1. What does the application attempt to “teach”?
Upon browsing websites after another, I finally decided to evaluate http://www.eslcafe.com for my website evaluation’s task. Before exploring further on this website and what it has got to offer everyone in the language learning context, I think its better and appropriate for me to brief you on who is the moderator and the basic specialties this website has got to offer! Dave’s ESL Café is moderated and maintained by the one and only Dave Sperling. He creates this website with the idea that it could be the internet’s meeting place for ESL (English as a Second Language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teachers and students from all over the globe.
Now, let us first have a look at all the special features that this websites brings out to the people. This website is primarily consisted of 5 different sections; the home, jobs, stuffs for teachers, stuffs for students, and stuffs for everyone. From learning or improving English language for quite illiterate user/ speaker to the advanced one, or even to the graduates students who is seeking for job recruitment, (especially in Korea or other International Job Board), this website covers it all! The information on teaching English abroad with TESOL / TESL/ TEFL Certification can be read under the job section. The Oxford seminars have provided students with the most professional, recognized, and certification courses available.
This website grabs my attention in a sense that the stuffs for teachers provided- teacher discussion forums benefits this group very much. Why do I think so? Well, it aids to improve their teaching through online shared/ joint sharing. This is more likely to be an interactive virtual discussion among teachers where they share what works best for their students in the class, what does not work, what are other easier/ simple ideas to improve the language learning among students. Mutual exchanges of views on the teaching techniques open to new learning opportunities and skills that can later be applied in the classroom. For example, Trebor, a teacher who joined the website in December 2004 shares a list of websites activities & ESL activities games sites in assistance to others a lot! ( www.english-to-go.com , www.english-at-home.com, www.englishzone.com, and others.)
This application is actually focusing more on reading, speaking and listening skills while does not focus on the writing skills. The learners acquire the knowledge by exploring and reading the notes given for the topics, uttered the correct words by listening to the Pronunciation Power application.
Another fascination I have discovered about this website is that, despite of its greatest student discussions forums, the topics provided by the website are also broad. The wide range of activity allows freedom and flexibility in learning grammar, for example. A boring, dull style of learning English language in the classroom can really be switched off with the varieties grammar lesson provided here. Through idioms, phrasal verbs, pronunciation power, more than 100 quizzes, slang and not forgetting the students discussions forums guarantee absolute improvements in student’s language proficiency. What’s more, the topics provided as in History, People, Grammar, Geography and others could broaden the student’s general knowledge that they are not aware of, not particularly restricting their knowledge on the English language learning per se.
Indirectly, this website is teaching the students to be self-driven about their learning. The students manage their time and use the application provided independently without being force to do so. (In class, frequently teachers ask you to fulfill the box in a piece of paper, and you dragged yourself to do it, right?) Students are more powerful and in control of their own learning strategies at this pace. The answers are strictly provided, and if they answer wrongly, the students are informed straight away rather than waiting the teacher’s feedback for at least 2-3 days after.
2. What sorts of things is the application used expected to do with regards to the learning content?
I believe that before looking at the expected things to do with regards to any learning content, the students/ users need to have very clear goals to be attained at the end of the day. Let say, for example, if the users want to learn on adjectives clause, they need to click the links on grammar lessons’ page. Then, they will have to proceed with the exercises provided by the website. As this application provides practices and questions through flash quizzes, the students need to read thoroughly the questions and directions given. This is when their reading skills is adhered to.
3. What sorts of computer skills is the application users expected to have in order to operate /access/use the application?
Well, to operate the application in this website, the users must at least posses the basic computer skills. I mean both computer hardware and software knowledge. In this application the computer hardware knowledge would be, switching on/ off the computer, how to navigate a mouse, and others. It is not a surprised that even though we are living in the world of ICT, there is still some learners who does not know these skills.
In order to operate the application of quizzes, the learners/ users need to have the basic knowledge of typing. When they know how to type the word, they will be able to key in their answers. Then, after answering all the questions, they have to press the submit button, and the answers will be automatically checked in seconds. What’s more, the learners will need to know how to use online quiz generator if they want to submit their own quizzes to share with other users. The students will be having fun doing so as they get immediate feedback and it is so practical to be done.
Furthermore, to improve the learning and speaking skills, the users need to have the computer software knowledge of downloading software. For this website, the learners will have to install the FLV player or Adobe Shockwave Player to enable them to use interactive demos such as 8 in 1 English Dictionary Demo and other pronunciation demos.
On the other hand, if the users are teachers who have it in mind to bring the materials available in this website to the school, they need to possess the printing skills so that they can print the activities from the html links.
As in conclusion, the basic computer skills are required by this application in order to operate it. It is not a big matter whether the user is not a ‘computer geek’ or he or she is someone illiterate. The application is very easy, simple and fun to be done!
4. While you are “playing”/ “accessing”/ “assessing” the application, does it remind you of anything you do in a classroom, or with a teacher, or with fellow classmate, or in self- study?
Quite a lot, I guess! While assessing this website, it brings me back to those bittersweet teaching-learning processes during my previous semester. Teaching practicum! During the practicum, I managed to come up with crosswords and ‘wonder-word’ game to introduce my students with new or unfamiliar terms. There was one of my mentor, Pn. Uthaya Mary who introduced me one a website, (sorry, I tried hard to remember the address, by I can’t. )
While “accessing” the application, I found out that the flash quizzes had just reminded me of the enjoyable quizzes I always had during my leisure time on friendster and facebook application. They are very easy to handle, and time effective! It moves us from one question to another and thus making it very practical to be done.
5. Can you pinpoint some theories of language learning and/ or teaching underlying the application?
First and foremost, it is obvious that this website underlies the ‘Silent Way’ theory as proposed by Richards and Rodgers (1986: 99) The application is fully utilized when the users discovers or creates rather than remembers and repeats what is to be learned. In this sense, the learners discover for themselves various facts and principles. Via this way, the students constructed conceptual hierarchies of their own that were a product of the time and effort they have invested. Injecting a healthy dose of discovery learning can somehow lead students to understand more of the subject matter where they work things out on their own and thus surely made them understand and remember better what has been discovered.
Furthermore, I believe this website is closely related with ‘The Audiolingual Method’ of language learning especially in the speaking and listening page. For the listening and speaking skills, great emphasize is attached to pronunciation in which it is a great effort to get students to produce error-free utterances. Even though there is little or no grammatical explanation given, it is taught inductively rather than deductive explanation.
In this application, the Pronunciation Power teachers learners to use the 52 sounds necessary to say all 540 000 English words. The learners also can choose their native language for easier comprehension of the pronunciation.
6. How well is the constructivist theory of learning applied to the chosen website (s)?
Obviously, the constructivist theory of learning applied to this website is the theory of Zone of Proximal Development or often abbreviated as ZPD. It is originally developed by Lev Vygotsky, explaining the difference between what a learner can do without help and what she can do with help. The ideas of scaffolding could be made clear here when the learners are given assistance by peers, teachers or guardians, hints provided regarding the learning contents or even the process of applying the contents. For example, if the learners are not clear with a certain grammar concept, the examples are set to make it possible to understand for the students. Furthermore, if the instructions are too complicated for them, teachers can facilitate their learning at any time.
This website does encourage independent learning. But it does not mean that independent learners do not have to be observed and monitored. Teachers or parents can go through the flash quizzes done by the learners to ensure that the input is really worth exploring for.
The constructivism does also emphasize on learning through mistakes. In this sense, if the learners did not produce correct answers, they could likely re-do the quizzes and do more and more exercises so that they could really grasp the input from this website.
7. In 1980s and early 1990s, there was a major debate on ‘whether the computer was ‘master’ of or ‘slave’ to the learning process (Higgins and Johns, 1984). In relation to your evaluation- was the computer a replacement for teachers, or merely an obedient servant to students?
Honestly, I would say that computer is neither a ‘master’ nor a ‘slave’ to the learning process. Both words do not suit the functions and impacts the computer placed in the learning process if the users know how to utilize its advantages effectively.
For me, having a computer as assistant to the learning process is great. Computer or the internet is the place where we can get all sorts of knowledge, references, language content and exercises. The contents are just the same. What makes a difference is the process of getting information.
Tracing back on my practicum day in school, I would really thank the computer for all the applications offered due to the fact that it makes my teaching contents and process lively and well presented. I used the computer in my class very often via presentations and discussions. The students even made their own PowerPoint slides and video clips based on what have been learnt in the class because they possess both the computer hardware and software knowledge. However, I never let my students depend solely on the computer. The computer is just used to trigger their interest on the subject matter and to aid them, but still I would guide and facilitate the students in the learning process. I would make sure that I will be around the students in the computer lab rather than letting them interacting with the computer alone because the tendency that students will resort to facebooking or myspacing very huge!
Despite having computer to assist me producing good lesson plans, I also utilize other authentic materials such as textbook, magazines, news papers and others. The computer does not take over the entire teacher’s works in preparing good lesson plans for the students. Thus, the idea of the computer is a replacement for teachers or merely an obedient servant to students should not have appeared wholly. The computer cannot do everything a learner wishes, what he or she wants to achieve at the end of the lesson even though it aids a lot. Therefore, both teachers and students should not take advantage and depend solely on the magical computer can do.
8. Would you like to use the application yourself in your future work?
Yes? Give reasons:
No? Give reasons:
Certainly yes! I would exploit this application in my future work. Even though the website does not put the focus solely on the stuffs for students, it may also open new doors to other people in the educational field. Focusing on the stuffs for students, I am really impressed by the wide range of quizzes applied here. The links are very easy to be located as there are different topics covered. Plus, the wide ranging of topics under the quizzes will indirectly enlarge the student’s worldview and cultures as this website can be assessed by users all over the world. When teachers and students from different places share their views and ideas, this actually benefited everyone to try new strategies to learn/ teach/ improve their language proficiency to a higher level.
Personally, I love the website for its practicality. The links from one page to another is very easy to handle. Furthermore, the wide ranging topics such as History, Geography, Science and others indirectly acknowledge the learners not only with the contents for English language. The explanation given for the grammar, idioms, slang lessons are very clear, making it easier for the learners to comprehend the knowledge.
Not forgetting, kudos to Dave and his team for having the Podcasts for this application. Teachers, students or even parents can just download the lessons via videos and this does not require a complicated and fussy effort.
9. Suggestions/ Recommendations:
I believe that, there is always a door for improvement in anything. The same thing goes with this website. Despite its advantages for the teachers, students and everyone, it also has some points to be amended for the betterment of all its users. From my evaluation, this website could be quite frustrating for the learners who belong to different levels of English language proficiency. There are learners who are advanced, intermediate and beginner. However, the stuffs for students do not cater or specify the level of proficiency in the quizzes or even the explanations for the wide ranging topics. At first, for the grammar lesson, I thought the Adjective Clause #1 is meant for the beginner learners while the Adjective Clause #13 is meant for the advanced learners. To my surprised, they are not! I would suggest that there must be different levels of quizzes/ explanation/ exercises so that the benefits would cater all users. Neither the advanced learners would not feel frustrated and boring if they find the quizzes or exercises too easy and simple nor the beginner learners would not find it too challenging or intimidated if they questions are too difficult.
In my observation and exploration of this application, I found out that it does not cover all the four language skills- reading, listening, speaking and writing as a whole. The emphasized is put more on the reading and the listening part, neglecting the other two.
Despite that this application is practical in use; it does not tackle the idea of authenticity. The moderator should incorporate colors and pictures perhaps rather than just words for the grammar lessons. Maybe, if adult learners like me could stay awake with this application for 30 minutes, it never goes the same as with the young learners. A seemingly dull and boring page will quickly turn off their attention as children normally do have very short attention span especially over educational things.
I would suggest that the complementary/ congratulatory salutations are implied for all the flash quizzes. No doubt that the learners will be attended with either correct or incorrect results of their answers once they are done with the questions, but in natures, human just love rewards! Perhaps the words such as ‘Good’, ‘Well done’, ‘Great Job’ for the correct answers or even ‘Try Again’ could boost the student’s motivation to do more and more exercises. B.F Skinner and other researchers have clearly demonstrated the strength of rewards in both animal and human behavior. (Brown, 2001). So, why neglect the rewards here?
Hopefully, my suggestions/ recommendations here will help to cater the application for everyone in the English language learning context.