This essay describes the preparation and delivery of a half-day training session for pre-service English language teachers entitled the Internet and English Language Teaching (ELT).
In the essay, I will describe the context of the training situation, the selection of the content for the session and the rationale underlying that selection. In addition, I will provide an overview of the methodology of the training approach followed by a detailed outline of the lesson plan. In the conclusion of the essay, I offer a brief analysis of the success and effectiveness of the session in relation to the learning outcomes that I set for it.
The session was conducted as part of a four-week intensive certificate course in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (CTESOL), held at the University of Manchester and delivered by the Centre for English Language Studies in Education (CELSE) in July 2000.
The CELSE CTESOL is a one-month course of 140 hours consisting of tutor led sessions, self-directed study, observation of TESOL classes and teaching practice. It is provided for both native and high-level language proficiency non-native speakers who have attained an initial degree or equivalent.
In the CELSE CTESOL, trainees cover the usual variety of topics found on a certificate course. I was asked to deliver a half-day (three-hour) session on “The Use of Technology in ELT”. This was focused on the use of computers as opposed to other forms of technology such as videotape, audiotape, overhead projectors (OHP) and so on. Even while focusing solely on computers however, the remit of this topic is huge. The first aspect of the session delivery I had to consider therefore was the focus of the content, which will be outlined below.
The design of a training session on technology use in ELT involves the consideration of a number of variables, including:
The broad nature of the topic (computer use in ELT can include such diverse areas as the use of standard “office” applications (e.g. wordprocessors), Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL), Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), multimedia CD ROMs, the World Wide Web and so on)
The mixed abilities, skills and knowledge of the participants in relation to computers
The relevance of computers and their diverse applications to the trainees' future needs
This is by no means an exhaustive list and merely illustrates the complex factors that must be considered when attempting to assemble a computer training session. Covering all aspects of this area of the ELT field, even briefly, can be a huge undertaking. Newton for example, has designed an introduction to Internet and Communications Technology (ICT) course for ELT teachers that lasts for three weeks and is of over 60 hours duration (2001: 30).
I however, was constrained by the fact that I had only three hours within which to deliver my session. I considered whether I should provide a taste of everything related to computers in ELT or focus on one issue. I soon realised however, that there was a danger that either approach could become too transmission like. It could either be a top-down hurried overview of expert opinion on this part of the ELT field, or a more in depth exploration of selected ‘hot’ topics which might not be relevant to the trainees at all. After some consideration, these ideas were rejected and I decided to base the content on learner needs and approach the training in a trainee-centred way.
The concept of learner-centredness has been widely adopted in English Language education (see for example Hutchison and Waters, 1987; Nunan, 1988; Graves, 1996) and in a similar fashion trainee-centred approaches have become a focus in teacher education (Bax, 1997: 232). Such approaches attempt to respond to trainee needs, interests and working contexts to make training more ‘client-centred’ (Nunan, 1989) or ‘context-sensitive’ (Bax, 1997).
Broadly speaking, a context-sensitive approach is trainee-centred because it seeks to involve trainees as much as possible and attempts to provide content and delivery which is relevant to their teaching concerns and contexts (Bax, 1997: 233). Such an approach seemed ideal to me, as it would help me identify and tailor the training session to learner needs, which should ensure that the effect of the training would be maximised in the limited time available.
The first steps in the delivery of the context-sensitive training session were to discover areas of concern trainees had in relation to computers, and to find out as much as possible about their future teaching contexts. This is because relevance is enhanced if the session appears to relate to trainees’ contexts and if it tackles areas they are concerned with (Bax, 1997: 234).
To achieve this aim I conducted a needs analysis with the trainees before the session, which will be described below.
Needs analysis has been suggested as a key instrument in a training approach to ensure that content is relevant to trainees’ teaching concerns and contexts (Waters, 1988; Nunan, 1989; Bax, 1997). Initially, I worked on a paper-based instrument that would gather data which I could use to determine training priorities. The content of this instrument was based on a model for CALL suggested by Warschauer (1999: online) which suggests gathering information about:
skills, knowledge and attitudes in relation to technology
facilities and equipment available
educational and societal contexts
The instrument was also influenced by Bax’s (1997: 235) suggestion that a context-sensitive trainer should investigate trainees’ backgrounds including:
Key worries about the area to be covered (in this case computers)
The personal and professional experience trainees bring to the session
I met informally with the trainees to set up a time when they would fill in the paper-based needs analysis, but I determined that the intense nature of their course made additional paper work very unwelcome. I therefore decided to conduct the needs analysis orally and held a short meeting with the trainees at the end of a day’s training. In this oral needs analysis I used the instrument contained in Appendix I to discover and record my findings, the results of which are described below.
Results of Needs analysis
The results of the needs analysis provided me with some very useful data upon which to base my choice of content.
Group profile (personal and professional experience): A group of 16 trainees, average age 25, a couple with some informal teaching experience and one PGCE primary school teacher. Some already had careers while others had no work experience and were recent graduates. All except one were British and native speakers.
Skills, knowledge and attitudes to technology: All of them had had some experience of using computers – they had all used wordprocessors and surfed the Web for example. None of them however had had any formal Information Technology (IT) training or had used computers in an educational context, either in the role of student or teacher. None of them expressed any fear of technology although several were unsure of their skills, and all of them expressed a belief that more knowledge of computers in ELT would be beneficial to them. All of them had used email and had email accounts, but none of them had used email lists or chat software.
Educational and societal contexts: None of the participants knew specifically where they were going to be teaching but mostly they wanted to work abroad (Europe, South East Asia and South America for example). They felt that knowledge of the Internet would be an advantage for them if they lived abroad, especially in terms of communication.
Interests and needs: Regarding the content of the session, the participants were mainly interested in exploring the possibilities provided by the Internet in relation to their language teaching. They were aware of a need for help with making advanced searches, locating and using resources and information on the Internet and expressed a desire to learn how to download, copy and paste and/or save/print material from the Web.
These results suggested to me that a focus on the Internet would help meet trainees needs and concerns related to the use of computers in their future language teaching careers. I accordingly revised the title of the session from “The Use of Technology in ELT” to “The Internet and ELT”. Furthermore, the results helped me to define the content of the session much more clearly. I was able to match the concerns of the trainees with practical pedagogical uses of the Internet in ELT. In this way, I was able to devise a relevant pedagogically sound training session which provided a taste of some of the key educational opportunities made possible by the Internet, namely:
resources available for teachers on the Internet (content and content creation tools)
community and support networks available for teachers on the Internet
In the following section of the essay I will outline the pedagogical rationale in support of these choices.
The rationale for the topic – ‘the Internet’
Technology is becoming an important part of the complex learning and teaching that goes on in English language programs (Oxford et al, 1998; Terrill, 2000; Teeler and Gray, 2000). The Internet, especially in the form of the Web and email, is very much a part of that (see for example Fox, 1998; Meloni, 1998; Warschauer, 1998; Kasper, 1999; Gatehouse, 2001). Warschauer suggests that:
“To know English well in the current era includes knowing how to read, write, and communicate in electronic environments”
Reading online is now actually considered a critical literacy, what has been termed a new literacy (Shetzer and Warschauer, 2000) or e-literacy (Kaplan, 1995).
Each area of content is examined more specifically below.
Searching: rationale for inclusion
Searching is often the base of any activity involving web resources (see for example the ideas suggested by Krajka, 2000) and can be regarded as a basic prerequisite e-literacy skill (Carrier, 1997: 290). Shetzer and Warschauer suggest that :
“On the Internet, reading skills are intimately bound up with searching and evaluation skills”
Not all students, however, possess these skills and it is suggested that the lack of effective searching skills will limit ability to access resources on the Internet (Warschauer, 1997: online). It may well be therefore, that the trainees will need to teach their future students the basic computer skills necessary to either carry out activities online (Newton, 200: 30) or to source authentic material on the Web (Carrier, 1997: 289)
Being able to search effectively will of course also enable teachers themselves to be able to explore and take advantage of the wide range of resources available on the Web (Carrier, 1997: 292; Atkinson, 1998: 15) which leads into the next content area, resources.
Resources: rationale for inclusion
The Web is an invaluable source, both for primary information with which teachers can create classroom materials and for already prepared materials that can be printed out and used in class (Krajka, 2000: online). An exploration of some of the available resources on the Web was considered useful for the trainees because they all intended to go to non-English speaking countries where it is not always easy to obtain text, information and pictures from other sources (Krajka, 2000: online). In addition to such resources on the Web there are also a variety of online tools available for language teachers with which they can create paper-based or online resources for their students. Incorporating this element into the training session was largely concerned with confidence building in using the computer as an ELT resource. By raising awareness of the possibilities offered by the Web it was hoped that trainees might consider using it when they wanted to create additional materials to supplement their courses in their future contexts.
Joining an online group: rationale for inclusion
Email lists can play an important role in ELT. For a teacher they provide easy access to a world-wide community of colleagues. Including this element in the session involved no extra learning curve because email lists use the teacher’s regular email programme (Carrier, 1997: 285) and all trainees were familiar with email use. Being a member of a learning network such as an email list can be extremely helpful for new teachers in terms of continuing professional development after their initial training (Lieberman, 2000: 222). Carrier asserts that:
“It is not hyperbole to suggest that this [the email list] is one of the most important and far-reaching contributions to EFL and teacher development since the growth of communicative teaching”
(Carrier, 1997: 285)
Learning about email lists can also be useful for a teacher because the knowledge can then be passed on to students. There are numerous lists catering to all sorts of interests, but especially relevant to English language learners there are English language lists. These are more accessible for non-native speaker students than native speaker email lists. Student led lists provide an opportunity for students to interact with their peers around the world on topics related to English language learning (Carrier, 1997: 285), “which makes participation interesting, enjoyable, and motivating” (Holliday and Robb, 2001: online). In addition, using an email list requires students to use ‘effective pragmatic strategies’ (Warschauer, 2000: online) which can help with language learning.
To further support the choice of content for this session I would like to demonstrate how it fulfilled the aims of the CTESOL1, which were to provide participants with:
The basic knowledge and skills needed to be an effective novice TESOL teacher (achieved by covering basic internet skills such as searching, using web sites and email lists)
Strategies for developing teaching abilities beyond the course (achieved by introducing trainees to the availability of ELT Websites and ELT teacher development email lists)
It is hoped that the above rationale combined with the preceding results of the needs analysis has established the relevance and appropriacy of the choice of content for this training session. In the next section of the essay, I will describe the training approach on which the session was based.
The Rational for the methodology of the session
My approach to the delivery of the session corresponded to the trainee-centred ethos that I established from the outset by conducting a needs analysis. My aim was to engage the trainees in a process of learning rather than deliver top-down (Wallace, 1991) trainer-centred input on language learning theory and practical techniques or ‘models’ of good practice. Freeman has suggested that concentrating on the ‘knowledge base’ of language teaching (theory and activity ‘recipes’) ignores other vital components of teaching practice such as awareness and attitude which need to be developed in trainees (1989). In a similar fashion, Woodward has suggested that training in modeled behaviour can be problematic because models can easily become irrelevant when placed in a different context (1988: 115). I sought therefore not to transmit ideas and suggestions about how the Internet could be used in ELT, but to involve trainees in an experiential session that encouraged reflection in a context-sensitive way. I will outline this methodology briefly below.
I chose to provide experiential learning because it gives trainees a direct experience of activities. Kolb suggests that direct personal experience is necessary for conceptual development (Roberts, 1998: 33) that is for trainees to understand theoretical input and develop a representation of a theory (Roberts, 1998: 174). The decision to incorporate experiential learning was also in line with the wider CTESOL approach to teacher training:
“The sessions will reflect a learner-centred view of teaching, with an emphasis on participating in tasks and activities that will not only actively engage you in your learning but also provide you with an understanding of how students might experience such tasks.”
(CTESOL publicity material )
Experience alone however is not enough to engender learning. It is possible that trainees could do a task without drawing the learning conclusions we envision. Constructivist theory suggests that this is because trainees have a personal framework of thinking about teaching which they tend to fit their experiences to. In this way activities become open to misinterpretation (Roberts, 1998: 295). Experience therefore needs to be complemented by interpretation (Roberts, 1998: 35) or in Kolb’s terms reflection should follow concrete experience of the kind provided by experiential learning. It is through a process of reflection and discussion of shared concrete experiences that we develop awareness and attitudes not just knowledge and skills and arrive at a shared understanding of concepts (Roberts, 1998: 34; Golebiowska, 1985; Wallace, 1991; Ur, 1992; Kontra, 1997).
As well as an experiential learning and reflection cycle, I also based my delivery on indicators of good practice from Bax’s context-sensitive approach (1997). In terms of methodology I specifically aimed to provide:
A relaxed atmosphere in which trainee experience is respected
Productive interaction and trainee participation
To ensure that these indicators were met I avoided making the session mechanics oriented (by which I mean training people how to use the computer) and focused it on the educational opportunities provided by the resources available through the computer. Introducing new IT skills to the session could have excluded those trainees who felt uncomfortable about IT and would have created a bad atmosphere. They may have felt uncomfortable about having to learn IT skills when they wanted to learn how to teach the English language. It is for this reason for example, that I didn’t include copy and paste in the lesson (even though it was mentioned as a need in the needs analysis). In addition, basing activities on trainees existing IT skills (discerned through the needs analysis) made the session much more participatory. The trainees were not simply receiving ideas but integrated new ideas with their own experience and skills in a creative and constructive way. Furthermore, I hoped this strategy would help them make decisions in the future. Making decisions, making choices is an important aspect of being a teacher (Freeman, 1989). In this training session I wanted to add choices and options to the trainees existing range of knowledge and skills. I wanted the session to empower all trainees and make them feel that with even their existing level of technical expertise they could confidently think of the Internet as an option when it came to their teaching and personal development.
This brings me to the final principle on which my session was based, which is that it’s important to attempt to stimulate and suit as many of the trainees as possible, to vary the activity types and pacing (Bax, 1997: 234). Any session can be run in a variety of ways (Woodward, 1988: 106) the aim is to choose the best vehicle for the job (Woodward, 1988: 11). Amongst my range of tools I specifically used Woodward’s loop-input approach to engender experiential learning. Loop-input is a training approach in which the content is aligned with the process (1988: 19), an approach that effectively combines presentation, demonstration and direct experience in a coherent whole (Roberts, 1998: 174).
Having outlined the broad methodological base on which the training was based I will illustrate how the various activity types and methodologies were applied to each of the session components in the following section.
The first activity was an introduction to the session. Bax suggests that after negotiation (such as the needs analysis I conducted) it is important to provide trainees with a clear outline and decision on what the aims and content of a session will be. This helps show how trainee input has helped shaped the session (thus generating a sense of inclusiveness) and it also helps give the session definition (Bax, 1997: 236).
I delivered the searching component of the session in two stages, the first stage was a teacher led workshop type session where I activated the trainees’ schemata, and got them brainstorming and generating ideas that would be used in the searching task.
I conducted this first part in a normal room (with no computers) and then conducted an ‘open process’ reflection approach (Woodward, 1988: 11). I explained my decision about delivering the content in a normal classroom without computers. This was done so that the trainees could view the decision making process and ask questions about it, which is meant to provide them with useful information about working processes for when they themselves are teachers (Woodward, 1988: 11).
The second stage of this section was a total loop where trainees learnt about searching the web by searching the web, while searching for training information on searching the Web.
At the end of the exercise trainees I used an awareness raising method suggested by Ellis whereby trainees are asked to rank Websites according to the criteria established in the task to ensure that reflection occurs (1986: 94)
Online resources and tools for language teachers: methodology
The aim of this part of the lesson was to introduce the trainees to the different types of resources available to them on the Web. I could have conducted this activity as an awareness raising exercise and by giving them a list of resources to be evaluated (Ellis, 1996: online), but I was doubtful of the relevance of this sort of predictive evaluation. The trainees had no idea of a specific teaching context in mind with which to consider whether the materials were likely to work or not and so such evaluation seemed a waste of precious time. I decided instead to use an experiential model and base the exploration of Internet resources on an ELT frame (a WebQuest). A WebQuest is an Internet activity that can be used with learners that is based on searching skills and reading skills. Trainees had to follow instructions and discover information to answer questions.
This created a partial loop and provided the trainees with an experience of what students will feel as they do such an exercise (Woodward, 1988: 16). The trainees were not really learning anything new, just being exposed to a method (WebQuest). At the end of the activity I engendered reflection through plenary discussion. Having explored the content in an experiential way we now discussed at trainee level the potential of such an activity in the language classroom.
Joining an online group: methodology
I decided to deliver this component using a guided technique, using handouts that trainees followed. The aim was to make the trainees aware of the existence of email lists, to raise awareness of how such lists might be useful and to provide trainees with practical skills and instructions on how to get onto (and off!) such lists. The pace of this activity was quicker than the previous two. This was deliberate as I felt that maybe not all trainees would be interested in joining an online community and so I did not dwell on issues so much as simply enable them to carry out a simple task. The task had a clear aim and achievement was instantly recognised because trainees received an email from the list informing them that they had successfully joined. This in itself was motivating and gave trainees a sense of accomplishing something new. This activity didn’t involve reflection but satisfied an indicator of good training practice (Bax, 1997) in that it introduced trainees to a means of acquiring knowledge and professional skills and it provided scope for long-term personal development.
Online Survey: methodology
Evaluation is an important element of a session and Bax suggests its presence in a training programme as an indicator of good practice (1997: 234). I decided to conduct the survey because I wanted feedback from the class on how the session went. I decided to conduct it online for the following reasons. Firstly, although trainees were not yet ready to create online content I wanted them to see that I had done so and that it was possible. Next, the fact that the results of the survey are instantaneous allows trainees to see how an online tool can be better than traditional formats (ie paper-based which is a slow process having to be collated by hand). Furthermore, the immediate viewing of results gives trainees some idea of the overall impact of the session in relation to both themselves and their classmates. In addition, it makes the survey much more meaningful than one which is possibly one-way, or with results delivered after some time (during which relevance might have been lost). Finally, the immediacy of the results gives the trainees something to reflect on and can help consolidate the meaning of the session for them.
In the preceding section of this paper I have outlined the rationale for the selection of the content and the methodology on which delivery of the training is to be based. The next section presents a detailed outline of the session itself.
The Session: Delivery
The first part of the session was held in the normal training room. I made no comment on this, or the fact that there were no computers present. Some students did in fact ask whether we were going to use the computers or not to which I replied “Yes, but later”.
The first thing I did was to make the trainees aware of the aims of the session. Making the aims of the session known to the trainees helps ensure they feel more involved (Bax, 1997: 234). I did this with the aid of an overhead transparency (OHT) (see appendix II).
Activity one: Searching
I started the first activity by activating the trainees’ schemata, by eliciting vocabulary, concepts and personal experiences related to searching the Web. I then placed an OHT on the OHP entitled “The steps to successful searching” (Appendix III). We examined these steps and the trainees asked any questions they had.
I next outlined the task for them (to look for web sites that helped us learn about searching) and then handed out the first worksheet, which contained the task and instructions (Appendix IV).
Individuals brainstormed and came up with words then compared with a partner and worked to group and note which words were vital or not wanted. I led the procedure by demonstrating on the OHT how an advanced search term could be built by grouping vital words and placing them in parenthesis, prefacing necessary words with an ‘+’, suggesting alternative words with OR and so on. After this demonstration trainees worked in pairs and built an advanced search term and I monitored and assisted as necessary, but did not intervene because I wanted the trainees to learn through their own efforts. I also distributed a handout on Advanced searching (Appendix V) to differentiate the learning process (extra written support for those who needed it, and extra input for those who had finished the task quickly).
Once the trainees had formed their search terms, I conducted a plenary session to concept check understanding of the process we were going to engage in. I achieved this by using OHTs to run through some important searching concepts:
Understanding the Google screen (Appendix VI)
How to evaluate the success of your search (Appendix VII)
After this, I took a moment for some reflection. I asked the trainees if they had any idea why I had conducted the first part of the session in the normal training room as opposed to the computer room. I elicited the reasons (the dangers of distraction and so on) and dealt with any questions.
I then set up the next activity. The trainees were to remain in their pairs; one person would conduct the Web searches and the other person would record results using the handout provided (Appendix VIII). I distributed the handout and then used an OHT of the handout to conduct a review of the aims:
To locate a Website that explained how to conduct searches in a way that could be appropriate for an English language learner
and the procedure:
Conduct a search, note the number of hits in the hits column, note the success or otherwise according to the results and note down changes to the search term. Continue this process until successful (trainees determine when they are satisfied with the quality according to the criteria established in the task). When you are satisfied with your search results note down the term that was the most successful and finally, rank the three most suitable Websites you have discovered.
I knew that some people would want to save the Web pages they found and so I also gave a handout (Appendix IX) on how to save pages to floppy disk. The trainees had been advised to bring a floppy with them for this purpose, but I had some spare just in case anybody had forgotten.
Once everyone knew what they were going to do and what the objectives were, we moved to the computer room.
In the computer, room I did not have to do anything except help people get set up on the computers. They knew what they had to do and set about the task. I monitored and assisted as necessary. As pairs finished, I spent some time with them discussing their feelings about the task, starting a process of reflection. When everybody had finished the task, I announced that it was break time to get everybody’s attention. I then engaged everyone in some reflection by holding a short plenary review of the task which covered issues such as its usefulness to them and relation to usefulness in language learning. I introduced a train of thought about how such skills could be used in the language classroom, noting that we were going to try the skills out after the break.
We then had a short break (10-15 minutes)
Activity two: online resources for language teachers
When Trainees returned from their break I focused their attention by displaying an OHT on the screen with the word WebQuest on it and elicited ideas about what a WebQuest could be. After some ideas had been generated, I told them that we were going to carry out a WebQuest and that it involved using their recently acquired searching skills. I displayed the full OHT on screen (see Appendix X) and explained that the aim was to work through the worksheet individually and answer all the questions. I elicited possible strategies to concept check that the trainees understood the nature of the task and what they had to do. I also answered any questions or concerns the trainees had. I then distributed the worksheet and monitored and assisted trainees as they carried out the task.
It is all too easy to be sidetracked on the web, but the element of competition (both personal and class based) meant that trainees were more task focused than might otherwise have been. Despite discovering interesting Websites they kept going so that they could finish the WebQuest. As in the previous activity, as trainees finished, I spent some time with them discussing their feelings about the task, thus starting a process of reflection. I then asked them to mentor some of their classmates who were still completing the tasks. This stopped them from moving off-task and also helped the slower trainees achieve the task aim. When all the trainees had finished the task I engaged them in reflection by holding a short plenary review of the task.
I then focused attention onto the next activity by placing an OHT on the screen (see Appendix XI) and displaying the title of the next activity - Joining an online list.
Activity three: Joining an online list
Once attention was focused I displayed the acronym ‘TESL-L’ and elicited ideas about what it stood for, what it was and so on. I then informed trainees of the nature of the activity and went through the steps they were to carry out. I ensured that they understood that success in the task was assessed by the arrival of a welcome message in their email inboxes.
I then handed out the information sheet (Appendix XII) that contained all the instructions on how to join TESL-L. Whilst they were on-task I monitored and assisted and answered any further questions they had on the subject of TESL-L and email lists in general.
Once the trainees had all received welcome messages, we discussed briefly the relevance of email lists both to them as teachers and to their future students. I pointed out that there were lists available for students, which could be useful for language learning and distributed a supplementary handout containing information about student lists so that anyone interested could follow it up in the future (Appendix XIII). We then moved onto the final activity.
Activity four: Online Survey
To round off the session and in an attempt to engender some reflection on the session I guided trainees to an online survey that I had set up previously using an OHT (Appendix XIV). Trainees went to the Web page took the survey (Appendix XV). The results could be viewed immediately which led to a positive closure to the session (Appendix XVI).
I provided the trainers with a supplementary handout of useful links as they left the room (Appendix XVII).
The end of session survey provided me with a positive indication that the session had been a success. I feel that the session met the learning outcomes that I established:
At the end of this session participants will:
Have been introduced to techniques for carrying out advanced searches
Have participated in activities that can be adapted to use with their learners
Understand how activities based around searching can be used to develop language skills
Have gained some idea of the possibility of task based learning using the Internet
Have explored some of the resources and tools available on the Web
I feel that using a context-sensitive approach I was very successful in creating a session that was directly relevant to the trainees’ areas of concern. I believe the session also tied in nicely with the growing current developments in ELT. Furthermore, the experiential, reflective methodology used worked very successfully in motivating and engendering learning in the trainees. In addition, I feel sure that I met my aim that all participants should come away feeling they had achieved something. Finally, I think that the content was appropriate for their level of skills and knowledge and judging from their responses to the content I feel that they felt empowered to use the Internet in their future contexts.
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