Benefits for the learner
The primary reason for involving computers into English language learning process is their effectiveness caused by the power of computers to lead learners to higher production of language than learners would achieve in standard English lessons.
Kurshmid (1991) points out that: “Experience has also shown that learning with computers is rated highly by students.” The appearance of this phenomenon is caused by several features of a computer that all together increase the student's motivation.
Jarosław Wiązowski (2001) claims: “...computers attract potential foreign language learners with the myriad of functions that can stimulate the process of learning. They activate more than just one sense at a time, owing to which language can be absorbed easier.”
As in computer games, the computer environment itself communicates with students interactively. This means that both the computer and the learner hold a dialog managed through the computer input-output interface such as keyboard, mouse, screen or amplifiers. The interaction from the computer to the user is immediate. The learner operates the input devices, the mouse and keyboard, the computer reacts by displaying the movements of a cursor or keyboard or an action linked specifically to the command demanded by user on the screen, or plays sounds related to a preset action evoked by the action of the user. “By interaction, we mean that the computer software will respond to students' move and every decision will lead to different ends. The computer software and students do not communicate with each other by “words.” Instead, students need to learn another communication system. The computers communicate by means of graphic presentation, sound effect, and animated characters.”
Although the supportive environment and reference materials play an important role in a better and more effective acquisition of a language, hardly any learning can take place without students being motivated. At this field, computer is a language learning tool which is highly motivating for students without any difference of age or level. The question is what makes computers so motivating? Kurshmid (1991) states:
“There is the novelty of working with computer, together with its diversity and sophistication. And there is the element of competition.”
Computers and networks provide a huge quantity of different kinds of materials, visualizations and sounds which make working with computers very attractive. In addition to that, many activities that computers offer are in fact games. The modern computer technology provides a variety of different kinds of games especially designed for language learning purposes. These games accommodate the student with many remarkable advantages resulting from the typical characteristics of games. The key components of games are goals, challenges and interactivity. The games interactively pushes the learners through the action, presenting them specific tasks focused on fulfilling specific goals. Moreover, the presence of a challenge between the player and the computer or players themselves makes the players feel even more involved.
Kurshmid (1991) says: “Students like 'taking on computer' and trying to beat it.” All together, these characteristic features of games make playing highly motivating.
Another typical feature of computers, which is characteristic not only for game-based learning activities but also for any computer game-based language activity, seems to be the key to increasing the language learners motivation: when students learn through operating computers, they don't think much about the process of learning, the contents and structure of what they are taught. The learners are more absorbed by the process of playing while the real purpose of the action stays hidden aside.
The computer, from the student's point of view, thanks to all the features mentioned above, represents a very efficient tool for learning. Moreover, not only are learners convenienced by learning with computers but it also brings numerous benefits for teachers such as obtaining, developing and managing materials, course organization and administration, etc.
Benefits for teachers Obtaining materials
Teachers often search for materials tailored to the needs of their students.
Textbooks, workbooks or any other printable materials provide enough practice for language students. However, the price of these materials often reaches high amounts, which makes them unavailable. Computers and networking, on the other hand, provide a wide variety of high quality and ready to use materials, which are commonly distributed under an open public license so that they can be freely downloaded from the Internet and used in English language lesson. Thanks to the vast number of websites which focus on providing different kinds of materials for English language learning, the Internet represents the most varied source of language teaching materials.
Developing and customizing materials
However, the Internet doesn't necessarily have to provide materials that would perfectly suit the pedagogical objectives set for a particular English lesson in which case the materials must be customized exactly according to the lesson objectives. In order to meet these objectives, the teachers should be able to create their own materials called the Author Materials. In fact, computers offer various tools for authoring the materials.
The most simple group of tools comprises programs such as word processors or presentation-generating software. Although these are more suitable for creating printable materials they can be also applied as electronic material used for presenting new language structures, reading worksheets or as materials used for providing background information for any other kind of activities. Even though these materials can't provide the interactivity of genuine courseware materials designed especially for computer based language learning, the price of the software compared with the lack of interactivity still makes this way of creating materials very attractive.
The notion of interactivity can be reached by including some authoring systems in preparation of learning materials. The Authoring systems allow the user to create a
variety of materials for different language learning purposes. Furthermore, the authoring systems equip the designer with a user-friendly graphical environment so that the whole process of material developing doesn't require any knowledge of programming. From the technological point of view, there are two kinds of authoring systems which differ in their way of use or their target . The first group includes authoring systems used for creating courseware executable directly under the computer operating system. These systems provide more elaborated environment and functions common for computer programs such as the use of interactive videos, sounds, drag and drop activities, etc. The other group contains tools for designing on-line applications. These tools are usually included in language management systems. They allow the teacher to prepare on-line lectures, training activities or tests. Although these on-line tools are technologically limited and they don't provide such complex tools as the systems for creating teachers spend on course management and administration. These tools, which are normally integrated in language management systems as an essential part of thereof, include the instruments that allow course tutors to easily manage students within the course providing them with customized materials and activities. Moreover, this management module provides the tutors with the possibility of managing the electronic assignments of all types such as tests, written assignments, etc. Once submitted, the assignments can be corrected, scored, and commented directly in the administration system. Furthermore, the tests created directly in the testing module of the management system are self-correcting, i.e. they are automatically evaluated immediately after being submitted by students. The scores, marks and feedback are mechanically generated based on the automatic evaluation. All results are stored in an assessment module which displays the percentage or points each student reached in a particular activity as well as the grade showing student's overall performance. Thanks to the automation of the assessment process and the environment that allows the teachers to work dynamically
with submitted assignments, which reduces the time spent on administrative tasks, the course administration systems contribute to increasing the effectiveness of teachers' work.
Benefits for both learners and teachers
Whatever benefits the computer as an English language learning tool brings into the teaching and learning process separately for students or teachers, there is one remarkable feature which applies to both. This feature refers to world-wide network called the Internet which provides the access to learning contents at any time and from any place all over the world. The only precondition for the successful access to the content is the presence of the Internet access. The accessibility is the basic precondition for the E-learning system to work properly that, in fact, represents one of the basic principles of E-learning such as self-paced learning, blended learning, etc. Thanks to this feature, both the students and teachers can work independently at any time and place they need.
3 INTEGRATION OF COMPUTERS INTO EFL CLASSES
Given all what has been mentioned above, this Professional Project is designed to support the assumption, that the appropriate use of computer technology in EFL classroom represents an effective tool for English language learning which is able to cover the entire sphere of English language teaching and learning process. Hence, it considers different approaches and techniques which lead to effective autonomous computer-based language learning.
The computer itself does not represent any approach or method, but it offers the possibility of implementation of various methods and language teaching philosophies and paradigms, as Garrett (1991, p. 75) points out: “the use of the computer does not constitute a method” and it is a “medium in which a variety of methods, approaches, and pedagogical philosophies may be implemented.” From this perspective the successful implementation of the computer in the teaching process depends only on the teachers and approaches or methods they choose to be applied in computer based language learning. “Those who put computer technology to use in the service of good pedagogy will undoubtedly find ways to enrich their educational program and the learning opportunities of their students,” (Warschauer, 1996).
The modern philosophy for computer-based learning is based on constructivism that seems to be ideal for computer and Web based learning because of their capabilities as Wilson (2000) states in his paper Constructivist Learning on the Web: “...educators have seized upon computers and the Web as a means of realizing that constructivist ideal the computer because of its number-crunching and data-presentation capabilities;
the Web because of its connective and communicative resources.” The constructivist concept puts accent on students who are actively involved in the learning process, engaged in various activities which boost exploration, experimentation, construction, collaboration, and reflection of what they are studying. “Constructivists view learning as the result of mental construction. Students learn by fitting new information together with what they already know. People learn best when they activle [sic] construct their own understanding” (Wilson, 2000).
The following chapters discus how the theories for computer language learning and teaching should be practically implemented into the language teaching process.