30 07 2010

Benefits and Methodological Implications
of
ICT in Language Learning

1. Introduction

ICT as a medium for teaching is becoming more and more admitted. Many big Universities and language Schools have applied ICT to improve their education system. Some teachers appreciate its values; others tend to be rather reserved to the option of having the electronic environment “overtake the classroom”.

Many experiences of using e-learning as a support classes have proved to be positive and stimulating both for students and the teacher.

In language teaching, the educational and tutoring support available can be used in creating the e-learning environments for teaching general language courses in different languages at different levels. At the same time, ICT enables us to foster student-centered learning, individualization and support building up a sense of belonging to a community. the article below will discuss the use of ICT in Language learning in detail.

2. Theoretical background

2.1 Student motivation and e-learning

ICT supports the modern principles of learning and language acquisition. Individualization, interaction and student motivation which are considered crucial in modern education theories, are necessarily a part of the process in ICT. As Theobald (2006: 1) points out, some students need extrinsic tools to increase their motivation. Intrinsic motivation, however, is “the ultimate goal of educators for their students.” Intrinsic motivation is often attributed to finding a value in what students do. Theobald (2006: 1) concludes: Helping students find value in learning through the implementation of various instructional strategies and multiple alternative  and  authentic forms  of  assessments,  while maintaining high  standards of  student performance  in  an environment which encourages students to do their best work by effective, nurturing teachers, will help increase the motivational levels of all students.

Hasanbegovic (2005) reviews that it is predicted and evidenced that intrinsically motivated students do more in a fixed time period as a result of their higher effort and persistence and will do different things in computer environments that allow for this liberty of choice.

A well-balanced ITC environment will enable students to feel the above points and stay motivated throughout the learning process. Motivation, individualization, learning in context and the activation of the learner – all buzzwords in modern education – are often a part and a parcel of a successful ICT support.

2.2 Learner responsibility and teacher’s role

An equally important aspect is learner responsibility, which is the students´ capacity to pursue their goals. A modern student, especially at the university level, must know why and what he needs to study, and to be able to design and stick to their personal study plan. Wilson (1981: 61) points out that student development through the university years can be seen as follows:

One view is that student growth occurs through an invariant sequence of stages or levels in which progress from stage to stage implies a restructuring and reorganization of what went before. ´Higher´ stages are qualitatively different from ´lower´ stages in terms of the way the individual thinks, feels or acts. Another influential view is that student development is to be seen in terms of mastery of a series of developmental “tasks” which involve the individual’s maturation in the different aspects of intellect, emotions and social relationships.

Today, the role of the teacher is more like an advisor, an expert in the field whose task is to support the student’s development. This is much more creative and much more challenging than the traditional “design and control the study process” concepts. Teachers are powerful motivational socialisers. Being the officially designated leaders within the classroom, they embody group conscience, symbolize the group’s unity and identity, and serve as a model or a reference. They also function as an “emotional amplifier” of the group whose appeals and examples are critical for mobilizing the group. Simply speaking, it is to lead, direct and energize, that is, to motivate.

At the same time, the responsibilities going along with the teaching profession are increasing. It suggests that the teacher has a wider responsibility than the single classroom and includes contributing to the school, the system, other students, the wider community and collective responsibilities of teachers themselves as a group and the broader profession.

2.3.  The possibilities for ICT

It is suggested that ICT and web-based learning solutions offer the learners the possibilities for making the learning process more interesting and challenging. Some of the capacities here are attractive and enthusing. J P Gee suggests (2009) that the principles these follow often relate to the principles of encouraging active learning. Out of the capacities that Gee relates to positive learning techniques in video-games.

Also, Gottlieb (2009: 26-37) states that the modernity of the medium and its parallels to the developments in virtually all other spheres of human life, where the digital revolution reaches from citizen journalism to museum pedagogy , help to make it attractive.

3. The use ICT in teaching general language courses

3.1 The web-based courses and the main goals of using ICT support

ICT is proved to be a good environment for general language courses at different levels. The courses have been offered as a support for ordinary classroom teaching, i.e. the web-based courses usually:

  • run parallel to the face-to-face seminars
  • support what has been learned in the classroom
  • include exercises on texts/ grammar covered in the classroom
  • learning and acquiring new vocabulary

This can be done in different ways, for example using the more traditional solutions like:

  • on-line vocabulary exercises discussed in the classroom
  • links to self-correcting grammar exercises
  • information about different projects
  • e-mail
  • forum
  • self-tests on-line
  • personal feedback on different skills or on accomplishing different tasks

Out of the areas mentioned above, power-point presentations and exercises integrated with the activities carried out in the classroom deserve further attention.

3.1.1. Power-point presentations

Something as basic as power-point presentations has proved to be most popular with students. Presented in the classroom, the power-point presentations remain up on the net, and offer students the possibility of revisiting the presentations they liked the most, checking up the new vocabulary items presented in the power-point reports, and revising new knowledge on topics interesting for them.

3.1.2 Extension to activities in the classroom

Exercises designed as an extension to activities carried out in the classroom support the acquisition of vocabulary, forming one’s personal opinion, and being able to express it on topical issues. It enables students to understand their area of specialization and many other important issues in a wider context and to put it into a perspective that stretches beyond their university, country, and continent.

Another important aspect is the possibility of immediately shaping the learning materials to answer the students´ needs. It may, for example, be appropriate to add a grammar or vocabulary exercise in an area/ or on a topic that needs active learning or revision. Encouraging students to cooperate in the process of creating and shaping the study process keeps them interested and motivated.

3.2 Web-based solutions integrated with classroom learning

The web-based solutions also offer good possibilities for carrying out eye-to-eye lessons in the computer classroom. The ICT solutions can be used as a support for different classroom activities, e.g. the group-work and pair-work assignments in class, but also for follow-up independent work on classroom activities for students with a different learning style, or as preparatory work. The goal in all these instances is encouraging student-centered learning and the principles of individualization (different interests/ levels/ needs).    E-learning as a support for learning in the classroom enables us to make the study process more flexible and to better take into consideration the needs of different students. The students are active and “a part of the process”.

3.2.1. Multimedia possibilities

For example, the Web-based environment can host different multimedia possibilities for developing speaking skills. It may be done in many different ways. One of the favorites of our students have been the jig-saw pair-work activities that involve: watching different video-clips, answering the different questions to both students that become in essence a short summary of the clip they have seen, and finally, replaying the respective videos with one’s partner with the voice on mute, the respective student in charge of a certain video providing a voice-over.

If you find an informative and interesting clip on a subject area you are currently working on with advanced students, such an activity can provide students with the latest information, buzz-words and key expressions on the subject area, at the same time offering them a fair amount of challenge.

3.2.2. Finding and sharing background information through the Web

Another popular activity is finding additional information on the texts, phenomena or people spoken about in our articles or student presentations. We often build this up as a group-work activity. And while in ordinary class-room settings the feedback information from the buzz groups remains preserved in our memory, or at paper boards, the ICT learning environment enables students to access their final feedback posted there also later during the course, wherever they are – at home or in Hawaii. Also, the current licenses allow us to keep the courses open for participants for at least half a year after attending the course, thus offering perfect possibilities for a longitudinal learning process, and revisiting the materials beyond the official end of the learning cycle. This possibility, coupled with the attention of students from parallel groups and “future generations”, is most stimulating, and even encourages them to have an unofficial friendly competition on whose report or power-point presentation looks the best.

4. The benefits of using e-learning as a support for classroom teaching

4.1.  E-learning as a support for classroom teaching

ICT as a support for ordinary class-room teaching, and as a part of it, has the obvious benefits of:

  • easy access whenever and wherever you wish it
  • dematerialization (less paper – more trees)
  • enabling us to use modern methodologies
  • individualization (different interests/ levels/ needs)

4.2.  Creating the feeling of belonging together

In education, as elsewhere, increased cooperation and neglecting of the earlier rigid borderlines, is becoming more and more of a common practice. Such an approach also helps students to retain their motivation. Cocea and Weibelzahl (2006: 2-3) point to the connection between e-learning and the Social Cognitive Learning Theory SCT. In their view, personalization, adaptivity, affective tutoring and collaborative learning, as well as motivation – all aspects also we have emphasized above – all help to increase student satisfaction and learning quality:

Personalization aims to make learning more effective and satisfying by adapting to the learner’s needs and preferences. Among the benefits of adapting to the learner’s motivation are: enhanced motivation and involvement, empowered learners – making them more responsible and active, increased satisfaction, better quality of learning etc.

ICT also fits with collaborative learning, given the social framework taken in consideration by this theory and the way learning is influenced by the social context.

Rather contrary to what is sometimes supposed of a web-based environment, the experience shows that it often joins the students in the group. Offering them the possibility to communicate in an environment “natural” for them, the web-based course, if built up in a way that enables the students to participate and open up. This can be supported through helping students create common databases. In our case, the different power-point presentations and on-line dictionaries created by students have been the most popular items, especially so when the data-base is built up over different study years and together with the parallel group(s). Needless to say, the profiles of friends from a parallel group, and their small roster presentations of themselves also deserve great interest by the fellow students.  And  while  commonly  created  on-line  dictionaries  can  prove  motivating  for  learning and  creating terminology for advanced students, consider how useful even creating a small roster presentation, or reading those of others, can be for a beginner-level general language student in the first months of their learning practice. In addition to common learning activities mentioned above, this can also be done through documenting different joint activities. Different common study visits or museum visits, often especially when also documented, and shared, discussed and analyzed through the Web, help to develop the sense of belonging together. Creating a feeling of belonging enables students to open up, to share more information about themselves to group-mates.
The supportive experience in “real life” encourages students to share more information digitally. And also vice versa – the information presented in the virtual world makes a good foundation for developing good relations in the classroom. Such processes of merging the virtual with real life, relying for technologies to find a feeling of belonging, and rejoicing over the friends´ real life presence happens all the time in many modern lives today. Allowing our students to pursue this way we allow them to communicate and develop in modes and context familiar to and inspiring for them.

It is important to remember that ICT can also help to create special “bridges” between the study periods, different study-years and student groups, helping to shape the feeling of “us”.

Conclusion

As demonstrated in the article above, the level of values and ethics may guide teachers through choosing their medium, procedures and communication patterns with communicating with their students. Behind many of the seemingly practical choices there is a worldview based on active research and being familiar with the recent theoretical approaches. Many years of teaching practice and – as a teacher in different learning groups – participant observation also helps to analyze and shape the processes. Hopefully, anchorage in deeper theories, principles and ethics can support students in making meaningful choices.

ICT solutions can be used as a support for different classroom activities, group-work and  pair-work  assignments;  for  independent  work;  for  enforcing  student-centered  learning  and  the  principles  of individualization; forming one’s personal opinion, and being able to express it on topical issues.

References

Cocea, M. & Weibelzahl, S. (2006). Motivation – included or excluded from e-learning. http://www.easy-hub.org/stephan/cocea-celda06.pdf.

Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.

Gee, J. P. (2008 Are videogames good for knowledge acquisition? Svenska kulturfonden. Oy Nord Print. 8-23.

Hasanbegovic, J. (2005). Review of Martens, R. L et al (2004). The impact of intrinsic motivation on e-learning in authentic computer tasks.    Journal of Computer Assisted    Learning, Vol. 20, pp. 368-376. http://www.elearning-reviews.org/ topics/ pedagogy/ readiness/ 2004-martens-et-al-impact-intrinsic-motivation-elearning.

Theobald, M. (2006). Increasing Student Motivation: Strategies for Middle and High School Teachers. Corwin Press. ASAGE Publications Company: Thousand Oaks, California.


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