Vol. 3. No. 4 R-5 January 1999
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

New Ways of Using Computers in Language Teaching

Tim Boswood, Ed. (1997)
Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
Pp. xii + 309
ISBN 0-939-79169-2
US $27.95 (members US $24.95)

The recent enormous information boost has changed our schools drastically. In the computer age challenges have gained a new quality, and it is teachers especially, with their pedagogic responsibility, who have gained a special role to play. They have to meet this responsibility not only by familiarizing themselves with the new technology, but by developing new strategies for coping with hitherto unforseen masses of data and for assessing their value in the educational context.

The title of this book, New Ways of Using Computers in Language Teaching, is both its program and promise. Let me say right from the start that the promise is kept; in this collection of activities, language teachers show others how to maximize the potential of computer software packages to help learners improve their language and communication skills. Readers are given reliable illustrations of computer applications for language teaching and learning and are supplied with valuable strategies for developing innovative teaching techniques and creative learning activities. The focus of the volume is pedagogy, not technology. For this reason, four main strategies have been adopted:

1. Experienced teachers have contributed activities that involve computers in language development. The majority of these activities do not require sophisticated installations.

2. The chosen activities do not just use the latest technology, they also implement sound learning strategies. This is definitely a feature that cannot be overestimated. "The basic purpose of this collection is to present good teaching plans--practical, productive ideas for using the tools available--that will outlast specific technical configurations" (p. v).

3. Teachers are likely to find the necessary software on any workplace computer system: word-processing, Web browser, database, spreadsheet, and page layout programs. The book shows persuasively how these generic software packages can be used for teaching purposes.

4. Getting Started Activities and Contributor's Notes written by experienced practitioners help newcomers orient themselves to basic concepts in a chosen area and become productive quickly. [-1-]

The paperback is divided into six parts, organized according to the major software used. Within each part, teachers and students are moved from easier to more complex applications that show how the potential of new channels of communication can be exploited in concrete learning environments and classroom situations. The manner in which the computer is utilised in the classroom is crucially dependent on one's own beliefs and views as to what constitutes a fruitful learning environment and as to what procedures best facilitate language acquisition. Considering the many learner types and the various motivational orientations, the search for a "best" learning/teaching approach is as vain as the quest for the Holy Grail. The consequences are clear; attempts have to be made to cover the whole range of computer applications.

Part I (Word Processing and Desktop Publishing) contains activities that make use of the features of word- processing and desktop publishing to help learners develop their skills in conceptualizing, drafting, and editing written work (Correct My Work, Please; Checking the Spelling Checker; Thesaurus Testing and Use; Refining Report Writing; On-Screen Outlining for Reading Comprehension; Rebus Writing; Job Hunting; and many others).

Part II (Getting Connected: E-Mail and MOOs) explains how to use the medium of electronic communication to engage students and teachers in collaborative learning activities (Conferencing, Partner Classes and Keypals, E-Mail Tandem Networks, and the like).

Part III (Working with the Web) deals with activities that tap Web sites as sources of facts for data definition, search, gathering and organization, and opinions for argument (Classroom and Teaching Applications of the World Wide Web, Visiting and Creating Web Sites, and so on). [1]

The activities in Part IV (The Multimedia Machine) take advantage of the sound and video technology incorporated into most personal computers. The first group of activities shows how to incorporate "edutainment" and reference software into teaching procedures, and the second explores the use of sound technology to teach pronunciation.

Part V (Concordancing) shows how to use concordancers, the programs that analyze text corpora, to provide comparative data about students' writing and target models.

Part VI (Other Applications) contains activities using database software, spreadsheets as data sources for writing about statistics, and other creative uses of software for language learning.

The book as a whole is a teacher development and methodology guide. It can be used by those who are learning to teach English as a foreign language (EFL) and English as a second language (ESL) as [-2-] part of a pre-service teacher education program. It can also be used as a text for in-service teacher development programs. In addition, this book can serve as an exploratory resource for teachers who are simply curious about using computers in classrooms, as it provides ways to work on the development of teaching beliefs and classroom practices using modern media.

There are of course certain assumptions underlying the book. One assumption is that being a competent teacher is not easy. It demands time, devotion, and opportunity to develop teaching beliefs and new practices. Another assumption is that teaching can be learnt. Although there are some people whose personalities, life experience, and natural ways of interacting are conducive to classroom teaching, there are no born teachers. And last but not least, there is no best way to teach in every setting. Teaching is basically an interactive process involving teacher, students, and task, and the way that teaching is accomplished in one setting may not work in another. Given this, the book does not provide prescriptions about how English should be taught. Rather, it provides teaching suggestions that can be adapted and examples and processes through which practices can be explored. A lot of the ideas in this book will hopefully stretch imaginations.

A quick look at the examples and entries will show how this aim has been achieved. All the contributors have written their entries following a guideline. There is a lefthand column supplying the reader with level(s), teaching objectives, class time, preparation time, resources, and caveats and options for the described activity. There are descriptions of the activities, which differ in length, followed by references and further readings, and (if necessary) appendices with supplementary directions and screenshots.

Teachers using the book will doubtlessly advance in professional expertise and knowledge. The paperback should become indispensable for all those who need a quick, reliable, authoritative guide to current understandings of new concepts of computer use in English teaching. Although there are omissions, even within the pattern of selections made, the range of teaching activities is large, and the format is very accessible. The descriptions of the activities are direct and energetic, thoughtful and nuanced at the same time. I highly recommend this creative book as a must purchase for EFL/ESL teachers.

End Note:

[1] There is a workshop on the Internet by Janet B. Gross, MAT 99, "How can language learning become wired? or: How can the web environment aid in Second or Foreign Language Acquisition, keeping in mind a sound theoretical basis?" [-3-] (http://zonorus.marlboro.edu/~gross/wiredlang), which offers an excellent opportunity to deepen the information given in Part III: Working with the Web.

Dieter Kranz
Muenster University (Germany)

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page in the paginated ASCII version of this article, which is the definitive edition. Please use these page numbers when citing this work.

Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page