Aug 28, 2009

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Technology in Second Language Teaching and Learning


Title: Technology and Second Language Teaching. (

The authors are people in the educational field who are concern of the use of technology in teaching and learning. Mark Warschauer is a Professor in the Department of Education and the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, and also the director of UCI's Ph.D. in Education program, and the founding director of UCI's Digital Learning Lab. He is concern in the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in schools and community centers, its impact on language and literacy practices and its relationship to institutional reform, democracy, and social development. He is also the former editor of Language Learning & Technology journal and founder of the Papyrus News blog. Carla Meskill on the other hand is a Professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Her researches discover new forms of technology use in language teaching and its effects on developing language and literacy practices. Just like Mark Warschauer, Carla Meskill is involved in Language Learning & Technology journal as an associate editor.

In the journal article, both authors are trying to compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of using technology in teaching and learning second language by looking at the impact of using technology starting from the earliest to the latest technology. Nowadays, more teachers are moving towards using technology in second language classroom. More schools and higher education institution are providing technology like language laboratory and computer laboratory to facilitate language learning. However, looking at the results of using previous technologies researches found that this seems like dejavu. Dejavu of disappointing results in terms of its success in teaching students the target language and whether it is worth the trouble in implementing technology in teaching language. For example, the use of Audio-Lingual Method in which students are made compulsory to go to the audio lab to continuously listen and repeat what they hear from the audio tapes ending up being like a ‘parrot’ without really understanding the communicative meaning. Same goes to the use of computer software programs which provide grammatical exercises in "drill-and-practice" method or, "drill-and-kill" as the authors stated. Both examples show poor results of success in acquiring second language but great loss in expensive laboratory and machines investment.

Thus, a question to be answered is whether or not technologies truly "work," and if yes, do they promote language learning in a cost-effective way? One thing that cannot be denied is that the advantages of using new technologies in the language classroom can only be seen in terms of the changing goals of language education. Since nowadays, students are exposed to international cross-cultural communication through the Internet it is important that the goal of second language learning is to prepare them with the language styles used in the target language and virtual domain. This is best to be taught in similar way that is through ICT to get them familiar with the language as well as the technology since they are going to use it too.

On the other hand, three aspects of potential disadvantages discussed by the authors are investment of money, investment of time and the uncertainly of results. The issue of investment of money comes when fund is not enough to provide good language software programs and hardware, maintenance purposes as well as the financial needs to train the teacher on how to use it. Investment of time occurs in the amount of time teachers need to spend in order to learn how to use the software programs and time to learn another new programs since these programs are constantly-changing. After successfully learning on how to use it, the teacher then need to find out the best way to integrate them in their teaching. Let alone the two investments and come the third aspect; the uncertainty whether it will be a success or failure. Dejavu might happen again.

This is an eye-opening to me especially the dejavu part. I cannot deny the investments needed are big deals. However, looking at the situation in which students nowadays are living we cannot just stick to the old way of language teaching and learning because students’ interests and motivation is important for successful learning. One thing for sure; there is no one perfect method without flaws. I believe we can use technology in language classroom successfully if we have good financial planning software selection. In the article, Warschauer and Meskill mentioned about cognitive and sociocognitive approaches in language learning. There are good language software programs that fulfill these two approaches requirements. Text-reconstruction software, concordancing software, telecommunications, and multimedia simulation software are examples of software that allow students to interact within meaning-rich contexts and construct and acquire competence in the language. Meanwhile, the Internet is perfect in assisting a sociocognitive approach to language teaching by allowing learners to learn a language by socializing in particular discourse communities.

Thus, the success of teaching second language by using technology is possible in general and can be implemented in Malaysia as long as we have good financial planning in investing money to equip schools with the software and hardware. Besides, we also need to guide and train teachers on using technologies.

Aug 27, 2009

Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela (hypertext practise)

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. His father was Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. Mandela himself was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party's apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961.

After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC. In June 1961, the ANC executive considered his proposal on the use of violent tactics and agreed that those members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela's campaign would not be stopped from doing so by the ANC. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labour. In 1963, when many fellow leaders of the ANC and the Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested, Mandela was brought to stand trial with them for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. His statement from the dock received considerable international publicity. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town; thereafter, he was at Pollsmoor Prison, nearby on the mainland.

During his years in prison, Nelson Mandela's reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.

Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. After his release, he plunged himself wholeheartedly into his life's work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after the organization had been banned in 1960, Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation's National Chairperson.

Aug 6, 2009

ESL Website Evaluation

The chosen ESL Website is..

In My Eyes:

1. What does the application attempt to "teach"?

The application attempts to teach all aspects of language from pronunciation to grammar, vocabulary as well as English for special purposes like in business and computer purposes. Basically, there are six sections which are the Multimedia English Courses, English Language Courses, English for Special Purposes, EFL exam practice and English Language Games. Multimedia English Courses is divided into pronunciation practice, videos and dialogues which aim to help learners to learn and identify correct pronunciation, use correct vocabulary and practice their grammar based on their proficiency level. However, Multimedia English Courses and English Language Courses share some of their contents only that it makes it easier for users to choose if they want to practice according to their level of proficiency; beginner, elementary, intermediate or advanced. On the other hand, English for Special Purposes section provides users the opportunity to learn about communication in the business and computer field. Meanwhile, EFL exam practice is included too to cater the needs of users who are preparing themselves to take exams like the TOEFL and IELTS examinations. Finally, the section that might capture the interest of young learners; English Language Games section that let users play simple games and practice their grammar at the same time.

2. What sorts of things is the application user expected to do with regards to learning the content?
In order to learn about pronunciation, users need to listen to the sounds recorded in the pronunciation practice and do the exercises in different levels. Meanwhile, users who want to learn vocabulary and how to use it correctly will have to do exercises based on the videos they watch which are provided in the website too. Users can also practice their speaking skill by doing the dialogue exercises. For users who want to brush up their grammar, they can click on the English Language Courses section and select their level before they can do grammar, functions and vocabulary exercises.

3. What sorts of computer skills is the application users expected to have in order to operate / access / use the application?
This website does not need complicated skill in order for users to use it. Only Internet using skill and typing skill are enough for users to access and use this application. Internet using skill is needed for users to be able to surf and click the right button and links when they wish to do certain activities be it the courses, exercises, listening to records, watching videos or playing or downloading the games. Typing skill on the other hand is needed when users want to do some exercises that require them to spell words. Other than these two skills, probably one also needs to have the ability to use sound and audio devices in order to listen to the recordings and videos.

4. While you are "playing" / "accessing" / "assessing" the application, does it remind you of anything you do in a classroom, or with a teacher, or with a fellow classmate, or in self-study?
Yes, especially the grammar practice part where users have to type in their answers and wait for the application to reveal the answers. It is just like the exercises I used to have with my teachers but the only difference is that I do not have to write. It also reminds me of the little game my friends and I used to play when we first learnt transcription. We were so eager to challenge each other of how to pronounce words correctly which this application can be used as reference for such game. In my opinion, this application is suitable for self-study because all the information and exercises needed are provided and users can check their answers as well.

5. Can you pinpoint some theories of language learning and/or teaching underlying the application?
The first thing that came into my mind as I was "playing' the online language games and the exercises provided in this website is grammar drills. There is a number of repetition in the exercises and the questions in the game. Though I believe some people think that drills are boring, I think it is needed in this kind of self-learning to ensure the users' understanding since the absence of a teacher makes it hard to determine whether the user had successfully mastered the skill. Thus, it is all up to the learner to determine whether he or she can do all the exercises correctly and when it is time for him or her to move to the next exercise. The second thing that came into my mind is scaffolding and Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. This is because the website divides the courses into four different levels; beginner, elementary, intermediate and advanced. So, if one were to use this website as a learning medium, users can always challenge themselves to do a more challenging tasks.

6. How well is the constructivist theory of learning applied to the chosen website(s)?
Constructivist believe that in order to learn one must generate knowledge and meaning from their experience. The ability to generate knowledge and meaning cannot be achieved by learners just by listening to lectures or reading books or memorizing all the rules and components of a target language. It can only be achieved when learners try to use it for example by doing exercises and from there they learn, by learning. Constructivist theory also said that learners construct knowledge and meaning on their own, individually as they learn. Thus, though learner A and learner B attend the same lecture and read the same book, they will generate different meaning due the difference in their own "rules"and "mental models" that they use, individually, to make sense of their experiences. This is because, learning, through is a simple process of adjusting one's mental models in order to accommodate new experiences. Therefore, I would say that this website applied the constructivist theory of learning very well. All the notes, audios and videos used to give explanation in the website give 'knowledge' to users and as they learn. they generate their own meaning through the interactive games and exercises. What I like the most is the videos because it shows the users how the language is used in 'reality' and from there, they can make individual association of the new experience to their existing ones.

7. In 1980's and early 1990's, there was a major debate on 'whether the computer was "master" of or "slave" to the learning process (Higging and Hohns, 1984). In relation to your evaluation - was the computer a replacement for teachers, or merely an obedient servant to students?
From my point of view, teachers can never be replaced no matter by computers or books or whatsoever. There are certain things, human needs, that cannot be satisfied by other inanimate objects. Obviously, no matter how good artificial intelligence like computers are nothing can understand human other than another human being. Though computers can be programmed to provide answers and even respond to users' questions, computers can only provide simple yes-no answers. In the end, a human being must be available for users to get explanation - in the 'same language' through communication. I can only say that computers can only facilitate independent learning by giving users the freedom of choice in terms of time, energy and money used to learn compared to time spent to attend classes. To say that one can learn solely based on computers is nearly impossible. Besides, in order to learn language successfully, learners need to understand the language culture too which almost all application in the ESL websites forget to provide. This can be learnt from teachers or if the users can make extra effort, he or she can go the extra mile by looking for information on the culture which is tiring. Moreover, only teachers can relate the similarity and differences between the language culture and learners' culture. Something that one can hardly find on the Internet or in the ESL websites application.

8. Would you like to use the application yourself in your future work?
Yes, I'm interested to use this application in my future work since the exercises are quite interesting and the reference notes are well written and very informative. The videos too are very helpful and suitable to be shown to students in class for easy understanding because they are simple and was made with something that students can relate to.

Suggestions / Recommendations:
In my opinion, this website is perfect for a self-learner to learn English. There are a lot of variety in exercises but not much attention is given to increase learner's motivation especially in giving rewards after one finish doing an exercise or playing a game. This might kill children interest. As well all know, sustaining motivation to learn is strongly dependent on the learner’s confidence in his or her potential for learning [Von Glasersfeld (1989)] . One possessed the feelings of competence and belief in their potential to solve new problems from their first-hand experience of problems mastery. This somehow is related to Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. Learners are supposed to be challenged within close proximity but slightly above their current level of development. Eventually, when learnsers experienced success over the challenging tasks, they gain confidence and motivation to go for more challenging tasks. Hence, when users are doing those exercises and games, they could not see their 'success' in the form of marks or points. It is even disappointing when the answers are given in another new box instead of being automatically checked by the application. Furthermore, some instructions are too simple to be understood and there's not enough explanation on what to do next. However, I would still use this application in order to aid my students learning process since they can learn on their own pace and to counter the disadvantages I mentioned above, I will asked them to keep track of their correct and wrong answers honestly and do the exercises and games on my own before I asked them to do them so I can explain what they need to do next when there is no explanation or links provided.