The Internet Classroom Assistant (ICA2) is a free online communications and class management tool. In common with similar commercial CMC (computer mediated communications) tools, ICA2 is designed to provide World Wide Web-based messaging, document, link and scheduling sharing to various learning environments. The open-access nature of ICA2 provides educators and researchers with an alternative to expensive commercial conferencing tools.
The ICA2 gateway interface is designed for easy access and follows standard navigational metaphors. A screen capture of the gateway page is reproduced below:
A user has a number of options when accessing the gateway page. Teachers can set up a network-based class by following the onscreen instructions. Class set-up requires that teachers give their course a title, username and password. After set-up, this information is automatically mailed to the teacher. [-1-]
Log-in protocols for learners require that in the case of joining a class for the first time, students supply a username and password. After completing the log-in protocol, students can access their class web site. A screen capture of a class web site is produced below:
As with the gateway page, a class home page in ICA2 provides users with a consistent and accessible user interface. The ICA2 interface provides for simple data input and error handling. Moreover, each screen in ICA2 is well designed and free from visual clutter.
The ICA2 tool offers a number of powerful integrated conferencing, scheduling and document sharing capabilities. In this environment, individual educators can create dedicated threaded conferencing topics for their class. The preferences feature of ICA2 can also be configured to enable students to create their own topics for discussion. ICA2 is further designed to enable both teachers and students to publish their documents online through the use of online forms. A screen capture of the messaging interface is reproduced below:
Learners may also take advantage of the link-sharing feature of ICA2 that enables users to share hypertext links sorted relevant to a particular topic. This tool also provides for personal messaging between all users. A further innovative feature of the ICA2 tool is the scheduling feature that enables individual educators to put up a class schedule online. Other features of this environment include an online class roster (including e-mail addresses) and FAQs (frequently asked questions) page. The class information page provides individual educators with the ability to access data on class access and edit user preferences. This interface is shown in the screen capture below:
Administrative features of ICA2 (such as the ability to edit user preferences and access) give educators considerable flexibility in the management of online learning. The user-friendly design, low graphical content and cross-browser compatibility make this tool accessible to a wide variety of users. In addition the database feature enables the creation of a corpus of authentic learner output, providing educators with a valuable learning resource.
When implemented creatively into a writing curriculum, this environment may also support the kind of purposeful interaction that is held to be an important factor in SLA (Sotillo, 2000). By providing learners with opportunities to post and review their work on line the ICA2 tool facilitates noticing and the kind of metacognition held to support L2 acquisition (Warschauer, 1998). Moreover ICA2 also facilitates the kind of peer review and teaching that is now seen as an important condition for the development of learners' interlanguage (Kitade, 2000).
ICA2 brings together a number of useful tools that may be used by language educators to facilitate online learning. While lacking some of the features of commercial products, ICA2 nonetheless provides educators with a powerful and accessible tool. As the expansion of online learning gathers pace it seems clear that use of online CMC environments such as ICA2 will increase, as educators attempt to create online communities of learning. In this context, ICA2 may come to be seen as an important tool in the online second language classroom.
ICA2 may be accessed at: http://www.nicenet.org
Kitade, K. (2000). L2 learners' discourse and SLA theories in CMC: Collaborative interaction in Internet chat. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 13 (2), 143-166.
Sotillo, S. M. (2000). Discourse functions and syntactic complexity in synchronous and asynchronous communication. Language Learning and Technology, 4 (1), 82-119.
Warschauer, M. (1998). Interaction, negotiation and computer-mediated learning on-line. In V. Darleguy, A. Ding, & M. Svensson (Eds.), Educational technology in language learning: Theoretical considerations and practical applications. Retrieved January 24, 1999 from the World Wide Web: http://www.insa-lyon.fr/Departements/CDRL/interaction.html.
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