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June 1996 - Issue No. #23 (p. 12 - 13)

Getting Started with Computer-Enhanced Learning
in the Global Issues Language Classroom

The following article is based on a presentation given at the TESOL'96 conference in Chicago, USA.

Joy Egbert

Teachers all over the world are using computers in various ways to enhance their language classrooms. It's rare to find, however, ESL/EFL-specific software programs and activities that focus on global issues. There are several ways that teachers can and are making up for this current deficiency. These include:

  1. using non-ESL/EFL-specific software

  2. developing multicultural activities with content-free software

  3. developing, with their learners, computer applications

  4. using the Internet and World Wide Web

My favorite examples of each of these are described below.

Non-ESL/EFL-specific software

There are many great examples of "mainstream" software applications in which the language, activities, and topics are appropriate for developing global awareness and language skills.

Tom Snyder Productions (TSP) is a leader in developing software for K-12 learners; many of their products address social and global issues. Even better, most of these programs require only a single computer (DOS or Mac). TSP's series "Choices, Choices" (K-6) and "Decisions, Decisions" (grades 6-adult) are comprised of a variety of individual software applications on topics such as taking responsibility, lying, cheating & stealing, prejudice, the environment, immigration, colonization, urbanization, and foreign policy. Each package comes with external documents, a teacher's guide with handouts, worksheets and lessons, and a simple computer scenario. Learners use the documents, readings, and discussion to make decisions in each step of the scenario; there are endless configurations of consequences for each set of decisions, so the applications can be repeated many times.

"International Inspirer", also produced by TSP, creates an information gap to be filled by learners with information about the demographics, politics, history, economy, and culture of the countries of the world. Given specific characteristics to look for in the countries they visit, learners use maps, graphics, charts, tables, and text in groups to plan a route across the world. Another activity, Cultural Reporter, uses the computer only peripherally as learners gather and compile information from their and other communities. My ESL learners did wonderful projects using the workbooks and guidelines; for an example, point your World Wide Web browser or Lynx to [dead link]

Other software companies produce applications that can be used to support global awareness activities and English language learning. Compton's and other interactive encyclopedias, programs from Maxis such as "SimHealth", "SimEarth", and "SimLife", and applications such as MECC's "Amazon Trail" provide learners with local and global problems to consider and solve.

Developing multicultural activities with content-free software

Content-free software, such as word processors, databases, spreadsheets, timeliners, and graphics programs, can also help to support activities for global awareness in the language classroom. For example, learners could use the word processor to compose questionnaires about specific issues; these surveys could then be mailed to experts in the field. Alternatively, learners could gather information on world populations and per capita income and input the data into a database. Over time, this information could be used for reports, comparisons, and even a record of change. Timeliner programs can be used as a tool to analyse world events and conditions and to note when wars occur. Graphics programs can be used in a variety of ways; "Kid Pix Around the World", (B. Chan, Addison-Wesley), for example, is a text with short readings about traditions from around the world and step-by-step instructions on using the computer to develop traditional arts. Contact Addison-Wesley for more information.

Developing computer applications

Mulitmedia authoring programs such as Hyperstudio, Hypercard, and Toolbook can be powerful tools in the development of global awareness. Most educational versions of authoring programs are well-documented and easy to learn and use, and, because they are content-free, they can support lessons dealing with any topic. Teachers can design applications to enhance their presentations or create problem-solving mazes for learners to work through. Learners can research and create presentations, quizzes, or books dealing with global issues. These applications can then be traded or shared, added to, or used in other ways by learners all over the world. Contact local dealers of these programs for more information.

Using the Internet and World Wide Web

Currently, learners in different parts of the world are participating in interesting and important projects over the Internet. In some places, learners are sending e-mail messages to world leaders asking for peace and their support of human rights; several classrooms of learners in different countries are completing a global art project, and others are consulting with experts around the world about solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty. In addition to text, video and voice connections are being made; these are becoming cheaper and easier to make very rapidly! Learners who have access to the graphical interface of the World Wide Web are conducting research, creating pages to share their findings, and appealing for a united front in the war against injustice, for the celebration of successes of global politics, and for others to join them in these projects. Clearly, the ability of the Internet to link learners with other English speakers across the world in purposeful, authentic tasks makes it one of the more appealing choices for computer-enhanced learning.

Most classrooms do not have access to all, or even some, of the electronic resources noted above, and, to be honest, teaching language and global awareness does not require them to. If, however, these resources can help learners to make closer contacts, to become more vividly aware of problems and solutions, and to be excited about learning English and exploring our world, then we need to get started providing these resources for those classrooms that want them. It's a fitting project for the global issues ESL/EFL classroom!


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650