From video to internet, technology increasingly offers a wide selection of material and activities which may be useful in the language classroom. Quantity is not, however, a guarantee of quality. Higgins (1995: 37) says that "Computers in language learning supply us with a banquet, not a medically prescribed diet" and that effectively illustrates the challenge facing a language teacher today when presented with a wealth of possible resources but often limited time and training to deal with them.
What is important to consider when faced with this banquet is that as Hardistry & Windeatt (1988: 118) point out, technology-based lessons need to be linked to syllabus and integrated into courses. The greatest difficulties, but also the best results, are embedded within this challenge. What follows is an example of how video and computer-based material can be applied to a specific teaching context and need.
Needs and Aims:
Having had difficulties in attempting to aid a particular class in their approach to and vision of what a specific exam question involved, a new attempt was considered using different media.
The Exam Question:
CPE Use of English paper, Section B is a "comprehension and summary task based on a text of 550-650 words in length" (C.P.E. Handbook 1998: 29). Through up to fifteen questions students are required to demonstrate their general and detailed comprehension of the text with answers to questions which range from brief but concise explanation of certain words and expressions to more detailed explanations and finally a 60-80 word summary. The next example the students would be asked to do was The Money Game, a discussion of how the author saw money change sports. It came with model answers and explanations.
The group concerned was of eight students in their first year of a two year Cambridge Proficiency Exam preparation course. With one exception they all used computers regularly for work or studies. The group, while enjoying the contact with English provided by the classes, regarded the discipline of exam preperation as being difficult and often boring. Even though they had never faced a similar type of task before (in FCE or CAE) they tended to avoid the challenge, finding it more frustrating than motivating.
During the nine month course the students have two exams. In their mid-term they had been given an abbreviated version of this question and had not performed well. They were within a month of their final exam which included a full example of this question. Moving to the second year of the course depended on the results obtained in this exam so both students and teacher were under some pressure to come to terms with this task.
Throughout the course the students in this class had always reacted positively to the use of technology. Video material was often used both for listening and vocabulary work and as an introduction to topics. The use of CD-ROMS and internet for skills practice sessions had always been very successful in terms of student motivation and the language produced. If adapted correctly technology could prove an appropriate way of resolving the problem outlined above.
How video is used will vary from level to level as discussed by Allan (1985: 73-74) moving from highly controlled exposure to language at a basic level to video as "the provider of real world experience" at advanced. Off-air recordings had previously stimulated and motivated this group of students so relevant Ďoff-airí material could provide a stimulating introduction to the general theme of money and sport.
Allan (1985: 30) points out that one of the advantages of students viewing authentic material is that "It puts the learner in the same position as that audience and demands the same exercise of language skills" and this in itself tends to be motivating, challenging and therefore productive. Previous experience with this class proved this to be correct. The group had frequently been stimulated by up to date news in English on video with their prior knowledge of the topics providing important aid to comprehension.
It was decided therefore to use news headlines followed by sport headlines from BBC World TV as an introduction to the theme of money in sport. The recording would be made on the same day as the class to take advantage of the stimulus provided by up-to-date material. Arcarioís (undated: 109-121) concept of "comprehensibility" would be taken into account when recording the material in order to provide reasonable quality of both image, sound and language.
The accompanying video worksheet was aimed at maximising student interest and stimulating prior knowledge to help their overall understanding. As the language level gets higher Willis (1983: 45) sees the role of video as moving from focus on language forms to focus on message. Global understanding can be highly motivating and useful but forms need not be neglected. Having understood the message it can be interesting to analyse the forms which created it. Along with aiding general comprehension the worksheet also encouraged prediction and exploration of the language and vocabulary associated with both the subjects dealt with and the overall context of news broadcasts. This further helped prepare the students for the text they would later deal with.
The computer-based component:
Deciding on how to incorporate an computer element which would aid the students with their task was more difficult. Previously, with multimedia CD-ROM or internet, existing electronic material had been exploited to provide and motivate general skills practice. In this case, however, students were faced with very specific pen and paper problem and one which appeared to have no direct computer connection.
Cobb & Stevens (1996: 121) recognise that while reading is usually easier on paper the computer can provide "the potential for overt interactivity." Possibilities of presenting the text on the computer with aids such as glossing which "could promote a deeper level of text comprehension" (Lomicka 1998: 41) were considered. While possibly different and motivating, this approach did not appear to offer much more than a dictionary and teacher combination in a normal class. More importantly, the answers were also a challenging part of the question in terms of their style and composition. The students required a program or set of tasks which if possible would interconnect text and writing tasks so that one could not be ignored at the expense of the other.
With this in mind, authoring seemed to be the logical area to investigate because as Jones & Fortescue (1991: 47) say it "provides a relatively trouble-free way of creating materials which are tailor-made to the needs and interests of their own students." Text Manipulation (TM) was particularly interesting with Cobb & Stevens (1996: 123) summarising the attractions: "Readers faced with a text that has been deconstructed in one of the ways described above must operate on it by questioning it or hypothesising about what it might mean or how it might fit together" This was the active analysis of a text required by this group of students.
Higgins (1986: 47) lent further encouragement describing the advantages of TM as an aid to intensive reading while Hewer (1997: 11) emphasised: "When used within well-designed tasks, TM software in general, and text reconstruction in particular, tend to promote the development and use of a wide range of language learning strategies." Appropriate use of TM could aid the students with the skills and strategies required for this particular Proficiency task in terms of both reading and writing and of how they work together.
WIDA Authoring Suite was used to achieve this through a combination of Gapmaster and Storyboard both of which allow the degradation of text to differing extents. The intention was that by guiding students through the reconstructing of model answers they would not only be encouraged to carefully consider the content and style of these, but also be stimulated into reading, approaching and understanding the original text in the way required. The range of aids and clues offered by these programs would further help the students in their overall understanding of the question and how to approach it. One potential drawback was outlined by Vanderpump (1985: 53) who notes that TM type activities may lead to over indulgence in uncreative guessing in the race to complete the text at all cost. The provision of a wide range of on-screen help aimed to avoid this and encourage more serious analysis.
From a) to g) the model answers were typed into the program with words deleted. The spaces reflected vocabulary which were felt to be vital to understanding the targeted lines in the text. Other aspects of the program were then used to help focus students further on the task of completing these answers and of how they were related to the question and the original text.
To help with the deleted vocabulary Text Hint provided definitions and the Shape of the missing words was permitted as was the Key. Text Help provided the number of marks for each correct answer and when there were two Text Help 2 indicated how these were distributed. The Introductory screen explained, and encouraged students to use, all these options.
Storyboard has the remaining questions for this text with all but some very basic words blanked out. This was much more difficult with the reconstruction focusing not only on vocabulary but also sentence structure and general writing style. The on screen introduction again encouraged students to use all the options available to make their task easier and more rewarding.
Help 1 guided students to the lines in text which answers referred to. Help 2 provided vocabulary aid. Help 3 provided a marking scheme and alternative model answers. The combination of these three would aid students into active criticism of text and encourage understanding of how to answer these questions once the text has been analysed. It was also possible to get a letter, a complete word and view the whole text as I felt having so much blanked out in a situation where there were more than one possible answers could be frustrating. Before attempting the final summary they were encouraged to type it on a word processor, print and then compare with the version provided through Storyboard.
Further concerns and expectations:
Hardistry & Windeatt (1988: 6) stress that computers are bad at teaching by themselves so students need guidance and supervision to derive maximum benefit from computer-based materials. Success of the designed material required active student utilisation of all aspects of the programs. It was envisaged that the teacher would have to highlight and encourage this fact, especially in the early stages where students on computers often tend to either panic and not know what to do, or rush ahead without thinking and in the process often lose their way.
To help focus students print material was included with a list of clearly defined stages outlining what had to be done to start the program and how to use it once running. For further emphasis each stage had to be ticked off, on paper, when completed. From previous experience it was recognised that accompanying print material tends to be left one side as the stimulus of the computer takes over. The intention was that the print material would aid at curbing initial haste and encourage studentís exploration of the different options the program offered.
The teacherís role was viewed very much as Fisher (1993: 58-60) describes it in terms of a manager and facilitator. In this class the teacher would initially aid students discover what the program offered and later help them focus more on, and help them deal with, the actual exam task they were attempting to understand through the computer. Fisher (1993: 73) continues to add that teachers in the computer class may be freer to provide individual attention while students can also be released from "usual classroom discourse frameworks". Individual attention could be very important in aiding students with their specific problems.
Above all, in this computer-orientated context, the expected reaction of students to a task they had previously avoided would hopefully be positive.
The material was relevant and stimulating and the worksheets served the purpose of stimulating discussion and awareness of the theme to be dealt with. In general, students were guided into an active viewing scenario, (Lonergan 1995: 11) and encouraged to practise a range of skills, and to use the video as a springboard to more general discussion as outlined by Willis (1983: 45) when referring to video as "stimulus". Overall, apart from general skills practice, the video section served as a positive and motivating lead-in to the subject area and exam task they would have preferred not deal with.
Ticking off the stages on the print material succeeded initially in focusing students on the procedure and the options the programs offered. As predicted they later ignored the printed sheet but by that stage they were working with the programs without problems and the teacher was freer to provide individual guidance if necessary. The range of help and hints available was widely used and appeared essential to successful re-construction of the original texts.
The Programs had one or two minor bugs at the beginning but students had no major problems using them.
Writing their own summary on a word processor, printing and then comparing to the WIDA version provided a change of activity and further stimulation.
They worked, through choice, in groups of two which allowed complementary speaking practice. As discussed by Abraham & Hsein-Chin (1991: 86-87) there are doubts about the quantity and quality of language produced in computer-based learning situations. Pennington & Esling (1996: 182) point out, however, that higher levels are those which will produce the greatest range probably because they face the least number of difficulties when faced with new, computer generated, situations. This appeared to be the case. The students were forced to respond orally in new, demanding situations and they did so effectively.
The teacher was active at all times, very much in the manner predicted earlier. Early in the lesson work the task centred on getting students familiar with what the program provided and how to use the different help options etc.. Later, as students got to know the mechanics and appeared convinced of its usefulness, the teacherís role altered to focus on aiding students to deal with the reading text and the comprehension questions themselves.
Their feedback through a survey at the end was highly positive. All the students said that after these two classes they felt more confident about this question, that they had learned some useful techniques for dealing with the task, that it would help them in their coming exam and that the computer program had not been difficult to use. All students also said they would like to do something similar again.
Using the stimulation provided by video followed by in-depth analysis of the exam task itself through the computer, the combined three hours worth of material was highly successful: student feedback and perceptions of what they had learned was positive; more homework was submitted at the end of the computer class than had been previously; and, in general, the students involved performed much better than they had previously on this particular question in their final exam two weeks later.
Occasionally, when using the computer programs, the students relied on guessing but in general they used all aspects of the programs actively and intelligently. This was achieved through a mixture of worksheet, teacher guidance and student appreciation of what they were achieving from the procedure.
Selecting carefully from the range of material available and applying it to the specific needs and goals of a given learning context is the challenge provided by growing awareness and access to technology in the language classroom. Hagen (1993: 21) says that "If software adds a new and interactive dimension to language learning, it is likely to yield better results than when it simply replicates a paper and pen exercise ". The material described above complies and the results outlined reflect the high degree of success which can be obtained with carefully prepared classes and material which connect technology to course and syllabus demands.
Nevertheless, as Fox, Labbett, Matthews, Romano-Hvid & Schostak (1992: 11) point out, one shouldnít neglect the time required by teacher when authoring and applying technology successfully. The banquet can occasionally be too attractive or simply too daunting with the temptation to gorge or to starve stronger than sitting down and developing that balanced diet. The rewards and potential, however, are far too promising to be left unexplored.
Furthermore, as we move into what Pennington (1996: 4) calls the phase of "Universal Computer Literacy" teachersí knowledge of, access to and ability to adapt technology for class room use will increase and thus the time and effort involved will be greatly reduced. The classes described above provide a glimpse of what can be achieved and hopefully of what will be attempted in the future.
Abraham R, Hsien-Chin L (1991) "Interaction Generated by 3 computer programs" in Dunkel P (Ed) Computer Assisted Language Learning and Testing
Allan M (1985) Teaching English with Video Harlow; Longman 1985
Arcario (undated: 109-121) in Motteram G & Slaouti D (1996-97) University of Manchester School of Education Distance Learning Educational Technology for ELT: MD355 Unit 4 p.30
Certificate of Proficiency in English Handbook (1998) Cambridge; University of cambridge
Cobb T and Stevens V (1996) "Computers and Reading in a Second Language" in Pennington M (Ed) The Power of CALL
Fisher E (1993) "The Teacherís Role in Language" in Scrimshaw P. (Ed.) Language, Classrooms and Computers
Fox J, Labbett B, Matthews C, Romano-Hvid C & Schostak J (1992) New Perspectives in Modern Language Learning Learning Methods Branch of the Department of Employment, University of East Anglia
Hagen S. (Ed) (1993) Using Technology in Language Learning London; CILT
Hardistry D and Windeatt S (1989) CALL Oxford; OUP
Harrison M (1994) Proficiency Testbuilder Oxford; Heinemann
Hewer S (1997) Text Manipulation London; CILT
Higgins J (1995) Computers and English Language Learning Oxford; Intellect
Higgins J (1996) "Reading, Writing and Pointing: Communicating with the computer" in Leech G and Candlin C (Eds) Computers in Language Teaching and Research
Jones C and Fortescue S (1991) Using Computers in the Language Classroom London; Longman 1991
Leech G and Candlin C (Eds) (1986) Computers in Language Teaching and Research London; Longman
Lomicka Lara L (1998) "To gloss or not to gloss: An investigation of reading comprehension online". Language Learning & Technology Vol. 1 No.2
Lonergan J (1995) Video in Language Teaching Cambridge; CUP
Pennington M (ed.) (1996) The Power of CALL Houston; Athelstan
Pennington M, Esling J (1996) "Spoken Language Skills" in Pennington M (Ed) The Power of CALL
Vanderpump E (1985) "Setting up the system" in Brumfit C, Phillips M & Skehan P. (Eds) ELT Documents 122: Oxford; Pergamon Press
Willis J (1983) "101 Ways to use Video" in McGovern J (ed) ELT Documents 114: Oxford; Pergamon Press
Copy of the task from Proficiency Testbuilder pages 115-117.
Appendix 1 continued
Appendix 1 continued
The video worksheet
You are going to watch a summary of the main news stories for a day last week.
-Before you watch: can you remember some national and international news stories from last week?
-Now watch and see if you predicted any of these stories. As you watch you man want to make some notes of what / who you see.
-After watching make some quick notes on the vocabulary / expressions you think may have been used in the commentary.
-Now work with a partner and see if you can build up parts of the script / commentary.
-Finally, letís watch again and compare. Give yourself a mark from 1 to 5, five it is exactly the same!
-What typically comes after the news?
Appendix 2 continued:
You are going to see a summary of sports results for Cricket, Tennis and Golf.
Worksheet for use in computer class.
Use of English, Section B
An experiment on the computer .....
from Testbuilder, Test 4 THE MONEY GAME (p.115-117)
Section B is quite difficult requiring some precision reading and summarising skills. You have seen this text in class and have done some thinking about the answers for homework so it is now time to complete the question. To help you do this we are going to use a computer program which will aid you complete the missing texts / answers. For questions a Ė g you will have to guess certain words to complete the texts while for the remainder you will only have selected words (ie you have to guess almost the complete text) so the exercise gets a little more difficult as we go. Remember that at all stages there are various ways of receiving additional help so read the instructions carefully. Tick them off as you do them so that you know exactly where you are. _____
Appendix 3 continued:
How to start:
Appendix 3 continued:
Summary of the two lesson plans.
Lesson 2: Computer room
Appendix 4 continued.
Copy of questionnaire used in the first class to highten student awareness of this particular task and what it involves.
Proficiency: Use of English Section B
1. Can you remember exactly what you have to do in this section?
2. How do you find it? Long? Boring? Stimulating? ....
3. In what ways is it difficult?
4. What factors should you bear in mind when writing a summary?
5. Which of these statements would you agree with?
Appendix 4 continued.
Feedback on the survey:
In general the survey provided a stimulus to encourage students consider what the question required. They rose to the challenge providing some astute analysis of exactly what was required. This was, however, combined with comments which highlighted how difficult, demanding and above all frustrating the question was perceived to be.
One quote (in response to question 3) may be used to summarise the tone: "Long, boring, unstimulating. needs enormous care not to fail at grammar, preposition and all tha tstuff ... and you even have to show you understand the text ..." The student quite rightly identified the challenge of both reading and writing which is embedded in the task and hopefully in the computer-based material they later did.
Feedback survey from students.
Proficiency: Use of English Section B: Feedback
We have spend some time working on an example of this question, in class, for homework and also with some aid from the computer. Hopefully the process has been useful but letís see what you think.
1. Do you feel more confident now about this question? Why?
2. Are there any techniques or general ideas you have learned over the past two lessons which may help you do this question well in the future?
3. Was the computer program difficult or easy to use? Why?
4. Did you tick off the steps on the instruction photocopy? ___________
5. Did you use the Help sections? _________
How much? A lot / a little / occasionally? __________
Were they useful? __________ Why? ___________________________________
6. Did you use prompts (for letters, shapes, the complete text)? _________
How much? A lot / a little / occasionally? __________
Appendix 5 continued:
7. Did using the computer make answering this question easier,
more interesting, more complicated etc? Why?
8. There were two parts to the computer program, the FIRST when you had to guess a word and the SECOND when you had to guess most of the text.
Was one easier to use than the other? _______ Why? __________________________
Was one task easier than the other? ______ Why? _____________________________
Was one more useful than the other? ______ Why? ___________________________
9. Do you think the last two lessons helped you do this particular example of Section B well? Why?
10. You have a full Section B in the exam next week: do you think the last two lessons have helped prepare you for that? In what way?
11. Would you like to do something similar next year? Why?
12. Would it be possible to improve the computer program in any way?