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Computer-Assisted English

 

WRITTEN BY: Junji Nakagawa, Osaka Gakuin University     ADDED: Jul 6, 2009       EDITED BY: Patrick Bickford

I. Introduction

Along with the popularization of computers, the Internet has suddenly become a place to find vast amounts of educational resources. While using the Internet in English education, students can receive the full benefits of computers. Technology is not without its drawbacks. 

 

Some segments of traditional English study have been neglected. After the arrival of computers, looking up the meaning of words in a dictionary and taking notes in class became a thing of the past. Many Japanese students now use an electronic dictionary over a printed one. Some students have become so reliant on computers that they can’t read the International Phonetical Alphabet, the pronunciation symbols located next to new words in their English textbooks and/or in their English dictionaries. Other students have cast aside rote memorization because information is readily available.  Are these things seen as a step forward in Japan's English education or should they be considered a step in the wrong direction?

 

Before the invention of the computer and Internet, the standard practice to gain information came through books. Reading books and absorbing the wealth of knowledge used to be of value to people, but to other people, reading was a waste of time because it took an enormous amount of time to find the information they were searching for.  However, once the computer and Internet went mainstream, it unlocked a new world to students.  People started using the computer to drive around on the lightening-fast virtual highway to obtain information from around the world at a click of a button, and gain even more information by following the links scattered on every webpage.

 

These two phenomenal inventions brought about many other benefits to the education world:

  • E-mails made it possible for people to ask anyone around the world a question instantaneously.  E-mails also 
    allowed another medium for students to practice writing letters in English.
  • Electronic bulletin boards and recently popular forums allowed for groups of people to meet, greet and exchange information.
  • The computer allowed audio/visual aids to enhance a presentation's persuasiveness more than its traditional paper-based cousin.
  • People could have Live conversations over the Internet with anybody around the globe.
  • Students could more easily find reading materials suitable for their reading level.
  • E-learning sites sprung up
    to provide students with an invaluable source for studying English.

 

Beyond these benefits, computers and the Internet also have practical applications in the classroom for educators and their students.  This paper will present the results of a survey distributed to students in my computer-assisted English classrooms. Also, it will try to determine the effectiveness of these recent technological advances in the lives of Japanese students studying abroad based upon a survey I conducted. Finally, based upon the surveys' results, I will consider the educational effectiveness and the course of action for computer-assisted English classes.

 

II. The Computer-Assisted English Class

I have taught “Basic English I” (spring semester) and “Basic English II” (fall semester)twice a week to the students of the department of economics at Osaka Gakuin University for more than three years.  I have also conducted surveys concerning computer-assisted English classes and non-computer-assisted English classes to my students for three years.  The English classes were conducted at least once a week in a CALL room. [i]

 

The textbooks [ii] I used for the English classes covered Listening, Grammar, Composition, Reading and Comprehension. A CD-ROM containing a number of exercises which allow the students to work at their own pace came with each textbook. For some students, this was the first experience to use a computer during an English class.  Therefore, I taught the students basic computer skills when necessary during the class.

 

Some of the major activities while using a computer in the CALL room were as follows:

  1. Typing: when they entered the CALL room, they logged into a computer and started practicing typing before class started. The site they often used was e-typing.
  2. Internet Searching: the students mainly used Google and Yahoo as search engines.
  3. Translation Sites: there were several translation sites, but the students most commonly used Excite's Hon-yaku.
  4. Dictionaries: there were several dictionaries online: English-Japanese, Japanese-English and English-English.  But, Space ALC was their favorite site to find out the meanings of Japanese and/or English words.
  5. Creating documents via Microsoft Word: the students made their own notebooks using the computers to record their answers to  exercises, noting important points of lessons, and pasting necessary documents into a file they created on their computers.
  6. Sending/Receiving E-mail: the students had their own university e-mail address.  At the end of each lesson, they e-mailed me in either English or Japanese and wrote to me a review of the class indicating such things as whether they concentrated in class, they felt bored, were sleepy, they enjoyed the class, or they didn’t understand the lesson. Also, they asked questions when they had them. I replied to every e-mail and I felt e-mail was a useful means of communication between the students and me.

 

The following are the activities I carried out in the CALL room:

  • Checked attendance using the computer console at the teacher’s desk.
  • Listened over the room speakers or monitored each student’s headphones using the LL system.
  • Paired lessons over the headphones by using the LL system.
  • Recorded their own pronunciation using the LL system.
  • Searched for information concerning the contents in the textbook by visiting search engines.
  • Checked new words and phrases via dictionary sites.
  • Used the CD-ROM that came with the textbook.
  • Distributed study materials from the teacher’s computer to the students’ computers.
  • Offered quizzes. I displayed questions on the students’ screens. The students then answered the questions and sent them back to my computer. The analyzer processed and analyzed the results.
  • Submitted reports from the students’ computers to the teacher’s computer.

III. The Results of the Survey

The survey was conducted on students in the Department of Economics, Osaka Gakuin University, and on other students who took my English classes from 2006 to 2008. 175 students in total answered the surveys which were in either multiple choice or descriptive form. The surveys were conducted at the end of each semester. Also, I distributed a similar survey to Japanese students studying English in the U.S. and examined how they perceived computers during their English classes.[iii] 

 

The purposes of the survey were:

  1. To evaluate the results of my computer-assisted English classes.
  2. To determine (de)merits of computer-assisted English classes.
  3. To know the usefulness of computer-assisted English classes.
  4. To consider the best course of action in future computer-assisted English classes

 

The survey questions were:

Question 1: Was the computer-assisted class good?

 YesNoTotal
No. of students 172 175
Percentage (%) 98.29 1.71100

 

Question 2:If your answer is "Yes" on Question 1, what are the reasons?  Circle all that apply.

 

The Reasons for "Yes" in Question 1:

  • 90 students selected the item, “Can look up quickly whatever I want to know,” which was the top reason among the items.
  • The textbook contains various topics including famous musicians, current world problems, and cultures in various countries. When they see the name, John Lennon, for example, in the textbook, they can examine further about him and his songs, even if the main topic is the change of passive voice and active voice; John Lennon wrote “Imagine.” and “Imagine was written by John Lennon.”  Also, they can check the words of “Imagine” and can listen to the song on the computer.
  • When the topic “the aging population” comes up in the class, they can check not only the aging population but also access topics such as public pension systems and systems of social welfare on the computer.  For example, if they see the sentence, “It is the custom for the bride to arrive late to the wedding,” in the textbook, they can check in which countries it is true.
  • Just as these examples showed, students could check and obtain the information they want to know using the computer.  Therefore, it is quite reasonable that many students selected the choice, “Can look up quickly whatever I want to know.”
  • Their second choice was “English dictionary sites are convenient.” Many of today’s students don’t bring English dictionaries to class.  Some students say that dictionaries are too heavy to carry in their book bags. Some students don’t know how to use a dictionary. Other students are reluctant to look up the meaning in a dictionary because they find too many explanations and feel that it is a waste of time. On the contrary, when they visit English dictionary sites on the computer, they can get the meaning very easily and quickly, which must be extremely convenient to them. When they encounter unfamiliar words or phrases, a computer can answer their questions quickly. In this way, computers have become a very convenient tool for studying English in recent years.

 

Question 3:If your answer is "No" on Question 1, what are the reasons?  Circle all that apply.

 

The Reasons for "No" in Question 1:

  • Only a few students selected negative responses.  They were not interested in computers or were not good at using them. They did not like studying via computers. Even if a few did not like to use computers while studying English, the fact remains that computers play a very important role in English education in present day society.  That being the case, more support and encouragement for students who are not good at using computers will be necessary.
  • Their comments, “I no longer look up words in an English dictionary, and “Typing is not enough to remember words and spelling. Handwriting is essential to me,“ are very important for teachers to remember.  Consulting a dictionary is a useful way to examine words and phrases. It is convenient to use dictionary sites on a computer, but at the same time, we teachers should also teach them how to use English dictionaries and their usefulness.  We also shouldn’t abandon the traditional way of learning by writing because it is still a valuable way to memorize things.

 

Question 4: Which English class do you prefer, a computer-assisted class or a non-computer-assisted class?

 a computer-assisted classa non-computer-assisted classTotal
No. of students 16411 175
Percentage (%) 93.716.29100

 

Question 5:Was it helpful to use a computer in this class?

 YesNoTotal

No. of students

 170

5

 175

Percentage (%)

 97.14 2.86100

 

Question 6:If your answer is "Yes" to Question 4, what are your reasons?  Circle all that apply.

 

The most popular choice was “Could acquire ways to study English.”  The students who are not good at English probably do not know how to study English effectively. However, with the help of a computer, they can at least get a hint as to how to solve the problem and work more effectively.  I suspect they have found ways to solve problems by themselves.

 

After acquiring ways to study English, they probably “became interested in English,” which was the second most popular choice.  To have interest in English would become a motivating factor for further study of the language. Once they acquire how to use a computer, it will become a good tool for studying English.

 

The third most popular choice was "Could get skills to translate Japanese into English."  This indicates they have learned how to use dictionary sites such as Space ALC and Excite's Hon-yaku.

 

Question 7:If your answer is "No" in Question 4, what are the reasons?  Circle all that apply.

 

On the other hand, the top answer of the students who felt it was not helpful to use a computer in this class was “Operating the computer was troublesome and couldn't concentrate on class.”  This answer is very understandable.  It is important for them to get rid of their computer anxiety and to enable them to feel at ease on a computer.

 

Question 8:Concerning English abilities, which areas were improved by using a computer?

 

The next question was, “Concerning English abilities, which areas were improved by using a computer?”  In this question, 98 students chose “Ability to read English.” It must have been very convenient for them to check the meaning of unfamiliar words and expressions in the textbook by consulting the dictionary sites.  I recommended to the students that they write down what they got from the computer in their paper-based notebook, but they preferred to keep them in their Microsoft Word file in their computer. 

 

They could see pictures, scenery, moving images, listen to sounds and read texts on the computer, all of which helped them to understand different cultures more easily. For example, when they encounter the topic of “Halloween,” they could see many pictures and get a lot of information concerning Halloween on the net. In these ways, computers show the students different cultures, different ways of living, and different ways of thinking.

 

In regards to “Ability to write English,” students still have difficulties in writing English. Machine translations on the computer is not good enough, and they feel that they can’t achieve satisfactory results yet.  However, they can at least, get clues to the composition that machine translations provide and use it as a starting point to begin writing.

 

21 students answered, “Nothing improved.” I need to find further reasons they feel this way and/or improve my ways of teaching. This will be the next task I undertake.

 

On the whole, it could be said that computer-assisted English classes were successful. The degree of student satisfaction was rather high. They enjoyed the computer-assisted classes. I feel that the reactions of the students in these classes have moved them further along the road to learning English.

 

IV. Japanese Students Studying in the United States

How do the Japanese students studying English in the United States perceive using computers during their English classes?  They are in an environment where they are surrounded by English and English speaking people in their daily life, so their situation is different from my students studying English in Japan.  Therefore, I have changed some parts of the questions, but the purpose of my survey questions are basically the same as the ones I distributed to my students in Japan.  41 students responded to the survey.   Now, let’s look at their responses to Question A to Question H.

 

Question A:How good are you at using a computer? (Circle the number that best represents your ability.)

 

Question B:Have you used a computer in your class? (Circle all that apply.)

 YesNoTotal

No. of students

35

41

Percentage (%)

 85.37

14.63

100

 

Question C:How have you used a computer in your class? (Circle all that apply.) 

 

Question D: Are classes that use computers helpful?

 YesNo No ReplyTotal
No. of students33

 5

41
Percentage (%) 80.49 1.71

 12.20

100

 

Question E:Reasons for "Yes" in Question D? (Circle all that apply.)
 
 
Question F:Reasons for "No" in Question D? (Circle all that apply.)

 

Question G:List the sites that you often visit when studying English. (Example: Space ALC)

  • Language Channel - This site has programs to improve listening, conversation. and grammar.
  • Podcast - This site offers various sound data such as music, news, weather forecasts and English lessons.
  • Thesaurus.com - This site is produced by Dictionary.com, LLC, a leading provider of language reference products and services on the Internet.
  • CNN.com - This site carries world news.
  • Dave's ESL Cafe - This is an Internet’s meeting place for ESL and EFL teachers and students from around the world. Some of the contents are grammar lessons, idioms, and slang.

 

Using the Internet enables limitless possibilities in retrieving updated information every day.  The above are some of the sites the Japanese students in the United States often visit to study English.

 

Question H:In your opinion, how important will the role of computers and the Internet be in English education in the future? (Circle the number that best represents your opinon.)

 

The responses to this question reveal that more than 85% of the students feel that the role of computers and the Internet will be important in English education in the future.  The comments of the students show some of the strengths and weaknesses computers and the Internet have, and they offer good hints to think about in improving how computers and the Internet should be used in the future.

 

The following are comments students gave regarding Question H:

  • 1 student said communicating with people is more important than using computers or the Internet.
  • 2 students said they f
    eel strange using computers and the Internet a lot in order to study English as a communication tool.
  • 3 students said computers and the Internet are useful, but writing is a basic way to remember things.  It is not good to rely on computers and the Internet too much.
  • 3 students said it is helpful if the sites offer effective English study.  Japanese are basically weak in listening and speaking, so they need to improve those areas by actually communicating with people.
  • 4 students said listening ability will be improved because computers and the Internet provide native-speaker voices and pronunciation to help practice listening.
  • 4 students said the Internet is absolutely essential while studying in college.
  • 5 students said they can gather information quickly and learn many things in a short time.
  • 5 students said the Internet is very useful for words and usage that they want to know, and very effective for improving listening.
  • 5 students said it is easier to obtain information via computers and the Internet than reading newspapers and books, so computers and the Internet will be essential from now on.  But when studying English, it is much more useful to put yourself in the English speaking environment than using computers and the Internet.

 

V.  Conclusion

In the past, Language LaboratoriesLL) have used tape recorders and video tapes as their primary sources of audio/visual education materials.  However, because they merely contained recorded images and/or sounds, it was almost impossible to add new teaching materials to them.

 

Since the appearance of computers, it has become possible to acquire new information from websites almost immediately. These audio and visual materials available on the computer have played a very important role in increasing comprehension in foreign language education. These materials have increased the the effectiveness of language teaching. 

 

As seen in Chapter III and Chapter IV, about 98% of the students surveyed indicated computer-assisted classes were helpful (see Question 1), and more than 85% of the students studying in the U.S. considered the role of computers and the Internet will become important in English education in the future (see Question B).  It will probably mean that computer-assisted English education will be supported by college students both in Japan and in the U.S.

 

However, computers are not without flaws.  They can’t do everything.  During classes, a wide range of reforms and ingenious innovations should be added by instructors.  In order to conduct computer-assisted classes, instructors will be expected to have detailed lesson plans, well-designed teaching methods, and plans on what they will use on the Internet.

 

In the chapters INPUT and OUTPUT of his book, Seiya Matsumoto describes in detail how to use the four English skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing on the Internet. [iv]

 

Teeler explains a lot about mailing lists related to English education and ways to search for teaching materials on the Internet.  The attached CD-ROM is very useful. [v]

 

The results of the current surveys in both Japan and the United attest to the fact that the Internet cannot be avoided in English education in the near future.  Three of my students answered “Am not interested in computers” and two answered “To operate the computer is troublesome“ (see Question 3).  About two-fifth of the students studying in the U.S. responded that they were poor or very poor at using a computer (see Question A). If they would increase their computer literacy, they would surely be able to use the Internet more efficiently.

 

By enhancing the effective use of the Internet, computers will be become an even more useful tool for English education. For instructors, the homepage WorldCALL provides guidance on the use of computers. 

 

My attempts to use computers in my English classrooms and the various sites and information I have gained from that experience have formed the basis of the research done in this paper. 

 

I have used computers and the internet in my computer-assisted English classes for three years. I have conducted a survey of the attitudes of students in those classes and received positive feedback.  Furthermore, I have conducted a similar survey of the attitudes of Japanese students who are studying overseas in the United States. The results of each survey were similar.  It is my strong conviction that the future of using computers and the internet to teach English is very bright.

 

 

Mr. Nakagawa graduated with a master in education from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota (USA).  He is currently teaching English and cross-cultural communication at Osaka Gakuin University.  Mr. Nakagawa has granted permission to Englipedia to host this paper.

 



 

Reference List

  • Matsumoto, S. (2006). Enjoy Using and Mastering English through the Internet!,Tokyo, Japan: Asahi Shuppansha.

  • Ono, H. and others, (2006) English Quest Intro, and Basic, Tokyo, Japan: Kirihara Shoten.

  • Teeler, D. (2001). How to Use the Internet in ELT, Tokyo, Japan: Pearson Education Japan.

  • Warshhauer. M., Shetzer. H., & Meloni. C. (2001). Internet for English Teaching, Tokyo, Japan: Pearson Education Japan.
 
 

 

[i]CALL room: Computer Assisted Language Learning. The CALL room has computers available for studying and teaching.

 

[ii] Hiroshi Ono and others, English Quest Intro, and Basic, 2006, Kirihara Shoten, Tokyo.

 

[iii] I received the results from students in the ELS Language Center at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, Hawaii, and students from the ELS Language Center at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

[iv] Seiya Matsumoto, Enjoy Using and Mastering English through the Internet!,Asahi Shuppansha, Tokyo, Japan 2006.

 

[v]Dede Teeler, How to Use the Internet in ELT, Pearson Education Japan, Tokyo, Japan 2001.


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