A case study of English language teaching using the Internet in Intercollege’s language laboratory
Dr Chris Alexander
Word count 4980 (without references)
This paper presents the main findings of a case study carried out over a period of approximately five to seven months in 2004-5. It elucidates the issues that six well-qualified ESOL teachers had faced endeavouring to utilize the Internet in their language classes in Intercollege’s new ICT language laboratory. The wide range of data sources used in the study comprised: four staggered interviews with teachers, an interview with students and Head of the Languages Department, teacher classroom observations, a student questionnaire and teacher lesson plans. A major finding that emerged during the study was how teachers in their first interview had initially appeared mainly positive about Internet use, however as interviews progressed they seemed to have had more jaundiced attitudes. For instance, some negative comments from mainly Greek-Cypriot students regarding having Internet lessons suggested that the way teachers had been using the Internet did not correspond to their students’ learning experiences and expectations. In this paper I will describe what effective Internet pedagogy for students studying at Intercollege should comprise and provide links to online examples.
Raised awareness of the drawbacks of using the Internet
The relevance of unreliable Internet connection
7 Findings that mainly related to the student and lesson materials
Analysis of teacher Internet lessons
Some implications of lesson analyses
The intricate nature of Internet pedagogy
Two key belief issues
Using technology to reinforce existing practice (belief-related)
Hesitancy regarding student improvement
The Internet being mainly a free resource is increasingly being used in TESOL, and the exponential growth of ESOL Websites is, I suppose, a testament to how important the Internet has become. However, realising the potential of this exciting and constantly expanding medium places new pressures on the layman ESOL teacher, who very often has had no pre-service or past in-service training on how to use the Internet in an ICT language lab. In this paper I will discuss how this research was undertaken and disseminate the key findings. The paper therefore comprises the following sections
There seems to be disagreement in the literature regarding the effectiveness of the Internet; appertaining to the efficacy of the Internet, some contemporary Internet-germane literature appears to be advancing the claim that Internet-use is advantageous for learning. Frey (2002: 1-4) for instance states that the Internet is awash with activities that offer many new ways of teaching and learning, and asserts that even the most Luddite of university scholars now realise the potential applications of technology. There is, however, a growing research consensus that appears somewhat sceptical apropos Internet classroom usage. Warchauer (2003.1-2) holds the belief that there has certainly been no shortage of bold claims about how computers will revolutionise the classroom, transforming the teacher from the stereotypic cliché, ‘sage on the stage’ to the new and equally hackneyed ‘guide on the side’. A lot of Internet-relevant literature also asserts that there is lack of sound Internet pedagogy (the word appears to be used in a method-of-teaching sense). Wood (1999: 1) for instance, provides an overview of Internet sites that could be helpful in the ESOL classroom. He deems (Ibid.1) that a preponderance pedagogical books, articles, and ‘exhortations’ about the educational significance of the Internet often turn out to be little more than lengthy lists of Web page addresses (URLs). It is held by Wood (Ibid.1) that ‘what is often missing from the huge array of Internet materials for pedagogic purposes is any clear identification of the new pedagogical opportunities that the Internet offers.
This study therefore dealt with the challenges of using the Internet in ESOL lab classes. As using the Internet in TESOL in the Intercollege language lab was an innovation, there was a need to become more aware of the issues; this underlying professional-development aim was therefore reflected in the global research aim. In the study the global research aim was to describe and interpret the key issues six Intercollege ESOL teachers faced over a five-to-seven month period using the Internet in TESOL. The global research aim also had two associated strands: firstly, to analyse how and/or why such issues affected teacher awareness of using the Internet to teach ESOL in the language lab and secondly, to determine how such issues might be addressed. None of the teachers that took part in this research had used the Internet in TESOL in a language-lab environment to any major degree before or had had any relational pre-service training. The teachers in the study were given well-known ESOL Internet (available on http://www.englishlab.intercol.edu/papers/esol.htm) to assist them with using the Internet.
The research framework was based on pertinent literature and professional context. The areas that were analysed were: confidence, competence, time, components comprising Internet site quality, and some other potentially relevant domains of research. Other issues analysed were Internet lesson planning, student epistemology, syllabus design, improvement, roles and change.
The interpretative paradigm used in this study provided a thick and personalised description of research issues and a platform from which interpretations were made. Figure 1 below provides a visual summary of how data were collected. It describes how the four semi-structured interviews of about 30-40 minutes in length were undertaken on the six teachers over a five-to-seven month period in the research.
Teachers were observed in the lab Started undertaking student questionnaires and
Teachers were observed in the lab
Started undertaking student questionnaires and interviews
Was it possible to identify key issues during the
Was it possible to identify key issues during the interviews?
Figure 1 The four-stage interview schedule
The areas discussed in section 6 pertain mainly to the teacher.
The data extracts written in italics followed by a transcript code are the words used by teachers. The transcript code comprised three parts: (1) interviewee teacher number (T1 to T6); (2) semi-structured interview number (1 to 4); (3) interview question number (numbers ranged from 1 to 30).
6.1 Raised awareness of the drawbacks of using the Internet
A key theme that emerged during the study and discernible in all six teacher interview data corresponded to teachers becoming increasingly alive to the implications of certain drawbacks of Internet-ESOL lab use. Teachers in their first interview had initially appeared mainly positive about Internet use, however as interviews progressed they seemed to have more jaundiced attitudes. Initial teacher enthusiasm about using the Internet resonated with literature on the attractions of Internet as a teaching resource, as exemplified in, Frey (2002: 1-4), Morrison (2002 1-7). Yet, the heightened teacher awareness regarding perceived drawbacks of using the Internet in subsequent interviews (i.e. attitudinal changes) applied to literature on scepticism about Internet use e.g. Kirschner and Selinger (2003: 1-2), Warschauer (2003: 1-2).
6.2 The relevance of unreliable Internet connection
The data implied that the main technical problem that hampered teachers in this study pertained to unreliable Internet connection; the six points below in Figure 2 comprise the main issues, and affirm, as in Bastid (2002), that there is a need for reliable Internet access. Additionally, it follows that not addressing this issue has a number of teacher and student ramifications. In figure 2 I move from a summary description and interpretation of the six points to the construct of greater teacher critical awareness of the drawbacks of using the Internet in TESOL. The main implication therefore of unreliable Internet connection for pedagogy is teachers should not rely on one site; moreover, they may also have to prepare back-up lessons if there is no Internet connection. There are also pedagogy implications of not being able to practise speaking and listening skills easily in the Lab. This in turn may have some ramifications for student epistemologies and teachers’ teaching styles i.e. students may expect some speaking and listening practice.
Figure 2 Implications of unreliable Internet connection
Twelve competence-bound data issues that arose from the data and are an indication of the number of discrete elements that could be subsumed within ICT competence; moreover, in this context, effective implementation of ICT may be predicated on being cognisant of the main implications of these issues. In figure 3 below, this study’s competence issues are set out and a link is made to likely outcome. It is asserted that these issues need to be addressed mainly through more relevant training over an extended period (i.e. as signified by the two-directional arrows); however some issues may also need to be addressed by the College e.g. points 4, 5, 6 and 7. The table therefore emphasises the ‘tangled’ nature of ICT competence (Jones 2004: 8-9) and advances the claim that the teacher’s ICT competence plays a major role in how ICT is implemented and whether teachers will be motivated to implement it (Gobbo and Giradi 2001: 63).
Figure 3 also draws attention to the need for effective training (Jones Ibid.8-9) and the need for organisational support (Coles et al., 2000: 178); moreover, it sets forth the notion that confidence and levels of lab use are directly affected by lack of teacher competence in using ICT (Pina and Harris, 1993 and Lee, 1997 cited in Jones, 2004: 8-9). The key implication of the table in this context is that addressing the above competence-issues may over time fuel the drive towards higher and more stable levels of awareness regarding the advantages of Internet use.
There are therefore some implications of competence for teacher roles: teachers may have to take on a technician role, especially with non-ICT competent student. Moreover, students may need to acquire or have basic ICT skills in order to use an Internet lesson in the lab. The significance of Internet pedagogy will be discussed in detail in section 7.1.1 and the implication of the teacher’s new monitor role will be discussed in section 7.3.1.
Figure 3 A broad and complex view of the elements that a consideration of ICT competence in the research context should encompass.
Figure 4 below attempts to link the issues discussed in this section to outcome. Its implication for the concept of time as a management of change phenomenon is, more time may be needed to start innovative practice with efficiency benefits emerging later (i.e. time is needed for new ideas to percolate through to teachers en masse). This implication echoes with Downes et al., (2001: 75) who assert that teachers, researchers, and policymakers consistently indicate that the greatest challenge to implementing effective professional development is having time to understand new concepts, learn new skills, develop new attitudes, research, reflect, discuss, access, try new approaches and integrate them into their practice, time to plan their own professional development. Moreover Manternach-Wigans et al. (1999 cited in Jones 2004: 15) also hold that teachers need more time to learn computer basics, plan how to integrate technology into their lessons, and actually use the technology in the classroom.
Figure 4 The relevance of time as a management of change phenomenon
7. Findings that related mainly to the student and lesson materials
The areas discussed in section 7 pertain mainly to the student and lesson materials
7.1 Analysis of teacher Internet lessons
Teachers’ Internet lessons and observation data provided a precious data source that suggested that pedagogical development lies at the heart of Internet use. In this context it implied incorporating elements of traditional non-ICT and ICT teaching i.e. using the Internet as a ‘tool’ for learning (discussed in detail in section 7.3.1). Moreover it was my interpretation that teachers’ inability to use more appropriate Internet pedagogy was the most likely cause of teacher perceived student rejection, teacher hesitancy regarding being able to measure student improvement and teacher raised awareness of the drawbacks of Internet usage.
7.1.1 Some implications of lesson analyses
The lesson analyses indicated that various factors ought to be considered when planning an Internet lesson. In the context of the research, the teacher preparing the Internet lesson should:
· Use technology to reinforce existing practice i.e. they should have non-ICT elements in the lesson (e.g. Internet pertinent exercises as with T4 in Plate 3). This issue is discussed in detail in section 7.3.1). Moreover in section 7.4 on student epistemologies, I assert that data suggested students wanted/expected to be taught more traditionally without being given so much autonomy.
· Select suitable sites level-wise (i.e. grammar/vocabulary) and topic-wise. However data suggested that this was a difficult undertaking. Teachers first had to search ESOL homepages (i.e. from a vast and growing collection of homepages) and then choose exercises usually from a substantial assemblage of exercises per ESOL homepage. Moreover a pertinent characterisation of the data was that ‘searching’ for a list of possible lesson sites was more time-consuming than ‘choosing’ which sites from that list would be used. Finding suitable course-relevant Internet lesson sites was therefore a difficult task. Godwin-Jones (1999: 12-16) holds the opinion that a troublesome issue with Internet-use is locating desirable Websites that are appropriate in terms of language level, media format, interest and reliable information. Furthermore, it was very time consuming to prepare lesson handouts in Word or PowerPoint format.
· Pre-screen sites sufficiently well to prepare pro-actively for student questions. This also suggested that teachers should not relinquish their traditional deliverer-of-content role. Windeatt et al. (2000: 10) state referring to Internet usage, that in some cases, before beginning an activity on the computer, it will be necessary to pre-teach vocabulary, or a specific function or structure Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of ESOL-publisher editorial support i.e. there is a dearth of appropriately pre-screened textbook-complementary ESOL-Internet exercises. Teachers also had difficulties in trying to find sites with comparable vocabulary to which the students had been exposed in their non-ICT classes. In this study, giving long lists of ESOL resources to teachers did not seem to help them much. This suggested that teachers required more than just lists of well-known ESOL homepages; teachers needed effective pedagogical guidance on how to use the Internet materials (also asserted in Wood, 1999:1, Hanson-Smith 2003: 1-11, Kuechler, 1996 and LeLoup and Ponterio, 2000).
· Consider carefully how to time and sequence Internet-site materials. The following recommendations can be made based on the research findings, teachers should: (1) use several sites and not rely on one lesson site just in case it does not work (i.e. as in Plate 3); (2) not use too many sites as this encourages students to rush through the sites working less conscientiously. However students also might rush through sites because the teacher does not put enough (a) thought into explaining the site tasks to the students and sequencing and timing lesson materials; (b) put time into selecting engaging sites for students. Another issue that related to students working less conscientiously was that the interactive nature of some sites enabled students to find the answer without reading or thinking about the question. Having fewer sites and more teacher interaction (i.e. more non-ICT teaching) might lead to better teacher control over the regulation of learning; (3) beware of ELT-game sites i.e. students were drawn to game sites when they should have been doing other tasks; (4) have a set of core Internet exercises for weaker students and additional exercises for students that finish earlier. Even though teachers have to devise ways of dealing with less able students in the non-ICT classroom, teachers need more time to pre-screen and organise Internet materials so as to know which sites should be core for all students to cover, and which ones ought to be additional for more able students
In figure 5 below it is posited that sine-qua-non pedagogical development lies at the heart of Internet ESOL use. The supposition is that key competence-skills’ training should proceed training orientated towards pedagogical development; however some competence issues (i.e. as outlined in figure 5) may require ongoing training/support. The figure highlights the multifaceted nature of training and support orientated towards pedagogical development; it also links such development to outcome (increased ICT confidence) and evidences that pedagogical development may be the immanent principle of Internet use.
Training and support orientated towards pedagogical development
Training and support orientated towards pedagogical development
Figure 5 The central relevance of training and support orientated towards ESOL-Internet pedagogical development
7.2 The intricate nature of Internet pedagogy
The four points with their sub-points discussed below are the key issues associated with pedagogy that arose from the data; they relate to (1) teaching skills’ issues; (2) materials’ issues; (3) learner needs’ issues; (4) physical environment issues. In figure 6 below it is held that more specific Internet pedagogy training and support is required to deal with the issues. The gamut of pedagogy issues advances the claim that pedagogy training is a consequential and intricate area that may also involve a consideration of teachers’ beliefs. Figure 6 resonates with Veen (1993) cited in Jones (2004:10) who states that pedagogy training is essential for the successful implementation of Internet usage and training courses that lack pedagogical aspects are likely to be unsuccessful.
More specific teacher Internet-pedagogy training/support to help
raise teacher awareness of the advantages of ESOL Internet use
More specific teacher Internet-pedagogy training/support to help raise teacher awareness of the advantages of ESOL Internet use
Figure 6 Some pedagogy-related issues that arose from the research
Figure 6 also suggests that training should be differentiated according to teachers’ experience and skills in using computers (i.e. in this way differing amounts of skills training can be delivered according to individual teachers’ needs (Veen, 1993 cited in Jones, 2004:10).
Permission was obtained from these students to present this picture in this article.
Plate 1 Restricted access to students in the language lab
7.3 Two key belief issues
In section 7.3 I will discuss two key belief issues that arose from the research, these areas relate to (1) a possible new teacher monitoring role; (2) the teacher perception that students did not interact as much in the lab.
(I) The teacher’s new monitor role
Data indicate that the role change brought about by monitoring students passively from the teacher computer via the Management Software as opposed to going round and speaking to students individually militated against some teachers’ beliefs. Plate 2 below illustrates what the teacher would see from her computer; here nine students are being monitored.
The monitor function offers the teacher a variety
of powerful options e.g. the teacher can: (1) enlarge any screen (2) take control of, or work with, any
student computer (3) send what any student has on the screen
to any number of other students. (4) To monitor any number or chosen
combination of students (Plate 2 shows nine students being monitored)
The monitor function offers the teacher a variety of powerful options e.g. the teacher can:
(1) enlarge any screen
(2) take control of, or work with, any student computer
(3) send what any student has on the screen to any number of other students.
(4) To monitor any number or chosen combination of students (Plate 2 shows nine students being monitored)
Plate 2 The monitor function
T2 with regard to monitor functions in (T2/3/12) revealed that I think this ‘me and them’ relationship is a bit difficult. It’s not something I’m comfortable with because I don’t do it a lot in my classrooms. The classroom is more open. I don’t usually use the monitor function. I prefer to go round individually.
(II) Lack of interaction (also pedagogy-related)
A further issue bears on the teacher belief that the lab had affected interaction with, or between students i.e. teachers and students interacted less in English in the lab than in the non-ICT classroom. T6 for instance held that I don’t feel it’s teaching in the traditional sense; there is no interaction, I don’t believe it takes the place of the personal interaction (T6/2/28).
7.3.1 Using technology to reinforce existing practice (belief-related)
With regard to whether technology is being used as a servant to reinforce existing teaching approaches or as a partner to change the way teachers and pupils interact with each other and with the tasks (a question posed by Cox et al., 2004: 5 and Moseley and Higgins et al 1999: 89), a key issue stated in the context of the research is how using technology in a way that did not reinforce existing teaching/learning approaches might have raised teachers’ awareness of the drawbacks of Internet use. The bullet points below highlight the key reasons why I felt this to be the case:
The arresting implication of the above points therefore is that in the context of Intercollege, an attempt should be made to use the Internet in a way that helps teachers to conflate established non-ICT-classroom and new ICT practices. This assertion accords with Albaugh (1997 stated in Jones 2004: 17) who attaches weight to teachers tending to ‘adopt a new technology when that technology helps them to do what they are currently doing better’. Moreover Schwienhorst (1999, 4) asserts that it is important to emphasise the role of the computer as assisting traditional classroom discourse.
7.4 Student epistemologies
Students epistemologies refers to the conception of how one comes to know; students will have nurtured such a concept throughout their previous educational encounters (Laurillard, 2002: 202-3). A relevant data claim regarding epistemologies appertained to how teachers believed students had had learner expectations about how they should be taught; the germane student-epistemology issues in the study comprised:
(1) some negative student feeling pertaining to lab-lessons not being like traditional lessons.
(2) the need to connect Internet materials to course examinations.
The ramifications of not addressing the above points had related to some students apparently becoming concerned, critical and/or de-motivated. This observation resonates with Laurillard (2002: 202) who expresses the belief that students have conceptions of what learning is and how it should be done. The key implication of issues above is the degree to which they had been de-motivating for teachers, and the extent to which they raised awareness regarding the drawbacks of Internet use.
In figure 7 below I have presented the fundamental issues that may need to be addressed in Internet lessons with regard to student epistemologies. The hypothesis the figure puts forward is based on teacher Internet lesson analyses and relates to how certain types of Internet lesson pedagogies create epistemological problems (i.e. pedagogies that do not address 8.1.1 bullet points). The outcome of figure 7 resonates with Laurillard (2002: 202) who with regard to the use of technology in learning, draws attention to the need to ‘inculcate an appropriate conception of learning, or desirable epistemology’, in the student’s mind. Laurillard (2002: 203-4) maintains that a process of discussion with students about the status of knowledge, how it can be known and how it can be learned is necessary with regard to developing an appropriate epistemology. However, a concomitant of such discussion, in my opinion is the teacher having a clear conception of how this can be done with the Internet. The analyses of teacher Internet lessons suggest that a lengthy process of reflection and innovation is necessary to develop such an understanding. The figure also poses (i.e. as asserted in Stepp-Greany 2002: 165) the issue of the need for more research in the domain of teachers’ understanding of student perceptions of language learning in an ICT setting.
Teachers being hesitant about student improvement brought about be using the Internet arose as an issue in the research; moreover it had potential ramifications for change.
· Teacher evaluation of learning
Collated research data indicated that teachers had initially been positive about student progress during their first interview. However in subsequent interviews they appeared to have become increasingly tentative or equivocal about whether using the Internet had led to any improvements. Moreover, although there was a feeling among teachers that speaking and listening skills were substantive skills, they had not been, or apparently could not be, practised in the lab. This was perceived to be a drawback (it may have led to raised awareness of the drawbacks of Internet usage). Teachers therefore might also have been hesitant about improvement brought about by using the Internet, because they had not been conversant with methods of measuring it, that is:
(1) In section 7.4 on student epistemologies I noted that there was teacher uncertainty about how to connect lab work with exams.
(2) Speaking and listening skills apparently could not be/had not been practised; therefore teachers could not link any betterment in those skills to Internet lab classes.
A possible outcome of not perceiving a higher rate of language acquisition is it increases teachers’ awareness of the drawbacks of using the ESOL Internet i.e. some literature on change maintains that teachers that perceive no improvement in pupil learning may not have positive attitudes to change (e.g. Guskey 1989: 445).
It is doubtful that the use of the Internet in TESOL will be a ‘passing fad’: it is highly likely that things will get better i.e. technology use will improve as technological innovations worldwide are made. As our understanding of how to use the Internet gets better, and more research findings are disseminated, the way we use it will improve. This study therefore suggests a substantive domain for future research is finding out more about how the Internet can be used as a tool and not controller of existing traditional practice.
A lesson example that incorporates the principles discussed in this paper is available on http://www.englishlab.intercol.edu/internetlessons/ (click on ‘an example of sound Internet pedagogy’). Internet lessons are also available on the site below NB these lessons are suitable for approximately beginner to lower-intermediate level. They should be made available to the student in electronic form; these lessons were written by Katarzyna Rysiewicz from Intercollege (http://www.englishlab.intercol.edu/internetlessons/).
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 Teachers either had Masters or Doctorates in ESOL-related disciplines. Some staff were pursuing Doctorates in areas of TESOL or English Literature.
 English for Speakers of Other Languages
 Information and Communications Technology
 Laurillard (2002: 202-3) holds that students will have nurtured throughout all their previous educational encounters a conception of how one comes to know i.e. their conception of what learning is and how it should be done.
 I.e. with the exception of T6 and partly T4, who were more critical initially possibly because they had been using the lab prior to taking part in my interviews