From: The Internet as an Educational Tool in ESOL Writing Instruction, by Karla Frizler


In this chapter, I will discuss how the Internet provides learning opportunities for ESOL writing students, and what this means for instructors, and for the field of ESOL writing instruction in general. I have made many discoveries through leading FUN 1 01, as well as participating in the following online projects for ESOL students and teachers over the past year:

However, before I begin discussing specific discoveries I have made as during the past year of using the Internet for educational purposes, I would like to address some common misconceptions about using the Internet as an educational tool.

Dispelling Myths

Myth #1: Teaching Online Saves Time And Money

Though conducting courses online (distributing and collecting students' assignments) can be cost-effective and save time, learning how to utilize the Internet for educational purposes can be time consuming and costly for many instructors. Without adminis trative support, including lightened course loads and paid training many instructors interested in teaching online are expected to learn about the Internet on their own time, and at their own expense.

My own situation is a good example of the time and money required when getting started on the Internet. When I decided to write my thesis on using the Internet to teach ESOL writing, I had only used e-mail, discussion lists and `talk,' and had been onlin e for only four months. Most of my time spent on the Internet up to that point had been for personal reasons, including practicing my Spanish.

I was aware that the World Wide Web, gopher, file-transfer protocol (ftp), and other Internet functions existed, but, to that point, had no motivation to learn how to use them myself. However, once I began doing research, I discovered they could all play important roles in leading an online course via the Internet. As a result, I spent an average of 4-6 hours online per day for the first six months of my research project getting up to speed, technically speaking, and learning how to use as many Internet functions as possible.

It was necessary for me to upgrade my computer and purchase a modem in order to teach FUN 101 from home, rather than at a computer lab on campus. Luckily, all of the software I needed in order to facilitate FUN 101 was available online, at no charge to e ducators, via anonymous ftp, or through the Academic Computing Services department at my university.

To learn about how to use various functions of the Internet, and the software and hardware required, I attended free workshops sponsored by the Academic Computing (AC) Services department at San Francisco State University, and supplemented these mini-cour ses with daily questions for the AC staff, delivered in person, or by phone or e-mail. In addition to this invaluable resource, I also read books and articles on using the Internet (many of which I downloaded from the Internet itself), asked questions on discussion lists, attended seminars (a major expense for a graduate student without departmental support) and asked friends both on- and off-line for advice.

Because there was no training available within my Master's program on integrating technology into the ESOL classroom, I self-trained for several hours per day, over approximately six months. However, other teachers may have outside commitments and respon sibilities which prevent them from devoting the same amount of time to such training.

All teachers interested in using the Internet as an educational tool must expect to spend some time in training. Using the Internet, or any form of technology, in the classroom requires not only technical training, but pedagogical training as well, if th e integration is to be effective and beneficial for students and teachers alike.

Nevertheless, an introduction to online teaching and learning need not be as scattered as mine was. At the time I began conducting my research, there was very little information available within my Master's program regarding using the Internet as an educ ational tool or conducting a virtual ESOL class. In fact, any information I did discover was by word of mouth; that is, a professor casually mentioning one resource or another. Thus, I had to piece together information wherever I could find it.

However, with the recent surge in the commercial popularity of and expanding access to the Internet, more people have become interested in using this resource, whether it be for personal or professional reasons. As a result, I have seen an increased inte rest in using the Internet within my Master's program (i.e. for graduate research, or for communication between faculty members), though I have yet to see more than one instructor in the department who uses the Internet as an educational tool in an ESOL c omposition classroom. Perhaps as teachers and educators become more aware of the benefits for their students of using the Internet as an educational tool, funding will subsequently be made available for teacher training in this area.

At this time, though the Internet is gaining respect as an educational tool, many teachers are still expected to learn about it on their own time, and at their own expense. In addition, if training is available, it might not be focused on using the Inter net for language teaching, but, rather on the technical side of using the Internet in general.

Though I devoted quite a bit of time and money to self training, in retrospect I think it was all worth it. I have grown to believe, along with many others, that the Internet will have an impact on education and written communication during the Informati on Age in much the same way the printing press did during the Industrial Revolution (Hemphill, 1995; Anderson, 1995).

Myth #2: Teachers Are Afraid Of Computers

Through my communication with ESOL instructors throughout this research project, I have come into contact with only one teacher who was literally fearful of the computer itself--my student teaching advisor. After discovering this, I have since helped her to learn about the computer, and how she can use it to best serve her needs as a language teacher, and am proud to say she is no longer terrified of the mouse or any other part of the computer.

In fact, from most of the feedback I have received from other ESOL instructors over the past year, I have discovered that they are indeed interested in learning about the educational applications of the Internet and other forms of technology, but they sim ply do not have the time nor money of their own to spend on training.

In addition, because the realm of the Internet is so vast, many teachers (and students) do not know where to begin looking for online resources and information. This is why I created a Web page for ESOL students and inst ructors to use as a focused and specific resource when getting started on the Internet. In fact, several teachers have used the page not only as a starting point for their students, but as a springboard for teacher training (Goldstein; Newson; Spelman), plus as a resource during seminar and conference presentations and demonstrations (Frizler; Winet; Younger; Zimmerman).

Because using the Internet may be not only a technical challenge for teachers, but a pedagogical one as well, Cameron (1994) claims, "The appropriate time and resources must be allotted to promote understanding of the technology to the educators themselve s, through seminars, workshops, and tutorials." Once this is achieved, I believe many teachers who currently do not use computers as part of the language teaching curriculum will begin integrating this technology into their courses.

Myth #3: Computers Will Replace Teachers

Though there are educators who make strong claims that the virtual classroom will eventually replace the traditional classroom completely (Doheny-Farina, 1994; Perelman, 1995; Smith, 1995), few would argue that virtual classrooms do not need teachers.

Of course, we have all seen instances in which computers have replaced human beings. Remember going to drive-up tellers at the bank? The ATM replaced them a long time ago, but did not replace the teller completely. If you have questions or concerns tha t the ATM cannot help you with, you can go inside the bank and talk with a human being. Thus, human beings were not replaced; rather, their function was changed.

This analogy holds true for educators as well. There are software programs which can respond to students in very general ways, but no machine can replace a human being leading a class, whether it be a traditional or virtual one. Computers cannot interpr et feelings, emotions, spontaneous reactions or unusual questions from students. I have yet to see a computer which can think on its feet. In fact, if a computer is confused or baffled, it will most likely freeze!

Moreover, students need an inventive and knowledgeable leader who can create a learning environment which is most conducive to each particular group of students, which, as we all know, varies from semester to semester, or even section to section. Compute r programs do not take into consideration individual students' characteristics, learning styles or abilities. In addition, a computer cannot adjust a lesson based on the emotional state of an individual or group of students on any given day.

Without the guidance of a teacher, and specific, learner-centered activities, computers will do little to help students learn English. As a result, though the roles of teachers in the classroom may change, the need for teachers will not (Berge & Collins, 1995).

Myth #4: Getting Students Online Equals Teaching

According to Magoto (1995), "the most common Internet (CALL?) teacher pitfall [is] just turning students loose with no clear language task in mind. I learned this one the hard way. Through my experience of teaching an online course on the Internet, I re alized that it is not enough to simply get students using the Internet, or to expose them to online resources. As with any language teaching tool, teachers must have clear, well-focused teaching (and not just technical) objectives and goals for each assi gnment. Furthermore, it is important to make these goals clear to the students from the beginning of a task.

In order to gain the most benefits from using the Internet in the ESOL classroom, students need to be aware of the connection between using the technology and learning English. Teachers should make clear their reasons for teaching the technology, and how it will help the students in learning a language. For example, explain to students why you are taking them to schMOOze University as part of their course curriculum (e.g. to write for communicative purposes, or to learn about turn taking in conversation ), leading them through with specifically-focused activities, rather than simply dropping them off and hoping they will gain something from the experience.

As Berge & Collins (1995) state, "The integrated use of technology offers many educational opportunities and possibilities when driven by sound visions of learning." Therefore, to be an effective educational tool, technology must have a strong pedagogica l foundation.


Now that I have addressed some common misconceptions about teaching online in general, I would like to specifically discuss what I feel are the most important outcomes of having taught a virtual ESOL composition course and participating in various additio nal online projects in ESOL education. Through my own observations, as well as feedback from students and other instructors, I will explore my discoveries about using the Internet to teach ESOL writing online, and examine how these findings can be adapte d for other ESOL classroom settings.

Interactivity among students is the key to a successful online writing class.

While interviewing each of the FUN 101 students, a single theme kept reappearing--the students would have preferred more interactivity between themselves. As Bruce suggests, "Personally, I think the lectures and the reading materials can be sent to stude nts by e-mail, but the discussion part must be held by real time chatting/talking because it gives the instant response and elaboration."

Based on their feedback and my own reflections, I have determined that it is indeed possible for students and teachers to interact online, even if this did not occur during FUN 101. In future online courses, I will make MOO an integral part of the learni ng process. In fact, I think MOO is essential to the interactiveness of an online course.

MOOs provide the widest range of opportunities for interactivity between students in online writing classes.

Through a MOO, class sessions can be held in which the teacher and students meet in real time, as they would in a traditional classroom setting. Teachers can also hold online office hours and conduct writing conferences in a MOO environment. Furthermore , through MOOs teachers can establish connections with like-minded instructors all over the world.

The MOO can also be an extension of a course, or a way for students to become familiar with the Internet and thinking in English before taking an online class. As a FUN 101 student, explained:

It takes a lot of skills to be in schMOOze. I have to speak English, type fast, be friendly . . . I can talk to many people with different values and interests in all over the world. That also make me think. And I can learn many new wor ds and phrases.

I think people here is very nice and friendly. They don't complain if I ask too many grammar questions. I can watch what the other people [who have the same questions] answer.

I will tell [other students] just go to schMOOze and talk to as many people possible. When you get used to it, ask Frizzy if you can take her class. (Kiki)

I think Kiki makes some important points here, one of which is that students need to be introduced to this new learning tool at a pace with which they will feel comfortable. Perhaps bringing students first to the relaxed and friendly environment such as schMOOze can help prepare them for the online classroom. Another possibility is to have students become familiar with MOO, then take a class which is conducted via MOO.

The MOO experience has been likened to stepping into a foreign country where you know some of the language, but are not yet familiar with its unique customs (Turbee, 1994; Younger, 1995). Turbee (1994) succinctly and creatively describes in a posting to the discussion list TCHR-SL one's first impression of the MOO experience:

One could say that going to a MOO is like going to a foreign country where a creole of your own language is spoken. Imagine going to Jamaica, for instance.

You go to the country, and there are people there, but they're doing things you don't understand. You can hear them speaking, but you don't know what they're accomplishing with their speech. You hear your own language, such as in the conversations that are held, but you need to be able to speak the creole (MOO programming language) in order to make anything happen. You need to learn the vocabulary.

You also experience culture shock. Each MOO has its own culture. If you stay long enough you can begin to understand it. If it frightens or confuses you too much, you either go back home, or you go to another MOO whose culture is easier for you to assi milate.

As Turbee emphasizes, MOO might not be the best educational tool for all students or instructors, as some will prefer to use other learning and teaching tools with which they feel more comfortable. However, though potentially time-consuming and challengi ng at first, for those who become familiar with the MOO environment, it can be a very rewarding experience.

The World Wide Web in and of itself is not interactive, though what students do with it can be.

In reading back through the teaching journal I kept throughout FUN 101, I remembered that the class dynamic and overall motivation of the students shifted considerably after I introduced them to the FUN Web page. I was using the page for distribution of assignments, but not for interactive classroom projects or activities, as is evidenced in the following journal entry:

This week I introduced students to the FUN Web page, asking them to begin retrieving their assignments themselves directly from the page [rather than automatically via e-mail]. Though it has been easier for me to distribute assignments th is way (I haven't had to deal with returned messages from servers having technical problems, etc.), this has not been as successful for the students as I had anticipated.

The whole feeling of class camaraderie has changed. Students have not been posting to the discussion list, and have not shared with each other sites they've explored from the Web page. In one week, it feels as if they've gone from being a class working together and sharing ideas to a group of individuals working independently. I'm beginning to realize that just putting students on WWW isn't enough. They need focused tasks to help them best utilize the Web.

Thus, teachers must create interactive activities which involve WWW. For example, can also work in pairs or groups to do research projects via WWW. Students working collaboratively on WWW research projects could meet in a MOO setting, or they could comm unicate via e-mail, to discuss their projects.

Students can also work collaboratively to create and publish class web pages. Through the creation process, they can explore WWW, finding models for their own page and sharing their discoveries with their classmates.

ESOL students must understand the difference between standard English and cyber-English.

One of the most prevalent concerns about having ESOL students participate in online chatting, whether it be via MOO, IRC or talk, is that students will be exposed to language which is not traditionally acceptable in written English (Lundstrom, 1995). Thi s is an extremely valid concern, and one which must be addressed by ESOL instructors who use these functions of the Internet in their classes.

Students need to learn the difference between traditionally-acceptable written English and that which they will find online. By providing our students with the knowledge that this type of language exists before they actually see it, we empower our studen ts to be able to function within the Internet community.

Cyber-English is steadily becoming a dialect of English used within the particular Internet communities to express non-verbal gestures, actions or thoughts in text. In online conversations or messages, one is likely to find many of the following elements of cyber-English:

smileys: :-) (happy face) or :-( (sad face)

asterisks: Are you *sure* about that? (adds emphasis in the same manner as bold or italic)

all caps: Did you HEAR me? (conveys shouting)

phrasal abbreviations: BTW for `by the way;' BRB for `be right back;' IMHO for `in my humble opinion.'

It is important for teachers to address the issue of cyber-English so that students know when to use it appropriately (online), but that it is not yet acceptable for use in traditional writing in English. However, as the Internet community grows and evol ves, this form of English may blend into what we currently consider to be standard. As one FUN 101 student who has spent a great deal of time on IRC suggests:

The problem is what might happen to standard language after spreading through this Internet filter. It is going to become poor . . . and replace phrases and expressions which language already has.

The only weapon you could use against "damage" it could make is to use Internet to learn real English, not just cyber English . . . I am afraid that it should be more places like Frizzy University Network (FUN) where somebody qualified and responsible cou ld teach you to use language properly. Otherwise, Internet could really `"infect" English. This is becoming some quasi-language. (Vesna)

As instructors of English, we need to consider that throughout history languages have evolved and changed. For example, over time, gender has been eliminated from the English noun system. Does this mean that there is something wrong with the English we speak and write nowadays? Not necessarily, though it is different in many ways than the language our ancestors used even 100 years ago.

We must remember that what is considered to be standard English today will be the old English of tomorrow. In fact, if the Internet infiltrates the lives of those in the Information Age as many predict it will, teaching our students cyber-English might a ctually put them at an advantage in schooling, the workplace, and life in general.

Teachers using Internet as an educational tool must keep pedagogical goals in focus.

As with any tools a teacher brings to the classroom, use of the Internet must have a pedagogical focus that is clear not only to the instructor, but the students as well. Otherwise, students are likely to get caught up in the technological aspect of an a ctivity, losing sight of their language learning goals (Shetzer, 1995).

One example comes to mind from a class I recently led in which a group of pre-university ESOL students collaboratively created a Web page for the intensive English language program in which they were enrolled. Rather than focus the course on learning HTM L (hypertext markup language) simply for mechanical reasons, I had the students learn the coding language inductively, figuring out much of it on their own, and emphasizing the critical thinking aspect of using this new and unusual language. The students could then focus the majority of their time and energy on what they were going to put on the web page rather than how they were going to do it.

Using the Internet to teach ESOL requires changes in teachers' roles, approaches, and attitudes toward teaching.

In order to be effective in the virtual classroom, teachers must be willing to put aside their own egos, remove themselves from the classroom limelight, and place the focus of the class on the students. While the student-centered classroom has grown as an abstract concept in popular pedagogical theory, the reality is that many traditional classrooms still focus on the teacher. However, teaching online brings with it an underlying assumption or belief that the more students do for themselves, the more l earning will take place (Hiltz, 1990; Berge & Collins, 1995; Warschauer, Turbee & Roberts, 1994). That is why the very nature of the Internet is conducive to student-centered learning and subsequent empowerment.

Along these same lines, the virtual teacher-student relationship in the virtual classroom is more balanced than the traditional hierarchy in which teachers are all-knowing and students turn to them as experts. Kilian (1994) further describes this benefit of online learning:

The medium . . . can foster a surprisingly close relationship between teacher and student. A detailed written comment somehow carries more authority and impact than spoken remarks do. Some students are eager to start a real dialogue, sha rpening their writing skills still further as they argue their points.

Furthermore, teachers of online classes must be willing to take risks. At the present time, the Internet has no protocol for use as an educational tool. To some teachers, this is part of its appeal. To others, it can be quite disconcerting. Part of an y teacher's lesson should include a backup or `plan B' in case one avenue does not work (e.g. students cannot connect to Web site due to heavy traffic).

Teacher training on using the Internet must include new pedagogy as well as technology.

Teaching instructors how to use the functions of the Internet is not enough to prepare them for using it as an educational tool. In order to successfully bring the Internet into the classroom (or the classroom onto the Internet) requires training in not only the mechanics of how to use the technology, but the philosophies of how and why to teach with it as well.

While current pedagogical theory encourages the student-centered classroom, the virtual learning experience necessitates it. Depending on how the online course is structured (i.e. conducted asynchronously, via e-mail or WWW, or synchronously, via MOO), i t is likely that students will bear the brunt of responsibility for their own learning. If a virtual class is non-credit and/or designed so that students do not interact with each other, and primarily self-learn, deadlines might not be an issue. In fact , students can work at their own natural pace, and learn as they feel inspired.

On the other hand, if the class is collaborative, or being taken for credit, students will indeed interact with one another, and deadlines become very important, as students who fall behind may negatively impact the class dynamic and the project itself.

Moreover, the Internet lends itself naturally to collaborative, communicative and task-based classes (which are, of course, student-centered). Teachers who have been leading teacher-fronted, non-communicative classes will have to rethink their approaches .

Internet functions can be used not only as means of classroom facilitation, but also as language learning tools in and of themselves.

Online courses can be conducted in many ways, depending on the pedagogical goals of the instructor, availability of Internet resources, and level of students' proficiency in both English and computers. In the following section, I will explore the benefit s and limitations of using each of the Internet functions as they apply to FUN 101, and in ESOL writing instruction in general.

Electronic mail (e-mail)

increased student control of / contribution to communication
elimination of time and distance constraints
shift in authority from teacher to student
can reach many students at one time, with ease
saves paper
immediacy of response (student doesn't have to wait for a class session to have a question answered)

asynchronous interaction (not real time)
delays in distribution of messages
volume of information can be overwhelming for students
lack of opportunity for immediate negotiation of meaning can result in flaming

In addition to distributing and collecting assignments, e-mail can be used for activities and projects such as writing dialogue journals, online publishing of electronic newsletters or magazines, electronic penpals, and communication between teachers and students (and between students themselves) outside of class time. In a recent posting to NETEACH-L, an ESL writing instructor describes how she uses e-mail to extend communication with her students beyond the classroom:

The most advantageous effect [of using e-mail] has been that if I forget to give the students an important message in class, I can still do so after class, including assignments due and important notices for them from the administration. They can also se nd me questions about how to solve various problems or to improve their grade at their convenience, not necessarily having to set up an inconvenient office hour to do so. (Whittaker, 11/26/95)

According to FUN 101 student Zhang, "It's amazing to know your teacher's response so quickly." Commenting on the further benefits of teacher-student communication online, Warschauer (1995) adds that timely teacher response is not the only advantage. "Pr oviding your students with your e-mail address is a way of `leveling the playing field' and overcoming the language and status difficulties ESL students often have in communicating with their teachers." Students become empowered to ask questions of their instructors when they feel more secure about the method through which they are asking these questions.

In addition to the practical aspects of using the e-mail function of the Internet, through e-mail communication students gain writing, reading and critical thinking skills, as described by Kroonenberg (1994/1995):

In addition to developing writing skills, e-mail activities further develop students' reading comprehension and thinking skills.

Students always know who the audience is and the purpose for each entry. They are eager to communicate their thoughts in comprehensible language, knowing that what they write will be read by their classmates and me. Students are also clearly interested in reading, understanding, and responding comprehensibly to what their classmates have to say.

The awareness of audience mentioned by Kroonenberg was exemplified by one FUN 101 student in particular. Vishnja (1995) explained that using e-mail helped her feel more confident about her writing in English because she was getting responses to her writi ng, indicating that she was understood. "Before [FUN 101] I never post to the newsgroups, but after your course, I will. :) Earlier I was not sure that I can write something understandable, but you were reading it and I always get your answer."

E-mail, through which students receive responses to their writing, is a great introduction to the concept of writing for a real audience with purposes extending beyond writing for a grade. One example comes to mind in which a student on the EFL/ESL Discu ssion List MUSIC-SL posted a message about his favorite band, Metallica. I happened to be online when he posted, and was interested in finding out more about what it was that he liked about that band. I responded by sending him a note asking some questi ons. He wrote back again right away telling me how excited his class and teacher were to see him get a response so quickly, and that he was amazed that a `little bug' like himself on the Internet could get a response from a native speaker!


Earlier in this chapter, I described in how using MOO as a tool in the ESOL classroom in the best way to achieve online interactivity among students which parallels or improves upon that which is found in the traditional language classroom. Moreover, MOO s provide additional benefits for ESOL writing students, which I will explore in greater detail here.

synchronous communication (real time)
opportunity for interaction among students
text-based, language-dependent environment (Falsetti)
thinking in target language
negotiation of meaning
opportunity to practice English outside of classroom
practice reading/writing while communicating
fosters sense of community, belongingness and equality (Warschauer, Turbee & Roberts)
express non-verbal gestures
share thoughts
relaxed environment
can log conversations
provides office space for part-time teaching staff without access to traditional office
student ownership of learning materials (room, character, etc.)
creative outlet

lag (frozen screen during communication)
requires moderate typing speed
visual client recommended
anti-MOO policies of school computer lab administrators
non-ESL specific MOOs might be too culturally loaded (Falsetti)

There are many ways that students and instructors can utilize MOO as an educational tool, but as Warschauer (1995) states:

The most obvious use of real-time electronic discussion is for the teaching of writing. Students in general, particularly second languages students, often have a great fear of expressing their ideas in writing. To help overcome this fear and give their students as much writing practice as possible, some composition teachers conduct almost all of their course through electronic discussion. They find that the more students write, the more comfortable they get with it--especially because t heir writing occurs in such a powerful communicative context. Every word they put down is not for the purpose of being corrected by their teacher, but rather for the purpose of sharing ideas with their classmates.

The MOO environment provides an audience, context and purpose for writing, while at the same time supplying motivation to get students writing in the first place--communication.

From my own experiences at schMOOze, and the feedback of the FUN 101 students, I think the most important skills which students develop at schMOOze are thinking in English and negotiating meaning. When communicating through e-mail, if the recipient of a message does not understand a portion of that message, a request for clarification must be sent to the original sender. Then, the recipient must wait for a response to that message, and so on.

At schMOOze, if a student does not understand what another student has said, it is possible to request immediate clarification, then proceed with the conversation. An example of such negotiation of meaning occurred during my interview with Zhang:

Zhang [Guest] asks, "I see. Are you in San Francisco? Is it very hot there?"
Frizzy says, "NO! It is freezing here. :("
Frizzy shivers.
Frizzy watches the fog roll by her window.
Frizzy wishes the sun would come out.
Zhang [Guest] asks, "Is your house near a pond? Is the fog green or grey?"
Frizzy exclaims, "SF is surrounded by the ocean on 3 sides. The fog is most definitely gray!"
Zhang [Guest] says, "I'm sorry. I thought it was frog :-("
Frizzy smiles.
Frizzy would rather see a frog than fog! :)

In this example, the student determines from the context of the conversation that he is using the wrong vocabulary word for his meaning to be clear to the listener/reader. Because we were communicating synchronously, he and I instantly negotiated the mea ning of what was said, clarifying his intent within seconds. If this had taken place via e-mail, it could have taken hours or even days to correct this minor discrepancy in meaning.

Before taking ESOL students to schMOOze, there are several important things to consider:

A visual client, such as TinyFugue, is software which splits the user's screen so that what he is typing does not get scrambled with what others are saying. [see Appendix 5 for comparison of screens with and without visual client] At institutions where use of MOOs or MUDs is supported, a visual client might be stored on a central server. However, because many systems operators view MOOs only as games, and not as educational tools, the use of MOOs is sometimes discouraged, if not banned completely (Fal setti, 1995).

In my experience using the MOO for meetings with students, the biggest drawback is an occasional freezing of the screen during conversation known within the MOO community as "lag." When a player lags, he can send out messages to others in the room (e.g. tell them that he is lagging), but cannot see their messages on the screen. Once the period of lag expires (usually no more than one or two minutes), the player who has been lagging will see on his screen all messages from other players that were exchang ed while he was out of commission.

Lag can be a bit frustrating at times, especially if a teacher is trying to have a conference with a student or lead a class discussion. Indeed, students should be aware of the existence of lag and how to deal with it.

Another MOO-related issue that teachers need to address is the use of cyber-English, which is filled with abbreviations, anacronyms, and textual representations of non-verbal gestures.

Before addressing any of these issues, however, it is important to talk with the operator or facilitator of the computer lab you plan to use and find out what the lab policy is on using MOOs or MUDs for educational purposes. Because of their traditional history as being completely social, and of no particular educational benefit, some lab operators refuse to allow MOO or MUD use on their servers (Falsetti, 1995; Gardner, 1995).

World Wide Web (WWW)

real world examples of integrated knowledge
rich source of authentic language & culture material (Magoto)
collaborative learning
retrieval of timely and abundant information
appeals to learners with visual/tactile learning styles
opportunity to write with real purpose for real audience
builds critical thinking skills
need to skim & scan through vast amounts of information
opportunity for online publishing

WWW itself does not promote interactivity between students
difficult to read/navigate without graphical browser
need to learn computer language to create pages
slow connections to pages & links if Internet traffic high

Although WWW itself is not interactive, activities that lead students to learn via the Web can be. ESOL teachers can utilize Web sites in the classroom not only as sources of information and task-based reading, but also to spark in-class discussion (Mago to, 1995).

Furthermore, students can build their skimming and scanning skills through scavenger hunts on the Web, and develop their critical thinking skills by sifting through and gathering information from Web pages for research projects. In addition, WWW can also serve as an introduction for students to multimedia--the collaboration of text, images, audio and video--which is becoming an increasingly integral part of communication in the Information Age.

Perhaps the most innovative and empowering use of WWW in the ESOL classroom is for student publishing. Writing for publication on the Web provides the opportunity for a communicative, collaborative, student-centered and task-based classroom.

In working with a group of pre-university students on a collaborative Web page for their intensive English language program, I discovered that students can be very motivated by having a real audience and an authentic purpose for writing. In determining w hat information will appear on their page, students are highly aware of the audience for whom they are providing this information. When peer reading, they ask each other questions about the applicability of information to their audience. As a result, st udents' confidence and interest in writing rises, as of one of the Web workshop students explains:

Nobody can be indifferent from the Internet anymore. Making home page in the Internet gave me confidence to do something (generally, and especially in the Internet). I'm considering about changing my dream to do something using computer network.

Student writers given the opportunity to communicate authentically with their readers are motivated to write with greater enthusiasm and clarity than when writing only for an audience of one--the teacher. In addition, they can also see the applications o f working on global writing, which extends their learning beyond the classroom itself and out into the "real world."

In addition to conducting classes, teachers can use the Internet for communication and collaboration with fellow educators worldwide.

Were it not for e-mail and MOO connections to other ESOL instructors and graduate students with similar interests in using the Internet to teach ESOL writing, I might not have pursued the creation of FUN and completion of my thesis.

Because I received only minimal support in my real-life surroundings for my ideas and projects, I was fortunately pointed in the direction of what turned out to be two invaluable resources for me in conducting the research for this paper: TESL-L and schM OOze University. Through both of these online resources, I discovered that I was not alone in seeing the value of the Internet for learners of English.

However, the discussions taking place on TESL-L, and even TESLCA-L--its branch devoted to computer-assisted language learning--did not always focus on using the Internet. Thus, I created, along with an online colleague, Ron Corio, a list specifically foc using on how and why ESOL teachers worldwide are using the Internet in their ESOL classes. Frequently, I receive postings such as the one below from teachers subscribed to NETEACH-L who share with me how much they value this connection to like-minded ins tructors:

I've been meaning to write for awhile to you and Ron to say "thanks" for starting this list. It has been so nice to have a group of people interested in the web and ESL. Too often when I start to talk to colleagues here at my university, eyes glaze over when I mention home pages, links, web browsers, search engines, etc. Few people know what I'm talking about and fewer can bounce ideas around with me. I have really enjoyed having NETEACH to read, write to, and learn from. Thanks for a ll the hard work you and Ron have put into this list! (Moody)

Any time of the day or night I could contact others in real time or via e-mail who would either help me explore my ideas, answer my questions, or suggest resources for reference (e.g. books, articles). I once posted a request on TESLCA-L for bibliographi es relating ESOL and technology, and received three different thesis bibliographies totaling more than 100 references, all within twenty-four hours!

MOOs can also be beneficial means of communication for teachers who feel isolated in their teaching interests. Through MOOs, they can make connections and talk in real time with like-minded instructors worldwide. For example, after getting to know me at schMOOze, and learning about my projects and teaching philosophies, an ESOL instructor set me up with a job interview. In addition, I also collaborated at schMOOze on a submission for publication with a colleague that I had met for the first time on my discussion list, NETEACH-L. We were able to log our conversations and use those notes when revising our drafts.

Furthermore, teachers can also communicate and collaborate through sites on the World Wide Web. As one instructor wrote to me after discovering the FUN Web page of resources in ESOL:

I have found your page very welcoming and comprehensive. It is very time-sparing. Instead of hunting around the Internet for sites that I have heard of/not heard of; instead of looking up URL's which I can't find or have mis-typed, I can g o to one source (I always get through) and access everything else from there. I use the sites for the usual collection of reasons, to keep abreast of relevant developments, to look for materials, references and classroom ideas. Working through your page h elps to offset the typical isolation that I feel as an individual teacher closeted in my lecture room with "my" students and puts me in contact with the international band of TEFL/TESL teachers and lecturers (Newson, 11/1/95).

Indeed, much of the appeal of using the Internet in ESOL is not only for the benefit of our students, but also for our own evolvement and growth as teaching professionals. By developing strong connections with colleagues worldwide, we inevitably help our students, as we become open to sharing and trying new ideas for the classroom.

Distributing course materials over the Internet can save time, money and paper.

Storing course materials and assignments on a web page or distributing them via e-mail allows students to retrieve them at their convenience. In the traditional classroom setting, if a student does not come to class, a teacher must either meet him outsid e of class to give him the materials he missed or remember to bring one session's work to the next (along with the handouts for that session as well). Online distribution places more responsibility on the student.

Simply because the students retrieve materials in electronic form, this does not mean that paper is not involved, as the students may decide to print an assignment or materials once retrieved or downloaded. Thus, the expense (paper, ink) shifts from the instructor or department to the students themselves, which is something to be considered when determining tuition and fees for virtual classes.

Teachers who must pay for their own photocopying, or who have stringent limits on the copies they can make (not uncommon in today's world of severe budget cuts in education), will undoubtedly find paperless distribution to be a great benefit of online tea ching. The following posting on Educom, a bi-weekly electronic newsletter on educational technology, expresses well where paperless distribution is headed:

Professors increasingly are bypassing the copy machine and posting course syllabi and other materials directly onto the Web for downloading by their students. This new strategy allows teachers to offer more current information and facilit ates mid-course changes if necessary. Some report that their students spend more time surfing through the information, and point out that high-tech materials presentation ties right in with the expectations of the video generation.

Still, many have voiced concern over potential copyright violations and worry that their online activities might get their schools in trouble. "Professors are probably one by one violating copyright laws," says Educom VP Carol Twigg, who predicts that th ese issues will be resolved before too long. "The next generation of faculty are going to do this naturally." [Chronicle of Higher Education, 3 Nov 95, A27] (Educom, 11/6/95)

In addition to copyright laws, another consideration for instructors interested in storing assignments on a Web page is the special coding required. In order for text documents to be viewed on WWW, they must first be coded, or marked up, with a unique se ries of codes, in a language known as HTML (hypertext markup language). Teachers may not have the initial time, energy or resources to learn HTML, and, thus, may prefer distributing their course material by hand.

However, there is an abundance of online training guides and documents through which teachers can self train. In addition, through Netscape (by choosing "View" and then "Source") anyone can see the markup or coding of a page. Though it is considered bad netiquette to steal someone else's work, it is acceptable to copy and paste someone's formatting, later adjusting it to your own page's needs.

Also, HTML editors are available through which a user can simply point and click, and the HTML marking appears. With this software, HTML coding of a basic page of text probably takes less time than waiting in line for the copier at the English Department . Teachers should also keep in mind that they have enough storage space in their Internet accounts to store a home page and its links.

Though special markup is required for WWW pages, teachers can upload and distribute assignments via e-mail without special coding. If the teacher and students involved will all be using the same type of computer and software (including e-mail program), documents can be uploading with formatting (e.g. a document created in MS Word for Windows on the PC can be uploaded, distributed to students via e-mail, then downloaded by students using MS Word for Windows on a PC).

If the students and teacher are not all using the same type of computer and software, the teacher and students must then transfer documents using straight ASCII (no formatting) via e-mail. [This is how document transfer was conducted in FUN 101.]


For a virtual class to run smoothly, teachers and students should have the following:

  1. technical resource person
  2. visual client for MOO
  3. One (1) megabyte of online storage space for students, and two (2) megabytes for teacher (more may be necessary for both if creating and storing web pages)

As a backup, I downloaded all FUN 101 work to my hard drive throughout the course; however, I often found it helpful to have students' writing stored in my e-mail account for quick reference, though this required storage space.

In addition, there are many other issues to be considered when planning to teach an online ESOL course.

Time zones

One of the major issues during FUN 101 in trying to coordinate an interactive class discussion was that of time zones. The students in FUN 101 and I were spread out across eight different time zones. So, I would have to post an assignment (via e-mail) a t 4:00 p.m. on Sunday in order to reach all students by 10:00 a.m. on Monday. Depending on the course syllabus and when assignments are distributed and collected, time zones may or may not be a major issue.

Student access to Internet

Online instructors will want to consider how, where, and when students will be accessing the Internet. Will they have access from home, via modem? Will they be using the computer labs on campus?

An issue for one-third of the students in FUN 101 was that they lost their Internet access when their semesters ended in their native countries. The students all assumed that if they had Internet access when they began my class, that meant that they coul d use their accounts indefinitely. On the contrary, when students' semesters ended, many of them subsequently lost their Internet privileges.

Prior student knowledge of Internet functions

The basic skill students will need prior to taking an online course is using e-mail. Beyond that, it is up to instructors to decide which additional Internet functions students should be familiar with before taking an online course, or they will teach th e students within the course.

Use of the Internet

An important consideration during the planning stages of an online class is whether to use the Internet as a means of facilitating the class itself, and/or as an educational tool in its own right.

Student participation

Online teachers will experience the same types of issues as traditional teachers when dealing with students who drop their courses. This is especially true for non-credit courses, such as FUN 101. In fact, it is easier for students to drop an online cou rse because they can just close their e-mail account, or throw away unwanted messages. There is no requirement that they inform the teacher, or even discuss their situation with the teacher. On the other hand, students who continue to participate in non -credit online courses are usually very motivated and inspiring to work with.

Continue on to Chapter Six (Conclusion) or return to Table of Contents.

Copyright © 12/06/95 by Karla Frizler. Reprinting of this chapter in its complete, unmodified form for strictly non-profit purposes is both authorized and encouraged provided that this copyright is included.