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Using the Internet in Elementary College German

M. Hager, A. Rieper, El. Schmitt, and M. Shastri Using the Internet in Elementary College German Michael Hager Annika Rieper Elisabeth Schmitt Maya Shastri Pennsylvania State University ABSTRACT This article
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M. Hager, A. Rieper, El. Schmitt, and M. Shastri Using the Internet in Elementary College German Michael Hager Annika Rieper Elisabeth Schmitt Maya Shastri Pennsylvania State University ABSTRACT This article explores the opportunities offered by the Internet for technology-based instruction in the beginning language classroom. We discuss CALL as it is relevant to our purpose and then introduce the main aspects of a task-based approach. Finally, we present our sample exercises which are based on a combination of these two aspects of teaching and learning. KEYWORDS Internet, Computer-Mediated Communication, Task-Based Approach, German INTRODUCTION Technological revolutions have long played a central role in educational processes. The development of writing systems alone was a technological feat that allowed people to share knowledge across wide gaps of space and time. The invention of the printing press inspired a technological revolution that allowed communication to the masses, and, in the 20th century, communication has become even easier with telephones, mass use of audio and video players, photocopying, and computers. The Internet is the newest development in a long line of technological developments being hailed as a revolutionary advance in our society and in education. As computers become more prevalent in the classroom, and indeed in all aspects of daily life, we must ask ourselves: What is the best way to incorporate computer technology into improved learning and teaching? This 2001 CALICO Journal Volume 18 Number 3 563 The Internet and Elementary German article explores this question as it pertains to beginning level college German teaching and learning. Several models for using the computer in education are available. In the field of second language learning and teaching, these models reflect the current theoretical practices as well as the technological capabilities of computers. Warschauer (1996) defines the computer as a multifaceted tool that can act as a tutor, as a workhorse, or as a stimulus. The computer as tutor model poses the computer as instructor since the computer knows the correct answers. Software packages that provide drill and practice routines are considered to follow this model. Drill and practice exercises were an important part of the Audio-Lingual method, which was based on behaviorist psychology. The computer as stimulus model posits exercises that encourage students in discussion, writing, and critical thinking, rather than discovering a right or wrong answer. This model was embraced by proponents of communicative methodology, which had its origins in cognitive psychology. The computer as a work horse model provides students with programs such as word processors, spelling checks, and grammar checks. These types of programs empower students to work on their own or at least with greater facility. (For more information, see Taylor, 1980; Taylor & Perez, 1989; Brierley & Kemble, 1991; Warschauer, 1996.) We have combined computer technology with a task-based approach to create lessons that satisfy the fundamental requirements of the communicative approach. We provide first a review of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) with an emphasis on the Web, then discuss the taskbased approach, and finally demonstrate how to use the computer within the framework of the task-based approach in beginning level German classes. COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION CMC allows us to define computer use in language learning with the Internet in mind. Santoro (1995) defines CMC as use of computer systems and networks for the transfer, storage, and retrieval of information among humans. This not only includes the computer conferencing capabilities of such computer applications as , chat groups, and so forth, but also the information retrieval functions of the Web. The following characteristics of computer-based interaction (Salaberry, 1996) are relevant for our purpose in the classroom: 1) Learners should be encouraged to engage in contextualized learning. This process is one in which students can construct knowledge by working from a problem to a solution. For example, exer- 564 CALICO Journal M. Hager, A. Rieper, El. Schmitt, and M. Shastri cise III discussed below, poses the problem of furnishing an apartment on a limited budget in the context of student life and searching newspaper want ads for needed items. 2) Learners have access to a network of peers. Exercises I and II below focus on peer networks. In exercise I, students are asked to communicate with their peers in other first semester classes, opening up the doors to the learner community. In exercise II, students search Web pages for pals who have interests similar to their own. 3) Both learners and teachers have increased access to cultural information and databases. Our exercises are based on the premise that all German pages on the Web contain authentic cultural material. 4) Learners can easily communicate with experts and native speakers. As mentioned above, exercise II provides a connection to native speakers via . 5) Students are free from time and location constraints All information that we use for the exercises is available 24 hours a day. 1 CMC is often split into three categories (Collins & Berge, 1995): conferencing (e.g., , interactive messaging, and small/large group discussions), informatics (e.g., on-line library catalogues, interactive access to remote databases, pictures, or movie archives), and Computer- Assisted Instruction (CAI). The most recent applications of CAI include both of the other categories, and Warschauer (1996) calls the modern use of CAI integrative CALL. INTEGRATIVE CALL Integrative CALL makes extensive use of the computer as a multimedia system. The first step in Integrative CALL has been extensive use of the Internet and the Web. Despite the advantages of the hypermedia components of today s computers, relatively few truly communicative multimedia language software programs exist because computers themselves are not capable of real communication. The computer, as a tutor, is incapable of determining the appropriateness of learners utterances or directing them to the most beneficial solution to their communicative problems. Integrative CALL relies, at least for now, on the unique aspects of the Internet and the Web. Volume 18 Number 3 565 The Internet and Elementary German THE WEB As previously mentioned, the Web facilitates the contexualization of language learning by increasing access to authentic documents. Before web sites were so easily accessible, authentic texts were difficult to obtain. How many language teachers have struggled with the problems of lugging boxes of magazines, newspapers, phone books, train schedules, and so on back to their students in the US? The Web is flooded with web pages about companies and their products, nonprofit organizations and their services, individuals and families, as well as information about places and culture. We wish to argue here that all this material can be used in the classroom in ways that encourage students to analyze such material in a critical fashion. Besides the sheer mass of information that the Web has to offer, it has one other powerful appeal. It offers students and teachers the opportunity to write and publish their own material. In the classroom, this opportunity can be translated into specific learning activities in which students write with real purpose for a real audience, making for a communicative, collaborative, student-centered, and task-based classroom. Although the multimedia component of the Web does not in and of itself make the Web interactive, Internet-based activities can be very interactive. The exercises described in this article encourage students to participate in groups, work collaboratively, do peer editing, and discuss Webbased exercises. PROBLEMS WITH COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY Instructors and students will undoubtedly encounter some problems using the Internet in class. First, institutions must bear the burden of the initial costs involved in purchasing equipment and connecting to the Internet and, since computers and software are continually being improved, can face high costs for upgrading. Despite the costs, colleges and universities are investing money and time in computer resources. 2 Once educators have access to the technology, they must deal with other problems. Zhao (1996) discusses the numerous factors affecting multimedia documents on the Web. Multimedia cannot be realized without the proper server format, full-feature browsers, or proper plug-ins. The local computer must have enough memory to download multimedia documents and of course a color monitor for full visual effects. The instructor s attitude can also affect the productivity of using the Internet in the classroom. Two components are necessary for training instructors to use the Internet in the classroom (Frizzler, 1995). Instructors must understand the mechanics of the Internet as an educational tool, but 566 CALICO Journal M. Hager, A. Rieper, El. Schmitt, and M. Shastri they also must know how to incorporate the philosophies of how and why to teach with it. The unique properties of the Internet provide a natural setting for collaborative, communicative and task-based classes (which are, of course, student-centered). Teachers who have been leading teacherfronted, non-communicative classes will have to rethink their approaches (Frizzler, 1995). Finally, students and instructor alike must deal with the problem of Web addresses. Since the Web is constantly changing, a wonderful Web page available one day might be gone the next. Students and teachers who use a site extensively for an assignment should download or print it for fear of not being able to find it later (Walz, 1998). We have tried to keep in mind this difficulty in designing exercises. For the activities described below, not only have we listed more than one Web address where applicable, but we have also tried to design general exercises that are not site specific. Thus, sites similar to the ones we have chosen for our classes would be appropriate for other instructors and other classes. CMC IN THE CLASSROOM Salaberry (1996) states that One of the most important features that defines a technological tool is the increase in efficiency to perform a given task. Computer-based telecommunications offer language teachers a costeffective medium to generate different types of interactions among students. , bulletin boards, and computer conferencing provide an outlet for communication with native speakers, students, or instructors, and the Web can provide students with authentic texts, pictures, audioclips, and videoclips from the target culture. Using the Web in the classroom provides real world access to students and instructors (Kearsley, 1996). Because of these features, CMC offers language learners a new tool for communicating with members of their learning community, multicultural community, and second language communities. CMC can also help provide a more student-centered environment in the classroom. Warschauer (1997) notes that students are more expressive in CMC discussion groups than in written essays, where every word weighs heavily. Kern (1995) found that CMC allowed students greater opportunities to express their ideas than normal oral discussions because multiple and simultaneous comments are possible in CMC activities, which, in turn, led to larger amounts of target language production. Thus, CMC takes the focus away from the teacher-centered classroom and opens the door for student-centered interactions. Volume 18 Number 3 567 The Internet and Elementary German DEFINING CMC LESSONS Higgins (1988) defines four types of CMC lessons based on differing learner roles. The first lesson type is the instructional lesson, which is computer centered and requires students to absorb the information being imparted (e.g., software that focuses on drill and practice routines). The second kind of lesson, the revelatory lesson, requires students to be experiencers. The computer presents a structured experience, such as a simulation, and the student role is that of an on-looker. The third lesson type is the conjectural lesson in which the program sets a series of tasks for learners to complete, thereby casting students into the role of explorer. The final lesson type is the emancipatory lesson, where students function as a practitioner in a real life activity. In such a lesson, the software provides students with only tools (e.g., on-line dictionaries and databases) necessary to complete a project. The instructional lesson and the revelatory lesson are the least effective types since the computer is in control and only passively involve the students. The emancipatory lesson generates situated learning activities but does not specify goals for students to complete. The conjectural lesson, which uses the task-based approach and poses problems for students to solve, offers a situated, contextualized learning experience. It is this conjectural lesson upon which we base Web activities for our classes. Before describing these activities in detail, the taskbased approach to learning warrants some discussion. THE TASK-BASED APPROACH One of the most influential teaching methods of the past few decades is the communicative approach, which focuses on negotiation of meaning rather than linguistic form. 3 Two related methods have arisen from it, the natural approach (Krashen & Terrell, 1983) and the task-based approach. 4 The latter has drawn increasing attention in the last years. Even though some problems with definition remain, 5 there seems to be consensus that tasks involve communicative language use where the focus of the activity is placed on meaning rather than on linguistic structures. A task can be, but does not have to be, communicative, and it is sometimes hard to differentiate between noncommunicative and communicative tasks because they are interrelated (Nunan, 1989). Long (1985) gives a relatively general definition of task by stating that a task is a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward. Thus, examples of tasks include painting a fence, dressing a child, filling out a form,... In other words, by task is 568 CALICO Journal M. Hager, A. Rieper, El. Schmitt, and M. Shastri meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play, and in between. This description can vaguely be applied to the foreign language classroom. Obviously, students are, or should be, encouraged to complete their own self-generated tasks. However, our purpose here is to focus on tasks that are performed in a classroom or that are related to classroom instruction. The definition of a task by Richards, Platt and Weber (1986) explicitly refers to language, even though their definition does not state whether actual language production has to take place. They define a task as an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding (i.e. as a response). For example, drawing a map while listening to a tape, listening to an instruction and performing a command, may be referred to as tasks. Tasks may or may not involve the production of language. A task usually requires the teacher to specify what will be regarded as successful completion of the task. The use of a variety of different kinds of tasks in language teaching is said to make language teaching more communicative... since it provides a purpose for a classroom activity which goes beyond the practice of language for its own sake. In this communicative atmosphere, the question arises as to which type of task Richards, et al. are referring to: real-world or pedagogic? Their tasks fit more in the category of pedagogic tasks than real world tasks, where pedagogic tasks refer to tasks which do not explicitly pursue the goal of preparing students for real world communication in the target language. According to Breen (1987) real-world tasks are items that involve problem solving and decision making situations (something likely to happen to a person in real life). Nunan (1989) maintains that the difference between these two types of tasks exists more in theory than in practice and that a task can still be meaning-focused without being real. Even some real world tasks are unlikely to occur in real life; consequently, real world material may have to be modified for use at lower levels of instruction in the classroom. Nunan sees a link between these definitions involving communicative language use in which learners focus on meaning rather than linguistic forms. (See also Foster, 1999.) Willis (1996) supports this view in her definition of a task: Tasks are always activities where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative purpose (goal) in order to achieve an outcome. However, she emphasizes that all tasks should have an outcome which can be expanded upon later in the task cycle. Nunan clarifies the notion of a task cycle by defining components of a task which Volume 18 Number 3 569 The Internet and Elementary German are essential in designing the task for instructional purposes. According to Nunan (1989), a task is a piece of meaning-focused work involving learners in comprehending, producing and/or interacting in the target language, and... tasks are analysed or categorised according to their goals, input data, activities, settings and roles. We have structured our exercises around Nunan s four components-goals, input data, activities, settings and roles. COMPONENTS IN TASK DESIGN Goals A task is not limited to a single goal or outcome; teachers may direct students to reach several outcomes to accomplish while completing one particular task. Outcomes can be communicative, affective, or cognitive, and they can relate to one or more macroskills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. A task might address all macroskills, especially when the task is more complex and has a number of components. The outcomes may vary due to the fact that some classes have different kinds of goals from the very beginning. For example, a class might focus on language use in everyday life or in specialized areas like biology or business. Which skill(s) the teacher chooses to focus on can also make a difference. For example, the purpose of one lesson might be for students to develop all four skills evenly; in another lesson the purpose might draw more attention to reading or writing skills in particular (Nunan, 1989; Willis, 1996). Input Data Nunan (1989) provides a long list of sources for input material such as newspaper extracts, photographs, street maps, and bus timetables. This input data may need modification to transform authentic material to the appropriate language level as Nunan himself and others (e.g., Pica, Kanagy, & Falodun, 1993) have proposed. However, this type of editing is very impractical for Web sites. We have, therefore, included in our exercises items such as vocabulary help and grammar/cultural reviews to better prepare the students to use the designated web documents. Activities Activities are divided into three possible categories: rehearsal for the real world, skill use, and fluency/accuracy. Just as materials can be authentic, activities can be authentic, too. If teachers decide to use authentic 570 CALICO Journal M. Hager, A. Rieper, El. Schmitt, and M. Shastri texts or other authentic sources, they should also assign authentic (real world) tasks rather than pedagogic ones. 6 Once teachers have decided what kind of activity is going to be implemented in the classroom (e.g., an activity that promotes grammatical accuracy or facilitates acquisition of a new skill), they can think about what types of activity should be used. Pica, et al. (1993) divide activities into five different types from which we have drawn information gap activities, problem-solving activities and opinion ex
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