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.
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.