Article #9 from an ongoing Series
6 Myths in Using Technology–True or False?
In my family, I am the one who doesn’t know how to program the VCR and I can’t figure out how to use my cell phone’s panel. The first time I wrote an email was 5 years ago when I started my Master’s program. At that time, I was constantly embarrassed to ask my younger sister, a successful IT professional, for help. Now, as an ESL instructor, I teach non-credit CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) classes. I also use Calibrated Peer Review (CPR), an Internet-based software, in my writing class. And I recently have finished creating interactive online exercises using software called Hot Potatoes. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in terms of computer use. I decided to write this article to share my experience and encourage teachers to use technology. Yes, you can do it! Yes, it can be fun!
Myth #1: “I am too embarrassed to attend any Technology Learning Center (TLC) Workshops because I will be the only one who doesn’t know how to use a mouse.”
Faaalsee! First, you are not alone. And, like everyone else, you need to start somewhere. I once read an article about a woman who teaches word processing, Internet searching, and basic computer skills classes to CEOs and executives in large corporations. She recalled one student who took the courage to ask how to scroll down a page. In the article, she mentioned that some of these executives are embarrassed to ask questions and that they request private classes. You don’t need to hire a private teacher to ask your “primitive questions.” Here at City College, the TLC offers periodic workshops for people who are “computer challenged.” (Don’t you just love the English language?) And if you need training in a specific area, they can offer “target workshops.” Also, if you come to the open faculty lab located in Batmale Hall, there is always a friendly lab aid willing to help. In my case, even though I have some knowledge of FrontPage (a software for creating web sites), if it weren’t for Flora and Hugh (lab aids) or Vic Fascio (trainer), I wouldn’t have been able to start my project.
Myth #2: I have some computer skills; I prepare my handouts and exams using my computer, but I don’t think I can create online exercises. In order to design web sites, one needs to know HTML, JAVA, PERL…
False! Thank goodness, no. Nowadays, many software applications are “user friendly.” For example, FrontPage was designed for those who are comfortable using Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. You can insert pictures, copy and paste, change fonts, open and save new pages, just like in any Microsoft document. If you know word processing, you will be fine, but you might need some help when publishing to the college’s server.* On my web site, (http://fog.ccsf.edu/~awu), I have interactive online exercises I created using Hot Potatoes, a free application for educators. With Hot Potatoes you can create crossword puzzles, matching, quizzes, and cloze exercises. I did this by inputting my data using the same functions as any word processor. I learned how to use Hot Potatoes’ specific functions in a one-hour online workshop.
Myth #3: I don’t want to create online exercises. There is no need to create a web site.
Okay, it’s true. There is no “need.” But you can still create a web site to post your course syllabus, a tentative schedule, assignments, or past exams. One ESL instructor I know told me her students need to read a book and then exchange their impressions online on a message board. In my non-credit CALL class, some students prefer to type than write. For them it’s more interesting and fun to learn ESL using a computer. I believe that technology is an alternative—we give students another channel for learning. Just as we know there are visual and auditory learners, there are those who are motivated by using technology.
Myth #4: Creating online lessons is very time consuming.
Well, yes, it’s true, especially in the beginning of your project. But that’s because you’ll spend quite a bit of time becoming familiar with the new application or software. Also, it’s true that computers crash, the computer system may not run properly, the connection can slow down, and once you master an application, a better one is on the block. Yes, it can be very, very frustrating. But I promise you, you’ll get faster, better, and smarter through practice, and trial and error.
In my writing class, my students practice paraphrasing using CPR, the Internet-based software created at UCLA. In this assignment, they proofread the writing of three randomly chosen peers. Using a list of guiding questions, they give a grade anonymously, and later proofread their own writing. It took me more than 10 hours to create my first assignment, and even with the help of another teacher, Lia Smith, who did the assignment with my students and gave me insightful feedback, I can still find room for improvement. Using my students’ feedback, I am constantly editing my instructions, grading system, and samples.
Myth #5: I don’t want my students doing exercises using a computer. They’ll forget how to spell and punctuate.
From a survey I conducted with my students, 38% said their spelling and punctuation improved using CPR. Some said they enjoyed using CPR because it forced them to be a more attentive reader and a better proofreader.
Myth #6: It’s cruel to make students spend time in front of a computer.
I get my most rewarding experience using technology in my non-credit CALL class. In this class, the students are asked to do a variety of tasks such as: create a daily schedule using charts, create resumes, search for tickets and hotels to plan for the vacation of their dreams, teach cooking recipes, and use different fonts to create postcards. The projects are simple, but one can see how confident and proud they become by the end of the class. One student said she would have never imagined writing a poem in English using a computer. Whatever the assignments are, at the end of the day, I always conclude it was worthwhile using technology. Not all the students who used CPR enjoyed the assignments, but all of them said it was useful or that they learned something. We all know that as teachers, we need to prepare lessons that are meaningful and challenging. It doesn’t matter whether your exercises focus on researching, reading, writing, speaking, or listening skills; technology can improve assimilation and help teachers create interesting and intellectually stimulating learning environments.
* Note: TMI and TLC are rolling out a new way for faculty to create web sites without learning Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or knowing how to upload files to the college server.