1. What does the application attempt to “teach”?
I browsed through several websites and among all, there is this one particular website that interest me which is the “Isabel’s ESL Site” (http://www.isabelperez.com/). When I entered this website, it seems very simple and straight forward, without colours that are too flashy or disorganized contents. This website is designed with the intentions to teach grammar, vocabulary, reading and also writing. Basically I think many ESL websites intents to teach all those four aspects as they are the basis for learning the language. As for this site, what makes it special is that it has many functions and links that will direct the users to another webpage when clicked. And in this new webpage, there will various other links that will direct users to explanations and exercises.
The homepage offers 3 main categories; CALL Methodology, My Own Materials and Selected Links. The CALL Methodology category gives the users introduction and also links to the computer assisted language learning, which would be very resourceful in teaching and learning for both teachers and students. The webmaster also prepares own materials which are frequently updated and are classified within certain categories. This website tried to maintain the learning within a balanced manner, in which the users may find resources or exercises to reading, writing, listening, grammar and also vocabulary. These resources had also been categorized for primary and secondary level; in which the tasks are very interesting and interactive.
2. What sorts of things is the application user expected to do with regards to learning the content?
The users that enter this website do not really have to be of intermediate or advanced level as there are also activities and also exercises that are suitable for those in beginner’s level. There are links prepared that had been categorized to areas that the users would like to improve on such as grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing and etc.
The interface is easy to understand and the users would only have to click on the desired link. When clicked, it will direct the users to another webpage that will have various links to activities and exercises. The users will then have to choose any topics of the exercises that they might be interested and they will only have to click the link to start viewing or doing the activities. Depending on the activities chosen, the users will have to follow the instructions to get it done. For example, if the users had clicked on the link that direct the users to the listening activities, they will have to hear songs or other listening materials chosen to complete the task.
There are many of other interactive activities provided and it is totally up to the users to choose their preferred choice of task. If it is reading and writing, then the users will have to be able to comprehend the text given and know what to do to answer the questions (e.g. multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks). So basically, the users are only expected to be able to read and follow the instructions given to do the task, as well as knowing how to make their choice on which tasks to do to improve their language.
3. What sorts of computer skills is the application users expected to have in order to operate/access/use the application?
To be able to access this website’s resources, the users will need to have the basic computer skills such as what is browser and its functions, or what is link and what does it do. No advance computer skills such as programming are needed as the website is definitely targeted to English learners of all levels, including children. Thus, the interface is very simple and direct to make it easier for the users to access any webpage, tasks or resources. The users can click on any links to try the activities prepared and if they don’t prefer it, they can just return to the previous webpage to choose other activities or tasks.
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 really does reminds me of the moments when I first surf the Internet to find materials needed for completing an assignment during my primary school. It was pretty much an ESL website that offers activities and tasks, but because of my young age and lack of interest in web-based learning, I didn’t do any of the tasks offered in the Internet. But when I moved into secondary school which my school is a boarding school (SMBP), I had more opportunities to explore FLASH based learning software and also few of the web-based learning where the teacher will tell us what tasks to do and given certain amount of time, we were free to do it at our own pace. When the “Sekolah Bestari” programme was introduced which I was in Form 2 (if I’m not mistaken), my school tried to integrate the computer-based leaning as much as it could and thus, during that time, I had more time with computer-assisted learning. Though interesting, the computer-assisted learning didn’t last long and it all went back to traditional teaching and learning in class. During my secondary school, computers are only available at the school’s computer lab and its usage is quite limited to certain degree. It can also be found outside school in cyber cafes but the students will mostly spend the opportunities playing games with friends, including me. So what’s important is that browsing through this website reminds me mostly of the times when I had computer subject (it’s one of my favourite subject and fortunately my forte subject).
5. Can you pinpoint some theories of language learning and/or teaching underlying the application?
When using the website and looking at it carefully, I found out that the website has several underlying theories of language learning incorporated in it to promote better learning for its user. One of it is of course Constructivist Theory where all the activities and tasks designed to purposely let the users experience the language themselves and with it, they will be able to construct knowledge and better understanding by relating the experience with the ideas that they have.
The other would be the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) as in this website, it offers problem-based tasks that will acquire the users to be actively involved in constructing answers to open-ended questions which don’t any specific right answers. This website here is the example of tasks given to challenge the users creative and critical thinking skills; http://poster.4teachers.org/worksheet/view.php?id=90780. The task also provided links to other website that offers information and resources regarding the problem to help the users solving it.
The third one that I would like to state here is the Experiential Learning (Kolb, 1984) where it stated “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”. Through the four stages of Kolb experiential learning cycle, the experience that the users gain in doing and completing the tasks will then turn reflection of ideas into concepts, which in turn are used as guides for active experimentations, as well as for the choice of new experiences.
There are might be several more underlying theories and concepts applied but there is this one that I see is also relevant and is actually quite related to PBL which is ARCS Model of Motivational Design developed by John Keller. The model had mentioned that attention can be gained in two ways; (1) perceptual arousal – the use of surprise and uncertainty to gain interest, (2) inquiry arousal – stimulates interests by posing challenging questions or problems to be solved. The second way, the inquiry arousal is related to the PBL as the there are various problems posed in the website and the users might choose one that they like. This will then relate to another part of attention in the model where it stated that there should be variability in terms of the materials presented and its level to better reinforce the materials and account for individual differences in learning styles. The website definitely prepares many materials and tasks that can be picked and chosen by the users themselves to suit their distinctive learning style for better and much efficient result.
6. How well is the constructivist theory of learning applied to the chosen website(s)?
The constructivist theory is applied quite well in the website’s activities and tasks as it let the students experience the language themselves in making them construct their understanding of the subject learned. Students or users might learn the rules and other things in classes or from books but only through that will not allow them to experience much with the language; but with the activities and tasks prepared in the websites, it will allow their idea of the language to interact with the experiences with language, and thus allowing better understanding and knowledge to be developed. The students can also do exercises and activities that suit their competency level as they can choose their own preferred tasks. In making it more effectively efficient, the teacher would be best present to guide and provide scaffolding for the students.
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?
Teacher is the best medium in transferring knowledge, compared to others. Even though some might say experience is the best teacher, nothing can actually be achieved without having teachers to guide us in our experiences. Only experiencing some events would not be enough to ignite the understanding of certain subject. Learning just by looking at computer and doing all the computer-based task and activities wouldn’t really help students to achieve full understanding. The teacher must be present in any case for the students to inquire things that they would not understand, as computer couldn’t actually explain in an effective way like the teacher would. Truth to be said, computer is nothing but tools in gaining knowledge, it merely act as an obedient servant to the students. The students must be the one in control of their learning and have full access to whatever they would prefer to learn, as people would learn best when they are interested in it. But of course the students learning would have to be under the guidance of the teacher as to make sure that their learning is really effective and meaningful for them.
8. Would you like to use the application yourself in your future work? Yes? Give reasons: No? Give reasons:
The answer would definitely be yes. It is beyond doubt that this website is useful in providing the teachers and students fresh ideas and activities to be done in teaching or learning the language. The activities inside can be used as something that would spark the students’ interest in learning the language. It is never undeniably true that the teacher is responsible in bringing the lesson to the level that would make the students interested in the language learning. The contents of the website is very easy to comprehend and the activities are also varies to each competencies level, making it adaptable to the students in my future work as a teacher or educator. But still, it might not be to interesting to the students in the future if it is not upgraded to have more colourful and captivating designs. So it all comes back to the teacher to make it interesting for the students, by just maybe taking the information, activities and games in the website to be used and implemented in classroom teaching and learning.
This website is really helpful and resourceful as it offers many links, information and also activities but it lacks something that is very basic; attractiveness. The homepage is very simple and direct with white as its background with blue fonts. It sure is easy for the users to easily comprehend its contents but it is also plain and would not be very much attractive to students, especially primary school students. Therefore I would suggest that the homepage could use some pictures or FLASH embedded to make it more lively and interactive. The same goes to the other links that directs the users to other webpage. It all needs to have illustrations of some kind that represent the theme that want to be covered in the activities. Some of the webpage also have colours that might be too bright and flashy, which is a minus to attract the users’ attention.
The website is actually an English- Español based site as the webmaster is a Spanish teacher but I think that it wouldn’t be much of a problem as most of the instructions used are in English and there are some Spanish instructions that are accompanied with English translations. As for the other Spanish descriptions without translations, I would suggest that it is updated with the translations to it even though the users can actually use Google Translate to translate to whole webpage to English language.
Constructivism. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2011, from Learning-Theories.com: http://www.learning-theories.com/constructivism.html
Keller, J. (n.d.). ARCS Model of Motivational Design. Retrieved January 20, 2011, from Learning-Theories.com: http://www.learning-theories.com/kellers-arcs-model-of-motivational-design.html
Kolb, D. A. (n.d.). Experiential Learning. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from Learning-Theories.com: http://www.learning-theories.com/experiential-learning-kolb.html
Problem-Based Learning (PBL). (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2011, from Learning-Theories.com: http://www.learning-theories.com/problem-based-learning-pbl.html