When talking about teaching English with technology, the internet is probably the best resource that you can find both as teacher and as student. It is relatively cheap, easy to install, requires limited knowledge of the technology, can be accessed anywhere, and is the one tool that you know the students use with pleasure at home. The web can be used as a window on the world outside the class, as it contains an infinite collection of materials on any topic that you may want to study in class or outside it.
For the teacher the internet is a gold mine. It can be used for just about everything: keeping in touch with developments, finding materials, updating language skills, using computer applications, connecting with other teachers, sharing materials or working on projects and activities. With computer largely available in schools, and with the market place asking for workers who are web savvy, it is no wonder that "new demands are then being made on teachers to use the technology creatively, leading to a steep rise in â€¦ the number of available Internet training courses for teachers " (Dede Teeler, 2000, p6).
Why use the internet?
Considering the fact that many of our students today use computers and the internet at home for entertainment and socializing, it should not be very hard to convince and teach them to use the internet with an educational intent. All is needed is a change in their attitudes towards this kind of activities. Students should be made aware that the internet can be seen and used as an enhancement to the course book, as a resource for their studies and most importantly, that it should be taken seriously, not as a toy.
One of the advantages of using the Internet is that the technology needed is limited and the chances of mishaps are reduced in comparison to other more complex technologies. In short, all you need is a computer, an internet service provider and of course elementary knowledge of Internet technology. Used as a tool, to develop vocabulary or simply to improve reading and listening skills, to promote interest or to entertain, the internet is clearly suitable not only for students who are advanced in English but also for low-level students. Furthermore, one does not necessarily need an internet connection during the lesson.
There are several ways in which the internet can be used in the classroom:
If having internet connection during the class is out of the question, or access to a computer lab is limited than the easiest way of using this valuable tool is to print materials from different websites and then use them as handouts in class. Naturally, printing is not a cheap option however the resources can be used with more than one class, and the teacher can even make a portfolio with materials for different classes or levels.
Another option is to save local copies of websites on the computer and use them offline. Thus, during the class you can easily visualize the material needed either individually in a computer lab or with just one computer and a data projector in class. The best part about this option is that you limit the students' access to the internet and so prevent them to go astray from the task.
There is a third option, which requires only a computer with internet connection linked to a data projector. In this situation, the teacher could have students look at some photos, read a short text, watch a video or spot mistakes, differences in a grammar or vocabulary exercise. The number of activities to be done with this technology are countless, all is needed is just imagination from the part of the teacher.
Naturally, the most desired way of teaching English with the help of the internet would be in a computer lab in which all the students have access to the internet. In case this is possible than all is needed from the part of the teacher is time to select the materials and devise the activities appropriate for the students.
Let's keep in mind that we as teachers don't simply teach our students a certain subject but in our capacity as educators we should observe their education and general development. With the advent of internet and communication technology the English language has been in a continuous development. Course books can no longer keep up with the language change that occurs on a daily basis but by using authentic materials from the internet the problem is fixed as they already contain up to date information.
How to use the internet
The first thing that a user of internet should be aware of when using this resource is that it wasn't created for teaching, but that it is a technology which native speakers of English use on a daily basis for real communication. One of the complaints that teachers utter when using the internet as resource for authentic materials is the large variety of sites and resources to choose from. It is truly mind blowing just to write one word in a search box and get thousands of links. In this case the teacher should make sure that the information extracted is actually education worthy. Which means that the information is reliable and accurate. There are several ways to identify how reliable a site is:
To recognize an appropriate site one should pay attention at the domain, which is the address of every page existing on the web. It is similar to an international phone number and it can tell the source of the page. If that address contains the letters '.edu' or '.ac' it indicates that the site comes from a university or an academic institution and is thus trustworthy.
Of course, not all reliable sites are from a university so, in this case, one should check who the producer is. If it is a company or organization with a good reputation in language teaching and training then it could be used with confidence.
If the first two choices are not available than one should pay attention at the author. If an article on the web is accompanied by the name of the author than it is more valid and easier to check for credentials.
Of course few pages on the internet actually have all the above mentioned security elements so, the only option that remains, is to read the article and judge it yourself. If it doesn't contain spelling and grammar mistakes then it means that the author who took pains in proof checking his work probably insisted in writing valid information as well.
Last but not least, one should remember that the material found on the world wide web is probably subject to copyright law. Whether it is a document, a video or audio file or simply a photo, the use and distribution of those materials could be prohibited, so the teacher has to make sure there is no prohibition to using the material in class. Luckily there a large variety of sites designed especially for use of the teachers and learners of English that are either free or accessible for a small amount of money.
Teacher web skills
Although it doesn't necessitate a lot of technical skills, using the internet in the classroom requires certain learned behaviour and definite effort from the part of the teacher:
The use of internet as a teaching tool may be a little intimidating for the teacher, considering not only the technical limitation that you may have to confront but also the feeling of inferiority when working with such masters of technology as the students. In any case, one should take Hamish Norbrook's advice and remember that the" student expects you to teach English not computer skills".
The teacher should be aware of the internet material used and how relevant it is for the specific lesson and for the level and needs of the students. The resources found on the internet should be evaluated in terms of level suitability and accuracy by the teacher.
The use of internet for teaching purposes is not a part of the syllabus for the simple reason that the materials found there are too vast and too erratic to be compiled in a reliable source. The role of the teacher is thus to search effectively, filter the information so as not to lose too much time, create personal teaching materials from the information found on the net and save it on the computer.
One characteristic of internet materials is that they are constantly updated. However, this also means that information gets deleted or simply obsolete after a period of time. The teacher should be aware of these facts when working with certain materials directly from the web sites.
Also, the teacher has to remember that the internet is technically enabled, so additional materials should be prepared in case the internet or the desired site are unavailable. Using the internet in the classroom will always be dependent on a few technical factors like electricity and hardware, so the teacher should always have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong.
Having students work with the internet will probably mean that they could use it for their personal interests, so the teacher should supervise their activity. Monitor the students' behaviour during the class, make sure they don't use the internet for personal use
The internet should not constitute the object of a whole lesson. The students should search the internet only for a limited time during the lesson. The aim of the lesson is probably not to teach them how to surf the web but to use the net for learning something.
The teacher's roles in the networked learning environment:
The teacher has to be a mediator, allowing the student to participate in the research of knowledge and thus become independent of the continuous instructions from the teacher
One of the most important roles of the teacher is that of choosing the right material for the class and the technology that is best suited to accomplish the pedagogical objectives of the activity
The teacher becomes a resource provider, coming with materials that can help students perform their tasks, making sure that they are level appropriate, reinforcing the topic and completing the objectives of the lesson
Moreover, the teacher is an organizer, telling the students what and when to do it. The teacher needs to be both a consultant and a guide, making sure that the students are following the objectives of the activity, are clear of what they have to do
The teacher models the learning experience, instead of simply providing the content, the teacher encourages students to search the information themselves, to work individually, apart from the watchful eye of the teacher thus developing autonomy
The teacher has to be a participant. Taking part in the students' activities, even with a minor role will give more structure to the activities. Also, the teacher should be present as a coach, to give assistance where ever it is necessary
The connection with the learner is no longer that of a teacher- student, but the teacher becomes a member of a community. The teacher loses the absolute control that traditional teaching provides, and is in its turn learning with the students.
However different the roles of a networked teacher may be from a traditional one, there is one aspect which cannot change. That is the role of assessor. The teacher has to observe, analyse, assess and give feedback at all times and for any activity that the students perform. That not only fulfils a pedagogic requirement but also reassures students of their work and progress.
The students' roles in the networked learning environment:
The students are no longer a passive receptacle of knowledge but they become the constructors of their own learning
They have the opportunity to solve tasks by using multiple perspectives, whether that means using a written material on the web, viewing a video file or chatting with someone over the internet. Getting information has greatly evolved from the text book, a random grammar book and a dictionary, as the student is directly responsible of how he choses to perform a given task
Students work in groups, taking advantage of a collaborative environment that many web tools, like wiki, blogs, social networks offer. This implies other skills that involve socializing, communication skills and cultural awareness.
The use of authentic materials or simply doing research in authentic environments provides students with more than the strict information needed to perform a task, but they are also made aware of the attitudes towards the cultural rules that the real world requires.
They become managers of their own time, choosers of the resources they want to use. They have more autonomy over the learning process.
The Internet as resource
Starting from its humble beginnings in the 1960s when it was commissioned by theÂ United States Government, the internet has gained so much in popularity that by the 1990s it was an international network incorporated into virtually every aspect of modern human life. As of 2011, more than 2.2 billion people - nearly a third ofÂ Earth's populationÂ - use the services of the Internet. "As of 31 March 2011, the estimated total number ofÂ Internet usersÂ was 2.095Â billion (30.2% of world population).Â It is estimated that in 2007 more than 97% of all telecommunicated information was carried over the Internet. By 2010, 22 per cent of the world's population had access to computers with 1 billion GoogleÂ searches every day, 300 million Internet users reading blogs, and 2 billion videos viewed daily on YouTube." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet#History).
Graph of internet users per 100 inhabitants based on data fromÂ International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Author Jeff Ogden (W163), taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Internet_users_per_100_inhabitants_ITU.svg
As a vast virtual library, the Internet offers a seemingly endless range of topics to choose from, all in one handy location. The internet has information on just about any topic you could imagine and it is thus only natural to be of interest to teachers.
The internet is the place where it is easy to find many authentic materials in one place. All that is available in the real world can be found on the World Wide Web. Museum sites, thousands of newspapers, electronic books, a whole range of authentic materials and sites specific for teaching purposes. These sites are produced by publishers but also by independent teachers or organizations like the British council or the BBC. As Dave Sperling, the creator of "Dave's ESL Café" has called it, it is "An incredible library of ideas and lesson plans". But it is also the place where teachers can meet and discuss classroom ideas and keep up to date with English.
Using the internet in teaching is valuable because it's what the learners are using in everyday life, bringing the world around them into the classroom. It opens up opportunities for students, run a project, download information, get informed with what is going on in the world. Because students use the internet so much in their free time, bringing that medium into the classroom is a means for encouraging motivation and promoting learning autonomy.
The reason for using the internet resource as a compliment to course books is that the information is updated regularly, while a text book may bring to class information that can be years old and thus have no relevancy to the students' needs. Using the internet resources means that the students are exposed to contemporary English and topics of current interest. Nevertheless, the internet has to be viewed as a teaching resource and consequently it has to be used with care, just like any other teaching material. Although the internet provides an almost infinite source of materials for teaching they shouldn't in fact represent the actual lesson plan for the class. The teacher needs to figure out the aim for teaching, contextualize the lesson, make out a clear path that the students have to follow just like in any normal lesson. In addition you have to be sure that the computers are working, that there is an internet connection and that the sites are still available.
On the topic of using the internet as a tool for education Dede Teeler supports the idea that "The World Wide Web is fast becoming the largest reference library in the world. Not only can you take information from it, but you can also contribute to it and get involved by starting a web site of your own" (2008: 17). The idea is completed by István Bessenyei ( 2008: 7) who says that "Within the networks of contemporary groups, cooperation, learner-centeredness and the utopia of self-organisation may become a reality. The boundary between student and teacher becomes less distinct. For the download generation, the Internet is no longer the medium for learning; it is the platform and the centre of personal study".
Authentic materials: "Sometimes called "authentic" or "contextualized", real-life materials are those that a student encounters in everyday life but that weren't created for educational purposes. They include newspapers, magazines, and Web sites, as well as driver's manuals, utility bills, pill bottles, and clothing labels. (Alejandro Martinez, 2002).
The term authentic refers to materials designed for native speakers of English, which are used in the classroom in a similar way to the purpose it was originally designed for. The reason for using it is "the benefit students get from being exposed to the language in authentic materials." (Alejandro Martinez, 2002).
Advantages of using authentic materials
Exploiting the internet resources can benefit a student for different reasons:
Students are exposed to real discourse, as in videos, news, articles, reviews, timetables which they can use in a number of ways from reading for gist to finding detailed information about the topic.
Authentic materials can have a positive effect on learner motivation
They are interdisciplinary in nature, they present fact about other subjects through he means of the target language.
The traditional teacher-student model is reversed, as the students can suggest sources of information for a certain task, thus contributing to their sense of achievement.
They encourage learner autonomy, as although the teacher gives clear task to the students, they have to search information, filter it, make their own choices of what to use and what to discard for the completion of the task.
The websites develop a taste for extensive reading or listening. It is a reality that getting students to read for pleasure nowadays is almost impossible as they immediately connect reading with school and thus homework, but if reading is linked with a pleasurable resource like the internet then maybe we could attract them towards that again. Furthermore if the students are given the opportunity to discuss their favourite subject in class and perform different tasks on them they will be more open minded to school activities.
The internet also provides up to date information about the world and so it keeps students informed about what is happening giving the internet an "intrinsic educational value". (Alejandro Martinez, 2002).
Disadvantages of using authentic materials
There are of course a number of disadvantages when using the internet and they mustn't be ignored by any teacher as it may hinder the student from learning the language or even develop a distaste for internet resources.
Attention should be given to the level of the authentic material. If the language is either too difficult or too easy than you risk either intimidating the students or getting them bored. The teacher has to do a thorough analysis of the text in advance and consider the activities which are most appropriate to do, with which students and for what period of time.
As aforementioned, preparing the materials may be time consuming, but the authentic materials don't have to be used for every class and that they can also be saved for later use with other students and different activities. The teachers can also share their materials with other colleagues and thus maybe borrow some materials from them as well.
Classes with mixed levels are also difficult to handle and need special preparation time and materials. If an advanced student can be given a review on the latest blockbuster and then ask him to extract the main ideas or summarise the text, this is clearly impossible to do with a less advanced student. The teacher has to find materials appropriate for all students and still keep the subject intended for teaching.
Also, authentic materials become quickly outdated and may become irrelevant for the task, for example an article about the latest mobile phone may be useful and generate interest for less than a month and will then have to be replaced by another more up to date article.
Working with the internet requires thorough knowledge of the cultural and social context from the part of the teacher. There are many headlines, adverts, signs, and so on that require good knowledge of the cultural background. Instances of this abound in the media, such as headlines that many times use abbreviations (P.O.W., M.I.A., G.O.P. etc.).
The authors of much of the material available on the web are native speakers of English and as such they are apt to use idiomatic expressions which may sometimes be difficult, or even unsuitable to use in the classroom.
Language may contain grammatical errors and the information presented can be completely inaccurate.
The design can be extremely dense and complicated, or just plain boring.
The idea of literacy has changed now that technology has a central role in our lives. Students must be prepared to be not only readers and writers but also editors, collaborators and publishers.
The internet provides the language teacher and the language learner with resources, such as texts, graphics, sound and video, sometimes all on the same page. It offers an authentic learning environment that combines listening with seeing, reading and why not speaking. "Skills can easily be integrated in the teaching/learning process; reading, writing, speaking, listening can be combined in task- based learning" (Alina Padurean & Manuela Margan 2009). The use of internet resources gives students the opportunity to learn in a realistic way, not just by interacting with the teacher and using the text book. In addition to the linguistic competence, Sarah Guth ( 2009: 456) sustains, today's language learners must also acquire other literacies, namely participation literacy, electronic literacy and information literacy.
The internet provides several tools for improving writing skills, whether blogs, wikis or social networks. The difference that exists between paper form writing and web writing resides in the potential audience that the internet offers. "Here we can see a significant shift compared to traditional media because collaboration with an audience is not bound to the classroom anymore. By means of weblogs, the classroom can be extended to dimensions previously not possible "(Thomas Raith 2009: 277). The existence of a real audience can motivate students in the writing process, as they are now faced with an interacting medium that will edit, comment and assess performance. As Thomas Raith ( 2009: 277) points out " These new ways of constructing content demand of the learners new literacies, â€¦ Some of the basic criteria of these multiliteracies is that writing is embedded in an interactive dialogue between the writer and the audience". The internet has expended the traditional definition of writing, making it a form of "social interaction". Thomas Raith ( 2009) quotes Wrede (2003) saying that "[W]eblogs are usually a form of writing in public and with the intention to offer opportunities for communication". These changes in the language teaching created new goals and requirements which demand in turn new literacies.
Teaching and learning writing skills in this new environment calls for new approaches to teaching that will enable these literacies. Learners can develop writing skills by participating in activities like blogging or collaborating on a wiki. A more detailed analysis of teaching writing on the web is detailed in chapter Wikiâ€¦â€¦ of the present paper.
For students to develop communicative competences in reading they must be involved in activities that resemble real-life reading tasks. Authentic texts contain topics that relate to the students' everyday life. There are a variety of activities that can be attempted with authentic materials: reading for gist, reading for detailed information, reading to understand text structure, reading for specific information, reading to complete tasks.
A reading text can also be simplified by making it more approachable. However that does not mean the text should be altered in any way, but that the teacher could prepare some pre-reading and while reading activities that can help students cope with the texts. For example, the teacher can involve the students in a brainstorming activity to elicit the students' prior knowledge on the topic, review new vocabulary before reading and have students perform tasks like skimming or scanning to get details of the text, before an intensive reading activity is performed. An example of webpages that enable authentic material use is wiki. They are especially suitable for reading and writing.
Teaching reading requires a lot of practice and course books, as a primary source of material for reading in class, are very limited in providing the necessary practice. Using the web as a resource may complement what the course book is missing. There are many advantages for using the internet as a reading resource. First of all, it has an unlimited number of materials for all topics and all levels, authentic and non-authentic. Secondly, they can be accessed at any time and from any location. Furthermore, most sites are interactive and so they give students the opportunity to answer to certain comments, correct mistakes, give feedback. This aspect of teaching has been observed more than ten years ago by Dede Teeler and Peta Gray ( 2000:70) who argued that reading a computer screen has become a more realistic assignment. It is no longer a simple piece of paper with written information on it, the text has interactive links which allow the students to interact with other readers, the author or the publisher.
Using wikis as a platform for posting reading materials is a perfect example of a secure learning environment that opens the way for developing different integrative skills. Unlike course books, the web gives students the opportunity to work asynchronously, working at their own pace and from any location. They are no longer censured by time, limited resources and other disturbing factors that may occur in class.
Using authentic materials to teach listening prepares students for the types of listening they will be subjected to when they will use the language outside the classroom. Just like the authentic reading materials, the different audio files found on the internet relate to the students' everyday life. Beyond the traditional activities like listening for gist, listening for specific information and so on, the students' understanding of audio materials should go beyond being able to distinguish between main idea and hidden points. The ultimate goal of a listening activity is the ability of the student to deduce meaning and lexical reference and to discriminate between true or false ideas related to the audio material. The internet offers students a valuable source of language input through the use of new technologies such as podcasts, videocasts, audioblogs and iPods. The popularity of portable media players and podcasting has increased in the last years making them easily accessible to use in language learning.
There is one resource that offers students the possibility to study any topic of their choice. That resource is podcasting. Podcasts can be used as a basis for doing comprehension exercises, as a means of generating conversation, and simply as a means of providing the students with diverse listening materials. "It is a tool that enhances mastery of listening skills and students could be encouraged to use appropriate strategies. It also serves as a resource providerâ€¦ Thus podcasts could be used to supplement classroom teaching by uploading audio files and encouraging students to listen to them"( Revathi Viswanathan, 2009:226). A more thorough analysis of the use of podcasts in teaching English can be observed in Chapterâ€¦.Podcasting. of this paper.
Authentic audio materials from the web exposes students to authentic language input that provides them with meaningful language used in context, real- world communication examples and cultural information that are bound to motivate students and keep them on task. As Tony Erben (2009: 142) underlined "to be literally independent, ELLs need to develop means
to successfully learn in a diverse range of content areas that have very particular ways of making
meaning." Authentic materials have many advantages but their usefulness are directly linked to the kinds of methods used and the material itself. The teacher has to take into consideration the topic, the target language area, the skills involved, the students' needs and interests.
In everyday communication, spoken exchanges take place because there is some sort of information gap between the participants. The purpose of a speaking activity is to imitate a similar real information gap. To do this the teacher can ask students to do a task based activity or get involved in activities that have a real audience. Dede Teeler and Peta Gray ( 2000:74) argue that the "Web can provide a real impetus for discussing topics which the artificiality of the classroom setting sometimes curtails: for example, living on another planet, one's first memory, art". The topic of discussion becomes more tangible the moment the student can search authentic materials on the net and respond to it in a realistic manner.
To be proficient in speaking one has to master the correct language form and structure and feel comfortable in producing language items. The communicative model stresses that the teacher has to help the students acquire the speaking skill by providing authentic practice that prepares students for real - life communication situation.
The development of various audio recording tools that can transform sound in audio file and then transmit it via the web has revolutionised the way this skill is viewed. Nowadays, anybody can post any sort of audio file on the internet and can download or simply listen to countless files, on any topic of their choice. It is only natural that teaching take advantage of this tool. Both teachers and students can benefit from these recordings. The teacher can record different lesson sequences, instructions, explanations or even complete courses while the students can record themselves, listen to their own performance, correct it if necessary and interact with the audience.
Creating their own podcasts that would be available to a potential audience gives students the motivation needed to create something meaningful. Teachers can offer more learning opportunities by assigning students different topics to create podcasts on. The creation of podcasts implies doing research on the topic, interact with other peers and generate an end product which they would have to record in audio format and eventually post it on a platform. This approach will teach students not only the content of the topic but also how to deliver it, how to make their talk interesting, to respect the stages of the presentation and basically take charge of their own learning.
The teacher should understand the potential impact of web technology on the way teaching and learning occurs in the 21st century. The use of these tools as Will Richardson (2009: X) explains is not simply to publish on the web work that students used to do with pen and paper. In this way all that is changed is the means students' use to show their work. What needs to be changed is the perception on learning itself which Richardson ( 2009: X) states takes places after we publish, through the connections we make with others to extend the meaning of what we publish in new and profound ways. He continues by saying that educators need to ""fully understand the open connections, open conversations, open content, and open learning that come as a part of a community of learners who are invested in their own passions. Learning means especially the social connections that students are now making on the Web, the ability to share and contribute ideas and work, the new expectation of collaboration, and the ability to truly extend the walls of our classrooms.
The use of web technology is defined clearly in Thomas Michael's book (2009: 378) as being used to engage students in critical thinking and enable them to become intelligent designers when computers and networks serve as catalysts for facilitating planning, decision-making and self-management skills when they are used in ways to promote reflection, discussion, and problem-solving by the teacher. These possibilities are clearly enabled by the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts and other social networks. These technological tools facilitate reflection, support different learning styles and offer countless opportunities for students to develop the new literacy skills needed in an information- based society.
Implementing such tools in class may take a lot of effort and special preparation from the part of the teacher. There are several recommendations provided in Chapter XX of Michael Thomas' book Handbook of research on Web 2.0 (2009: 380) that can help both teachers and students:
Students should be introduced to the requirements of the technology and the expectations that such activities arise.
The online education should be blended with traditional face-to-face instruction, that can give students the confidence needed to succeed in their activities
Help students develop self- management strategies and take responsibility for their learning and even take part in peer evaluation
The students' online work should be continuously supervised. This fact will put the teacher's mind at ease, as with the direction the activity in going to, while the students feel more confident knowing that the teacher is watching their activity
Technological tools are continuously evolving and changing, this is why the teacher and students as well should explore for new tools that will improve learning and teaching.
The use of technology in education also means that new literacies had to develop which would reflect social and cultural practices as well. In the modern way of life, these new literacies involve the use of different internet technologies like multimedia tools, synchronous and asynchronous communication, blogs, wikis, social networks, discussion groups and so on. In an article by Gina Cervetti she argues that literacy is a social practice, not a set of reading and writing skills that have to be acquired. Literacy does no longer mean focusing on the acquisition of skills but on the mastery of social practices. She also underlines the fact that "The recognition of literacy as social practice is often bound in multiple literacies to a demand that literacy instruction inside school be linked to students' literacy practices outside school" (p.380).
Being literate has evolved from simply knowing the language system and it implies nowadays a complex knowledge of cultural, economic, social and technical rules. The learners should be provided with opportunities to develop skills of critical thinking, understand the social conditions, engage in discourse and simply to get involved in the act of learning.
Douglas Kellner argues that "we need multiple literacies for our multicultural society, that we need to develop new literacies to meet the challenge of the new technologies, and that literacies of diverse sorts â€¦ are of crucial importance in restructuring education for a high tech and multicultural society and global culture". He continues by stating that in order to make education more relevant to the demands of the new millennium, education needs to cultivate a variety of new types of literacies. "This new global society demands a change in the way education prepares students. The learner of the 21st century requires new skills for the workplace, participation in new social settings, and various forms of interaction. The learner needs to be prepared for a global society in which he masters new skills, literacies, competencies and practices".
Tony Erben (2009:131) underlines that our understanding of literacy should be viewed as "something that is dynamic, multidimensional, interrelated, and dialogic in nature". His idea is completed by Sandra Savignon (2001:24) who points out how the "internet now provides opportunities to interact with English speaking peers on a variety of topics, to develop grammatical, discourse, sociocultural and strategic competence". Multiliteracies doesn't refer solely to the knowledge of using technology but instead it focuses on the idea of engaging others to work, communicate and learn through these new web technologies.
Interpersonal communication skills
Correspond to the social, everyday language that a foreign language learner needs to develop. It implies the use of real life situations, authentic materials and real- world connections for the learner to interact with.
Refers as the title suggest, interacting socially with other people, whether that implies only the teacher and the class colleagues or extending the social circle to students from other classes or schools to foreign people from the internet. Ever since the appearance of the communicative approach the learner has been considered an active participant in the learning process. Language was no longer taught in isolation, but was a process that combined all the four main skills while observing the social context and the sociolinguistic norms of appropriacy. The learner was expected to interact with other speakers, ask for information, seek clarification and negotiate meaning.
In a traditional class collaboration would probably mean students solving tasks in pair work or group work activities. The internet has changed this perception. Collaborative learning has become a means to share with other students, teachers, parents and others. The use of platforms as tools for teaching, has given the students the chance to interact, draft, edit and redraft a piece of work, done by any other student, comment on it, evaluate it and give feedback. Students will probably work better, pay more attention and perform better as their performances and background are more adapted to one another's level and ability. Collaborative work would also increase their personal sense of relevance and achievement.
Refers to the ability of using grammar, vocabulary, language functions and structures, which are an inherent quality for any proficient user of English. Although the latest theories on language learning focus on the communicative aspect, language skills cannot be ignored, especially at the beginner level. Having a grammatical competence, does not mean the ability to state rules of usage, but using the rules in the interpretation, expression or negotiation of meaning.
Computer/ Digital literacy skills
Refers not only to the knowledge of using computers but also to the culture of researching and gathering information form the net, as well as perceiving this environment as a cultural terrain which contains new interactive multimedia. "It encompasses learning to find sources of information ranging from traditional sites like libraries and print media to new Internet websites and search engines. Computer information literacy involves learning where information is found, how to access it, and how to organize, interpret, and evaluate the information that one seeks"(Douglas Kellner 2000).
It allows individuals to actively participate in the learning process. It requires from the user more than just technical knowledge, but a certain mastery of the basic skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) while involving skills as critical thinking, interpreting, analysing material and communicating abilities. Although the use of technical media can be viewed with reserve by the teacher and even some students due to its technical characteristics and innovative approach, the reality is that it brings the outside world in all its complexities into the classroom, it stimulates communicative interaction and autonomous learning. Furthermore, due to its wide use by students in their private lives, they may even expect it to be used in class as well. Technology tools can be used to enhance learning, promote creativity, and interact with peers and teachers. It is a collaborative medium in which students can use a variety of media formats to transmit information from a variety of sources to a large number of audiences. The web technology can be used to find, collect and then use information on any topic, which can then be processed, evaluated and posted on any web based platform. Tasks like solving problems, making decisions, finding resources allow students to develop strategies and competencies that are required in the real world.
Multimedia literacy skills
Refers to the ability to scan, interact and organize new multimedia educational environment. It includes new models of collaborative work, new understanding of teacher/ student participation and interaction, and innovative pedagogical uses of new technologies. The use of multimedia in the classroom can enhance language teaching, as they bring the outside world into the classroom and makes language learning more meaningful by presenting it in a more complete communicative context. Donna Brinton( 2001: 461) states that the "media can provide a density of information and richness of cultural input not otherwise possible in the classroom, they can help students process information and free the teacher from excessive explanation, and they can provide contextualization and a solid point of departure for classroom activities". Douglas Kellner reminds us that "Students and youth are often more media savvy, knowledgeable, and immersed in media culture than their teachers, and thus can contribute to the educational process through sharing their ideas, perceptions, and insights". Using multimedia materials can be exciting and stimulating for learners as they bring into the class topics that the students use in their private lives and gives them the opportunity to engage students' interests and concerns, and involve them in a collaborative task with their peers and teachers. This will encourage students to discuss, debate, present, argue and finally involve them actively in the learning process.
Developing multimedia literacies means that the student is capable to distinguish and analyse the meanings and messages of various sources. They are capable to discriminate content, to employ criticism in judging the content and to use materials in a constructive way.
Sociocultural literacy skills
With the internet introducing new forms of social interaction, the teaching of social literacies is a vital part of education. Students should know how to relate and get along with a variety of individuals, how to negotiate differences or how to solve conflicts. The learner needs to know how to communicate and interact in a variety of situations and distinguish between the roles of the participants, the information broadcast and the function of the interaction. Of course, mastering sociocultural convention is not easy but Sandra Savignon (2001:18) argues that "what must be learned is a general empathy and openness towards other culturesâ€¦willingness to engage in the active negotiation of meaning along with a willingness to suspend judgment and take into consideration the possibility of cultural differences in conventions or use".
Education today has to promote multiple literacies. In a world where students use technology to communicate and basically interact with people all over the world, teaching them how to use and understand multiple literacies is vital. Nevertheless, the use of new technologies in education and the development of new pedagogies is to be viewed under a critical eye and teachers should reflect upon the nature and the effects they may have on education.
ELT specific sites
Finding materials designed specifically for ELT is far simpler than locating authentic materials on a given subject. The reason behind this is first off that there are much fewer sites to look in. If you want to find a lesson plan, an activity on reading or listening, a grammar or vocabulary exercise, all you have to do is search a site specialized in teaching English. You can find material published by large number of organizations but also by individual teachers, material that is not only easily reachable but also free.
An example of teaching resources on the web is onestopenglish. This site is a teachers' resource site published by Macmillan English Campus, part of the Macmillan Education Group. Onestopenglish is one of the world's leading publishers of English language teaching materials. With over 700.000 teachers from all over the world registered, it contains a large number of materials for teaching and teacher training. Anyone, whether teacher or student, can access it, and, although it is a public site you may have to pay a fee for accessing the full database or downloading certain materials. There you can find ideas for lessons, information about international exams, methodology of teaching English, ready-made lesson plans and links to other specialized sites. It also contains a forum where you can discuss with other teachers, share your experiences, and find solutions to problems. The best thing about this site is not only that it is constantly renewing its database and thus keeps up to date with teaching trends but it also give you, the teacher, the opportunity of sharing your own work, discussing experiences in the classroom and connecting with peers form across the globe.
BBC- learning is another example of online teaching and learning support. It is an extension of The British Broadcasting Corporation and is headed by a specialized unit known as the learning department. Its purpose is "to make full use of digital, interactive technology to provide specialist learning resources for children and teenagers, adult learners, parents and teachers". You can find there materials suitable for teaching or learning, examples of teaching practice and especially multimedia items, so useful and modern nowadays.
Although having access to educational websites is usually not free, paying a certain fee for a yearly subscription may prove to be cheaper than buying new teaching material every year. One should also consider that these websites are continuously revised, materials are posted from all over the globe helping both more experienced teachers and also beginners in the trade.
There is a great potential for teaching training programmes online. Teachers, who previously were isolated in small communities, have now access to the experience and knowledge of professionals from around the world. The existence of new internet applications enables teachers to interact and collaborate across the internet. Online courses are highly popular nowadays due to their flexibility, portability and the lack of any chronological constraints. There is a clear potential for educators as online teacher training can occur both synchronous and asynchronous, through forums, emails, discussion boards and other applications.
Professional organizations and associations offer different means of keeping in touch with professionals from the same field. By means of formal or informal channels, such as publications, newsletters, conferences, workshops, seminars, teachers can find out what other teachers in similar situations are thinking and doing. Through the internet these associations offer many professional development opportunities, such as online seminars and workshops, discussion groups, email communication which allow teachers to interact in real- time with professionals from the field or in a more asynchronous manner, by receiving published electronic materials, like newsletters, journals, reference books and other research materials
Specialized websites like the ones exemplified above are very useful, nevertheless, they may take a lot of time to flick through. With so many domains and subdomains to choose from it is quite hard to decide where to look first.
To come to the help of ever so busy teachers an electronic informational sheet has been invented, the newsletter. This digital format paper can be sent by a specialized site like the ones presented above, by an online library or even by a university department. They are so useful because they present in short news about what is new on the site giving links and details. The teacher has only to study the newsletter and then go directly to the subject that arouse their interest. All you need to do is subscribe Â to this digital format letter, which are usually distributed via theÂ email.
For example, English Language Teaching Contacts Scheme - ELTeCS (http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/eltecs) provides recipients with email newsletters about teaching development, from professionals that have just entered in the system to more experienced teachers. This tool sends alerts with teacher development courses in their region.
Other examples of such newsletters can be found below:
Academic publications are useful resources of the online environment. They target foreign language professionals, are generally free, and are published on a regular basis. There are extensive listings of paper publications that anyone can subscribe to. There are many professional journals and newsletters that although paper based are also available in an electronic format and are transmitted online while others exist primarily online. One such example is ERIC - the Education Resources Information Center which is an online digital library of education research and information. ERIC provides ready access to education literature to improve practice in learning, teaching, educational decision-making, and research. Journals help not only at keeping in touch with new ideas, methods, and innovations in the field but also allows the teacher to respond to articles, submit comments, reviews or even articles. Academic publications are a great resource of the online community. There are extensive listings of paper publications that anyone can subscribe to.
A webinar, short forÂ Web-based seminar, is a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over theÂ web. It contains educational material provided by teachers of English on various topics, including well substantiated theory and practical classroom activities. A key feature of a Webinar is its interactive elements - the ability to give, receive and discuss information. The service allowsÂ real-timeÂ detailedÂ communications as well asÂ multicast communicationsÂ from one sender to many receivers. It offersÂ informationÂ ofÂ text-basedÂ messages, voice andÂ video chatÂ to be shared simultaneously, across geographically dispersed locations. Applications for web conferencing includeÂ meetings, training events, lectures, or shortÂ presentationsÂ from any computer. There are many educational websites that provide such interactive learning tools. A teacher has only to subscribe to the site, choose a webinar that is interesting and register for attending it. All is needed is a computer and an internet connection. Although the seminar originates in another country and possibly in another time zone, you can choose from several dates and hours when it best suits you. If you missed a session you can even log in and view past events, or download materials attached to the presentation. Another bonus is that you can get in live contact not only with the course provider but with other teachers attending the session and thus form close relationships with them. At the end you receive not only materials related to the topic of the seminar but even a document certifying your attendance. A few examples of organizations that provide such webinars can be seen below:
Below is an example of a webinar that I attended in summer 2012. It was held by Rob Lewis and Ann Foreman with the topic "Using social networks and media to support our continuing professional development". The webinar was available through the British Council Agency.
There are many institutions nowadays that provide distance - learning courses that are available through the world wide web. This is a fast and convenient method of accessing new information, getting in contact with other teachers from all over the world. These online courses address a growing demand for training to promote the education development at different levels. As Dede Teeler( 200: 21) points out the interactivity of the web allows for spontaneous feedback and rapid change of ideas and materials between the trainer and the students. Communication with the other members of the course is easier, making group tasks and project work a real option. Web mediated courses enable for the use of different applications that open the way to synchronous learning. Taking advantage of e-mails to forward course materials, send assignements or simply to communicate with the instructor or other members. Videoconferencing allows for more personal, face -to-face discussions. They can also be useful for post-course support or follow-up activities that can take place at your convenience. These modern tools are a new way that simplifies professional development. The course can be completed at home, at a convenient time, while at the same time connecting to people and resources that otherwise would necessitate a lot of time and money to conclude.
Online Reference Tools
Dictionaries and thesauruses
The use of dictionaries in learning a second language has been around since the first foreign language class. Even if the teacher is viewed as a resource for the students, it cannot by any means provide the students with all the vocabulary needed, at all times, and here is where the dictionary comes in. Although in our country, before the 1990s, the paper based, bilingual dictionaries were the ones used in the classroom by all English learners, with the appearance of alternative teaching materials from foreign publishers a great variety of monolingual dictionaries have entered the school. Their use in teaching English is undeniable. However, an even better, quicker and cheaper resource has entered the scene in the last years, the e-dictionary. The internet contains a wide variety of reference materials available for free, like online dictionaries, encyclopaedias and search mechanisms. Not only that they are easily accessible and easy to use but with a bit of training from the teacher they can be used at home, thus promoting students' individual work. Nevertheless one should take care at what dictionary is used, due to the fact that, as with any other internet resource, this one may not be very reliable either. The best solution to this problem is to use dictionaries that already have a tradition in paper based resources or are created by reliable companies or organizations.
TheFreeDictionary.com is an American online dictionary and encyclopedia that provides the user with detailed information about the term searched. It offers an array of online resources in different languages, including medical dictionaries, legal and financial dictionaries and access to different encyclopedic sources. The site is easy to navigate in, you simply type the term you're interested in and a number of explanations will be shown, containing most importantly not only a pronunciation of the term in both American and British English but also a vast number of contextualized examples so that the understanding of the term can be complete.
Thesaurus.com is another free online resource that provides reliable access to English definitions, synonyms, spelling, audio pronunciations, example sentences and translations. While electronic dictionaries can be used by all levels of English learners, a thesaurus is more useful for intermediary to advanced users. The use of a thesaurus is so important because it doesn't give you the definition and use of the term you're looking for but it provides synonyms and antonyms of that word thus enriching and extending the vocabulary of the learners. Such a resource can be used in various activities, but it has been proven to do wonders in writing tasks. A teacher can have students work on their vocabulary development by giving students drills or by having them develop a creative writing project.
Whatever the choice of activities may be this resource can be of great help, as long as it is clearly explained to the students, their search skills developed and proper activities developed for use in class or as a homework assignment.
Although an English class doesn't take place in a computer lab every day, where access to the internet and so to e-dictionaries would be very easy, this shouldn't be too discouraging. With one computer and a video projector the students could have access to the internet resource quite easily. Also, many students nowadays bring electronic equipment with them at school, like smartphones or tablet computers, which can access the internet with ease. These are admittedly not very comfortable ideas for a traditional teacher, and would possibly require a great deal of preparations and regulations, but they could still represent a quicker way to finding the information and solving the task, again by using a means so much liked by students.
Having an encyclopedia no longer means possessing large set of shelves with countless volumes. Nowadays, all you need is internet access, and you can save on your pc a collection of web addresses from useful and authoritative sources online. Examples of such online resources could be Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica or Columbia Encyclopedia. These web pages, written by various specialists around the world, are updated on a daily basis and are easily accessible not only to professionals but also to more ordinary users. As professor Gavin Dudeney (2007:111) said: "The wealth of information contained on these sites opens up the world to our learnersâ€¦Project work, biographies and other fact-based lessons become less arduous for our learners, leaving them free to concentrate on the language side of things, and able to access the information they need for any particular task from a reliable source". There are various web sites that offer this kind of information, among which: http://www.encyclopedia.com/; http://www.britannica.com/; http://www.wikipedia.org/.
The internet provides many resources of professional development for teachers, but one of the best elements of the internet is the existence of online teacher associations. These structures, whether international or local, are of a significant help for teachers who want to keep in touch with other teachers of English. For those interested in continuous professional development the internet provides the chance of registering in different teacher associations which connects professionals from different locations, and allows thus for a more unified community that seeks to consolidate their teaching and learning experience.
Below are a few examples of teacher associations from Romania.
AsMeRoÂ - The Romanian Association of Mentors
BETA - Bucharest English Teachers' Association
CETA - Cluj English Teachers' Association
EDAR - Educational Drama Association in Romania
MATE - Moldovan Association of Teachers of English
QUEST - Romanian Association for Quality Language Services
RATE - Romanian Association of Teachers of English
RSEAS - Romanian Society for the Study of English
TETA - Timisoara English Teachers' Association
If we imagine the internet as a living organism then all the information you can find there is real and up to date. You can at any time find or share ideas about teaching and the information is regularly update in accordance with the novelties that appear in the domain. You can find ideas for teaching, for handling difficult situations in class or vocabulary that is brand new. The teacher has only to take advantage of newsletters, video conferences and webinars, all created to keep you in touch with the developments of language teaching.
Web based education has truly proliferated since its appearance for public use in 1991. Using the internet for educational purposes seems to be cheaper, faster, more convenient and possibly even more effective than traditional classroom training. Schools have adhered to this idea and have procured computer programs which seem to support the notion that learning through the internet is better than face-to-face classroom instruction. The problem is that this kind of education is recent, no one has done a study to see whether it is useful in the long term.
One has to consider that web based learning is only an instructional method, amid so many traditional but proven methods. While it is revolutionizing, the difference it makes is in the accessibility of information not in the impact of instruction. Simply using materials from the net will not ensure an improvement in performance. Starting from the idea that more is not necessarily better one should consider that although the internet provides teachers and learners with an endless amount of information, it may not relate to the immediate needs of the learning process, that having a vast selection of materials to choose from is not necessarily a recipe for success.
In the last twenty years internet technology has evolved considerably. Interactivity has advanced, audio and video have continued to improve, specialized software has been designed, sites providing accurate and relevant materials are easily accessible. However, the danger is to consider that computer assisted learning and the use of the internet are sufficient in the teaching and learning process. We should keep in mind that it is only a tool which ne