Mr. Deji Akala found us through our Internet pages. He told us an interesting story of how he had become a leader of a discussion group for EFL teachers in Central and Eastern Europe. He has suggested four subjects about computers which we thought would be interesting for our readers. Here is the second one.
Teachers and students of EFL who are interested in having fun during the teaching/learning process might consider entering the adventure-filled world of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL).
Before trying this approach, teachers and students ought to be comfortable with a computer. The teacher does not have to be an expert in computing before starting, if he is willing to learn. Sit down and plan what you would like to do in your teaching context. Before considering specifics, it' s worth stressing that one can do very little if working in isolation. There are a lot of CALL experts you can contact for assistance on the web.
Firstly, get on the Internet. You need a browser and e-mail software for this. The two leading browsers (Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape) have been at war for quite some time now and the end is not in sight. Personally, I find Netscape (especially the 4.5 version) superior. You' ve got the e-mail, Internet browsing, and web page authoring tools in one neat package. The drawbacks are that you can have only one e-mail account in one user profile (you can create as many profiles as you want) and there isn' t a Polish version (you can write in Polish, though). Microsoft Internet explorer on the other hand has a Polish version and you can have multiple e-mail accounts set up and access them at the same time.
Secondly, join discussion groups for TEFL/TESL professionals. You don' t have to pay or 'register' to participate in discussions. The TESL (Teachers of English as a Second Language) group is probably the most academic and professional. Although it' s run from the United States there are members all over the world. (Some active members are Poles participating from Poland). The group has different branches: TESLCA-L (Computers and Technology in TESL), TESLFF-L (Fluency First approach), TESLIE-L (Intensive English programs), TESLJB-L (Jobs and working conditions), TESLMW-L (Materials Writers), TESP-L (English for Specific Purposes), TESLK-12 (Special group for kindergarten to 12th grade teachers, i.e. nursery/primary to secondary schools). If you are interested in TESL, send an e-mail to LISTSERV@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU. Leave the subject space blank and write the following message as the body of your e-mail:
SUB TESL-L Jan Kowalski
(Of course write your name instead of Jan Kowalski - unless that' s your real name!)
Within a few minutes the server will send you a reply which will explain what the group is all about.
The other group worth mentioning is CETEFL (Central & Eastern European Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) which is based in the Czech Republic. It was started to address EFL matters as they affect our geographical area.
The good thing about discussion groups is that you can 'lurk' , i.e. receive messages, without contributing. However, the best point is that you can ask questions - even childish ones. After all nobody really knows you! You' ll make friends and learn a lot.
Thirdly, while you are gathering information about your dreams, plan the next stage.
Do you want to use computer software? There are several types to choose from. For example, spelling, editing/proof-reading, pronunciation/listening/speaking, reading comprehension, games, grammar etc. A program labelled as interactive may not be suitable, for different methodological reasons. Authoring software may get around some of these loopholes. The teacher doesn' t just buy a program with ready-made lessons. Instead, he has a lot of control over the content.
Do you want to teach with the Internet? There is a lot of teaching material available on the net. Students can set up web pages and do collaborative projects with partner classes in different parts of the world. The level of English has nothing to do with such projects. A primary school class can have home pages about themselves and their interests, while advanced students in secondary schools and higher institutions can do more complex projects.
Do you want to teach on the Internet? This is like having a virtual paperless classroom - you have a web page set up where you can teach lessons. Remember that this is not for computer experts but 'ordinary' teachers of English who are not afraid of breaking new ground. I' d like to recommend a piece of software that is simple to learn for those who are interested in preparing lessons for the Internet. You can download Hot Potatoes from http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/halfbaked/. The software is free but most of us have to pay TPSA for our connection time, which can be quite high, because the file is 8MB. (For advice on how to download this and other files cheaply, contact me by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Don' t be in a hurry. The tools you need to get the job done depend on what your goals are. While dreaming big is encouraged, the reality is in careful planning, and going from stage to stage. Good luck!