Teacher's Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet

Theoretical Background for the Use of Internet Based Projects in ESL/EFL Teaching

Everyone involved for a while in the English language teaching profession has witnessed dramatic changes in the past thirty years. Different methods and approaches have been developed to adapt to learning theories and second language acquisition theories. Today, and even though there still are many unanswered questions, researchers seem to have come up with a systematic body of information in the field.

Teaching is understood as the facilitation of learning or enabling the student to learn. Teaching involves setting the conditions for learning by understanding how a learner learns. This understanding will determine the teaching style, the approach to be used, the method and the classroom techniques, procedures and activities. The theory of teaching will determine also how to create motivation for effective learning, how the content area, (language in this case) needs to be structured and sequenced and how to facilitate language acquisition.

Since the 1970s psychologists and linguists have placed emphasis on interpersonal relationships, the nature of communication and the interactive process of language. As a result, the language teaching profession has responded with methods that emphasize communicative competence, and that stress group work, interaction and cooperative learning. Teachers find themselves trying to move away from the teaching of rules, patterns and definitions "about the language" (linguistic competence) towards teaching students how to communicate genuinely, spontaneously and meaningfully in the second or foreign language (communicative competence).

In the past two decades the interest in teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) has been placed in Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). This focus has centered on teaching speaking and listening skills in real life situations, on writing for specific communicative purposes, and on "authentic" reading texts.

David Nunan (1991) cites five characteristics of CLT:

  • The provision of authentic texts for the learning situation. An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction with others in the target language. The use of metacognition during the learning process. Learners focus not only on language but also on the learning process itself.
  • The use of the learners own personal experiences to enhance classroom learning.
  • A link of classroom language learning with language usage outside the classroom in real life contexts. Some concepts that are related to CLT are the following:
  • Learner-centered teaching: means to give students a measure of decision-making responsibility regarding the contents in the curricula design and the activities in which they are going to be engaged.
  • Cooperative learning: as opposed to competitive learning. This allows students to work together in groups helping one another to achieve the desired goals.
  • Interactive learning: meaning is the product of negotiation between speakers and depends on the cooperation of the participants involved.

The challenge for the EFL teacher has been how to provide students with real, authentic opportunities to interact in the target language. Technology has certainly played an important role in its effort to bring more authentic materials to the classrooms. Tapes and video-lessons have provided a chance to listen to and watch native speakers in action. Some educational computer software companies have developed interactive models, which in general are limited in the kind of responses they allow from the student. None of these technological innovations has had the impact nor the potential for opportunities for interaction as does the Internet, whether synchronous or asynchronous. Internet based technology provides an invaluable tool for second and foreign language teachers to put the theories and concepts of CLT into practice. Several international networks of schools provide:

  • a safe and structured environment for students to communicate
  • a real audience for writing and reading for a purpose
  • a culturally diverse community

Some of the implications of using Internet based collaboration for second and foreign English language teachers are:

  • Teachers are able to face students with real English speaking audiences.
  • Teachers are able to involve students in writing and reading with a purpose.
  • Teachers get students engaged in meaningful learning activities.
  • Teachers provide students with opportunities to communicate and interact in the target language in real communicational activities.
  • Teachers have a tool to create intrinsically interactive, motivating activities. In this guide we will explore some of the possibilities that Internet collaboration offers for the fields of ESL and EFL

Adriana Vilela

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Last Modified: 09/24/2009