Chapter 6: Conclusions

Having begun by describing a specific context and then discussing the theory and practice of developing materials for exploiting the WWW for language teaching within that context, Chapter Five provided a summary of the results and some initial conclusions. This chapter will draw more general conclusions and highlight certain areas for future consideration and research.

6.1 Implementing technology within a specific context.

Higgins (1995: 37) says that: "Computers in language learning supply us with a banquet, not a medically prescribed diet." That effectively illustrates the challenge facing a language teacher or learner today when presented with a wealth of possible resources and multiple means of exploitation, but often limited time, experience and training to deal effectively with them. There is a clear need for research into, and description of, what best provides this "healthy diet". This thesis has been an exploration of material which is designed to encourage a move from viewing the WWW in terms of immediate solutions, as "fast food" to a more educated understanding of the elements that contribute to form the WWW. The aim of the material is to equip students with the tools necessary to select and use information form the WWW in the same way people intelligently select from a variety of menus in a whole range of restaurants in order to find what is best suited to their given circumstances.

What has been mentioned throughout this thesis is the point made by Kern and Warschauer (2000: 2): "The computer, like any other technological tool used in teaching (e.g. pencils and paper, blackboards, overhead projectors, tape recorders), does not in and of itself bring about improvements in learning. We must therefore look to particular practices of use in particular contexts ..." to answer the question of whether or not network-based language teaching and by extension the Internet: "... lead to better language learning."

This thesis has been an exploration of precisely the above point. Chapter One outlined a context and a series of problems while Chapter Two explored some of the key areas to be explored when examining the use of the WWW for language learning in more detail. Following on from this, Chapter Three develops a pedagogical framework for the development of materials and an approach for what is considered effective use of the WWW within the given context of ELI. Chapter Four outlines in more detail the actual material designed and how it was implemented while Chapter Five focuses on what is, generally, a very positive evaluation.

Overall, the general approach and initial conclusions from the evaluation appear to prove what Fischer (1999: 208) says:

"Language instructors around the world have found that effective language education is achieved by weaving the WWW's linguistic resources into personal lesson plans. The WWW is thus not an end, but an effective tool, a means to an end: the best quality language instruction. The WWW cannot replace face-to-face linguistic interaction."

The materials developed for the implementation of WWW in classes at ELI made no attempt to replace traditional interaction or even traditional teaching. Rather, the intention was that of integrating new technologies and what they offered as seamlessly as possible into an existing teaching context, while at the same time realising that the technologies themselves would inevitably change that context in the process. Warschauer (1996) supports such an approach emphatically:

"As with the audio language lab 'revolution' of 40 years ago, those who expect to get magnificent results simply from the purchase of expensive and elaborate systems will likely be disappointed. But those who put computer technology to use in the service of good pedagogy will undoubtedly find ways to enrich their educational program and the learning opportunities of their students."

As a result, what has been examined at the ELI is, in many ways, a limited use of the WWW; because of the time scale and a context in which teachers’ and students’ knowledge of new technologies remains basic, the initial focus has been on the simplest possible use of WWW-based materials. The site provides a starting point, by selecting material and providing very specific guidance as to possible tasks and potential use. From experience at ELI this type of scaffolding, whereby the teachers and learners are provided with support at all stages if required, is essential and on the basis of initial evaluation has been successful in encouraging pedagogically sound exploitation of the WWW in class. The intention is, however, that over time such tasks may develop in complexity and, equally importantly, students may become more autonomous in their use of the material both in and outside of normal class time.

Eastment (1998a) is one author who stresses Communication as a key WWW feature. What has been done at ELI is to keep this within the classroom initially, exploiting controllable, integrated WWW activities and input for skills practice within a traditional classroom environment within this context. The WWW essentially provides the impulse. Over time it may provide much more, including a fuller exploration of the medium itself as a means of communication on other, more complex levels, rather than simply a source of input.

Jones and Fortescue (1991: introduction) make a very important point: "CALL is still largely in the hands of the enthusiastic, individual teacher and only rarely is it part of a larger team effort." After almost ten years of at ELI, this remains to a large extent true. Teachers have explored the medium, have developed their own individual approaches and tasks, but only to a limited extent and always on the basis of clear models and guided practice. What has been explored in this thesis is the provision of such guidance for the use of the WWW, indicating what can be used and how it can best be integrated into existing teaching approaches and styles. The material is also clearly aimed at empowering teachers and learners to further experiment by themselves. As the evaluation suggests, a well-developed site, with carefully designed materials, may aid over time in scaffolding both learners’ and teachers’ learning, ultimately empowering teachers and their students to become more autonomous and less dependent on pre-designed material and the efforts of a small group of enthusiasts.

6.2 Issues for the future

Referring back to Pennington (1996: 4) and the stages the author distinguishes in the evolution of computers in education, we can clearly see the ELI material discussed in this thesis as an example of a move between Phase Three and Four whereby educational access to computers increases and in the process, training and support material aids the move into the capitalisation of computers (Phase Four), and helps educators begin to take possession of computers (Phase Five). If these stages are properly supported and effected, Phase Six, Universal Computer Literacy should be a logical consequence.

Perhaps it is unavoidable, but what has emerged clearly from this study is that, in the current context at ELI, progression through these phases requires a process of active management: from design of material to training, use of the WWW requires careful planning and step-by-step guidance. The hope is that effective groundwork may reduce the long-term dependence on such guidance. ELI has begun that process of creating a framework for more autonomous, long-term appreciation and understanding of the range of material and resources available. At this stage it is, however, also possible to draw some conclusions about how use of the WWW in language learning may need to develop for the future.

6.2.1 Practicalities

As with the initial design of materials and their implementation, any consideration of how the material may be developed and used in the future automatically implies a number of practical issues and, as has been seen, these are crucial for the effective and efficient use of the site.

One simple problem is that of general maintenance: links disappear, content changes and therefore may not suit the original tasks set. Within a school, coursebooks are also changed, with the corresponding need for new material to be developed for new topics. McCarthy (2002) makes the point that after hours of design and research: "... the software produced ends up having a working life of only two or three years before fading into oblivion." There are a whole range of factors which mean the site must be actively maintained, even before one considers the question of further development. These include the continual expansion and changing environment of the WWW itself and what it offers, which in turn is highly dependent on the growing acceptance of the technology available. In the future, it will be increasingly feasible to use real-time audio and video feeds for example.

Levy (1997: 202) says that: "From the physical perspective, for students to be able to use the computer as a language learning tool whenever they need it, computers have to be readily available in the classroom as well as in the self-access centre, or computer laboratory." This may be a further avenue of investigation: the WWW releases the material from the computer room so that teachers and students may access it at home, in a cyber-café etc. What may be an interesting avenue to explore is the possibility of bringing an Internet connection directly to the classrooms themselves. On the other hand, initial enthusiasm for WWW in homes and increasing availability of broadband access has not necessarily meant increased access for many students at home: the WWW is a largely uncontrolled source of information, which many parents appear increasingly reluctant to allow their teenage children free access to at home.

6.2.2 Investigation / Training

Maintenance also covers the area of continued promotion and training in terms of staff, students and parents, both existing and new. As McCarthy (2002) says: "In conclusion, the key to successful use of technology in language teaching lies not in hardware or software but in ‘human ware’ our human capacity as teachers to plan, design, and implement effective educational activity." While exposure and effective use of the site appears to stimulate interest and aid autonomy through long-term and continued use, it is equally easy to forget the material exists: it is very easy for a teacher to remain within the familiar traditional classroom and avoid excursions to the potentially more stimulating but also more threatening environment of a computer room and the scope of the WWW.

Equally so, for a student outside of class time, it may be more immediately attractive to explore other facets of the WWW rather than exploit its language learning potential; indeed, as is very common in Spain, it is possible to surf the WWW without necessarily being exposed to English at all. Nevertheless, as electronic literacy develops and students become more aware of the opportunities offered by the WWW for language learning, may provide students of ELI with an initial starting place for such autonomous language learning. These pages provide a collection of material which has been successfully exploited in class and which, as a result, may also provide students with the impetus to explore the area further. Moreover, the support tools and ideas to enhance and guide their exposure to, and appreciation of, the WWW as a source of authentic language input may in turn, increase their ability to use such material in a constructive way.

The website is, at the moment, as seen in Chapter Five, an effective starting point in that it guides students towards sources of material on the WWW and gives an initial introduction to how best these sources can be used. Nevertheless, while the research has indicated that the site does provide for exposure to, and effective exploitation of, authentic language sources on the WWW, there is little evidence that in their brief experience of the site students have developed the skills necessary to fully appreciate its potential outside of class time. The development of such autonomy will take time and probably more extensive use in class and a wider range of on-line tools to guide students’ use of the material and the WWW in general.

Closely linked to the necessity for continuous training is that of parallel research, in order to effectively evaluate the materials and their exploitation. Collecting data on what is happening is essential for the planning of further training and the preparation of materials. As Windeatt in Leech and Candlin (1986:94) point out: "... the long-term effect of using computers is an essential area for investigation, and especially the way in which learners' attitudes to computers change over time." It has already been noted how appears to have made the WWW more accessible for teachers and students, but is still only in its early stages. What remains to be seen is how that initial enthusiasm can be best exploited and developed. Will low levels and younger learners who begin using simple vocabulary and grammar practice games become effective, autonomous users of the wider potential offered by the site? Will teachers make a similar progression and feel freer to develop their own tasks, find their own sites and thus adapt the material even more to specific classes? Finally, but crucially, what will be the perceived and the real language benefits from such developments? All these areas require constant investigation. What has been initially noted in this thesis is that they are avenues worth exploring. The findings presented in Chapter Five provide some initial positive results with equally clear areas for further investigation such as the questions of how to encourage long-term use by a wider range of teachers, how best to encourage students’ use outside of ELI and how on-line support features can be best exploited.

Closely related to the above is what Eastment (1998) says: "To cope with the demands of the new technology, the key need will be for teacher training. This training, however, should not be in the form of learning how to use specific packages, which change with alarming frequency, but in the acquisition of core skills." These include those of searching, evaluating, creating and integrating. The site is only the first step on the road to developing these skills for teachers and learners at ELI. As a first step it has proved quite effective but the long term success will require continued development and attention to training needs.

6.2.3 Other areas for future exploration

Chun and Plas (2000: 151), when describing follow-up activities based around web material, such as those used in the worksheets: taking notes, writing up summaries, discussing findings etc. point out that: "Although these activities may be inspired by hypermedia environments, they are usually carried out in more traditional, non-networked means." This is certainly true for the ELI. One consideration for the future is how to maximise the full potential of the WWW not simply as a source of material, but as a means of communication. This may take various forms.

One logical path to explore is that of publishing on-line. Scheopp (2001) highlights the logical development: "... the ability to publish quality web pages is the natural progression in Web literacy." This has been explored at ELI on a relatively localised basis, depending on individual teachers, their interest and personal involvement. It is, however, an exploitation of the potential of the WWW which remains to be explored on a wider level. A further exploration of the potential of the WWW for communication is that of email contact. Again, on a very personalised level, various such exchanges have existed at ELI, one of which even culminated in students developing their own material for the ELI web site in response to the website the exchange students already had in Ireland. Such an isolated exchange may provide an insight into what could be a potentially powerful use of the WWW in the future, furthering communication outside of the classroom, and thus taking more advantage of the possibilities of authenticity and learner autonomy provided.

Summarising the potential for the future, Warschauer and Meskill (2000) say:

"... the advantages of using new technologies in the language classroom can only be interpreted in the light of the changing goals of language education and the changing condition of post-industrial society. Language educators now seek not only (or even principally) to teach student the rules of grammar, but rather to help them gain apprenticeship into new discourse communities. This is accomplished through creating opportunities for authentic and meaningful interaction both within and outside the classroom, and providing students the tools for their own social, cultural, and linguistic exploration."

Essentially, by using new technologies effectively in the language classroom we are preparing students better for what they will eventually experience in the real world: communication in English through these new technologies on a variety of levels, from email exchanges to simple website navigation in a foreign language, from video conferencing with fellow students to exchanges with teachers and native speakers, the potential is immense but, for that very reason, equally imposing.

Effectively, as Shetzer and Warschauer (2000) discuss in more detail, there is a need to be prepared for "electronic literacy" which the authors divide into the three broad and not mutually exclusive areas of communication, construction and research. In a different paper, Warschauer (2000) discusses the impact of recent developments in information and communication technology in terms of the following major areas: new literacies, new genres, new identities and new pedagogies. Quite clearly is only the first step on what is still an undefined but unquestionably long road in the quest for a fuller understanding of, and familiarity with, the WWW for language learning.

6.3 Conclusions

Although not referring specifically to the WWW, Hardisty and Windeatt (1988:145) provide a very accurate summary of how initial the use of WWW in language teaching and learning can be overviewed: "We feel strongly that many of the areas which are now labelled as CALL will in the future be seen as standard classroom activities, just as the use of textbook is not considered a separate branch of methodology with the label TALL." Indeed, this is the general goal of a site such as in the not too distant future such material may become as standard a teaching and learning tool as books are now. Nevertheless, what is quite clear is that this will not happen automatically, and more importantly, that without adequate research and investigation into how best to exploit the material and technologies available, it may not happen at all. provides an example of how to begin the exploration of the potential of WWW for language teachers and learners and this discussion of what has been involved in its development provides ample areas for further reflection and research, as will the continued development of the site itself. In this sense, the material partially answers the more global question referred to in Chapter One:

Would the development and use of these materials aid consolidation of computer literacy as identified by Pennington in Phase Six and ultimately help pave the way towards Phase Seven and a networked world?

The answer is yes, but a qualified one in that the procedures necessary for the effective development and implementation of material which furthers this movement is complex, time-consuming and in constant need of investigation and evaluation. The potential is quite clear, but successful long-term exploitation will require extensive support and guidance. The website,, is an example of a starting point for one specific context.