Volume Five, December 2004

home » articles » Feng Ying Zhu


Representing the future of life in the information society, multimedia is a new technology arising in recent years. Therefore it has duly become the focus of the world computer industry. Instruction through the assistance of computer (CAI) is a process, which applies special functions of the computer to education through interaction between man and machine to facilitate effective learning and teaching. CAI research, exploration and application are an inevitable outcome as well as demand of the development of information society. CAI in China has undergone several stages. Since the 1990s CAI has been attracting more attention from educational institutions, academic circles, publishing industry and other related companies, (especially the education administration.) Through workshops, academic meeting and publication, the State Education commission campaigned for the CAL, encouraging teachers to apply computer technology to their teaching, and promoting cooperation between CAL experts and college teachers in research, exploration and promotion of CAL. It is observed that these different stages feature extensive government planning and funding, broader cooperation with researchers of various disciplines, faster development led by institutions of higher learning and research projects of high starting point and up to date.

English Teachers Employing the Internet in China
In China now most English teachers have their own computes in offices or at home. They can operate them very skillfully. In order to collect much information and make their teaching more efficiently and vividly, they are on the Internet. They know a visit to the Internet will show amazing technology and a fascinating storehouse of information. They also realize the wealth of creativity and culture on the Internet, which makes it the ultimate teaching tool for language teachers. They search the Web for what they need and they can keep up with their local, regional or international teachers associations because more and more teaching organizations are joining the on-line community every day. The “net” provides ample resources for projects and research activities. Since e-mail is “low-tech” in terms of the Internet and does not require vast technological know-how or expense, it is still the favorite electronic teaching tool of language teachers, but it is far from being the only resource on the Internet. Joining e-mal discussion forums for teachers will quickly point new “netters” in the direction of finding and using the other resources, such as the World Wide Web area of the Net. English teachers at many universities and colleges are provided with access to the Internet by their school because the Internet is an indispensable teaching tool for language. In fact, the Internet is becoming essential as an educational tool in China. This is really a great tool and the English teachers have been able to bring their students an abundance of authentic language relevant to their needs. For English language teachers, much of the Internet is an opportunity for “authentic language” interaction and learning, and it is both a window to the future and a mirror of our present. The Chinese teachers fulfill students’ expectation by using computers as teaching aids and that can be done even in some rural areas, where computers are still relatively rare in the teaching process. The computers can be a partner for the learner to play educational games with, or it can be used to generate examples, to illustrate certain operations, or to stimulate conversations.
The following is a portion of a teacher’s e-mail message describing lessons she has learned using the internet Technology: We have often underestimated the ways in which introducing the internet into the classroom could complicate our lives, whether through ill-timed malfunctions, steeper than anticipated learning curves, or rethinking our roles to include internet know-how transfer. In addition, we have often miscalculated the affective impact of the technology on our students. Often we are so keen on using all the technology resources we have that we plan “high-end” projects that automatically exclude many potential partners.

Learning in the ELT Classroom
In this area, experience has been a good teacher for those who have paid attention. As a teacher noted recently, “ … I tend to spend more time on learner training in class making sure students understand the purpose of an activity, what they need to do, etc. and afterwards eliciting what has been learned and dealing with any problems, then summarizing individual learning so that it becomes the collective property of the other students.” On those occasions when we have tried to fit the Internet into existing lesson plans without adjusting and adapting along the way, the old and the new tend to rub and push against each other like the two sides of a geologic fault. Isn’t it great to be able to share ideas like that with teachers from around the world! Some of the English teachers in China are members of TESL-L. They can participate in discussion like this and can also be able to find all the files that are available from the archives by sending another message to the web site.
Academic publications are another tremendous resources of the online community. Most Chinese teachers find listing of paper publications that they can subscribe to( in the traditional sense of the word “subscribe”). But many professional journals and newsletters also offer selections from their latest issue over the Web, so they can get some materials they want from the web site. Meanwhile they can use online publications to research a topic. For example if someone is thinking of signing up for a course on Social-Linguistic Programming he can turn his computer on and connect to the Web and search for the articles on Social-Linguistics. In this way teachers can get latest information about their research and they overcome the difficulties that they are lacking of reference books. It is the most important role of the Internet in teachers’ development. The most of the Chinese teachers, whether they are old and young, are refreshing themselves by using the internet especially the English teachers for they understand English, they learn to control the computers quickly, and they can understand the directions of the programming instructions very well. Thus they have made much progress in language teaching and they have introduced much advanced experience from foreign countries. Recently the teachers’ and students’ ability of using English has been raised highly. And the English teaching methodology has been greatly improved in China.

Using Electronic Resources for Teaching
Computers and related electronic resources have come to play a central role in education, especially in English teaching. Most of the Chinese English teachers have had considerable experience with the Internet. They make use of it for much of their academic work. Many of them are accustomed to using e-mail as a normal form of communication. They find electronic resources valuable and have benefited from these resources as well, by employing a series of useful tools. We stress the word “useful” because electronic resources complement, but seldom replace, more conventional teaching techniques. Electronic tools can make classes more efficient; lectures more compelling, informative, and varied; reading assignments more extensive, interesting, and accessible; discussions more free ranging and challenging and students’ papers more original and well researched. Only the teachers can judge if these techniques advance their own teaching goals.
As Alan Brinkley said in his article the following are the five promising uses of new technology in China now. All of these techniques demand an investment of time if they are to succeed, and their willingness to use them should be balanced carefully against other teaching priorities. But for each technique, there are both simple and complex ways of proceeding, teachers should try to make clear the respective advantages and disadvantages. The five ways in which teachers consider using electronic resources involve tasks that they usually have to perform in any case. New technologies can help teachers perform them better and more easily (The Chicago Handbook for Teachers

1. Administration
The routine administration of courses including advertising a class, providing copies of the syllabus, assigning discussion sections, and getting out course news, can be more efficiently with a course home page, electronic discussion groups, and e-mail lists. These tools can also dramatically improve the continuity and the community aspects of courses, helping students to engage with and learn from each other and even from people outside the course.

2. Reading/Sources
The Web and CD-ROMs provide a wider variety of secondary and primary sources (including visual and audio sources) than has previously been available. With teachers’ guidance, students can now gain access to materials that were once accessible only to experts because they were cumbersome to reproduce for classroom use or too expensive for students to buy. By taking their own paths through these sources, students can bring their own evidence and arguments into lectures and discussion sections, as well as write on a wider range of research topics.

3. Papers and Presentations
Rather than performing assignments and taking exams from the teacher alone, students can perform more independent exercises in publishing, exhibit building, or assembling and presenting teaching units and other material for their peers. A web archive of several terms’ work can make the course itself ongoing and collaborative intellectual construction.

4. Lectures
A computer with presentation software can provide a single tool for augmenting lectures with outlines, slide even video clips. In addition to printing them as handouts teachers can save in-class presentations in a web-compatible format for later review and discussion.

5. Discussion
Electronic discussion tools such as e-mail, conferencing software, and on-line that services can seed discussion questions before the class meets, draw out the shy students on the reading between classes. For courses without face-to-face discussion sections, these tools can bring the course to life over great distances and help overcome scheduling difficulties.

Using E-mail in the ELF Class
Almost as soon as we start to use the Internet, it becomes clear that electronic mail that is e-mail is one of the greatest language teaching materials ever created. E-mail allows all of us communicate quickly and inexpensively over long distance without obstacles such as time zone differences, the time lag of ordinary mail, or the long –distance telephone charges for faxes. Therefore teachers and students can actually use the language to communicate each other or with real people about the issues that interest them. Electronic mail can thus supply the ultimate “contextualized” practice. Students and teachers can also use the speed simplicity, and low-cost of e-mail to work in teams on joint projects with other classes.
Letter writing and reading can be a very successful and motivating communicative activity. This is an electronic means of communication used by people all over the world. In the last few years e-mail has been used in education in general, and in EFL classes in particular. It presents an alternate and innovative version to the old pen-pal programs. The e-mail program has several advantages over regular pen-pal program. One advantage of using e-mail is that the students acquire the skill of word processing if they are not familiar with it yet, and get plenty of practice if they are. Because e-mail is quicker than regular mail, and if used properly can be motivating simply through the technical innovativeness of the idea. On the whole, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and an e-mail pen-pal project can become a very worthwhile and rewarding activity.

The Process of Using E-mail
If there is a multi-media computer lab in universities or in schools teachers can have their classes in it. It is very easy for the teacher to check the contents that the students are writing and to organize the activity well. At the very beginning the teacher first finds another teacher in a foreign country who is interesting in exchanging ideas with others. This can be easily through various educational networks available on the Internet. Once the initial contact is made, the correspondence begins. The students in one school can write letters to the students in the other school. The teacher collects these letters and e-mail to the other teacher, who gives them to his or her students to answer. Then she or he collects the letters written by his or her students and sends back to the first teacher, or ask his students to answer any letter he or she received. This project can be done in one of two ways. The first one is a personal one-on-one communication, where one student from one class corresponds with one student from the other class. The alternative is to send all the letters to other class, where they are read by all students, and answers are written to a different student each time or to the entire group. Each of these alternatives has its advantages and disadvantages, but both are feasible methods of using e-mail in the EFL class.
The personal communication version has the advantage of being just that – being personal. If good rapport is established between two students and two teachers, this can be the most exciting thing in the world. If however, something wrong with these two students, the whole project fails or he or she can establish another relationship. Also there is such possibility that some students in the class will not receive their letters while others will, which can cause disappointment and frustration. However they can share with others’ e-mails. The second version of e-mail letter writing attempts to overcome these problems. As each student corresponds with a student of her or his choice, or with the whole group, frustration is avoided and motivation raised. Another advantage is that each student reads many letters instead of one, which makes for a large quantity of authentic reading practice. To date, there is no conclusive evidence as to which alternative produces better results. It is up to the individual teacher to choose freely according to the situations in her or his class. Certainly she or he must choose the one that seems most suitable to his or her class.
There are two more issues that need to be addressed regarding the use of e-mail in the EFL classroom. The first one concerns correction of the letters. The teacher may choose only those errors that hinder communication, or to make the students correct all their errors each other before sending the letters. The correction policy should be chosen according to the class in question and to the teachers’ aims in using this technique. Whatever policy is used, the word processor will prove to be a tremendously useful tool. By writing and reading letters students can enlarge their knowledge and practice their grammar and review what they learnt before. On the whole it does them good. Of course, this kind of activity cannot be organized more, only once a week. The other issue is the availability of computers. Most schools do not have enough computers for all the students to work with at one time. Being a language teacher, one must encourage his students to practice more both at home or in class Some teachers may ask students to write letters at home if they do not have enough computers available in school or if they don’t have enough time in class. Most teachers have trouble getting their students to leave the computer lab, which means that they are really engaged in their activities because the web not only provides content, it provides motivation.
In conclusion, the rapid development of information technology has made the reform on educational teaching inevitable. It will cause structural changes in the teaching system and patterns as well as in the teaching media and methodology. The Internet, including the Web, is still a primitive version of our future in electronic communications. For English language teachers, much of the Internet is an opportunity for authentic language interaction and learning, and it both a window to the future and a mirror of our present. It is indescribable. Let’s enjoy using it and develop it.

 Webmasters: Neic Rãzvan and Crăciun Bogdan