a lot of class time may have to be spent teaching students how to use the computer and software which will take time away from the focus of the class. If it is a writing class, for example, the more time spent on teaching computer skills means less time teaching composition. One school solved this problem by establishing a required course for incoming freshmen that includes 12 hours of computer orientation.

Looking at larger curricular issues, there are many interesting things you can do on the Internet, but do they fit with your curriculum? Choose activities that both utilize the unique characteristics of the Internet and fit into your curriculum. If your curriculum is an academic one which focuses on accuracy, then perhaps using email, with its informal use of language and punctuation and its relaxed attitude toward typos may not be the best use of the Internet for your class. Instead, you may want to use the Internet for more formal help, such as the Purdue On-line Writing Lab <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/>.

A Look to the Future

I hope that this article will not scare you away from using the Internet. As this series has shown, the research and educational possibilities are immense. What's more, the services provided are expanding daily.

What can you expect from the Internet in the future? There will be many benefits for the consumer. On the WWW you will find more Web pages meeting your particular needs as more people create pages specifically for language learning and teaching. There will be more Internet providers offering better service at prices more schools can afford. There will be faster modems and wider transmission lines so you won't have to wait twenty minutes or more for your material to download. Almost free long distance/international phone calls or video phone calls are already doable" through the Net, with required hardware costing less than 10,000 yen and software costing about 6,000 yen (see article six in this series for hardware and software details). Use of this Net telephone service will become more common in the very near future.

For those who want to play a more active role on the Net, there will be easier ways to create your own home page and Web sites. Research and discussion capabilities will increase, with more discussion lists for narrower topics and an increased number of actual articles available on-line rather than just abstracts. Finally, new applications such as intelligent agents which can be set to continually look for and bring to your computer the types of material you want will soon be available, making it easier to deal with the enormous amounts of information on the Internet. All this, and more that can now barely be imagined, will be available in the very near future.

Conclusion

The Internet can be a useful resource for the language teacher, for the language student, and for the language class. If teachers listen to the hype without hearing about the problems, they will be discouraged when they encounter difficulties. The backbone of the Internet is information, and getting information about the Internet, both positive and negative, is the responsibility of teachers wanting to use it for their personal and professional purposes, or for their classes. We hope that with this Internet series we have helped in a small way to give you the information you need to incorporate the Internet into your academic life and into your language classroom. We'd like to leave you with a list of software and books that will give you more information on how to use the Internet.

Materials on the Internet

This is a list of books, videos, and software for and about the Internet, including information on the World Wide Web. The CD-ROMs are hybrid for Macintosh and Windows computers, but the software is for the Macintosh, unless otherwise indicated. Software for Macintosh computers as an (M) mark before it and Windows software has a (W) mark. Software available for either system has an (M/W) mark, and software, especially CD-ROMs, that work on both platforms is marked (M & W). When ordering, indicate what type of computer you have. For information and reviews of some of this software that is located on the WWW, use the procedures mentioned in articles four and five in this series. This list is not complete, nor is it an endorsement for the software companies or the distributors on the list. The prices were correct at the time of writing, but may have changed since then. Sample prices are from catalogs from Learning Services, Micro WAREHOUSE, MacMall, and MacZone, and other sources.

1. From Learning Services, Inc.

PO Box 10636

Eugene, OR 97440-2636 USA

Ph. 1-800-877-9378

Fax 1-541-744-2056

<http://www.learnserv.com>

Books

* Classroom Connect Newsletter, (no price available, but free trial issue)

* Classroom Connect Yearbook, Volume 1, $24.95

* Hahn, Harley, The Internet Complete Reference, Second Edition, $19.95

* The World Wide Web Complete Reference, $19.95

* The Internet Yellow Pages--3rd edition, $19.95

* The Internet Yellow Pages for Kids--Special Edition, $13.95

* The Internet for Busy People, $15.95

* Internet Workshop for Teachers, $23.95

* Internet for Teachers, $17.95

* World Wide Web for Teachers, $19.95

* Way of the Ferret (Net and Web resources), $27.95

* The Internet University: College Courses by Computer, $26.95

Computer Software

* (M) Surf Watch (Internet security), $39.95

* (M) Cyber Patrol (Internet security), $25.00

* (M) PageMill (Web page construction), $89.95

* (M) Internet.Master (how to get on and use the Net), $33.95

* (M/W) Internet in a Box (how to get on and use the net),Mac $59.95, Windows $79.95

* (W) Internet in a Box for Kids (how to get on and use the net), $38.95

* (M/W) Netscape Navigator (access to the Web), $39.95

* (M/W) Eudora Pro (access to the Net), $67.95

* (M/W) Internet Phone (use your computer as a phone), $69.95

Book/Software

* (M & W) Teacher's RoadMAP to the InterNET (book/Hybrid CD), $24.95

* (M & W) Student's RoadMAP to the InterNET (book/Hybrid CD), $19.95

* (M/W) Educator's Internet Companion (book/video/diskette), $32.95

* (M & W) Educator's World Wide Web TourGuide (book/CD), $32.95

* (M/W) Internet Starter Kit (book/diskette), $29.95

Videos

* The Internet Revealed Videotape Series, $129.95

* Information Superhighway, $27.95

2. From Micro WAREHOUSE (formerly Mac WAREHOUSE)

1720 Oak Street

PO Box 3013

Lakewood, NJ 08701-9917 USA

Ph. 1-800-397-8508

Fax 1-908-905-9248

CompuServe GO Code: GO MW

<http://www.warehouse.com>

Computer Software

* (M) Internet Valet (access to Net), $39.95

* (M) Claris Emailer (email management), $69.95

3. From MacMall

2645 Maricopa Street

Torrance, CA 90503-5144 USA

Ph. 1-800-222-2808

Fax 1-310-225-4000

Computer Software

* (M) Apple Internet Connection Kit 1.0 (easy access to Net, CD), $48.95

4. From The Mac Zone

15815 SE 37th Street

Bellevue, WA 98006-1800 USA

Ph. 1-206-603-2570

Fax 1-206-603-2550

eWorld MACZONE

CompuServe GO MZ

<http://www.maczone.com/maczone/>

<http://www.internetMCI.com/marketplace/mzone/>

Computer Software

* (M) SnapMail 2.0.2 (for conferencing and communication on the Net, 5 pack), $154.95

5. Windows Internet Software

* (W) Internet Surfer <http://wayzata-tech.com:80/Product_Info/7231.html>

* (W) Internet Office 3.0J by Trans-Cosmos Inc. List price 19,800 yen <http:/www.technisys.com/Products/Software/ioffice.html>

* (W) Computer Shopper (The most comprehensive magazine for PC software and hardware.) <http:/www.compshopper.co.uk/mags.html>

* (W) "Snoopie" <http://www.snoopie.com> one of the best ways to locate software online. A special search engine for thousands of different software applications for Mac, PC, and other esoteric platforms.

6. From TESOL, Inc.

15815 SE 37th Street

Alexandria, VA 98006-1800 USA

Ph. 1-206-603-2570

Fax 1-206-603-2550

Books

* Warschauer, M. (1995). E-mail for English teaching, Alexandria: TESOL, Inc.

7. Others

* Classroom connect Newsletter <http://www.classroom.net/classroom/products/crcpub.html>

* Warschauer, M. (Ed.). (1995). Virtual connections: Online activities and projects for networking language learners. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center.

Document URL: http://www.jalt-publications.org/tlt/files/97/jun/promises.html

Last modified: June 17, 1997

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