First of all, what exactly is a CD-ROM? Short for'Compact Disc Read-Only Memory', a CD-ROM looks exactly like an audio CD but contains multimedia files that are programmed to use text, images, audio and video to provide interactivity. CD-ROMs are often included free or at little extra cost with coursebooks and workbooks. CD-ROMs accompanying courses typically have content related to each course unit, providing learners with extra reading and listening materials, recording functionality to practise pronunciation and speaking, and with grammar and vocabulary activities like matching vocabulary to definitions, drag and drop exercises, gap-fills, crosswords, and so on.
These CD-ROMs are primarily designed for learners to work on alone as follow-up to a lesson, either in a school self-access centre or at home. They can include features such as allowing learners to choose their own path through the CD-ROM materials by making their own 'lesson plans' - choosing which activities to do and in what order to do them. Many coursebook CD-ROMs also have testing materials incorporated, so that learners can check their own progress, as well as a grammar reference section and mini-dictionary. As well as the CD-ROMs accompanying language coursebooks, there are standalone CD-ROMs aimed at different groups of learners which cover different language areas and skills, such as examination preparation and practice, grammar and vocabulary andpronunciation. And of course there are dictionary CD-ROMs. Pronunciation practice usually involves a learner listening to a word or short sentence, and then recording themselves while repeating the word or sentence. The learner's output is then compared to a 'model' of correct pronunciation and the results displayed to the learner, often in the form of a graph. What is known as voice recognition software is used for this type of pronunciation activity. Note that voice recognition software is not always reliable, and even native speakers can be given negative feedback if their accents do not match the model provided!
CD-ROMs are particularly strong on providing grammar practice activities, and listening and reading materials for learners. CD-ROMs are less effective for speaking practice, as it is difficult to move beyond a 'listen and repeat' model, given the technology currently available and the lack of 'real' interaction inherent in a CD-ROM. Writing, too, will tend to be limited to 'fill in the blanks' activities, or reordering sentences into paragraphs or comparing paragraphs to a model. Any longer texts or creative writing produced by the learner will need to be corrected by the teacher, which makes practice of the writing skill less suited to this kind of self-study.
Starting to make an appearance along with CD-ROMs in the language teaching world are DVDs - short for 'Digital Versatile Disc' - which were developed in the 1990s. These are similar to CD-ROMs in that a variety of data can be stored on them, but they have much greater storage capacity than CD-ROMs. DVDs are usually used as an alternative to video cassettes, which are becoming increasingly outdated. DVDs allow the viewer to choose from various language options. On an EFL coursebook DVD you will generally find more video, which takes up a lot of disc space, than you would find on a CD-ROM. The video content on a DVD can be viewed on a computer with DVD viewing software installed, or on a DVD player. Note, though, that DVDs featuring interactive exercises need a computer. Some people believe that DVDs will eventually replace CD-ROMs in the EFL world, given their superior storage capacity and the high quality of video and audio. One particularly useful feature of DVDs is that there is often an option to view subtitles along with a video dialogue. In ELT courseware DVDs these subtitles are generally only in English, but in authentic DVDs, such as feature films, they can be in a choice of several languages. There are several ways the subtitles in DVDs can be used with learners in an English class. Here are a few ideas:
• The subtitles for a dialogue are hidden during a first (and even second) viewing. How much the learners understood can then be checked with comprehension questions, and the dialogue played a final time with the subtitles displayed.
• Learners listen to short sections of a DVD dialogue several times, transcribe them and then check their version of the transcript with the subtitles.
• Learners watch a short DVD dialogue between two characters with the audio switched off, reading the subtitles several times. Pairs are then invited to each take a character role, and to read the subtitles for their character at the same time the dialogue is played again, still with the audio switched off. This can be repeated several times. Can the learners keep up with the lip movements of their characters? Finally, the dialogue is played with the audio switched on.
While the use of DVDs of feature films is not a feature of using technology-based courseware, it is worth pointing out that you can exploit the use of native language subtitles for English language films, if you teach in a monolingual context. Play a short dialogue from an English language film, with the sound switched off, and only the native language subtitles displayed. Allow learners time to translate their native language into what they think the characters are saying in English. Replay the sequence several times with the sound still off, so that learners can check their translations with the lip movements of the characters on the DVD. Finally, play the sequence again with the sound on. Compare and discuss any differences in the translations.
Using CD-ROMs with learners in the classroom
Given that CD-ROMS are readily available and easy for learners to use, one of the first issues to resolve is whether to encourage your learners to use them entirely alone at home or in the self-access centre, or whether to integrate them into the classroom in some way. Self-study use of CD-ROMs at home is only possible, of course, if learners each have their own copy of a CD-ROM (or if the self-access centre in a school allows learners to take CD-ROMs home) and access to a computer. There are several types of activities that can be done to integrate a CD-ROM into your lessons:
• In the single computer classroom or school, pairs of learners can take turns to do a few CD-ROM activities, for example a couple of grammar drag-and-drop activities, while the rest of the class are busy with paper-based activities on the same grammar point. This introduces variety into the classroom.
• If you have access to a data projector (or 'beamer') and one computer, CD-ROM or DVD content can be projected onto a screen for the whole class to view and work on together, with learners taking turns to take control of the computer mouse. This is especially useful with video content, which in itself adds variety to the lesson. Using a data projector is also an excellent way to train your learners about what is on the course CD-ROM and how they should use it at home or in the self-study centre.
• If the school has a computer room or self-access centre, the teacher can programme in regular short sessions, for example once a week or fortnight, in which learners work alone or in pairs on CD-ROM materials during class time. Note that these sessions should be kept short so that learners don't get bored or lose focus.
CD-ROMs are often cited as being particularly motivating for learners, as they use 'new' technology, provide a multi-sensory alternative to paper-based classroom work, encourage self-study and autonomous learning, and can expose learners to authentic language via audio and video. The truth of the matter is that, like any tool, overuse can undermine the 'novelty' effect for students. Also, CD-ROMS have now been around since the late 1980s, and are being increasingly superseded by newer technologies such as blogs, podcasts, instant messaging, and so on, which we have already discussed in earlier chapters. The one big advantage that CD-ROMs have over these newer Internet-based technologies is
that learners can work with CD-ROMs offline, and are thus not reliant on an Internet connection, which in some contexts may be unreliable, expensive or simply not an option.
Given the wealth of CD-ROMs available for learners of English, where do you, the teacher, start in terms of evaluating whether one CD-ROM or another will be 'better' for your learners? In reality, teachers usually make the pragmatic decision of encouraging their learners to work with the coursebook CD-ROM (if there is one) in their own time, or refer them to the self-access centre. However, for those teachers who need to either recommend CD-ROMs to their learners, or are asked to choose CD-ROMs for their resource centres, where do you start?
The first issue to consider is whether a specific CD-ROM is meant to be a standalone resource, for example a CD-ROM for exam practice, or if it is an additional resource for a course. We will now consider how to evaluate a freestanding or standalone CD-ROM. Asking the following questions, and matching them to the needs and interests of your learners, will help in this process.
• What age group is the CD-ROM aimed at? Is the content suitable for adults, adolescents or younger learners? Is the content suitable for the cultural context in which you teach?
• What linguistic level is the content aimed at - beginners, elementary, intermediate or advanced?
• What kind of English is being focused on, for example business English, general English, English for academic purposes, and so on?
• How 'interesting' are the materials, and how well are they presented? Is the CD-ROM easy to navigate around? Is there a range of activity types and is enough variety provided?
• What skills and language areas are focused on - reading, writing, listening, pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar?
• Is it clear to the learners what the aim of individual activities is?
• How much multimedia content, especially video and audio, is there? What is the quality like? How much authentic audio/video is there, and how suitable is this for your learners?
• How is feedback on activities given to learners? Does feedback, although automated, help students really learn from their mistakes, and if so, how?
• How is testing integrated into the CD-ROM, and how do learners measure their own progress through the materials?
• What additional resources are provided, for example a dictionary or glossary, grammar paradigms and explanations?
• Are non-linguistic areas, such as intercultural communication skills, learner training or differences in learning styles, addressed in some way? If so, how?
• Does the CD-ROM meet any accessibility laws you may face?
Finally, you might want to consider what using a CD-ROM really adds to your learners' language learning experience, and how motivated they will be to use CD-ROMs, before you invest in CD-ROM resources. One way to do this is to discuss their value with your learners directly. It is also important to provide both teachers and learners with hands-ontraining in the use of CD-ROMs, and to link classroom work as far as possible with self-study CD-ROM work. Encouraging learners to keep a learning log of their self-access work and achievements, and even integrating this activity into your method of assessment, are ways of ensuring a sense of continuity between classroom work and self-study CD-ROM work.
Computer-based testing, online testing, e-assessment ... all of these terms refer to a phenomenon which has become increasingly visible in English language teaching in the last few years, that of taking tests via a computer rather than on paper. EFL learners can now take a range of different tests and examinations via a computer. Here are some examples:
• Learners can be given a diagnostic test on a computer before they start a course. This assesses their language levels in the skills of reading, writing, listening and even in discrete-item pronunciation, as well as in grammar and vocabulary. This information can then be used to assign the learner to a certain class or language programme, although for more thorough diagnostic testing, most institutions will also include a spoken interview and ask for a sample of the learner's writing.
What is important to note is that both of these tests are examples of adaptive tests. The computer offers a question, and depending on the learner's answer, it mathematically estimates the level of ability and then finds a second question that matches that level of ability. It does the same with the next question, the second time revising its estimation of the learner's ability based on the two answers it now has. The same process continues with each question, and each time the computer has more information on which to base its estimate of ability, which becomes increasingly accurate as more questions are asked.
Note that the free language school adaptive diagnostic test above is based purely on the recognition of grammar items. More sophisticated commercially available diagnostic tests (either online or via CD-ROM) will take into account a range of skills, and will recommend learning strategies for individuals based on their test performance, as well as point learners to their equivalent test scores in recognised examinations or tests like TOEFL or TOEIC.
Learners can take simple progress tests on CD-ROM. These tests will be based on the work that the learners have been doing in their coursebooks. Tests are often included in the learner's coursebook CD-ROM, or 'Test Master' CD-ROMs are made available for teachers as editable Word files. Teachers can then use ready-made tests, or make new tests for their learners, based on coursebook material.
Some publishers are starting to produce programs, or banks of online materials (often linked to courses), that enable teachers to create their own digital tests at the touch of a button.
• Learners can take internationally recognised examinations on a computer, for example the Internet-based TOEFL Test from ETS.
Advantages and disadvantages of computer-based testing
For the large international examination boards there are obviously several important advantages in being able to offer examinations online. By offering increased flexibility in location (learners can take an exam in many more centres geographically online) and in timing (an exam can be offered more frequently online), their market is considerably expanded and convenience to the customer improved. With computer-based testing, the mechanics of marking and feedback can be automated to a much greater extent, and results provided to candidates more quickly than with a paper-based exam. Marking of certain items is also much more reliable by computer than by hand, although examining speaking and writing skills still requires human intervention. The long-term costs of developing and running online exams are also considerably lower than those for face-to-face examining.
The main disadvantage of computer-based testing in our field continues to be that of ensuring reliability in the marking of extended pieces of writing and in assessing speaking. In this sense, nothing has changed from paper-based testing, as examiners are still needed and inter-rater reliability is difficult to guarantee. One other disadvantage is that initial investment costs in computer-based testing tend to be high, as software especially designed for specific computer-based tests is developed and an item bank of'questions' and resources is built up.
A further important issue is that of authentication with distance testing: how does the examiner know that the person taking the test online is indeed who they claim to be? With the advent of optical and fingerprint recognition technology, we may start to see more official examinations and tests delivered online, with students taking them from home, but at the time of writing this is still an area in development. Security is an ongoing issue for anyone involved in setting examinations.
For the language teacher, the main experience of computer-based testing is likely to be that of using computer-based progress tests or in preparing learners to take one of the internationally recognised exams online - and again, there are several CD-ROMs on the market that provide learners with exam practice that mimics the real thing (see page 120).
Related to the area of online and computer-based assessment, are electronic portfolios, also called ePortfolios or digital portfolios. A traditional paper-based portfolio is a collection of a learner's work, and an ePortfolio simply means that this work is presented in electronic format, and can thus include various electronic media such as video, audio, blogs or websites, as well as documents. An ePortfolio can showcase a range of the owner's skills, and display achievements not just from formal learning situations, but also from extra-curricular activities or work experience. The portfolio may also include reflections on the learning experience itself.
A portfolio is considered to be a richer way of assessing students, as it provides a much clearer idea of learner achievements and products than test scores or grades. ePortfolios are becomingly increasingly common in education, especially in secondary schools and further education institutions, reflecting the growing importance of, and access to, technology in our lives, as well as the rise of the electronic job market. A learner applying for a job with a company can send an ePortfolio of work to a prospective employer easily and quickly, and so display a range of skills not reflected in a test score.
Portfolio building is generally an ongoing process, and may include materials from courses already taken by learners, as well as current projects and works in progress. Opposite (top) is a diagram of areas that might be included in an ePortfolio. This is a comprehensive overview of what could be included in an ePortfolio. Learners and teachers can choose from all of these elements and include what seems most relevant to the learner's needs and interests, and to the aims of the portfolio. The content of an ePortfolio belonging to an adult learner of business English working for a multinational company will obviously be considerably different from that of a secondary school learner whose ePortfolio is part of their overall English class annual assessment. Opposite (bottom) you can see an example of the opening page of an Italian student's ePortfolio. Susana has put links to her work in the right- and left-hand columns of the ePortfolio main page.
There are several open source (free) software packages which learners can use to create an ePortfolio. One of these is Elgg (http://elgg.org/).
An interactive whiteboard (IWB) is made 'interactive' by being linked to a computer which uses special IWB software. The three essential components needed to use an IWB are the whiteboard itself, a computer which has IWB software installed and a data projector (or 'beamer') which projects the image from the computer screen onto the whiteboard. What makes tVie interactive whiteboard different from a normal whiteboard is that the teacher uses a special pen (or their finger with some makes of board) to manipulate content on the whiteboard itself, rather then using the mouse to manipulate images on the computer screen, which the teacher can also do. The latest IWBs can also be used with a wireless tablet PC (a smaller, hand-held computer) instead of a larger desktop or laptop computer. This has the added advantage that it can be passed around so that learners can manipulate the IWB from the tablet PC.
The interactive whiteboard itself comes in different sizes, measured diagonally across. The most common size is 190 cms (75 inches) across, and teachers tend to agree that the bigger the board the more effective it is, as images are more clearly displayed on a larger board. A whiteboard can be mobile (that is, moved from room to room) or fixed, but a mobile board needs to be set up again each time it is moved, which can take time. There are also backlit interactive whiteboards which do away with the need for a projector, but these are the most expensive kind of board. They are particularly useful in rooms with low ceilings.
The main advantage of an IWB used with a computer and data projector over a computer and data projector used on their own is that you can write on the IWB with your pen or finger and interact with what is on the screen from the front of the class rather than having to look down to your computer and using the mouse to control the screen.
IWBs in education
The British Council has been influential in bringing IWBs to language classrooms outside the UK, introducing them into Southeast Asia in 2003, and expanding their use of IWBs since then. In the UK itself, huge government investment from the early 1990s has seen IWBs appearing in primary and secondary schools, and further education, on a large scale. Both are examples of a top-down implementation of technology, with large organisations (in this case, the British Council and the British government) providing the impetus for the introduction of new tools in the classroom. Excellent classroom work is being done using IWBs at primary, secondary and university level, as well as in the language classroom. ]ust Google 'IWB projects in schools', and you'll see a range of current and recent IWB projects in all sorts of school subjects. However, at the time of writing IWBs are being used mainly in large organisations like the British Council, or are part of government-led education initiatives, especially within the European Union. This is down to the high costs associated with IWBs. The hardware outlined above is expensive, and usually well beyond the budgets of individual language schools or educationin less wealthy countries. Although the costs of the hardware involved in using IWBs are expected to decrease over time, they are likely to remain beyond the reach of most EFL teachers worldwide for some time to come.
Using IWBs with learners
If you are lucky enough to have access to an IWB, you will know that the 'wow' effect is extremely high. In other words, IWBs look and sound impressive. Imagine a full-size colour screen in your classroom, with video, CD audio, pictures, interactive exercises like those found on a CD-ROM, access to the Internet, and more, all instantly accessible at the touch of your IWB pen. You can also use an IWB pen to write over the images on the screen, highlighting things in different colours, using a variety of fonts and styles to write in, or you can use the pen to hide and reveal images on the screen. Items can be moved around the screen using the pen, and previous lessons and content can easily be kept and retrieved, as everything is saved on the computer. This means that a huge bank of resources is always available at the touch of a pen.