PAIVA, V.L.M.O. CALL and online journals. In DEBSKI, R. & LEVY, M. (Orgs.) WorldCALL: Themes for the New Millenium. The Netherlands:Swets & Zeitlinger,1999. p.249-265

 

CALL and on-line journals

Vera Paiva (UFMG, Brazil)

 

CLASSROOM DISCOURSE

Numerous studies have been aiming at showing the complexity of second language classroom interaction. Bellack et al. (in Allwright and Bailey, 1991), Flanders (in Coulthard, 1985) and Coulthard (1985) describe classroom interaction structure; Hatch (1978) emphasizes the role of interaction on second language acquisition; Allwright (1980) analyzes patterns of participation - turns, topics, and tasks - in language learning and teaching; Seliger (1983) demonstrates that students who initiate more turns get better results in proficiency tests; Ellis (1984) studies the development of second language in the classroom; Slimani ((in Allwright and Bailey,1991) finds out that there is a relationship between interaction and proficiency; Chaudron (1988) points out the importance of instruction and interaction in second language learning ; Tsui (1995) discusses classroom interaction and its effects on participation and learning; Atkinson (1995) and Majer & Majer (1996) study teacherís talk. All these studies and a lot more make it clear that there are two main factors in learning a foreign language: input and studentís interaction. The studies, which describe classroom interaction structure, point out that the teachers are responsible for most of the turns and that students share a small part of the classroom discourse.

Bellack et al. (in Allwright and Bailey, 1991:98) describe classroom interaction as being made up of four moves. Following their model, we can present the following example:

Structuring: Christmas is coming.

Soliciting: What are you going to do, Mary?

Responding: I will buy some gifts.

Reacting: Youíll buy some gifts. Good!

Flanders (1970), in Coulthard (1985:95), proposes an interaction system which comprises 10 categories, seven for teacher talk, two for pupil talk, and one for Ďsilence or confusioní and Sinclair et al in Coulthard (1985:102) describe the macro-structure of a lesson as made up of transactions which are divided into exchanges. Exchanges are made up of moves which consist of one or more acts.

Unlike spontaneous conversation, which is generally made up of adjacency pairs, classroom interaction usually consists of three moves: initiation, response, and follow-up (IRF). Letís see some examples by McCarthy (1993:16):

MOVE EXCHANGE 1 EXCHANGE 2 EXCHANGE 3

Initiation A: What time is it? A: Tim's coming tomorrow. A: Here, hold this.

Response B: Six-thirty. B: Oh, yeah. B: (takes the box)

Follow-up A: Thanks. A: Yes. A: Thanks

Thornbury (1996:01) says that IRF sequences especially where the F consists of feedback on form rather than content Ė i.e. the standard "eliciting" technique Ė have been blamed for constraining the development of authentic discourse in classrooms and van Lier (in Thornbury, 1996:01) states that this kind of sequence makes it unattractive and unmotivating for students to participate in classroom interaction, since the responses may be evaluated or examined publicly, rather than accepted and appreciated as part of a joint conversation .

Several research reports indicate that the teacher dominates the classroom discourse. Musemeci (1996), for instance, observed three 50-minute lessons, conducted by three different teachers, in the 13th week of a 15-week course using a content-based instructional approach. She found out that the teachers dominated classroom talk, speaking 33, 35, and 36 minutes out of 50, that is 66 to 72 per cent of the available class time. The small amount of time devoted to students' speech may be explained by the teachers' control of the turns. Johnson (1995:114) reminds us that despite the fact that student-student interaction allows students to interact with one another, more often than not, teachers still maintain a certain amount of control over the structure and sometimes, even the content of student-student interaction.

Allwright (1980:170), using audio taped data from two parallel UCLA low-level ESL classes, concluded that, as we might expect, the teacher has a vastly disproportionate number of turns overall compared with other participants and that most of them have the function of "discourse maintenance", that is, taking an unsolicited turn, when a turn is available. He adds that the teacher also does almost all the interrupting, and is even among those guilty of turn stealing.

This phenomenon might be partly explained by teachersí intolerance of silence. Teachers usually make a solicit and if students do not take the turn in a few seconds they take the turn again. Other studies demonstrate that if the teacher increases his/her wait time the quality and quantity of studentsí participation will also increase1. van Lier (1989:66) says that preliminary results of a study conducted by Long et al indicate that increasing wait time has a beneficial effect on the quality of learner responses. The issue of wait time is also very relevant to the investigation of repair and correction in L2 classrooms, where it can be shown that longer wait time increases opportunities of self-repair.

A great number of teachersí turns are in the form of display questions, that is, a question to which the questioner knows the answer in contrast to spontaneous conversation where referential questions are the ones more likely to appear. According to Nunan (1989:29-30), several recent studies have looked at teachersí use of display and referential questions. Nunan quotes Brockís investigation on the effect of referential questions on ESL classroom discourse. Brock found out that the learners in the groups in which more referential questions were asked gave significantly longer and more syntactically complex responses. We can, therefore, conclude that more authenticity in classroom interaction increases learning opportunities. Slimani (in Allwright and Bailey,1991:133) also found:

Ö an intriguing complex relationship between proficiency, interaction, and uptake. In her study the most proficient learners interacted more frequently than their less proficient classmates, and apparently participation was relatively profitable for them: roughly 50 per cent of what they claimed to have learned was derived form episodes of classroom interaction they had personally taken part in. Basically, for the less proficient learners it appeared that listening to other learners was more profitable than participating verbally themselves.

All these studies make us realize that one of the roles of second or foreign language teachers is to provide contexts which make interaction possible and that we must be aware that the traditional classroom seems to be disturbed by a series of factors which prevent students from talking.

SPONTANEOUS CONVERSATION AND CLASSROOM INTERACTION

A comparison between spontaneous conversation and traditional classroom interaction, as the one I have drawn below, brings to light the inferior position of students in this kind of speech event since teachers are more proficient and have the power to select topics, control the turns, and interrupt.

SPONTANEOUS CONVERSATION

TRADITIONAL EFL CLASSROOM INTERACTION

Language is the means

Language is the means and the content

Participants are equally proficient in the language

The teacher is more competent/studentsí competence is variable

Participants select the topics

The teacher selects the topics

Initiation of exchanges is at random

The teacher usually initiates the exchanges

Turn distribution is made by participants

The teacher distributes the turns and holds most of the floor

Moderate interruption

The teacher is always interrupting

Nobody needs permission to speak

Students usually need permission to speak

Questions are asked for information

Answers are usually known

Answers are not usually repeated

The teacher usually repeats the answers

All the participants can ask questions.

The teacher usually asks more questions

Self-corrections are made

Most of the corrections are initiated by the teacher

Hardly ever does a student make an attempt to interrupt the teacher or to introduce a topic in the classroom. It is not uncommon to see students who remain silent although they have unsolved doubts. According to Musumeci (1996:286), students prefer to verbally request help only in small groups or one-to-one interactions with the teacher. According to Tsui (1995:81), getting students to respond to their questions, raise questions, offer ideas and make comments is a problem most of the teachers face. According to her, research has shown that studentsí talk accounts for an average of less than 30 per cent of talk in teacher-fronted classrooms. Tsui argues that studies on language and learning have shown that the children not only learn to talk, but they also talk to learn and quotes Swain (1985) who points out that the production of comprehensible output is also essential to the acquisition of the target language.

In FL contexts, teachers are always concerned with the lack of opportunities for real interaction as the contact of the learners with the target language is largely restricted to the classroom and hardly ever does that kind of environment offer ideal conditions for real interaction. Most of the situations are simulations, which are affected by negative affective and social factors such as inhibition and playing a social role not adequate to the learnerís personality or culture.

VIRTUAL INTERACTION

As we have already discussed, classroom interaction poses many constraints to learnersí interaction such as teachers' dominating the classroom talking, interrupting the students, stealing their turns, giving feedback usually on form, asking display questions and showing intolerance of silence. It seems, however, that virtual classroom interaction can offer an environment free from most of those restrictions. According to Hoffman (1996:55),

Computer networks can broaden interaction among learners and teachers by providing them a channel of communication free from the restrictions of time and distance. Learners can access a wider variety of teachers - and other learners, both native and non-native speakers of the target language - throughout the world.

In fact, opportunities for interaction through computers, using either e-mail or chat, may be broadened not only in terms of time and space, but also in terms of partners. We can bring into the classroom, at least virtually, not only learners and teachers, but also native speakers and also topics we would have never imagined before. As the students are motivated to interact with people outside the classroom, they have the chance to select topics that were not supposed to be part of a language class. I consider that the most important characteristic of this new kind of interaction is the decrease of face threatening situations - problems with pronunciation, inability to take the turn or not being selected by the teacher, no chance to introduce topics, no permission to talk with a classmate during the class, and last but not least, the risk of making a mistake and being corrected in front of the whole class.

Writing activities using e-mail become real communication as an authentic use of the language is achieved. Learners communicate because they feel like interacting and not because they are told to.

Hoffman (1996:72) adds that the "information gap" that promotes real communication is widened in network communication by the perceived distance - the physical gap - between the learners and by the lack of visual and aural cues. In fact, some classroom activities, such as physical or classroom description, which are highly artificial, become meaningful when done by e-mail. Another interesting point is that e-mail has some of the characteristics of oral discourse. Martin (1997:4) says that e-mail lies somewhere between the formality of writing a letter or report, and engaging in informal oral conversation. For Basallote (1997:10),

e-mail generally reduces aspects of static social context such as gender, era, handicaps and status, and reduces physical communication cues (frowning, hesitating, intonation, etc.) It favors more equal participation by those who are often excluded or discriminated against: shy students, students with unusual learning styles, students who are apprehensive about writing, etc.

 

In e-mail we donít have physical communication cues, but another feature of this new genre is the use of emoticons2, which, in a certain way, replace some of the cues given by intonation and face expressions.

TRADITIONAL CLASSROOM INTERACTION AND E-MAIL INTERACTION

Computer interaction, as opposed to traditional classroom interaction, seems to minimize a series of factors, which contribute to inhibiting studentsí participation. According to Ortega (1997:84), oral interaction constraints, such as fear to interrupt or of being interrupted, need to manage the floor and the transfer of speakership, and need for interlocutors to co-orient the production of sequentially relevant discourse, are reduced in electronic discussions. In the context of foreign language learning, pronunciation difficulties and the need of constant monitoring disappear. Ortega (1997:85) quotes several studies that demonstrate that electronic interaction is performed without the dangers of being interrupted, making interlocutors become bored or impatient, receiving physical or verbal evaluative signs from the audience, or forgetting oneís own ideas while waiting for an opportunity to take the floor (Ortega, 1997:91). Table 2 illustrates traditional classroom interaction and email interaction.

Although I have listed a number of positive aspects of e-mail interaction, I must recognize that there are certain negative ones that might interfere in the learning/teaching process.

Contrary to general expectations, electronic interaction appears warmer than that usually found in the traditional classroom. Hoffman (1996:67) states that

the students see the teachersí use of the network connection as evidence of a concern for their individual needs and a willingness to become personally involved with them. Students find that the "faceless" medium of network communication makes it emotionally easier for them to ask questions (...) A number of students have reported that their teachersí helpful attitude in e-mail communication made them more inclined to interact comfortably on a face-to-face basis.

As Robb (1996:6) reminds us, donít be surprised to find some students exchanging snail-mail addresses with their keypals, turning a virtual friendship into an actual one.

Table 2: Comparison between traditional classroom interaction and email interaction.

TRADITIONAL CLASSROOM INTERACTION

E-MAIL INTERACTION

Face to face

Distance interaction

One student may get more attention

Students do not feel ignored

Turns are allocated by the teacher

Everybody can send a message

Some students "steal" othersí turns

All the students have the same opportunities

The teacher often initiates the turns

The student initiates the turns

The teacher is an authority

The teacher is a participant

More face threatening

Less face threatening

Impersonal relationship

Personal relationship

Does not facilitate dialogue between the teacher and the students

Facilitates dialogue between the teacher and the students

Artificial interaction

Real interaction

Fictional audience

Real audience

Participation is coordinated by the teacher

Students participate according to their own pace and will

Timed interaction

No time constraint

Simultaneous monitoring

Message can be corrected before being sent

Absent student cannot participate

Students can always participate

Interaction in the classroom only

Possibility of interaction with the world

Natural desire to interact is repressed

Natural desire to interact is stimulated

Students are afraid of running risks and experimenting

Students are less afraid of running risks and experimenting

Focus on form

Focus on meaning

Table 3: Negative aspects of classroom and email interaction

TRADITIONAL CLASSROOM INTERACTION

E-MAIL INTERACTION

No problems with equipment

Problems with connection and equipment

Number of students is limited

Number of students may represent overworking hours for the teacher

Access to teacher usually limited to classroom

The teacher can be contacted before and after the class which might represent overwork

Intruders are not allowed

Vulnerable to intruders

THE RESEARCH

In Brazil, the Federal Government has been encouraging schools to use computers in the classroom and, in 1997, a multimedia lab was set up in our university3. It has 29 computers linked to the Internet and students can be found there from morning to evening. The lab has been a great aid to the introduction of new methodologies and for minimizing the negative interference of social and affective factors in foreign language learning. The teachers/researchers involved in the lab project believe that Internet resources, such as e-mail, discussion lists, and chat can decrease the affective filter, as the students interact in a more relaxed way4. Having that in mind, we have offered English courses for the development of reading and writing skills using e-mail and www based tasks. Although all the students go the lab at the same time, twice a week, under the teacherís supervision, all the communication process is done via e-mail. The students interact with the teacher, with their classmates and with students and common people abroad.

The underlying principles of the course are the ones from the communicative approach, enhanced by constructivism principles. The teacher provides the necessary support for the students to develop their language skills and supplies different contexts for real interaction. In this way, the students develop projects, that is, they write about topics doing research in the net and solve problems searching for data in the WWW. They do individual and group tasks, and have partners in the classroom and abroad. They also write online journals and send the entries to their teachers every week, reporting what they have done during the week, talking about their difficulties and their feelings towards the course, evaluating their progress and pointing out the strong and week points of the course and of the methodology. Journals seem to be a motivating tool to foster interaction between studentsí and teachers. They introduce topics and besides talking about their personal experience in the course, they also talk about their personal life and their feelings thus using the computer to keep a closer relation with the teacher.

In order to find out the characteristics of e-mail interaction in the classroom, I collected data during the second semester of 1997. There were 22 students in the classroom and the data consisted of e-mail messages, which were sent to the teacher, together with some copies of messages sent to their classmates or keypals abroad.

FINDINGS

Drawing on the classroom discourse theory, I analyzed the data to make a comparison between traditional classroom interaction and e-mail interaction. I realized that teachers, dominance in e-mail interaction decreases, as the medium does not allow them to interrupt the students, take unsolicited turns or steal the turns. I noticed also that all the questions raised during the course were referential ones and most of the feedback was on content and not on form. The students initiated many exchanges and, although students sometimes failed to send messages, which can be interpreted as a kind of 'silence', the teacher tried to urge the students to participate instead of feeling responsible for doing all the Ďtalkingí. Twelve characteristics called my attention and will be discussed below.

Written text with some oral features

Written communication assisted by computers has an intimate relation with oral discourse. According to Levy (1997:223), the ways in which students write also changes when e-mail is the tool that is employed. Written communication mediated via computer in this way is reminiscent of spoken dialogue... The use of the verb talking in the example below symbolizes the studentís feeling of being actually talking to her classmate when using the e-mail. This feeling might be caused by the fact that e-mail is a means of communication almost as fast as telephone.

Mary5, Iím so glad I have finally gotten my code. I canít believe that for the first time in my life, Iím talking to someone, using a computer...

More opportunities for learners to negotiate meaning

In the next example, we can see one positive aspect of electronic chat. "Conversation" is managed in a more natural way and instead of the usual teacher initiated repairs, the student, according to her report, makes herself understood by means of paraphrase in an attempt to negotiate meaning. In traditional classrooms, the students are seldom asked to paraphrase what they are saying. The teacher usually corrects the form instead of giving the students another opportunity to make themselves understood. Besides that, students can understand each other, at least in foreign language learning contexts, because all of them speak the same interlanguage. When our students have the chance to enter a chat session with foreigners they experiment different situations. Sometimes they interact with natives or more proficient speakers and have to make an effort to make themselves understood. On other occasions, they are the more proficient ones and have to select simple language and easier vocabulary to make the "conversation" succeed.

(...) I think chat improves english because as you said last class itís interactive and if we make a mistake wich the person couldnít understand we have to say it another way... this make us behave like a dictionary because we have to translate one word but in the same language!!!

E-mail makes asynchronous dialogue possible

The next example shows the teacher and a student evaluating their course. They had had problems with the school server and the teacher advised them all to find a free e-mail account (www.hotmail.com or www.rocketmail.com). When the student replies, she keeps part of the previous messages and the result is a blending of three different messages. The final version of the message assumes the form of a dialogue.

(3) Hi Vera!

>Fortunately, we got rid of FALE addresses and the problems with the system administrator. Are you enjoying internet?

Yes, I just love it! I always have a good time when I am in the lab.

>Do you think it can help you learn more English? I hope so.

Sure! I feel I improved a lot my English, specially my writing. Besides my vocabulary has increased and Iím not afraid of mistakes anymore.

Well, Iíve heard it was your Birthday last Friday. Iím sorry but I couldnít sent you a message or a card. Anyway... Congratulations! Even late. ;o)

Kisses

X

More opportunities to use various language functions

Studies such as the ones done by Haas (1987) and Wang (1993), according to Levy (1997:223), demonstrate that in writing dialogue journals using e-mail, ESL students wrote more, asked more questions, and used different language functions more frequently compared with pen and paper. It is interesting to observe in example (3), that the student, besides answering the teacherís question, also introduces another topic (see the discourse marker well used to change topics) - the teacherís birthday - and uses other functions not expected by the teacher. The student informs about something in the past, apologizes and greets. Such dialogue would not be expected in a traditional classroom interaction in a context in which the teacher asks the student to evaluate their course.

5. Negotiated interaction with the teacher

The next excerpt shows the student apologizing for being late with an assignment. The teacher gives her more time because as students work according to their own pace, it will not interfere in the class rhythm. The negotiation is private, without any witnesses and the other students do not take part in the "conversation". The same thing would hardly ever happen in the traditional classroom. The dialogue itself is not supposed to happen in a traditional course. As we can see, the teacher reminds the student that there are other tasks to be performed, the student makes it clear that she has time available for them, and wishes the teacher has a good trip as she is travelling for a conference. In the teacherís absence the students will go on working and wherever she is, she can be in touch with them. This dialogue would not probably occur in a traditional classroom. In the Brazilian context, the student would probably look for the teacher after class and talk with her in Portuguese. The teacher would probably say that if she postponed that assignment she would have to do the same for the whole class in order to be fair.

(4) >Hi x,

>>my assignments but I had one of the busiest weeks of my life. Sorry for being late.

>>Bye,

>>X

>Never mind as far as you have enough time for the other two projects.

>Cheers,

>Vera

 

Hi Vera,

I hope you enjoy your trip. Iíll have time for all the projects. Donít worry. Bye.

X

6. Space for individual needs and interests

Students generally find little space for their interests and individual needs in traditional classrooms. All the students are expected to perform the same tasks at the same time and place and within a limited span of time. In virtual courses, where each learner works at his own pace, it is possible to care for individual needs. In example (5), a student who is an Internet expert talks about his individual objectives and asks for more tasks to develop vocabulary. On the other hand, in example (6), another student says he needs more time to learn how to use the Internet. The teacher sent the first student some links where he could find resources to develop vocabulary and gave special attention to the other student who needed help to learn more about the net.

(5) (...) My main goal is to improve my vocabulary by learning every word, expression and term I can from Internet, so Iíd like to suggest we develop any task so that we can do it.

(6) (...) I canít deal with Internet well up to now, but Iíve learned to work with e-mail.

7. Space and time constraints are overcome

The examples below illustrate the increase in learning opportunities. The learning environment is no longer dependent on a classroom controlled by a teacher who follows a single plan for all the students. In example (7), the student says that he has interacted with people from different parts of the world, overcoming space barriers; in (8), a second student says she cannot go to the lab at the appointed time, but asks for suggestions for her project, overcoming time constraints; in (9), a third student comments she had been working in the lab during lunch time; and in (10) a fourth student tries to contact a student who has been absent from the class.

(7) Dear Vera,

Iím finding a new world with this class. Last week I told with people from Australia, New Zealand, USA and England. It was very interesting, Iím impressed how the world become small with computers.

(8) (...) I couldnít come to class this morning but Iím answering your message now!

I have something to ask you! Do you have any suggestion for the personal project??? Iím lost! About the dream tour Iíd like to know if I can include some London history on it!

(9) I always go to the lab in the lunch time (I donít have luch anymore and Iím losting weight!) and have a pleasure time. I go to chat and learn a lot of things. New people and mainly new vocabulary. I learn about other countries and cities.

(10) X!!!

Where are you???
Why have you lost many class?

I miss you. I got e-mail of chinese students.

See you.

8. The teacher is not the main actor in the learning process

The teacherís physical presence is not a necessary condition for the learning process. The students are responsible for their own learning and can work according to their own rhythm. The teacher is not the one who knows everything, but the one who guides and stimulates curiosity and interaction. In example (11), the student pulls the teachersí leg because she missed one class6. Nevertheless, we can see that her absence did not prevent students from working.

(11) Hi Vera,

Youíve missed the class, er... So bad! :)

I havenít started my Internet Guide yet. I gonna start it on this week.

Thanks for the ideas to the Tour Guide. My suggestion is on my last week report. It is not so good as I wanted, but it can help.

9. External feedback may occur

Feedback has an essential role in FL learning. Its importance grows when a native speaker or someone from outside the classroom provides it. In the examples (12) and (13), the students show their satisfaction with the positive reinforcement they received from native speakers.

(12) Dear Vera,

Iíd like to tell you how Iím glad to take this course. Iíve learning a lot how to deal with Internet and also improving my English. Cleo, the farmer in USA, told me that my wrinting is good and thereís not many erros to correct. Sheís very kind. When Iím chating in EARTHWEB, some people tell me the same. I just have to learn how to use some abreviations in order to save time.

Kisses,

(13) Hi Vera,

............

(...) I know that I have to improve my englihs but in the room chat, basic english, I really received congratulations: "you speak good englihs", said one. I really like it because I could be well understood by English and American ones!!!

10. Personal topics may be introduced

In example (14), I reproduce part of a studentís comment about her sadness for being at the end of her university course. She points out that she is going to miss her classmates and the university environment7. It is almost improbable that topics like that one, so personal, would appear spontaneously in traditional classroom interactions

(...) Sorry for make you my psychologist, but i needed to talk to someone who know what Iím feeling now.

11. The teacher can also be a learner

Sometimes the teacher does not know any more about the new technologies than do some of the learners. The students can share their knowledge with the teacher and with their classmates. In the example below, the student reveals her amazement at her teacherís lack of knowledge and the inversion of their roles. The student teaches and asks the teacher to acknowledge whether she has got it.

(15) Iím very surprised to hear that you donít how to deal with hotmail. You are an expert in internet! Anyway itís too easy and for free. You have to dial: (www.hotmail.com) and sign up and then you have your free e-mail and donít need a private provider.

Well, I tried to help you... Tell me later if I got it.

Kisses,

X

12. Interaction after the course is over

In classes using e-mail, students can go on interacting with the teacher after the course is over. The messages below were sent to the teacher after the course was over. In example (16), the student asks the teacher to go on sending her interesting links and also her final grades. She explained she was not able to attend the last class when the students were told about their grades. In example (17), the student abandons the English language and sends a message in Portuguese and suggests they can exchange information from then on. The teacher is no longer the authority, she is something better, now she is a friend with whom the student feels like interacting after the course is over, now not as student and teacher, but as partners.

(16) Please keep on sending us interesting address, they are very helpful. Iíll try to do the same. Sorry for didnít come to the last class. I had to work on Friday morning. So it was not possible to come. Could you send me a message telling my grades? If not, donít worry.

(17) Estava aqui terminando o trabalho e pensando como foi legal as aulas ter conhecido e trocado e-mails com pessoas do mundo inteiro ť o que ť mais legal nisso tudo ť que tornamos amigos e depois das aulas ainda continuaremos amigos e eu espero Vera que continuemos a trocar mails e qualquer bom endereÁo que eu descobrir comunico a vocÍ assim como qualquer novidade na rede!8

CONCLUSION

All the excerpts listed above exemplify how the use of the English language became a means of actual communication. The students produced natural utterances and the teacher did not make any judgement about the form of the messages. By avoiding explicit corrections and changing the focus from form to content, the teacher provided a context for more spontaneous and less threatening interactions. Some studentsí initial fear of technology immediately changed into pleasure and desire to use the computer to practice the language.

This contribution has demonstrated that computer assisted foreign language learning provides the students contexts for more meaningful language use, increases learning opportunities, motivates autonomous learning, opens space for different rhythms and needs, makes the access to authentic material possible, and transcends the classroom walls as the contact with people all over the world becomes possible9.As Meloni (1998:10) points out,

Many students love computers. Unlike some teachers, students feel comfortable with computers and are very receptive to any learning activities that involve the computer. Increased motivation leads to increased language use which leads to improved proficiency.

The use of online journals, associated to the new technologies, helped the teacher and the students to reflect about the teaching and learning processes. The students developed reading and writing skills in a relaxed environment and felt motivated to go to the lab at different times not pre-established by the school. The teacher had the chance to care for individual differences, to analyze the suggestions and to redefine the course objectives.

We can conclude that computers can humanize the classroom, decreasing the distance between the teacher and students. An investment in "technology literacy", which will be highly beneficial for education as a whole, is hence necessary. There is no reason to fear that computers will replace teachers, but some experts agree that teachers who use technology will surely replace those who donít. Knowing how to deal with machines is not sufficient because it is always possible to reproduce in a computerized environment teaching models where the teachersí authority  prevents the learners from being autonomous and responsible for their own learning. The computer is just the means; the way we use it is what can bring a new dimension into the learning process.

Notas:

1Rowe (1969), Holley & King (1974), cited in Allwright & Bailey, and Long et al., cited in van Lier (1989).

2An emoticon (also known as a 'smiley') is a symbol composed of a few text characters, and used as a kind of emotional shorthand to add meaning.

3The lab was sponsored by CAPES, a Brazilian governmental agency that gives support to university education.

4As used by Krashen (1985:3) 'the affective filter' is a mental block that prevents acquirers from fully utilizing the comprehensible input they receive for language acquisition.

5The student's real names were changed and their messages were not edited.

6The course used virtual resources but was part of a traditional program with a fixed schedule for the classes. The teacher and the students were expected to go to the lab twice a week for one hour and 40 minutes.

7The new technologies will allow former students to go on 'living' in the university through virtual spaces through discussion lists, new groups, or distance learning and continuing education projects.

8I was here finishing my paper and thinking how I enjoyed our classes. I enjoyed having exchanged emails with people all over the world and the best of all was that we have become friends and after the course is over we will still be friends. I hope we will go on exchanging addresses. I will send you any good address I find and also any new information about the net. [author's translation]

9Besides that, the new technology decreases the use of paper and helps preserve the environment.

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