We'll be looking at the advantages of using the web, covering some of the problems and providing a few suggestions for dealing with those difficulties.
This article looks specifically at searching the internet, online teacher development and using the net to increase students' communication practice.
- Searching the web
- A virtual staffroom
Searching the web
The internet has a lot to offer the teacher. There are authentic resources and materials, places where you can find prepared lesson plans, ideas and worksheets and places where you can share your ideas and thoughts with other teachers around the world.
The difficulty is often in finding what you want. There are several billion pages of content and that number is growing all the time. Therefore one of the most important skills to develop is that of effective searching.
When searching, the important tips to remember are…
Choose your tool
A search directory is good for looking at general topic areas and their contents have been sorted by real people. You can search them as you might search in a library by clicking through the different sections and sub-sections. Yahoo is a search directory.
Search engines list content which has been gathered automatically from the net. There is much more information to choose from and it has not been selected by humans! So it is therefore very important to be careful in your choice of search terms. Google is a search engine.
Refine your searches
If you are looking for exercises or information connected with the present perfect, for example, you could just type 'present perfect' in the search box. This, however would give you many thousands, possibly millions of hits. Some of these would be what you are looking for, but many would be irrelevant. You need to be able to narrow down or refine your search. You can do this a number of ways
- Use key words and terms
add a few words to your search using relevant expressions such as 'ELT' (English Language Teaching). Putting 'Present Perfect ELT' into the search box will reduce responses from many thousands to only a few thousand.
- Use advanced search tool
most search tools have a section which allow you further to refine your search. Don't be afraid to use these, they are not difficult to learn and are very useful. For example if you wanted to look only for information that came from academic sites in the United Kingdom you can select in the advanced search area to look for sites with the domain '.ac.uk'. Doing this reduces the number of responses to hundreds.
- Use Boolean operators (Boolean logic)
These are characters such as '-' (minus) and '+' (plus) which are used to exclude or add certain words in the search. For example, you do a search for 'English teaching', and in the results there are many job opportunities, but you are looking for classroom materials. So, using Boolean operators you could write "English teaching -jobs -opportunities +materials". The search tool will then look for sites which have materials but do not have information on jobs or opportunities. They are a very effective way of narrowing your search to exactly what you are looking for.
Validate your searches
Once you have narrowed down your search results, it is also important to establish how reliable the information is. There are many sites on the web and not all of them will have accurate information. There are some things you can look out for to help you judge a site.
- The domain
for example '.edu' or '.ac' indicates that it comes from a university or academic institution.
- The producer
Try to find which company or individual is producing the site - Is it supported by an organisation or company that has a good reputation?
- The author
Who has written the information? What are their qualifications for writing such a piece? Is this information given?
- The linguistic accuracy
Does the page have many grammar, spelling mistakes etc.
These features do not guarantee that you can trust the information on the site, but they are general guidelines which you can apply with your own knowledge and common sense to help you make an informed decision.
A virtual staffroom
The internet has a number of features that can provide teachers with information and support.
By joining an email discussion group teachers can communicate, learn and share with many other teachers. Once you are subscribed every message that you send is automatically distributed to all of the other members on the list, and you receive all the replies and messages from the other members.
If you don't have the time or don't want to be looking at potentially hundreds of emails every week, then message boards are another good way to get or give answers to specific questions. Many sites have message boards on a range of topics and it is usually possible to look at the questions and answers without having to subscribe.
Discussion groups and message boards are like 'virtual staffrooms' through which you can communicate with teachers all over the world. If you are having a problem with a student, class or need ideas on how to teach a particular language point, you can be sure that other teachers have had the same problems. By joining message boards and mailing lists you can have access to the knowledge and experience of many other teachers which can save you time and also give you reassurance that you are not alone!
The net gives users the power and freedom to communicate instantly across the globe. If you can make contact with people from other cultures and countries it helps motivate students to improve their writing skills. Writing on the internet is more realistic than, say, a letter-writing exercise in class as the students have an authentic reason for writing.
A chat room is a facility on the web which allows you to communicate directly and instantly with other people online. Unlike email, messages are displayed on the screen as they are written. It's like having a conversation, but in writing. However, as a teacher you need to be very careful using chat rooms with students. You cannot always be sure who your students are talking to - so if you plan to use a chat room try to find one that has been set up by a reliable organisation for use by school students.
Making contacts with schools in other countries and establishing an email exchange programme is a safer route than chat rooms.
IRC (Internet Relay Chat)
This is the technology for setting up your own chat-room. If you have made contacts with another school, then it is possible to set up your own chat room using IRC with that school. This is much more satisfactory than using a general chat-room as you can be sure who your students are chatting with. Today, setting up your own IRC is not nearly as difficult as it sounds. But it does require research and planning. Of course, you can find all the information you need on the web! Although if you have access to a computer lab there may be a person who is responsible for that room who can help.
Remember as with any classroom activity the students will still need a task as a purpose for the chat and will need to be monitored carefully.
If you have any suggestions or tips for using the internet in the class you would like to share on this site, contact us.
Callum Robertson, radio broadcaster and online producer, BBC World Service