Website name : ENGLISH MEDIA LAB
Webmaster : FUTONGE NZEMBAYIE KISITO (KISI)
Website URL : http://www.englishmedialab.com/
Subject Area : ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
Targeted user : ESL LEARNERS
(BEGINNER, INTERMEDIATE & ADVANCED LEARNERS)
1. What does the application attempt to teach?
The application attempts to teach Basic English language for English-as-a-second-language (hereafter ESL) learners. It covers areas like vocabulary, communication (listening and speaking), grammar as well as pronunciation. Besides that, this site also provides lessons related to survival and business English.
2. What sorts of things is the application user expected to do with regards to learning the content?
The targeted users, ranging from children to adults and from beginners to advanced learners, are expected to listen to and watch the videos provided in learning the lessons. The lessons are theme based and skill-level based, in which users are free to choose their own learning content, based on their schemata or knowledge that they have already acquired. While watching the video, the learners are expected to listen and repeat the words and verbal expressions shown and articulated.
Besides learning English through videos, the users are also expected to try out the exercises available. The quizzes and tests provided are based on learners’ proficiency levels (beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, advanced and business English). This shows that this website caters to all ESL learners regardless of their command of English. The exercises given cover aspects like grammar, vocabulary, facts, proverbs and pronunciation. Some of them are in the forms of matching exercises, cloze exercises, word search puzzles, crosswords puzzles and many more.
3. What sorts of computer skills is the application users expected to have in order to operate/access/use the application?
The application is very user-friendly in which it requires the users to have only basic computer knowledge. The users are expected to have internet application knowledge in order to get access to the internet and to the website. Once the users get access to the site, they are only required to click the specific link and follow the instructions provided. In short, it is easy to access and use the application.
4. While you are “playing”/”accessing”/”assessing” the application, does it remind you of anything you do in a classroom, or with a teacher, or with a fellow classmate or in self-study?
Yes, the application reminds me of how easy it is to learn English in today’s world as compared to my time when I was still schooling. I was not exposed to learning through computer at all. The teaching and learning processes, especially for English subject, were solely conducted in conventional ways (i.e. chalk and talk; reading on my own; etc.). I could still remember that I learned pronunciation solely by depending on the teachers’ pronunciation. If the teacher pronounced the word wrongly, so did I.
Nevertheless, having getting access to the internet, ESL learners nowadays are allowed to do self-study. Learners could learn through videos provided as well as through completing interactive exercises which provide immediate answers and feedback. Learning through electronic media, specifically computer, is proven to be more interesting and practical.
Having discussed about practicality, the application does not only benefit the learners, yet the teachers as well. Teachers could explore this website in getting ideas as well as making this website a source of English resources in conducting ESL teaching and learning in the classroom. It is more economical for the teachers as they no more have to waste their time and money buying and creating English materials. In fact, students will also get more attracted and enthusiastic to learn!
5. Can you pinpoint some theories of language learning and/or teaching underlying the application?
After having done some analyses, here listed some language learning theories underlying the application:
• Skinner’s Operant Conditioning
As stated in Brown (2000), Skinner believes that the learning process is far strengthened by the reinforcement the learners receive. It is believed that the exercises in this website are influenced by this behaviouristic tradition, in which immediate responses are given to learners’ answers. To illustrate, learners would receive this expression whenever they were able to answer all the questions correctly, “Congratulation you’ve won!” Besides providing reinforcement to learners, immediate responses could somehow enhance learners’ motivation in learning ESL, as motivation, as defined by Santrock (2006), is the processes that energise, direct and sustain behaviour.
• Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis
Krashen indicates that language learners have two means for internalizing the target language: (1) acquisition – which refers to subconscious process of constructing the language system; and (2) conscious learning – which learners are aware of their own process (Brown, 2000). ESL learners are surely categorized under the second of the two means – the conscious learning – as they operate the website themselves. By being aware of their own learning, ESL learners are said to have high autonomy in learning the language and are expected to grasp the ESL more effectively, specifically the form of the language.
• Krashen’s Input Hypothesis
It is believed by Krashen that learners would learn better if the input language contains structure a bit beyond their current level of competence. In this site, learners are provided with exercises for different levels (i.e. (beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, advanced and business English). This would allow the learners to go beyond their existing competence for new challenge would help motivate learners to learn more and more.
Besides the mentioned theories that underlie this application, there are also some methodologies that I find related and important to be briefly explained here. The most apparent method is the Direct Method. The application is said to apply the direct method as most activities provided are similar to the key features of the Direct Method, as summarized by Richards and Rodgers (1986:9-10) in Renshaw (2009) :
(1) Instruction is conducted exclusively in the target language.
(2) Only everyday vocabulary and sentences are taught.
(3) Oral communication skills are built up in a carefully traded progression organized around question-and-answer exchanges between teachers and students in small, intensive classes.
(4) Grammar is taught inductively.
(5) New teaching points are taught through modeling and practice.
(6) Concrete vocabulary is taught through demonstration, objects, and pictures; abstract vocabulary is taught by association of ideas.
(7) Both speech and listening comprehension are taught.
(8) Correct pronunciation and grammar are emphasized.
The above features of the Direct Method which have been bolded are the ones that seem to be similar to the application.
6. How well is the constructivist theory of learning applied to the chosen website(s)?
Santrock (2006) defines constructivism as “an approach to learning which emphasizes that individuals actively construct knowledge and understanding”. Since learning through computer is seen as a type of independent learning, yes, it somehow goes in line with active construction of knowledge and understanding as learners are expected to explore and discover the learning themselves. Besides, some of the grammar exercises do provide spaces for learners to learn the rule by themselves. This is also true to Piaget’s emphasis of the importance of individual cognitive development, in which learners learn actively as they relate the new information to the existing information while they are accessing the site.
However, Vygotsky (1978), a social-constructivist, as cited in Brown (2000), stresses that “social interaction was foundational in cognitive development”. Having said about social interaction, it thus reveals the weakness of learning through this website. There is no such social interaction space provided for the learners found in this website. After all, genuine communication is important in developing learners’ acquisition of ESL.
7. In 1980s and early 1990s, there was a major debate on ‘whether the computer was “master” of or “slave” to the learning process (Higgins and Johns, 1984). In relation to your evaluation – was the computer a replacement for teachers, or merely an obedient servant to students?
I would confidently say that computer is merely an obedient servant to students. A machine that is designed to facilitate learning can never replace HUMAN-TEACHERS. Students are not robot that things are programmed in their minds. Students are human with cognition and affection; in a sense of different students are likely to have different set of behaviour and reactions towards language learning, which can only be dealt with by human who are able to understand the needs shown.
Besides that, when it comes to second language learning, which is believed to be a complex undertaking, computer would not able to teach the four skills of language to the learners without the help of HUMAN TEACHER and the actual context. This is due to the nature of language that requires meaningful and authentic interaction. Communication is the main reason of learning the language, isn’t it? It is not Physics or Biology or Economics that we are talking about. Yet, it is LANGUAGE. Language is not learnt or acquired solely for answering examination, yet to be used as a mean of communication. So, learners need teachers, community and context for the language to be applied.
After all, “Language learning is not a set of easy steps that can be programmed in a quick do-it-yourself kit” (Brown, 2000). So, I believe that a computer can never control the human mind, which thus indicates that a computer is just to facilitate learning and can never replace a teacher.
8. Would you like to use the application yourself in your future work?
Well, yes, I would still use the application in my future work. Even though there are some weaknesses here and there, the videos and exercises the application provides are good and useful for language learning. Not only I will use the application as my own language enhancement tool, I would also use it as a resource site whenever I need teaching material(s) for my students later.
There are some suggestions that I want to make. They are in terms of:
• Application Content
The content, especially the exercises are not organized properly. Yes, they are all classified under certain proficiency level, yet, the grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary exercises are scattered. It would be good if these exercises be arranged accordingly.
Besides the organization of the content, it would be good as well if the site be equipped with all the four skills of language which include reading, writing, listening and speaking. This would make the website a more holistic language teaching and learning tool.
• Application Appearance
The first impression matters. The appearance of this website is quite dull and uninviting. It is advisable that the homepage be made more colourful and be added with some appropriate graphics so that it would be more motivating.
1. Brown, H.D (2001). Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. New York: Longman.
2. Brown, H.D (2000). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. New York: Longman.
3. Renshaw, J.D. (2009). English Language Teaching Methodology. Retrieved on 7 February 2009, from http://www.englishraven.com/methodology.html
4. Santrock, J.W. (2006). Educational Psychology: Classroom Update: Preparing for Praxis and Practice. United States: Mc Graw Hill.