Website address: http://a4esl.org/
1. What does the application attempt to “teach”?
The website that I finally decided to evaluate is actually a project of the Internet TESL Journal where all the materials included are contributed by teachers throughout the world. It basically “teaches” English as a second language through flash supported quizzes and crosswords. The questions are of grammar and vocabulary but indirectly the users can practice also their reading skills. Not only that, the questions presented are not only focusing on language based questions but also other areas as well like general knowledge, science and trivia quizzes. The trivia consisted of questions regarding Academy Awards winners. Even though it has got nothing to do with language aspect, indirectly the users are practising and getting used to the English language. This is a very good approach as the users do not only learn the language, they also are learning about general or common knowledge. This shows that its approach is very authentic.
The topics provided in the website are also varied. The wide ranging activity topics give users the choice to choose their preferred topics that are close to them and the ones that they favour. This shows that the website provides a very authentic learning for the users. Examples of topics are; Body Parts, Valentine’s Day, Everyday Words, Baseball Terms, and Physics (especially designed for students studying physics). The topics cater to users from primary school students to tertiary level. Even university students can use this website to practice their English.
The website is also “teaching” the users to be self-directed learners. The users can try to use the application independently without totally relying on their teachers in school. It creates ease for the students to learn independently as the answers are provided and if they answer wrongly, they will be corrected and finally graded as well. It should not be a problem to the users as the activities are effectively organised in level from easy to difficult.
The website also attempts to “teach” teachers on how to facilitate students’ learning through the website. As said earlier, the website contains materials submitted by real teachers so it actually encourages sharing among teachers all over the world. With the website teaching and giving guidelines to teachers on how to generate or submit their own quizzes, teachers will have the opportunity to learn using the quiz generator. Sharing materials is very good as it will give teachers ideas or materials that sometimes they do not think would be effective on students.
2. What sorts of things is the application user expected to do with regards to learning the content?
The users firstly need to identify their own level of proficiency in English. There are three main sections separating the levels; easy, medium and difficult. Under the three sections, there are levels 1 until 6. So the users are expected to move along level by level as they go on practising using the website. In learning the content, the users also have the option for using bilingual quizzes. They are expected to select the practices according to their first language. For students in Malaysia, they can choose Malay-English, Mandarin-English or Tamil-English links so that they can easily and comfortably learn the second language through translations.
This website actually provides practice mainly through flash quizzes. The users need to just click on topics preferred and it will directly link to the quiz selected. The directions of the quiz are available on every quiz page. Basically the users need to use their reading skills when reading the questions. The font in the quiz is very clear and in suitable size so there should not be a problem while reading. The users can read aloud the given activity to practise their speaking skills. Unfortunately, this website has no listening activity for the users. It merely consists of reading and writing quizzes.
There are also crossword puzzles for the users to practise. They only need to read carefully for the clues, then they can try filling in the boxes in the puzzle. They can get hints from the website if they had no idea at all what letters to fill.
When doing quizzes, users are given chance to choose answers listed if their first try was incorrect. There will be no more tries if after that the users were wrong again. Answers are provided for checking and revising. This shows that the users are expected to be self-directed learners while using the applications. They can be independent as the website is easy and convenient to use.
3. What sorts of computer skills is the application users expected to have in order to operate/access/use the application?
In order for the users to use the application provided in the website, they need to only have basic computer skills. The most basic one is typing so that they would be able to key in their answers while doing the flash activities.
They also need to know how to browse a website where they need to click on links in order to enter the quiz page, the crossword page, and other pages. This is because the website links all the activities according to levels and also topics.
Other than that, the users need to know how to download as the website requires Flash player while in use. There is also option for users who are using podcasts. The users can use their downloading skills to download videos, listening and also reading activities provided by the website.
Teachers who intended to bring the materials available in the website to school need to have printing skills so that they can print the activities from the html links. They need also to know how to use online quiz generator if they want to submit their own quizzes to share.
Overall, the website only requires basic computer skills from the users if they are just using it to get English practices online. There is no need to operate complicated applications when using the website.
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 a fellow classmate, or in self-study?
Yes, it does remind me of my own teaching when I was doing practicum last semester. During the practicum, I came up with my own crosswords to introduce to students new or unfamiliar terms. I did it on manila cards and brought to the class. The students loved doing crosswords and the activity really helped them in getting to learn vocabulary. I could see that they would be attentive and active during crossword puzzle activities. I myself do crossword puzzles once in awhile to fill my time as it indirectly improves my vocabulary range.
The flash quizzes on the other hand remind me of the fun quizzes I usually take on Facebook. The format is the same and the applications are easy to use and very time saving; it moves on the next question immediately after we answered the previous ones. This makes it very practical to use. The topics are also very authentic and interesting; makes the application looks like the ones I did on Facebook.
5. Can you pinpoint some theories of language learning and/or teaching underlying the application?
This website does not fit wholly to any specific theory but I managed to discover some characteristics of this website that fit to three theories. The first one is the Direct Method. The website contains some flash quizzes on vocabulary with pictures especially exercises for the younger users and beginners. Other quizzes on vocabulary require the users to relate the sentences given with the topic in order for them to get the answers. This resembles the idea of the Direct Method where “Concrete vocabulary was taught through demonstrations, objects and pictures; abstract vocabulary was taught by association of ideas.” Brown (2001).
There are also two major characteristics of the Silent Way underlying in this application. The application necessitates the users to work on their own; figuring out through questions and indications given. Brown (2001) describes the Silent Way theory as below:
“Learner responses to commands, questions and visual cues,” and “...without grammatical explanation or modelling by teacher.”
The theory is also explained, “Learners are responsible for their own learning and must develop independence, autonomy, and responsibility.” Brown (2001). This is very much related to the website where the users can actually control the pace of their own learning and making sure that they are responsible in getting themselves to proceed to upper levels after they completed the beginning levels.
There is also a section or internal link where users can actually do bilingual quizzes. This can be regarded as the Translation Method. “Translation method is identified as one of the cognitive learning strategies.” Liao (2006). I found this quite effective for the beginners where they can practice the usage of varied vocabularies of the second language by trying to find the right translations for words according to given topics such as In a Tailor’s Shop, Fruits, Occupations, and Under the Sea.
6. How well is the constructivist theory of learning applied to the chosen website(s)?
The constructivist theory which has been applied to this website is the theory of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) proposed by Vygotsky. I am rather confident that this website can actually scaffold the users while they learn second language. ZPD holds the idea that learners “...can do with help, not as a permanent state but as a stage towards being able to something on our own,” Atherton (2005). Even though the application is not a real teacher, but it really tries to facilitate users while doing the quizzes. For example, when a user could not manage to get the answer, the application will try and give hints by listing possible answers to the question. When doing crosswords, the user will also get hints if they fail to come up with any letters.
Parents, tutors, and also teachers can also scaffold the users while doing the activities on the website. Vygotsky mentioned “...the process of engagement with the adult enabled them to refine their thinking or their performance to make it more effective,” Atherton (2005). So despite that I think the website can actually act as a facilitator to the students, it is better for the users to also be engaged with real adults.
This application also requires a lot of thinking and guessing from the students because the quizzes do not provide the possible answers straight away. So users need to try and relate the information given with their existing knowledge. This practice is similar to the idea of constructivist theory where “...students learn the new information that is presented to them by building upon knowledge that they already possess,” Constructivism (learning theory) (2009). This website does promote independent learning. Even independent learners need to be observed and corrected. So users of this website are expected to firstly try on their own then parents, or teachers can check or go through the exercises with them. “Students will learn best by trying to make sense of something on their own with the teacher as a guide to help them along the way,” NDT Resource Center: Teaching With the Constructivist Learning Theory.
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?
I do strongly think that the computer was neither a replacement for teachers nor an obedient servant to the students. Perhaps the word replacement is a wrong indicator to it. I would rather see it as a helper for teachers. What I mean is that the computer helps or aids teachers in getting their students to better understand what have been conveyed formally in the classroom. Teachers usually use the computer to give practices to the students. I had gone through teaching in the previous semester and I used the computer in my English class regularly. From that i can see that if I was not present in the class and left my students to deal with the computer by themselves, the objectives of the lessons could never be achieved. What I can say here is that the computer is useful in a way that it complements the presence of real education in the classroom.
The computer cannot be classified as an obedient servant to the students because as mentioned earlier, it is more of a helper, facilitator or guide for the students. A computer application cannot provide everything clearly especially things regarding human relations like motivation. It is hard to fulfil users’ expectations and users cannot actually direct the computer to do everything according to their will and wants. So, students should never depend entirely on the computer.
8. Would you like to use the application yourself in your future work?
Yes? Give reasons:
No? Give reasons:
Yes, I would definitely use it in the future. I really like the focus of the application. Even though the design is very simple without animation, CGI, cute images and so on, it is very much organised with links. The links are very easy to be located as they are separated to fit different levels. Despite being a very easy application to operate, the website also caters activities for every level. The topics are also very wide ranging. This is an advantage as it is a shared product from teachers all over the world; giving different ideas and opening up our minds as a user.
Even though the activities are presented in flash player, as a future teacher, I can print the quizzes as the website also prepares the quizzes in HTML format. It is a very practical and convenient website for a teacher. The application also has no problem in loading; very fast indeed. The font in the quizzes is big and clear so it is very motivating to utilise.
“Make your site as fast as possible. This not only makes your site more enjoyable to use, but also allows those with expensive and/or slow Internet connections to use your site. Make your site easy to use. Make it uncluttered, easy to navigate and easy to read,” Kelly (2000). These are part of guidelines for designing a good ESL website proposed by Charles Kelly and I think the website that I evaluated has the qualities suggested.
I do like the website for its practicality but it would also be nice if some colours or animation included so that younger users will have the motivation to actually operate and make the most out of the application. It is better to have more friendly environment in the process of learning.
I think teachers who have the intention to share and submit new quizzes on the website should consider introducing other types of activity as well. Presently, the website only have three kinds of activities; quizzes, crossword puzzles and also translations. It would be much more fun if users can engage in games while practising the second language. Other than these, I am satisfied with the website.