A Reflection on Milton (2004)


In the article “From Parrots to Puppet Masters: Fostering Creative and Authentic Language Use with Online Tools”, Milton (2004) points out the common problems in English teaching in EFL contexts at first. Then, the parameter for an online EFL course system is proposed, followed by which 4 useful pedagogical tools are illustrated and evaluated.

Milton (2004) argues that the improper teaching and learning methods of English in Southeast Asian has given rise to many problems. The exam-oriented teaching makes the students to “parrot” the formulae rather than acquire the language that are suitable for real use outside the classroom. As a result, the students have inadequate grammatical and communicative competence in the target language. To address the problem, Milton (2004) put forward that the online resources could be utilized. He mentions his criteria for an online content development and management system which could help the teachers to design more engaging and meaningful activities, Then, he introduces the 4 online tools which would provide the students more opportunity for personal learning. The 4 tools are illustrated as follows.

Asynchronous voice messaging

This tool is designed to solve the problem that students in SE Asian have relatively low oral fluency owing to their few opportunity of practicing spoken English. Communication between teachers and students are made by leaving recorded messages in the Webpage. Teacher can record messages, model various situations or give recorded feedback and put it online. The students can record their conversations or comment on weekly themes. Therefore, students have more opportunities to speak and teachers can monitor the conversations easily.

Word neighbors

It is a lexical look up tool, which can guide learners to learn the context of the word’s usage, the collocation properties of the words, and aid their writing. By using this tool, learners can learn the use of unfamiliar vocabularies by themselves and proofread their writings more efficiently.

Mark My Words

Though teachers aware that feedback is important for the development of students’ writing, they are reluctant to comment on the writings since the work is quite time-consuming.  Mark My Words, a marking tool, which is designed by Milton (2004), minimizes the teachers’ workloads a lot.  Based on an extensive corpus analysis of comparing the native speakers’ written language and the EFL learners’ written language, Milton (2004) finds out the common language mistakes that EFL learners make. An online writing/grammar guide is maintained accordingly. The marking tool can be used to point to the guide and other references. Teachers could insert pre-defined and individualized comments to the online documents in light of different teaching goals.

The scripting tool

This tool enables students to create animated role plays online. Students could design the character and write the scripts collaboratively. Then the scripts can be read by the animated figures in standard British or American English. The voices are synthesized by the computer. The online role plays motivate the students to use language creatively through the scripting of the spoken English. It also makes the students feel at ease to practice oral English.

Doubtlessly, using online tools for English teaching has many advantages. By exploiting various online resources, learners are able to learn English more conveniently. The system and tools introduced in the article seem to be useful in motivating the students to learn. The online tools provide the opportunity for learners to practice their oral English, make learners be able to learn L2 lexis, structures and authentic texts independently, enable teachers to give timely and effective feedback and promote learners to use L2 creatively and collaboratively with fun. For me, I really love using online tools to facilitate my learning! The creative activities set by the online tools provoke me to think in a critical way. Moreover, compared to learning in the classroom, using online tools to learn is less formal. Sometimes, I would feel shy to speak in the class. But when I use the tools to learn, I would feel more comfortable. Further, as most online tools are free, I can use them flexibly. Among the 4 tools, the one I’d like to use in my future teaching most is the scripting tool for online role plays. I believe it could make them feel free to express themselves and motivate them to study.

Though using online tools brings benefits to the language learners, it is a challenge for the teachers. The teachers have to be familiar with the online tools since they will not only use the tools themselves but also teach the students how to use it. And as mentioned in the previous posts, teachers need to plan the lesson carefully which involves the use of online tools. Clear instruction and guidance should be given by the teacher to avoid the students to be attracted by other irrelevant online resources. Generally, the 4 online tools proposed by Milton (2004) seem to be practical. But from my point of view, the use of Word Neighbors should be careful as the students might rely too much on it in composing their writings. Additionally, I’m not sure about the effectiveness of the online guide. The author mentions that the online guide contracts the standard form and the nonstandard form. But does he regard the native students’ writing as the “standard” form? If so, it might be not proper since the native students’ writing cannot represent all the “correct” forms. Thus, the online guide needs to be maintained carefully, especially when it links to the marking tool. However, I’m confused about this part actually.  Tell me what do you think about it!

Overall, online tools benefit both the teachers and the students. And I think online tools can be used effectively even in mainland China as it does not involve difficult technologies and does not require the students to spend much time on it. They can be used to aid the students’ learning outside class.  To my knowledge, many students want to find the proper online tools to facilitate their learning. They simply cannot find the useful ones. So, I believe if the teacher can introduce some to them, they will feel happy. One thing should be noted is that online tools can be used to supplement but not replace the formal classroom teaching (Milton, 2004). Teachers need to pay special to it in practical teaching.

Lastly, I’d like to recommend some useful online tools that I like very much. Popling (website: http://www.popling.net/) is a great web software for the learners to practice language vocabulary. It’s quite interesting! You can have a look at it.  Another pretty useful tool for improving writing is Lang-8 (website: http://lang-8.com/ ). After you complete your writing assignment, you can send it to a native speaker for editing and corrections. This site serves as a platform for online exchange. You will be required to read and correct the writings of others who are studying your language as well. If you are interested in the online tools, you can refer to http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/15-web-tools-to-enhance-language-learning/, where more tools are demonstrated.

Reflection on “Mobile learning: Small Devices, Big issues”

This article aims at examining what is mobile learning and how it is designed and evaluated. The authors discuss how learning contexts are created through interaction and how portable and ubiquitous technologies can support effective conversations for learning based on a theory of mobile learning.

First of all, a new conception of mobile learning is put forward since the previous definitions ignored the wider context of learning as a style of mobile lifestyle. The authors propose that “mobile” in mobile learning includes various aspects, i.e. mobility in physical space, mobility of technology, mobility in conceptual space, mobility in social space and learning dispersed over time. Thus, the study of mobile learning refers to the study of how the mobility of learners augmented by technology could bring benefits to the process of acquiring new knowledge, skills and experience. Secondly, theoretical foundations of mobile learning were presented. Accordingly, mobile learning is characterized as the processes of coming to know through exploration and conversation across multiple contexts, amongst people and interactive technologies. Then, the process of designing mobile learning and the critical factors for mobile learning project are illustrated. An important thing is that specific learning objectives should be ensured before the design. After that, the authors identify the challenges for mobile learning evaluation, new tools and methods for collection and analysis of mobile learning data and a framework for mobile learning evaluation. The challenges contain unpredictability of the context of use, unpredictability of the learning process, unpredictability of the mode of use, looking beyond the “wow” effect. And the evaluation framework structures comprise 3 levels, micro level, meso level, and macro level to assess usability, educational effectiveness and overall impact. Finally, the authors illustrate 3 examples to show the applications of mobile learning. Though the activities show that mobile learning has successful pedagogical implications and the students were motivated, some problems still existed, e.g. cost issues.

Overall, the article is quite enlightening. It provides us with a practical method to realize lifelong learning. Mobile learning enables us to study at anytime and anywhere as long as we have a Smartphone at hand. A common learning method is to download some Apps. For example, I downloaded an App for my vocabulary learning. When I encounter an unfamiliar vocabulary, I can look up it easily by using the App. Also, I used it to memorize vocabularies when I was waiting in line. Moreover, mobile learning facilitates collaborative learning. In last class, we experienced mobile learning by producing commercial videos. Before the class, we were required to use the mobile phone to take photos about  advertisements. Then, in the class we worked in groups and were assigned different tasks. We had to choose one proper picture from the photos that we took before and find the suitable music on the Internet, design advertising verbals, and record the script by using the Smart phone. The activity successfully motivated the students to learn and encouraged the students to be creative. Nonetheless, mobile learning has its own limitations. The unstable mobile phone signals, limited battery capacity and etc. may make the learners annoyed. Too much exposure to mobile phone will be harmful to the learners’ health. Further, the young learners may not be able to control themselves to use the mobile phones for learning rather than playing mobile phone games. Consequently, though mobile learning has many advantages, we should use it carefully. The teachers need to guide the students to use mobile learning properly. And as in mainland China, primary and secondary schools don’t allow the students to use mobile phones and many other electronic devices, it might not be practical to use the method for the students at that level. But I believe that it definitely will attract the attention of the college students.

Reflection on L2 Literacy and Design of the self: A Case Study of a Teenager Writing on the Internet

In the article, Lam (2000) examines how texts are composed and used to present and reposition identity as well as develop the literacy of the learner in online communication. In the beginning of the article, the author introduces constructs from L2 literacy research and communication studies to develop a conceptual basis for the study. A case study of a Chinese immigrant teenager is then presented to show how his written correspondence with a transnational group of peers on the Internet relates to his identity in the use of English.

In the case study, Almon (a Chinese immigrant teenager) felt frustrated owning to his insufficient English skills. Also, he revealed a sense of his marginalized position in society and was afraid that it would hinder his prospects in life. However, one year later, the author found that Almon’s English improved dramatically, especially the written English. Almon explained that he had become actively involved in learning internet and started to make personal homepages and conduct online chat. It is believed that the electronic media helped him a lot. Writing online made him feel more at ease.

The results of the study show actually Almon designed a textual identity. He designed his personal homepage about young Japanese popular singer and chatted with people all around the world. Thus, he discursively constructed his new identity as a member of the global J-pop community. Almon’s preference for female pan-pals demonstrates the gendering aspects of their written exchanges, which proves dramaturgical view of social interaction.

This case study suggests that writing on the Internet could make people gain understandings and supports from a transnational group of peers so that people may feel confidence in expressing themselves in L2. Lam (2000) also proposes that we need to rethink the significance of identity formation in the process of learning to read and write in an L2. And it should be noted that the English acquired may not be Standard English by this way, but people develop a sense of belonging to a global English community. Therefore, it is recommended that ESL classroom should not only teach Standard English but also provide the opportunity for the students to get access to multiple target languages and cultural communities.

Many students in China are frustrated in English and indulge themselves in Internet. Maybe the teachers and parents should encourage them to use Internet to enhance their English learning instead of forbidding them to use the computer. In the class, the teachers could give the students some guidance on how the utilize the Internet resources and help them to build their own personal home pages by using English. After class, the students could work on their personal home pages and design the websites as they like. They could post anything and chat with their pen-pals freely. As the students could pretend to be anyone and create alternative self on the Internet, they may become more confident in expressing themselves. And it will motivate them to study English.

“Language, Culture and Identity in Online Fanfiction” (Rebecca W. Black, 2006): Summary and Reflection

The article explores how network technologies and popular culture provide a context in which the English Language Learner (ELL) could develop English language and writing skills. Meanwhile the adolescent ELL is able to develop an online identity as a popular, multiliterate writer.

The main character of the case study is Nanako, a Chinese girl who immigrated to Canada when she was 11. She did not speak any English at that time. But her interest in anime urged her to learn English and write anime-based fanfictions in English on www.fanfiction.net. Over years, her English has improved a lot and she has achieved the identity of a popular writer in the space.

To be frank, I have never thought that we could enhance our language learning through writing fanfictions on www.fanfiction.net. However, after reading the article, I find that www.fanfiction.net is really a fantastic website. Firstly, if you want to write on the website, you’d better write in English as most readers of the website are English readers. Then, it can practice our English writing skills. Moreover, participation in this online space can make people feel confidence and motivate people to continue writing and English language learning. Readers’ support and acknowledgement mean a lot to the writer. Once receiving numerous encouraging reviews from readers, the writer will be encouraged to work harder. The website provides a relatively safe, supportive environment for language learning and writing development. It serves as platform for members to negotiate linguistic and cultural difference in a way that emphasize connection across potential barriers. Also, the site facilitates cultural communication between people from different countries. One thing impresses me a lot is that Nanako incorporated Mandarin and Japanese into her narrative writing, which received positive responds. Later on, she shared more “rich history and culture” of China and Japan with her readers. It is one of the reasons that she could be a popular writer in the space.

However, I’m wondering whether Chinese English learners could achieve the success that Nanako has made by participating popular culture communities. The case of Nanako is few in the world. As an immigrant in Canada, Nanako is immersed in an English environment. She has to learn English for a living while most Chinese students lack the motivation of learning English. Maybe students need an impetus to promote their learning. As far as I know, one of my friends loves seeing English movies. So he joined an organization of translating subtitles of the film. Though the task of translation spends him a lot of time, he still feels happy as he could help people who love seeing English films in China. As time goes on, he has made great progress in English. Thus, I think interest is an important element in English learning. Teachers should try to capture students’ attention and raise their interest in English. Introducing popular culture to the class may be a useful way to achieve the goal.

Summary and reflection upon “Productive Pedagogies” by Jackie Marsh (2008)

In “Productive Pedagogies: Play, Creativity and Digital Cultures in the Classroom”, Marsh (2008) tries to explore the potential of introducing children’s digital cultures into the classroom and what digital literacy practices could be exploited in both home and school contexts. At first, she describes the advantages and feasibility of using digital literacy practices. Then, the notion of “productive pedagogy” is explained, followed by the introduction of four dimensions of productive pedagogies, namely intellectual quality, connectedness, supportive classroom environment and engagement with difference. As the focus of the article is connectedness, the author analyzes a case study from the aspects of knowledge integration, background knowledge, connectedness to the world, and problem-based curriculum in particular.

In the case study of blogging, two primary teachers (one from UK, one from US) collaborated together on the project. They asked their students to develop blogs based on the topic of dinosaur and comment on other students’ blogs. The study shows that the blogging project activated children’s background knowledge, enabled them to integrate knowledge about literacy with technology and learn more knowledge about other curricula, e.g. science, history, geography and etc. Moreover, it improves children’s problem solving skills. However, there are some problems, e.g. Internet safety, copyright, existing as well. Overall, the blogging project enabled children to engage with each other playfully and promoted their creativity.

The blogging project illustrated in the article is quite enlightening. For me, it’s a good idea to incorporate digital literacy practices into classroom curriculum. However, some people get into a panic about children’s use of these technologies. They hold that children are too young to discern the validity of information among plenty of information on the Internet. In addition, anxieties around copyright and the line between cooperation and confusion proliferate.

As far as I’m concerned, most children have already known the “rule” of surfing the Internet. What teachers need to do is to ensure that they will protect their privacy and give some instructions about copyright beforehand. Teachers should encourage the students to think critically and make judgments about what is right and what is wrong on their own instead of making decision for them. Overprotecting is unnecessary. In the digital age, the trend of technology is inexorable. Students should develop their computer skills along with knowledge of literacy. Through blogging, students could use various resources on the Internet to push them to study. Also, blogging is a good way for students to make friends and broaden their social network. It will be fantastic if the students could make some foreign friends by blogging. They could interact with their friends by commenting on their blogs and share some interesting videos or useful materials with each other. For teachers, they can gain some innovative ideas for teaching from the Internet to make the class more attractive. And it will be easier for them to assign some tasks which require the students to work collaboratively.

All in all, I strongly agree that “productive pedagogies” should be used in the class. It will facilitate students’ learning. Though concern form school heads, teachers and parents hinder its implementation at present, time will show that digital literacy will motivate students to learn and enhance students’ learning.

Online learning: My experience


Hey guys! This is the first English blog that I have ever set up. It will be used to record my study in the course of New Literacy and Language Learning which I have taken this semester. Generally speaking, it is mainly concerned with summary or reflection of academic papers on new literacy and language teaching.

As a matter of fact, I had few online learning experience before I entered university. The teachers would utilize PowerPoint for teaching occasionally, but for the most of time, they merely chose to teach by using textbooks, blackboards, etc. The reasons are complicated. Firstly, perhaps at that time, especially when I was in primary school, those schools were not well equipped with electronic teaching devices and the teachers were not familiar with the new teaching approaches as well. Moreover, many teachers and parents believe that teenagers are lack of adequate self-control and self-discipline. They are likely to indulge themselves in net surfing and cannot focus on study if they are encouraged to study online. Furthermore, due to the pressure of entrance examination, the teachers have to make full use of time. In a teacher-centered class, what a teacher wants to do is to pump some facts into the students’ heads rather than give students a chance for self-learning or studying online on their own. Thus, both teachers and parents tend to prevent students from online learning.

However, what I’d like to say is that this phenomenon has changed a lot today to my knowledge. A case in point is that the teachers of my cousin who is in a secondary school upload the winter vacation homework and learning materials to their school website for the students to download and practice. Also, the teachers employ more multimedia in teaching. Maybe they have realized the benefits of online learning. Actually, the practice is similar to my learning experience at university.

During the period of my university, the teachers gave us much guidance on online learning. They asked us to find the materials which were relevant to the course on the Internet before the class quite often. In the class, they showed us many interesting videos and pictures to illustrate the abstract concepts. Also, learning materials were emailed to us after the class for us to better review the course. Apart from that, they introduced the use of the school’s electronic library where I found much useful information when I worked on my dissertation. The resources on the Internet are updated and inexhaustible. Since I had more time at my own disposal in the college, I spent more time to read e-books, watch English movies, listen to news report and etc., which all belongs to online learning. When I encounter some difficulties in language learning, I could find solutions easily on the Internet. Doubtlessly, online learning is an effective and convenient way for language learning. It enhances our language skills, broadens our vision and gives us more opportunities to communicate with other language learners.

From last week’s class, I learned some new online learning approaches. For example, we could post our essays online to get peer reviews and professional comments so that different views from all walks of life can be received and our writing skills could be improved as well. What’s more, blogging is a good way to exchange ideas and develop language competence. We can not only share joys and sorrows with netizens on our blog but also  comment on their blogs when we read. It’s really interesting! Hopefully, I will learn more about new literacy in the course.

Welcome to my blog!