Thanks to the technology, both teachers and students would find their learning sessions in class more enjoyable and more challenging than before. The Internet gives important experiences both for students and teachers, where they could advance their learning process very rapidly through the dynamic medium.
At the first place, Marco (2002) said, the using of Internet as a new medium with content-based approach in ESL and EFL classroom would:
Increase students' motivation and participation, give students more time to interact with language and content area, improve their reading and writing skills in meaningful contexts, and expose students to self-paced autonomous, learner controlled learning, rather than teacher controlled."
There are a lot of options to create classroom activities that include the using of web and e-mails. For elementary students in ESL and EFL classroom, it would give a breakthrough where not only they can learn English as a language, but that would be their first time visual and kinesthetic exploration about English and the subjects and cultures where the language is used.
Using E-mail and Web-based Activities in Class
Sela (1997) encouraged e-mail activities for EFL students. This method should apply to any level of students all over the world since e-mail reaches multiple community and nationalities.
E-mail offers a new way of learning, which students would mostly like. Compared to conventional mode, which takes time to apply postages and put them through post offices, e-mail would provide speedy, inexpensive, and eye-catching materials. When attempting the e-mail technique to teach EFL classroom, Sela remarked how students enjoy learning on first-hand experience, writing to other friends in other countries, which would write them back directly. They would enjoy reading about other cultures as well as telling learning about their own cultures to people from different nationalities. It is like the classical way of pen-pal activities, only e-mail goes faster; therefore students may expect the reply shortly afterwards.
Using e-mail might give a good training for students who "are not familiar with word processing." Some elementary level students enjoy learning how to type. With more time spent in front of personal computers, they would realize what they could do more than just to type. Soon after they master this activity, teacher may proceed them to use wider range of web-based activities.
With the Internet, they also get enough exposure to enjoyable channels. Many web-based e-mail providers right now offer variety in e-mail performance; therefore students can learn sending letters as well as enjoying beautiful pictures and dynamic animation.
One method that Sela (1997) had tried was having teacher-to-teacher collaboration with colleagues in other countries through the courtesy of educational web sites. Teacher can offer the students to write letters and send them to other students from other class in a different community, within the e-group they join. Even young learners would experience a lot from using e-mails. They would learn reading and writing within the topic and friends of their interest.
Ellinger (2001) explained, teacher could give students "different element of choice." In reading class, students may choose different topics of reading on their own preferences, to ensure their broader acceptability and motivation to explore the topic. They may go into different process, by group and individual exploration. As they become familiar with it, this activity "increased autonomy in choosing individual sites and reading passages," or focused learning.
The Technology Drawback
Surprisingly, although students seem very enthusiastic to find themselves before the computers, many of them literally are not ready to use the computer, yet touch the Internet. Ellinger, et. al. (2001) remarked that although many students in their researched country in Israel possessed personal computers at their homes, they did not intensively make use of them and simply exploited them for gaming and simple typing functions.
For elementary learners, this problem may advance even higher. Although people encourage young learners to use computers at home for games and other educational use, the percentage of this population might not be comparable to those who are illiterate.
It is also necessary to notice that such approach is not always applicable to the education system of related countries where they use EFL. Many countries are not having sufficient resources to provide personal computers to their students. Such facilities may be available in major universities in big cities, or in private schools where parents or foundations donate large amount of money to provide their schools with networking facilities.
Especially for third world countries, it may take years for them to implement this concept to elementary education. So far, only partial circumstances allow the application of hi-tech-based teaching method, for example limited facilities at university computer classes.
Establishing Goals in Incorporating Technology to ESL/EFL Classroom
The Internet offers abundant of interactive materials suitable for elementary ages. Many sites are even specially designed to attract younger learners' eyes using animation, sound, and colorful presentation that would go beyond their imagination. Children are easily attracted by new figures, moreover if they could participate in moving them or talking to them by clicking the mouse or using microphone.
Learning English is not simply learning the language. For ESL and EFL students, the boundaries of knowledge give them limitation to see what they would get learning such skills when most of them would not practice it in their everyday life.
Ellis (1996) shows that students can learn practical science and other daily phenomenon they would like to know, in different medium, English. This point-of-view creates a different approach to teach the students that they can use the (English-speaking) Internet to enrich their knowledge and learn through this entertaining alternative method.
There are many specific directories on the web, just like Ellis listed, which are appropriate for elementary learners' stage. They can use those scientific web sites to read simple text, learn practical science instructions, do interactive quiz, watch movies, send e-mails to other students, and moreover, ask the experts about any subjects they are interested in.
One of the challenging factors in teaching elementary students is their limited concentration span, especially when they are encouraged to produce materials based on instruction. With the overwhelming input as well as other distracting elements from the sites (sometimes very amusing web designs could distract the learning process itself), teacher needs to establish clear goal on what he or she expect the students to learn that day and guide them through the process. Marco (2002) said, "lack of direction" would get them lost in ineffective browse. In this case, teacher should help to give them the clue on what purpose the subject is given and what (clear and specific) result the students should achieve at the end of the lesson.
Another thing to anticipate is the opportunity to lose time during the learning process. As Ellinger et. al. said, students, especially first-time internet learners need to develop their responsiveness through stages. Once they are allowed to explore a site, listen to a story, or read about their favorite activities, students will find themselves engrossed in click-after-click pursuit. They enjoy following links and then find something more interesting than what they are supposed to find. Sometimes they need more time, so that teacher should provide options of after-class assignment to cover the missing moments.
Perhaps it is necessary to compare the use of Internet in a regular English class with the similar tasks in ESL or EFL classroom. According to Green and O'Brien (2002), in regular English class, students show positive attitudes and learn fast from their surfing and completing assignments activities. They tend to be socially active, offering help and information, even some with critical thinking to their peers and teachers. Teacher could even learn from students. In the practice, students show high motivation during their information search, and they also learn to draw conclusion upon completion of…