Monday, February 9, 2009

WeBsiTe EvaLuAtiON

1. What does the application attempt to “teach”

This Esl website was developed by Spanish Secondary English teacher, Isabel PĂ©rez Torres. This website is attempting to teach an authentic way of learning English by presenting an eclectic approach in integrating all skills in learning English (Reading, writing, listening and speaking) by the use of computers in the classroom. This website is suitable for students in secondary school and also teachers. As for students, this website offers specific exercises on grammar, vocabulary and culture integrating all the language skills plus basic computer skills. For teachers, the author of this website is very much interested with Hot Potatoes. She offers CALL Methodology for teachers who want to start their own Esl website.

The used of language is simple and easy to understand but it is not really applicable for independent learning especially for students with lower level of English proficiency because they might get confused as the author of this website used Spanish and English. For students who can learn independently and acquire basic skills in accessing the net, they will have no problems to play with the application as it does not require personal information for them to fill up, no password and no peripherals.

2. What sorts of things is the application user expected to do with regards to learning the content?

The application users are expected to gauge in the language activities offered. The language used is comprehensible except for the use of Spanish language here and there. It is clearly stated that this website is created to enhance Spanish students in learning English and that is why the author is using both language as the method of instruction. Therefore, guidance from teachers is required to avoid confusion among students of other countries. In the matter of fact, this website offers quite interesting language activities (mostly using Hot Potatoes) for the secondary school students. Students can learn the tenses with The Happy Verby Gang, Filling Gaps, Matching, Treasure Hunts and Reading Comprehensions, Grammar, Vocabulary and Culture exercises. I am very interested with the reading activity through treasure hunt where the students are given topics and questions based on the topic. Then, they will have sorts of website that they can refer to look for the answers for the given topic.

The core activity available in this website is more into grammar and vocabulary. Students also can brush up their grammar and vocabulary through songs. This website offers a list of popular songs that can be used in regard of learning English. Teachers can expand the use of classroom materials through computer so that the class will not turn into a boring class where the teacher only depends on chalk and board.

3. What sorts of computer skills is the application users expected to have to operate/access/use the application?

The skills required to use the application is very basic. Users (students/teachers) do not have to download any software, search for the crack file and register for a license in order to navigate the website. The activities are simple and only require the users to know how to drag and drop, cut and paste, and the rest are basic computer skills such as typing, browsing the net, etc.

Some of the instructions are written in Spanish and English, so teacher’s guidance is needed to prevent miscommunication among students. Overall, users will not have so many problems to navigate in the application as it is non-linear where users can easily choose preferred activities that they want to involve in.

4. While you are “playing”/ “accessing”/ “assessing” the application, does it remind you of anything you do in the classroom, or with a teacher, or with a fellow classmate, or in self-study?

Yes. It reminds me on several events that happen in my life. I still remember learning Phonetics where my lecturer asks me to listen to the BBC news in order to practice the right articulation of each word. Same goes with this application where the user can learn grammar and vocabulary through songs. No doubt, it is very interesting the learning environment is not stressful.

I love games. Especially educational computer games where I can learn and respond spontaneously without fear of making mistakes. Browsing Esl website is one of my leisure activities. Learning language through games, drilling with exercises, colorful flashes and animation can create positive environment in learning. Plus, increase motivation to try new things.

Furthermore, the application does remind me on something I always do with my friends. Usually, we are given a topic for each group and we are required to search for the articles, quotations and evidences to support the topic. Then, we have to write a report on the given topic. Reflects to the application, it is very much into experiential and independent learning where it offers the user with the topic and list of possible websites that the user can browse to search for the relevant answers (Eg. Treasure Hunt and Reading Comprehension).

5. Can you pinpoint some theories of language and/ or teaching underlying the application?

Other than constructivist theory that becomes the core underlying theory for the website, there are also other theories that have been integrated in the application. The first one is the Silent Way theory. In regard to this theory, the website focuses on the active participation of the users (students) in answering questions and exercises. According to Brown (2001), Silent Way theory was characterized by problem-solving approach to learning. In relation to the website, the activities are based on learner responses to commands, questions and visual questions. Brown (2001) stated that this kind of activities usually encourage and shape oral responses without grammatical explanation or modeling by teacher. Students will learn independently and they will become more responsible towards their own learning as they are given opportunities to practice and choose their own learning pace. Teacher’s role is to remain impassive to give students a way to test themselves (Brown, 2001).

As stated by the webmaster, the application is designed for her students to increase their motivation in learning English. She pays crucial attention on integrating the materials in the classroom with computers in order to create authentic and eclectic learning approach. The aim is to teach English for Spanish students. So, the elements of culture are not neglected to promote authentic learning experiences. Therefore, the other theory that is very much related to the website is Content-Based Instruction. Peachey (2003) states that Content-Based instruction or CBI is focus on the topic or the subject matter. It can be anything that interest students from a serious science subject to their favorite pop star or even a tropical news, story and film (Peachey, 2003).

In relation to the website, users (students) can choose to do the exercises on their interest topics, learn grammar and vocabulary through popular songs uploaded in the website. Moreover, the topic presented in the website covers wide range of issues of cultural events, celebrities and entertainment, science and etc. As Brown (2000) stated that learning through content is more memorable as students can relate daily life with learning and not merely depend on drill practices.

6. How well the constructivist theory of learning applied to the chosen website (s)?

First and foremost, a simple definition from stated that “Constructivism refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves, each leaner individually (and socially) constructs meaning as her or she learns.” To relate this theory with the website, the users (students) are given the autonomy to explore and responsible to their own learning throughout the activities. We learn best through experiences, support the statement because as reviewed by Brooks, J. and Brooks, M. (1993). In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms, ASCD, we acquire different styles of learning. Usually, students learn best by constructing their own knowledge instead of having someone construct it for them.

In the website, the role of the teacher is to guide them along the way of learning to make sure that they improve a step forward from what they have learned. Overall, it promotes autonomy on the students and also provides new skills on CALL methodology for teachers. The constructivist theory is well applied through the activities in the website.

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?

In my opinion, a master or a slave should not become an issue because the awakening of computer is just a form of technological helper for human being. In regards of the education system, computer is an instructional aid to help teachers teaching in school. Rather than using chalk and board every time, the use of computer as medium of instruction can create an interesting and meaningful learning environment for students.

However, the easy-access of today’s technology somehow abuses the good effects of computer and technology. Back to the issue, even though students can get access of everything from computer/technology but it does not mean that they can rebuff teachers’ existence as the prominent source of information. Computer is created by human and obviously it is not perfect. No matter how modern the computer is, it is always being exposed to the risk of viruses and threats. Moreover, most of the information is not necessarily guaranteed to be totally accurate.

So, both teacher and computer are unique in their way. That is why they cannot be compared with each other or become a replacement to each other. In this era, teacher cannot just rely on chalk and board in delivering their teaching. Meanwhile, students cannot merely depend on computer to gain all information because the reliability is unsure. In a nutshell, they will work best together.

8. Would you like to use the application yourself in your future work? Yes? No? Give reasons:

Partly, I can say that I would consider using the application in the future. Even though the website is designed for Spanish students but some of the activities can be adapted and applied to Malaysia school students. There are three reasons why I would like to consider using the application as teaching resources in the future. Firstly, I love the idea of introducing seven tenses interestingly through The Happy Verby Gang. It is easy to understand and the animations are cute. The tutorial given is useful for references especially for weak students.

Secondly, teachers are given opportunities to get involve in the designation of the activities in the website. I believe this is a very good idea where teachers can create interesting exercises and upload possible sources in the website. Moreover, teachers are also been given the chance to improve themselves of the new computer skills and exciting teaching styles.

Finally, I would use the application when teaching lower proficiency students. The topics for speaking, writing and reading are simple and common for students. Thus, it will trigger their schemata to discuss about the topic freely with guidance from teachers. For example hobbies, colors, sports, food and drinks, etc. The range of difficulties of most of the activities in the website only cater from very easy to easy, so the content of the website are suitable to be used for lower proficiency students. It is also suitable to be used as resources for primary school students. It is very important to introduce easy English for lower proficiency students because when they are able to answer the questions, their level of motivation will increase and they will develop their interest toward English subconsciously.

9. Suggestions/Recommendations.

This website will be more effective if:

Firstly, the website does not cater wide range of ability. Most of the activities provided are suitable for lower level of proficiency students. We would not get a class with students having the same level of language proficiency. There will be various and advanced students might get bored answering easy questions. Even though the webmaster already stated that the application is designed for her students who are mostly beginners, but she should consider that the students might want to try answering difficult questions once they are able to answer all easy questions correctly. This is the time where they can challenge their ability.

Secondly, the used of Spanish language in the website is quite distracting. For example if a teacher wants to learn something about CALL Methodology and he/she will enter into the WebQuests, he/she will get confused as most of the language used is Spanish. So, it is not very practical for teachers around the world. Therefore, the webmaster can improvise the website to avoid misunderstanding of what she is trying to deliver.

Thirdly, after analyzing and answering the exercises in the webpage, I have discovered that it does not provide any remedial reinforcement. When I answered the questions incorrectly, the website does not provide correct answer for the incorrect answer. As a result, the students will never know the correct answer if the teacher is not around to help. In brief, several amendments should be taken to improve the practicality and also the reliability of the website to be used in Malaysian school.

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