Extensive reading (ER) has been drawn to the attention of many English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) researchers and practitioners as an effective reading instruction (Lin and Lin, 2009; Yamashita, 2008). However, the internet era and the widespread use of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) materials along with the high computer literacy skills of students and teachers, has encouraged many educators to convert the traditional ER programme into a web-based version. This paper reports on the design, implementation and the evaluation of 'Come Learn with Me' an online reading webpage which utilises CALL materials in an attempt to offer an online reading platform for intermediate learners of English.
The paper has four main sections: part one provides a literature review in which the definitions, main features and the theoretical and practical foundation of ER will be presented. Part two involves an overall specification of the developed materials where the aims and the target group that they are designed for will be described. Part three discusses the implementation and the practical aspects of the programme in which a critical evaluation will be given. Finally, the paper will conclude the main points.
2. Literature Review
2.1 Notion of Extensive Reading
As a form of reading technique, extensive reading or as it sometimes called 'free reading' has been defined differently due to the various ways such an approach has been utilised. Some definitions entail particular criteria upon which ER is based 'reading as much as possible, for the purpose of pleasure or information rather than learning particular features, and is usually self-selected' (Al-Homoud and Schmitt, 2009:383). Others considered its potential impact on building students' reading habit as described by Day and Bamford (2002:136) 'Extensive reading [...] can be a key to unlocking the all-important taste for foreign language reading among students'. In addition, Kirubahar and Subashini (2010: 127) have related it to the difficulty level of material that is 'not too difficult nor too easy'. However, the writer has adapted the ten principles provided by Day and Bamford (1998) which illustrate precisely the main features to be considered in designing ER material. Consequently, the 'Come Learn with Me' website has been designed in light of such characteristics. Outside the classroom, students are encouraged to read a large quantity of varied material for different reasons. Learner-centered is one of the main principles in ER as learners have the freedom to select their own material, read whenever and wherever they choose and stop reading when the interest is lost. Therefore, such materials have to be within learners' linguistic competence and aimed to general understanding and pleasure. Furthermore, the ER practitioner role is to act as a model in which they share with their students' the reading experience and provide them with guidance and orientation throughout the ER process.
Clearly, the aforementioned principles emphasize three main aspects of ER approach to second language reading: firstly, individuality of such an approach in which the teacher's role is restricted to provide learners with the appropriate conditions in which to read (Arnold, 2009). Secondly, replication of real life reading in which the reader's main goal is to gain general information and seek pleasure. Thirdly, building a reading habit by motivating students to read in a consistent way based on their preference and learning style.
2.2 Benefits of Extensive Reading
The theoretical support which underpins the ER approach is influenced by Krashen's (1982) input hypothesis in which he argued for ER as a means through which learners' linguistic competence can be developed. This goal can be accomplished via comprehensible input provided by exposing learners to a large amount of interesting materials in a tension-free environment (ibid). Advocates of ER claim that free reading can assist learners in developing their literacy level by providing them with adequate resources (McQuillan and Krashen, 2002). Likewise, Yamashita (2008) regards it as one of the 'easiest' approaches to increase learners' natural exposure to second language input.
Consequently, the merits of implementing ER with ESL/EFL learners and its positive impact on different aspects of second language ability have been the main focus of many pieces of research in the field of second language reading. For instance, ER is proven to be effective in building learners' self-confidence and enhances their motivation (Arnold, 2009). According to Hedge (2000), the free choice provided in ER can increase students' independence and thereby arouse their autonomy. Furthermore, critical thinking which is considered one of the main ingredients required in higher education can be developed through ER (Day and Bamford1998; Kirubahar and Subashini 2010). Extensive reading, indeed, has been identified by researchers as a crucial device which triggers second learners' vocabulary acquisition and words knowledge (Horst, 2005). However, Yamashita (2008) argues that such reading can be utilized in fostering general reading skills rather than specific linguistic ability.
2.3 Extensive Reading and the Internet
Despite the pedagogical efficiency of the ER programme in developing several aspects of second language skills as mentioned earlier, many teachers encountered the challenge to incorporate such instruction within their school's course curriculum. Lack of time and resources along with the tight schedules make ER 'an approach less taken' in EFL/ESL learning context (Day and Bamford, 1998:3). Yet, the emergence of web technology and multimedia has shown great potential in resolving these obstacles and compensating for the flaws in traditional teaching methods (Yan, 2010).
The integration of the CALL environment with Internet-mediated learning can be sufficient learning tools for the teaching of ER which is argued to be more convenient and effective than the print media (Louchy, 2005). The merit in using Web-assisted language teaching is attributed to the interactive elements provided in multimedia resources which can include a diverse collection of authentic electronic texts that cover limitless topics and can be used for various reasons. According to Arnold (2009), online material can compensate for the limited access to second language materials, which can be one of the main barriers to students' pleasure of reading by providing them with valuable resources. In addition to the text; colour, photos, audio and video elements can also be added to the text to offer a 'multi-textually' element which can enhance learners' engagement and motivate them to read (Silva, 2009).
Another key aspect of online reading material is the concept of hypertext annotation which can be defined as 'short definitions or explanations with nonlinearly linked data associated with graphics, audios, and videos in computerized texts' (Yun, 2011: 41). The use of this technique is suggested to be effective in facilitating reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition (AbuSeileek, 2011; Yun, ibid; Hong, 2010). In addition, the different forms of social interaction provided in Web-assisted language teaching such as video conference, chat rooms and discussion forms offer learners and teachers the opportunity to express their views and share their experience.
In brief, online reading with the aid of CALL applications and web technology can be a promising approach to second language reading that reflects the main principles of the ER approach in a more practical way.
3. The Design of the Website
3.1 Target group
The 'Come Learn with Me' website is designed to be used by freshmen medical college female students enrolled in the intensive English language programme at the English Language Centre in Dammam University, Saudi Arabia. Students' proficiency level is intermediate and their age range from 18-21.
3.2 Rationale for designing the website in the context of the programme
In order to justify the aims of designing the above web-based materials, I shall first provide an understanding of the setting in which it is intended to be used. Medical students in Dammam University are required to undergo an intensive English language course where they are taught English for Specific Purposes in particular Medical English. Therefore, their only reading input exposure is restricted to the different Medical reports and texts provided by their teacher which focus mainly on Medical terminology learning. Furthermore, teachers in this centre are faced with a curriculum that is filled to the brim which makes the use of other reading genre an unattainable goal. As for the part of the students, the limited time of the lessons along with the requirements of other subjects has increased students' reluctance to read in general and to read in English in particular. A final point to be mentioned here which, as the writer believes, is a crucial reason for the aforementioned problem is the lack of English reading resources not only in Dammam University Library but in all the other national libraries in Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, the design of the above website has threefold aims: first, to provide a user-friendly web platform that can be accessed by the target students in order to create a positive attitude towards English reading and build their reading habit. Secondly, to improve students' level of vocabulary. Thirdly, to encourage their learning autonomy as the website is suggested to be used on a self-study basis.
3.3 Description and justification
The writer utilized four programmes to construct the aforementioned website: Picasa 3 for the design and editing of the images used; Hotpotatoes to design the vocabulary and the reading exercises and Adobe Dreamweaver to write the webpages. The content of the reading texts has been retrieved from different websites and formal permissions have been granted when applicable (see appendix A, B and C).
'Come Learn with Me' consists of nine reading texts, three vocabulary and three reading comprehension exercises. The homepage has been designed to welcome the user and give brief instructions on the use of the site. Different elements have been added to the page such as a navigation bar where weekly reading logs, reading texts and the writers' contact information can be located. A link to a social network 'Facebook' page in which students are instructed to express their views about the reading passages, and have the opportunity to add their own reading materials. In addition, different links to several online dictionaries, free online reading websites and free reading and vocabulary online exercises can be located at the bottom of the homepage.
The 'let's start' link navigates the user to the second page where a world map image on which three different countries can be seen. The instruction, at the top of the page, asks the user to choose one of these countries by clicking on the 'flag' icon then the user will be navigated to another page. On this page, three reading texts that related to the preselected country are accompanied with two activities. The reading activities focus on reading comprehension skills in which a 'fill-in the blank' and 'multiple-choice' questions have been designed. The vocabulary activities utilize the different exercises provided by the Hotpotatoes software namely the 'JMix', 'JMatch' and 'JCross'.
In order to make the website as user-friendly as possible, navigations between pages as well as within the same page (in long texts) have been facilitated by adding several 'back' and 'back to the top' links whenever appropriate. In addition to the navigation links, the reading text is laid out on screen comprised of three colours; white is for the background page, black for the actual written text and blue to highlight the links and the hypertext annotations. Other multimedia features have been added such as still photos, hypertext annotations and videos.
Designing the web in such a way has been influenced by the ten principles proposed by Day and Bamford (1998). Yet, certain modifications and elements have been taken into account in order to accomplish the aims intended of the materials. Three areas have been considered: text-selection and presentation of reading material, the concept of learner-centeredness, and the teacher's role.
In terms of the selection of the text, a range of genres including fiction and non-fiction and authentic literary texts which are simple and straightforward in content were selected carefully by the writer bearing in mind the students' English language capacity and their background. Such criteria would help beginner readers to read text that is within their linguistic competence which can awaken their desire to read, especially for real-life reading. As Ueda (2011) points out, with easy-to-understand material; reluctant students can enjoy reading which would result in enhancing reading frequency.
Since the reading material, used in the website, were authentic texts written to native speakers of English, it is more likely that students will encounter unfamiliar words while reading. Hence, students tend to infer word meaning which is claimed to have an effective impact on vocabulary learning (Fraser, 1999). Yet, such a strategy can be difficult and risky due to learners' language limitations and the complexity of the text (Hong, 2010).Therefore, to ensure students' comprehension of what they read, reduce their dictionary use and give them the opportunity to widen their new word knowledge; the texts were modified by adding a hyper-text annotation feature. By clicking on the annotated word which needs to be consulted, a pop-up window will appear with a 2-7 words definition, as recommended by AbuSeileek (2011), which will turn into another colour afterwards. In doing so, students will be able to associate a word to its meaning without interruption. The benefits of using hyper-text annotation have been widely documented in many studies which is argued to increase reading comprehension and vocabulary learning (Yun, 2011; Sun, 2003; Chapelle, 2003; AbuSeileek, 2011; Hong, ibid). Furthermore, students' autonomy and learning independence can be accomplished via several features in the website. Firstly, students are instructed to select the text they expect to be interesting and suitable to their level and taste. In addition, they are provided with several free reading website links to maintain their full freedom of choice. Therefore, once they encounter a difficult material or less appealing one, they have the option to switch to another text without feeling the pressure they would have in a traditional classroom reading where they are obligated to continue reading.
Indeed, online material can assist students' independence since they have the choice to access the web and thus read the material within their preference time and location. In addition to text-selection, students can maintain their reading comprehension, and check their unfamiliar word retention by their choice to do one of the activities provided. The clear instructions, hints and prompts which accompany each activity can help learners to achieve the outcome intended of these exercises without the need for teacher's help. Although the comprehension questions and vocabulary exercises interfer with Day and Bamform's (2002: 138) principle 'reading is its own reward' in which they argued for free-task reading to maintain readers' pleasure, the writer believes that such exercises not only supplement students with the intended learning skills but also would help them to be responsible for their own learning process.
With regards to the teacher's role, the web-based language material used in the 'Come Learn with Me' website has replaced this role with 'Facebook' and 'Weekly log' links. In the conventional ER programme, students are oriented towards a follow up activity where they can discuss their views and write summaries of their reading. Alternatively, in the above website, students can achieve the same goal by participating in an online discussion via the social network 'Facebook'. As for the use of logs, students can track their progress by keeping a reading log which can have twofold advantages: to guide students throughout their reading experience; and to encourage them to read frequently. According to Bell (1998), one of the elements of a successful ER programme is to provide effective monitoring needed to develop students' reading habits and engagement.
To sum up, ER instruction can be better achieved through the web and CALL material due to the different elements utilized in the abovementioned website. Such materials if used effectively are believed to give learners full control of the material and thus encourage them to learn and read independently.