In English, technology includes cameras, audio equipment, computer technology, video equipment, overhead projection devices, scanners, printers, CD equipment - almost any device that can access, present, manipulate and communicate words, sounds and images to enable us to create meaning.Furthermore English teachers have always used some technology but the explosion in digital. technologies has opened up new and exciting possibilities:
Why use computer technology in English?
There are two kinds of reasons for using computer technology in English. First there are the benefits to teachers and students from including computer technology in any learning area:
For students technology can:
- be very motivational
- be the source of a significant amount of reading material
- be fun - and when it's fun you learn!
- help students to produce excellent published work
For teachers technology can:
* free up communication with other teachers
* help teachers to find information easily
* assist good teaching but not replace it!
Secondly, there are the challenges and opportunities presented by computer technology that make it an increasingly important part of English in particular. These include:
* the emergence of new kinds of texts and the consequent need to teach students to create and use these texts effectively;
* changing social practices associated with communicating via computers and the consequent need to teach students how to make judgements about appropriate use of different avenues of communication;
* the pervasiveness and power of texts created through computer technology and the consequent need to teach students to be critical readers and viewers of such texts.
Each of these is discussed briefly below.
1. Creating and using new kinds of texts.
- such as hyper-texts, web-pages, e-mail communications, and multi-media texts.
Many of these texts blend the written, spoken and visual, so students can express ideas in exciting and powerful ways. The choices available to the creators and users of texts are expanding rapidly so English teachers need to start helping students to make informed choices.
Multi-media texts challenge readers and viewers to integrate information and ideas in new ways. Making meaning from the interplay of words, sound and vision involves a sophisticated set of skills, skills that have not necessarily been highly valued in the past:
Hypertext heralds a different way of accessing texts since, even more than with traditional print or screen texts, the reader or viewer actively creates an individual text through choices made. We can choose to jump from link to link in different ways, creating many possible texts from one set of material. Adults often comment ironically on the almost irresistible lure of hypertext links that invite us to flit from site to site, searching for the better, brighter site that surely waits just one screen away. We need to explore the same issue with students to ask what effect this has on our understanding and how we judge when it is better to resist or go with the lure.
In a recent workshop presented by PETA, Katina Zammit presented Tasmanian teachers with some useful tools to help students read computer texts, including her analysis sheet for web sites:
Select an Internet site and consider the questions below:
How is the screen composed?
* What caught your eye first?
* What has been placed on the left side of the screen (the Given section)?
* What has been placed on the right side of the screen (the New)?
* What is in the top half of the screen (the Ideal)?
* What is in the bottom half (the Real)?
* Why has the screen been designed in this way?
* How would you read this screen? Where would you start?
* What pictures or images have been included? Why? What do they represent?
How natural/scientific/abstract are they?
* What written text is used? Why? What sort of fonts, size of type? Why?
* What would students need to know to be able to use this site or read this screen?
* What navigation tools are used? Where are they located? How might this influence
the user's reading pathway?
* Does the screen provide information (Offer) or have an image that looks you in the eye
2. Judging the appropriate use of new kinds of texts.
When we use computer technology to make and access texts, we operate in changing social contexts. E-mail, discussion groups and chat rooms create qualitatively different contexts for communication. Teachers often comment that the kinds of relationships they and their students establish through these kinds of channels are unlike others they are familiar with. For example, with no status cues such as paper quality, handwriting or letterhead, e-mail is potentially a great leveller. While this has possible advantages, we also need to establish new ways of judging authenticity and credibility. As the clamour
for better Netiquette suggests, there is a need for everyone to make judgments about the appropriate use of new texts. Students need to weigh up the relative advantages of e-mail, letter, fax or phone call in any particular situation as all will become increasingly available.
Other questions arise, such as:
* What is appropriate information to include on a personal home page?
* What are the pros and pitfalls of computer chat?
* If e-mailing someone we don't know, what is an appropriate tone to use?
* Does layout matter?
* What are the social and personal implications of not having access to computer
technology to communicate?
3. Critically reading and viewing computer-based texts.
While teachers have been busy learning to use computer technology, the emphasis has understandably been on practical applications rather than critical analysis. Now that critical literacy is recognised as a significant part of English, teachers are starting to develop a critical approach to computer technology. The same kinds of questions that we ask of other texts can be asked:
* Who is privileged in this text?
* Who might this text exclude or marginalise?
* What attitudes and values are implied in this text?
Just as students increase their personal power when they improve their traditional literacy skills, they also gain significant social power through competent, critically-aware use of new communication technology. English teachers are in a powerful position to help students develop this new dimension of literacy. top icon
Issues involved in using computer technology in your classroom
* Developing a whole school approach. This involves considering how students will be taught basic skills; what kinds of priority will be given to students in accessing computers; security and privacy implications of the use of computer technology; intranet development and use.
* The teaching strategies needed to accommodate the computers. As students'access to information improves so that they can go beyond what the teacher or school provide, and can locate information much closer to its source, the relationship between teacher and student inevitably changes. Some students may have a much stronger practical knowledge base and operational understanding
of computer technology than their teacher does. Recognising this, we need to work out how to acknowledge and use their skills and bring our own teaching expertise and critical awareness to bear in choosing appropriate ways of working with computers. Questions arise such as: Can we use peer-tutoring to help students develop basic skills? How are computers best used within a writing program? What is the most time-effective way to use computers for research?
* Where to place the computers in the school/classroom. Where do they need to go to become a natural part of learning programs, and not an add-on? How can we ensure the most effective access to computer technology by the greatest number of students?
* The technical assistance needed. What happens in the event of a breakdown? Who will help you to trouble-shoot? What kinds of routines might help to minimise technical difficulties and keep the learning program going smoothly when they inevitably occur?
* Classroom dynamics. How do we ensure that students use the computers in a collaborative way? What balance of computer and other activities is appropriate at any one time to keep the class communicating and functioning well?
* Skills, attitudes and knowledge of computers and computing. What kind of PD is needed and what is the best way to get it? How do we help students to develop the specific skills needed in English, such as effective use of spell-checking programs and critical viewing skills?
* Moral, ethical and equity questions. When the Internet opens up information resources far beyond the schools' own, how do we ensure that students are protected from exploitation but not limited? What kinds of ethical questions do we need to investigate with students?