Have you ever used the Internet to teach yourself something? The World Wide Web has many teach-yourself sites on all sorts of topics - from how to build yourself a house, to how to build yourself a bomb! There are also many teach-yourself English language sites. But which are the good ones and which should you not waste your time with? English teacher and WoE's resident computer genius, Deji Akala, takes a look at some of the best on the net.
The Internet bubble burst a long time ago, but the worldwide web continues to grow at an amazing pace. New technologies and applications are being introduced while old ones are being repackaged. Although teaching and learning English online has not yet become a money-spinner in its own right it is catching on really fast.
International publishers, mostly based in the UK, own the biggest and jazziest websites and are leading the way in materials development for online instruction. In some cases they feature content from already available books or supplementary materials for teachers who are currently teaching from such course books. Visitors can navigate the sites with ease as they are organized with different groups in mind: teachers and students - young, teenage and adult. Professional publications as well as exam preparation sections are also given prominent consideration.
Teacher sections give access to resources such as lesson plans, activities, exercises, warmers, and fillers. Some are exclusively published online, others available for free download. Also, teachers may be given the opportunity to share their original ideas with colleagues worldwide. Students can do exercises and play games in a colourful and interesting environment, with integration of various technologies such as streamed audio and video that are far more interesting to learn from than a book. Bulletin board or discussion forum systems constitute an innovative way to ask for help, offer a helping hand and share ideas with virtual colleagues and friends dotted across the globe. Access to these online resources is often free but they are usually located in password-protected areas, which require registration.
Independent sites are business oriented and, as such, their approach to teaching EFL online is quite different. They serve as a resource bank for teachers searching for jobs and different teacher-training courses, and offer a wide variety of recruitment services. News and articles for teachers, as well as learning materials for students, are added to support the business. Such sites carry adverts, which can often be distractive, in order to support the venture.
Locally, here in Poland, some sites are owned by language schools and centres as add-ons to their regular teaching business. What a visitor to the site might be able to access is rather limited. E-learning as a legitimate business line is yet to be fully developed, as prospects for appreciable returns are rather small. The big Polish portals offer students something along the line of English learning from online Polish-English English-Polish dictionaries, grammar exercises, pronunciation activities, to articles suitable for cultural studies.
A little further down the ladder are scores of sites with exercises, grammar and games for students. One can find anything from a list of irregular verbs, phrasal verbs, analysis of tense forms and use of prepositions to exam preparation material. The quality of some of these sites is variable, so choose with care.
The same tools used for building any website can be utilised for online English-teaching purposes. HTML - HyperText Markup Language - remains the basic tool for Internet design. Although a couple of years ago it was unimaginable to design a site without HTML, today it is possible. To introduce interactivity some kind of web programming or script writing is required. The most important thing on the Internet these days is data, so data-driven web applications are gradually becoming the standard for high-volume sites. Macromedia technology (such as Flash and Shockwave) has brought cyber-edutainment to new levels with captivating graphics and interactivity. The most interesting English-teaching websites feature innovative technologies, too.
In a search for English teaching material online much care should be taken to separate the wheat from the chaff. Professionals - teachers and educationalists - should handle the content and presentation. The material being taught should be supported by a solid methodological approach just like while teaching in the classroom. This is an area where the sites owned by mega publishers have an undisputable advantage over the rest of the field. Professional web designers and application developers should handle the presentation. It is very difficult to have the best of both worlds, as EFL teachers aren't often programmers and programmers aren't usually EFL teachers.
The exercises and other activities must be interesting and interactive. For example, the best scenario for online exercises is randomly generated questions and shuffled answer options so that no two users ever get the same set of questions and the options are never in the same order. Then doing tests and exams online will take away the drudgery of preparing questions, administering them and marking students' papers.
The appeal of the Internet has not waned over the years and the best is yet to come in applying this technology to the English as a Foreign/Second Language classroom. The leading EFL websites are pointing in the right direction and it only takes regular hits from visitors to make them grow in content, quality and relevance. Happy clicking!!!
My Top 10 Favourites [in alphabetial order]
The learn English zone features activities in grammar, pronunciation, and listening, as well as games, quizzes, chat among others. www.gazeta.pl/edukacja/
Vocabulary and pronunciation exercises and cultural studies articles (sometimes with introduction in Polish). www.longman.com
Companion websites to lots of published titles, online courses and other communities. www.onestopenglish.com
A really attractive site with free lessons, worksheets and other exercises. www.onet.pl/nauka_i_edukacja/slowniki_online/
Many online dictionaries including English. www.oup.com
Young Learners, Teenage and Adults sections, as well as Oxford Teachers Club www.publishing.cambridge.org/elt/
Four main Teacher and Student Resources sections - Younger Learners, Adult Learners, Professional English and Exams www.tefel.com
A bit of everything including articles, forums and online exercises. www.tefl.com
A large bank of jobs worldwide. www.tefl.net
Jobs, forums and resources for teachers such as lessons plans, worksheets and other activities.