Integrating Technology into EFL/ESL

 

Graham Stanley

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 tools have proliferated in recent years, and as most allow for some degree of content creation and communication, they are often ideal for language learning.

At the heart of Web 2.0 is the blog, short for web log. At its most basic, a blog is an online journal that can be used by teachers to publish information about a course, links to resources and other information directed to learners or other teachers.

Ease of use was identified as one of the most important factors behind ‘the significant proliferation in the number of teaching blogs’ used by secondary school teachers in a recent study (Lai and Chen, 2011), and there is no doubt that the push button publishing first promoted by Blogger (www.blogger.com) has encouraged many teachers to embrace online publishing who otherwise would not have done so.

Many teachers also now encourage their learners to blog, publishing their written work and projects online in ways that go beyond sharing their work with an audience beyond the teacher, and which help prepare learners ‘for the digitally-driven post-industrial world into which they’ll graduate – a world where our understanding of knowledge, culture, truth and authority are in the process of being rewritten.’ (Pegrum, 2009: 28).

The other popular online publishing platform that has become well-used by secondary school teachers and learners is the wiki. The term comes from the Hawaiian for ‘quick’ and a wiki is a collaborative web space allowing for pages that can be created and edited by multiple users easily without any knowledge of web design. The wiki is similar to the blog in that it allows for quick and easy publishing, but the more flexible structure of the wiki means that it is good for project work, whilst the blog is better as an ongoing record of classwork as the latest work is always displayed at the top of the page.

Another development of Web 2.0 is the podcast, which comes from the combination of the words iPod and broadcast. Podcasts are audio or video files that are broadcast via the internet and can be downloaded and listened to on a computer or mobile device. Apart from software allowing the creation and sharing of podcasts, there are many other Web 2.0 tools that make use of audio, and to many users podcasting now refers to any creation and sharing of audio online.

Case Study: Sharing the experience of web tools in Brazil

Ana Maria Menzes is an English teacher, teacher trainer and head of the Edutech Department at Cultura Inglesa, a language institute in Uberlândia, Brazil. She teaches mainly classes of teenagers. Ana is convinced of the value of using Web 2.0 with teenagers in particular, and thinks that one of the benefits is providing extra skills practice for the learners to do at home. She believes that although many teachers have integrated technology into their classroom practice, far fewer ask their learners to use technology for language learning at home.

Ana has tried out a lot of web tools and makes a point of selecting the tools depending on the skills she wants her students to work with. Her learners have all said they prefer this type of homework.

Internet-based project work group activities which ‘lend themselves to communication and the sharing of knowledge, two principal goals of language teaching itself. The use of projects encourages co-operative learning, and therefore stimulates interaction.’ (Dudeney and Hockly, 2007: 44)

Let’s look at a typical project of hers; one that she has recently started with a class of upper-intermediate students aged 15–16. Her objective is to provide the learners with extra writing, reading, listening and speaking practice at home. Each week one volunteer learner creates a short text (50 words) for a listening dictation with the content being chosen by the learner from a previous lesson done in class.

The teacher corrects the text, the learner then makes recordings of the text and shares it with the others in the class. Next, all the learners listen to the recording and transcribe the text. This means that every week, there is a different listening activity created by the learners and Ana says that ‘from what I have observed, students have been taking great care pronouncing as best as they can, making sure their classmates understand what they say.’

Originally, Ana thought she would have the learner write their first draft, which she would correct and give them back on paper, but she decided instead to record a screencast while she corrected the text, explaining the learner’s mistakes, at the same time providing a pronunciation model of how to read the text. The learner could then watch this video, change their texts according to the teacher’s suggestions and then later record themselves reading their own texts.

Not only does this method of corrective feedback take less time to record than it would to traditionally mark writing texts, ‘the amount of information that can be provided by the teacher is much greater, and students feel it is the nearest thing to a one-to-one feedback session’ (Stannard, 2006). The learner also gets additional listening practice. Ana is always looking for new ways to do things, especially when it comes to using technology to improve her classroom practice and help her learners. She also tests the efficacy of the tools and then shares her findings in her blog.

For example, for the screencasting part of this project, she tried out the tool Educreations (www.educreations.com), which makes it easy to share videos with learners. Ana strongly believes that publishing learner work online is motivating for learners, so the recordings the learners make are often posted online.

As Hoffman found, having learners’ work read by people other than teachers and classmates ‘gives learner writing validity’ and ‘content, style and linguistic accuracy can be put on display before a variety of audiences meaning ‘the writing that is shared becomes more than a demonstration of learning for a teacher: it is communication.’ (1996: 64). This shift in emphasis to collaborative writing and focus on learner created texts often leads to the textbook becoming ‘much less important as a pedagogical focus than the writing which the students produce’ (Barnes, 1989: 27), which is the case in Ana’s teaching situation.

After gaining permission from her learners, Ana typically shares the work they do with her extensive PLN, via her Twitter account (www.twitter.com/anamariacult), on Facebook, and on her blog. For the project described above, she chose Voki (www.voki.com), which lets users upload audio and choose an animated avatar to go with it, adding an element of fun to the publishing process.

Ana also uses the educational private network Edmodo (www.edmodo.com/) with her learners. This allows her to get to know the learners better, to share links to useful resources and information about the class, and allows the learners to chat with their classmates in English between classes. It also means that the work they do using web tools can be collected in one place, and the learners can look back and see the progress they have made since the start of the course.

What the learners have created here, then, is something between an e-portfolio (i.e. a space used to display student work) and PLN, both of which can be ‘individually tailored constructivist spaces built by and for learners’ the difference being that ‘while PLEs typically have a learning focus, e-portfolios may also serve display purposes.’ (Pegrum, 2009: 28).

With this class and others, she has used other Web 2.0 tools, and has documented their use on her blog (http://lifefeast.blogspot.co.uk). One of the most popular of these was Songify2. She asked the learners to write sentences, and then using her iPad, recorded the students speaking to Songify, and then the app converted the sentences into songs. Ana said the learners had a lot of fun with this and probably spent more time practising the pronunciation of the sentences than they would have normally done.

Songify (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/songify/id438735719?mt=8) is an Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad app that automatically turns spoken recordings into songs.

Ana, like Ayat (Case Study 1), is also another example of a secondary teacher who has taught herself to use ICT and who also teaches others to do so. She has been using educational technology since 2006, when she attended a number of online courses held as part of the TESOL Electronic Village Online (http://evosessions.pbworks.com).

She then volunteered to be a co-facilitator of ‘Blogging for Educators’ in the TESOL Electronic Village Online in 2008 and 2009 and has been sharing her experience and knowledge online with teachers ever since.

Research and practice

All of the case studies here show practitioners using their own networks, knowledge and resources rather than turning to classroom research for new ideas. With new tools appearing constantly, and the emergence of the ‘perpetual beta’ (Pegrum, 2009: 19), it is only normal to see research in learning technology trailing behind what is being done by innovative secondary school teachers.

This is not new, however. As far back as 1977, Kemmis et al. stated ‘CALL is practitioner led as opposed to research based’ and 20 years later, Levy (1997: 4) stated that ‘many developers rely on their intuition as teachers rather than on research on learning’.

At the heart of the issue here is the question whether the use of technologies in the classroom improves acquisition or development of language skills or if it is simply a distraction.

In the systematic review of research undertaken by Macaro, Handley and Walter (2012: 15–20), the authors examined the evidence for this and concluded that ‘some language learning benefits of CALL have been shown’.

These include evidence that CALL helps secondary learners with listening and writing (particularly improvements in the amount of writing, length of texts and discourse features of these texts), with some suggestion that speaking can also be improved. However, the research on whether CALL improves reading, and on the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary were inconclusive.

As far as non-linguistic benefits are concerned, the research provides ‘evidence of positive attitudes towards CALL’ (2011: 21) and learners perceived an ‘increase in confidence’ in ‘engaging in real learning experiences not found in books and speaking activities’ (2011: 21). One of the dangers of practitioners relying on intuition, and using technology in ways they see fit is that emphasis is placed more on the technology than the pedagogy, and Stockwell, reviewing studies from 2001–05 concluded that there was ‘an element of failure to stipulate why a given technology was used in achieving learning objectives’ (2007: 115).

Reviewing the history of CALL (Delcloque, 2000), it also has to be noted that the field has been largely ‘technology-driven rather than serving pedagogical needs’ (Macaro et al. 2012: 2). It is obviously impractical for teachers to wait for research to show whether a web tool is effective or not, but teachers can, as Chapelle (2001: 16) suggested, use ethnographic methods to investigate CALL effectiveness.

Practitioners can ask not only whether a certain technology is effective, but also why it is effective. What also helps, and which can be seen in evidence in the case studies in this chapter, is teachers asking for feedback from learners and documenting the results of this, as well as stages of implementation in blog posts and in other publications (journals, newsletters, etc.) aimed at language educators.

Others believe that it is a question of time: ‘Until technology becomes normalised, there’s typically too much focus on the technology itself and not enough on how it’s used pedagogically, socially, politically or ecologically’ (Pegrum, 2009: 24). Normalisation of ICT

Normalisation can be defined as the stage in which ‘CALL finally becomes invisible, serving the needs of learners and integrated into every teachers’ everyday practice’ (Bax, 2003: 27). The concept was recently revisted (Bax, 2011), which was felt necessary because of the changes in technology use, especially the internet, which has become ‘a high-stakes environment that pervades work, education, interpersonal communication, and, not least, intimate relationship building and maintenance’ (Thorne and Black, 2007: 149).

While technology is, as research seems to indicate, not yet normalised in language education, and, as Thomas (2009: xxi) states: …while those involved in educational technology often assume that their pursuits are central to what is happening in their institution, the reality is that a rather limited percentage of any given group of educators, either in the school or university sector, consistently integrate technology to any great effect… There are definite ‘signs of a more fully integrated approach to CALL emerging because of Web 2.0.’ (Motteram and Stanley, 2011: ii).

Integration of ICT in secondary language teaching Aside from Web 2.0, more traditional uses of ICT continue too. Jewell points out that many stand-alone applications such as word processing and presentation software (for example Microsoft Powerpoint) can be used effectively by secondary school learners to ‘improve their language skills through research and by sharing their findings in oral presentations’ which also ‘provide real-world contexts and technological skills and enable students to develop confidence in their language abilities’ (2006: 176). Whether using established or emerging tools, it is when technology is utilised by teachers and learners and thoroughly integrated into the curriculum, as it is in the next case study, that wide-ranging benefits can be detected.

 

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