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.