There's no question about it: 1998 was a banner year for teachers and learners of ESL/EFL on the Internet. The year that marked the start of the Internet mega-mergers, saw Internet stocks (e.g., Yahoo, Amazon and E-Bay) outperform all reasonable expectations, saw AOL and Netscape team up while Bill Gates and company faced an angry US Department of Justice probe, and witnessed a strong comeback by Steve Jobs' Apple, Inc. was also the year in which traditional and new media publishers of ESL/EFL course materials began to invest seriously in the online world.
As in prior years, I was impressed with the dramatic increase in the number of new ESL/EFL "link" and quiz pages that were announced on the TESLCA-L discussion group. More and more instructors and teachers-in-training are learning to create online materials and share them with the rest of the online world. Clearly, one of the greatest advantages of the web is the power to self-publish, often with no other investment than one's time.
However, what I find especially encouraging about 1998 is the appearance of so many sites aiming to be more than just aggregates of multiple-choice exercises and/or link indices that generally seem to be put together without a larger plan or course in mind. At long last, we are seeing the appearance of ESL/EFL websites with new and original content that constitute or supplement entire courses, accredited and otherwise. Educational institutions are now starting to join both traditional and new media publishers in bringing courses and course materials online at an accelerated pace and distance education is one of the hottest topics around.
One innovative way in which publishers are making use of the Internet is by providing website supplements to course textbooks. Some noteworthy examples are:
English Firsthand Cafe: this site is both a teacher and student resource which serves to complement the English Firsthand series of textbooks published by Addison Wesley Longman. The "Student Chat Center" offers the opportunity for learners to practice their English with international penpals, while in the "Teacher Discussion Center," the authors and editors of the series join in discussions with instructors using or considering using the text in their classes.
Looking Ahead: is another new website supplement to a textbook, this one published by Heinle & Heinle. The website offers lots of information (teacher's manuals with updates and additions, lesson plans and suggestions from other teachers, tapescripts to follow the CNN video that comes with the book, sample student essays, etc.). According to Angela McCallum, Adjunct Instructor at Florida State University-Panama, "One of the things I liked most about the site was that it offers the theoretical framework upon which the book is designed and based." Ms. McCallum also indicated that the site was not yet full and that "more teachers need to contribute to make it complete, but its potential is great."
Springboard: this new "Topic-Based Conversation Course" text from Oxford University Press is supplemented online with "a teacher resource that provides WWW-based links and activity suggestions, a forum to share teaching ideas with other colleagues who are using the course, and a convenient way to deliver photocopiable activities and other information."
A few teacher training courses are also beginning to explore web supplements both in terms of delivery methods and in helping graduates gain newly marketable technical skills.
Joe McVeigh, Associate Director for Programs in ESL and TESOL at the Center for Educational Technology at Middlebury College uses a website to supplement his Introduction to TESOL course. The site offers prospective and current students general information about the course, handouts, and an online discussion area.
Jeff Magoto, Director of the Yamada Language Center at the University of Oregon, taught an online course called Teaching with Technology to a group of Greek EFL teachers in the fall of '98. Much of the course interaction took place via the website, which includes a detailed description of the course and requirements. According to Mr. Magoto, "A somewhat pleasant twist to traditional distance [education], the [students] were all together for the twice a week on-line sessions and I had a co-teacher who'd previously taken the course in the live version--2 big factors (and 2-day FedEx videos to Athens) in the course's success."
A few complete English courses for non-native speakers also became available during the year.
Dave's ESL Cafe began maintaining a list of Online English Courses in 1998. During the year, 20 submissions were accepted to this section of the site.
Martin Holmes of the University of Victoria English Language Centre, a pioneer in bringing ESL courses online, designed an Online English Writing Course way back in 1996. However, the site is relevant to the topic of this column because it was in 1998 that the course was made available for the first time to students outside the University of Victoria.
Michael Vallance, a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore, is using their School of Engineering Online Writing Lab to supplement his traditional classroom-based courses. According to Mr. Vallance, "The information, exercises and activities are integrated with our Technical Communication Skills courses and the site is updated monthly. This may be one of the most common trends among instructors who want to integrate web-based learning with their courses.
1998 was also the year in which the term "at Internet speed" (meaning "very quickly") came into vogue, though more among developers and media analysts than users. As we enter the final countdown to the Y2K, there's no question about it: a whole new publishing paradigm is at hand and new advances will come at Internet speed.(c) Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately. [-4-]
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