A letter to the teachers of English: 99Use computers in English classes [Archives:2005/898/Education]

November 28 2005

PROF. M.N.K.BOSE [email protected]
Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb

Dear Fellow teachers,

If you plan to do something physical, like build a wall or dug a ditch, then computer is not the machine, but many of your tasks are concerned with information processing and to use another grand term, symbol manipulation, which is the essence of computing.

There is another fear in the minds of the teachers who want to use computers for English language Teaching and learning; they think that one needs to know programming if one wants to use a computer for language teaching. This is unfounded, because you don't need to know how to write a programme to use a computer; in fact, most computer users today know nothing about programming at all.

What has extended the use of computers to non-programmers in recent years is the development of programmes called applications or application programmes. Applications are like the attachments you get with a vacuum cleaner. These attachments allow you to transform the original machine into tools that perform different tasks. Similarly, an application programme transforms a computer from a general-purpose machine into a specialized tool. For example, if you load a graphics application in your computer, it becomes a machine for drawing; if you load a word processing application, it becomes a machine for writing texts. Many application programmes are available to the teachers of English in the form of instructional software or courseware.

The courseware has been designed to teach particular skills as mentioned in the earlier letter. There are programmes which are readymade, which can be used as they are without any modification; programmes in which the teacher can make modifications using what is called authoring language, mainly for advanced learners; programmes which can be prepared by the teacher using a computer language, mainly for those teachers who are experts in computer languages.

The first type of software is good for the beginners, as it does not involve any manipulation. Once you are familiar with the courseware, you can use the second type of software and using an authoring language makes the exercises more need-based. Authoring languages allow you to produce a series of modules or frames that make up a mini course. The authoring programme will prompt you for information such as the number of frames, the text or questions for each frame, and a response for each answer given by the student. Responses might consist of text, such as 'Right!' or the presentation of a new frame. The authoring software then takes all the information you have entered and constructs a course for the student to use. This course will be modeled on the original programme the student started with with differences. The advantage of using an authoring language is that you don't have to do any programming and so produce useful materials in a short time, but the disadvantage is that you have to work within a set format. If you can, there is nothing like producing a courseware yourself. Alternatively, you can write your own courseware in collaboration with a computer specialist, if you are keen on your own materials and if you have the facilities in your institution. Start using computers for ELT. Good luck.

Yours fraternally,