If technology is to be a positive force in education, it should not be cast as an alternative to classroom teaching, or as replacing the teacher, but as a tool that facilitates meaningful and challenging classroom work”. (van Lier 2003:2)Many online programmes still follow the transmission mode and one would therefore question the advantage or added value of simply delivering conventional textbook style materials over an online platform (Zhong & Shen 2002, Lui et al 2003, Gu Y 2006).
The internet has brought many advantages for teachers; such as the ability to access authentic written, audio and visual materials from anywhere in the world (Larsen-Freeman, Andersen 2011) enabling them to supplement or substitute classroom textbooks as the needs of the class demand.
For learners, the internet also provides a rich assortment of authentic material in the target language that allows them the autonomy to choose what to focus on. A study of teenagers over the age of fifteen, carried out in Austria showed that 15% had learned one or more foreign language out of school /university by social networking sites, listening to popular music, watching undubbed movies and TV programmes (Larsen-Freeman, Anderson 2011).
Technology can therefore support learning by allowing students to access the technology between the classes either in an unstructured manner to browse and practice material or in a structured way where the teacher sets tasks (Sharma, Barrett 2007). Chappelle and Jamieson (2008) argue that for learners to become autonomous, they need guidance in choosing what to learn and how to learn it. I consider that young learners do need guidance from a teacher especially when their level of the target language is low. The internet can be overwhelming for beginners and knowing what is appropriate is not always easy. Learners should initially be given tasks to complete via links and as their confidence and language ability improves, this will allow them to develop autonomy and go beyond the set tasks. By working with the technology at home, students can also work at their own pace on exercises and receive immediate feedback, (Arvan & Musmeci, 2000; Felix, 2003; Singh, 2003) they also have the opportunity to submit their work several times (Felix, 2003).
Using technology in the classroom can also be motivating for students. Introducing games, movies and songs in the target language can stimulate learners and provide a more interactive learning experience. (Sharma, Barrett 2007).
Psycholinguistics consider listening to be a bimodal skill that involves both auditory and visual senses (Rost, 2005 p512). Taking this into consideration, I based my listening task on a short film that includes clear visuals, the narrator speaks slowly and clearly but if any section is misunderstood by the learner they can play and replay any section of the text they like. It provides the students to hear an ‘authentic English accent’ which if difficult to follow can be paused and replayed. The transcript is also provided for added support to allow learners to check aural comprehension.
3. Aims of the website
1. Target learners
The website was designed for a year five English class studying at a Primary School in Switzerland. The class have been learning English for two and a half years. They receive two 45 minute classes each week. Switzerland has four official languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh. In the last five years, English has replaced French as the first foreign language taught in schools. English is now introduced either in year two or three and French is delayed until year five. The class are following a set textbook, 'Young World', which is written in both German and English and the teacher is provided with a teacher’s book and CD-ROM to accompany the students’ book. The teacher is Swiss. The learners tend to not get much opportunity to listen to spoken English or practice their English beyond the classroom. The class is of mixed ability.
2.The aims of the material
The school works closely with a website called Antolin (www.antolin.de). Each student has their own password and name to access the site. The students are encouraged to read independently at home and once they have finished a book, they log in to Antolin, find the book they have just read and answer ten to fifteen multiple choice comprehension questions about the book. The learner is then awarded points and at the end of each semester certificates are awarded within the class to learners with the most points. Antolin has a selection of German , English, French and Italian books.</span>
The aim of my site therefore was to select books currently on the Antolin site and use them in a way that would encourage the learner to listen to books in English, develop their vocabulary, help with pronunciation, provide opportunities to communicate with each other, to encourage learners to be more autonomous learners of English and to have fun along the way. This site would be used to supplement the current textbook. The website includes a section for the teacher to provide useful links and ideas for expansion of the material.
The school has limited technology within the classroom. Each classroom has one PC and usually one laptop, both linked to the internet. In addition, teachers have access to a projector and screen. The website I designed would therefore be used within the classroom to introduce topics and for group work. It would then be placed on the school website for learners to access at home. All of the students have access to a PC at home. This form of blended learning allows the class material to be replayed at home thus encouraging learners to become more autonomous learners and develop the ability to work with technology, without instruction of the teacher. Courses that have a face to face as well as a CALL component encourages the learner to become actively engaged and hence promote learner autonomy and empowerment (Collentine, 2000; Warschauer & Meskill 2000).
The link for parents, enables them to be updated on what their child has studied this week in class as well as the homework tasks for the week. From my own personal experience of living in Switzerland as a parent and as a teacher, my impression is that parents are very involved in their child's learning and take an active role in supervising homework. Not all parents speak English and therefore struggle when support is required for English homework. Therefore I have provided a link to my blog site in as an information source for parents. The blog would be updated weekly and would be written in German for parents to access.