July 2011
TESOL HOME Convention Jobs Book Store TESOL Community

ARTICLES
USING ICTS IN TEACHING ENGLISH ACADEMIC WRITING
Valerie SartorUniversity of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

In this article I explore how information communication technologies (ICTs) can promote L2 English language academic writing skills. For this article, I define ICTs as any communication device or application, including radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, and satellite systems. In the form of personal computers, digital television, e-mail, and even robots, ICT products can store, retrieve, manipulate, transmit, or receive information electronically in digital form. Because I focus here on ICTs in education, I use the term ICTs to refer primarily to software and hardware computer systems. In addition, educators and educational administrators use the term ICTs when they employ various systems to generate services and applications associated with learning via computers, such as video conferencing, distance classrooms, wikis, and chat rooms. Throughout this article I emphasize the wiki as an ICT that serves as an individual educational component; it is often nested within another ICT, Blackboard, a popular educational online classroom provider. Wikis are innovative and fairly new ICT software; they promote L2 writing skills for nonnative English speakers.

NEW LITERACY PRACTICES

In education, the evolving relationship between technology and writing supports new kinds of literacy practices that are being used worldwide. For example, distance-learning opportunities are now available globally, even in remote areas of the world. Wikis, web portals, and chat rooms offer collaborative places for enhancing literacy via written communication skills (Cummings & Davidson, 2007). Moreover, many non-Western multi-literate societies (post-Soviet countries, such as Turkmenistan, Belarus, and Russia, and many Asian countries, such as China, Korea, and Japan) now employ different technology-driven literacies as core foundations to teach English writing skills (Lund, 2008; Tan, Ng, & Saw, 2010; Warschauer, 1999). The Internet allows students to access and enroll in writing courses online; students may submit all the required work in electronic form. Specifically, ESL students can use a variety of ESL interactive writing Web sites to build fluency skills in addition to taking online L2 writing courses (Cummings & Davidson, 2007; E. T. Tan, Ng, & Saw, 2010).

In fact, the most dramatic aspect of ICTs in teaching L2 English writing is their interactivity. Computers are not just tools for writing; they have also changed the processes, products, and contexts for writing, because technological environments can be both physical and virtual. A teacher can work together with students in a computer lab; students also have the option to use portable devices, such as iPads, lap tops, and cell phones, to write and receive instruction outside the classroom.

REVIEWING BLACKBOARD AND WIKI

Educational software, such as Blackboard and other similar tools (Moodle, SkillSoft), allow teachers to present additional resources for students to access online. Blackboard is a Web-based course-management system designed to allow students and faculty to participate in classes delivered online or use online materials and activities to complement face-to-face teaching; Blackboard and Moodle give teachers diverse online options to present course materials: discussion boards, virtual chat, online quizzes, an academic resource center, and more. Moreover, digital applications, such as PowerPoint, Captivate, video, audio, animation, and other graphic and print applications, can be created outside of the Blackboard site, and then added into Blackboard courses. ICTs such as Blackboard have versatility and creative potential that enhances teaching and learning efforts, but one big drawback can be their cost.

In contrast, PBworks, a wiki site, is free to individuals and educators; other wiki sites are moderately priced. Wikis are defined as software that allows multiple users to freely create and edit the content of web pages. Wikis have simple text syntax. This makes editing easy, creating new pages easy, and posting material―visuals, hyperlinks, text, animations―easy. Even ESL instructors with limited computer skills can learn to navigate a wiki with minimal effort.

This effort is well worthwhile, because wikis and other educational technology have streamlined the writing process. In the classroom, using ICT software and/or various Internet sites, L2 English writing students can simultaneously connect with each other, their teacher, and the outside world. This means that in class, a teacher can assign an online writing task and then assess student work by checking the student’s email, blog, or wiki, without ever touching a piece of paper. The teacher can hold editorial conferences with students (as a group or individually) via these same strategies. Some ESL instructors choose to use Skype, videoconference, or even text using a laptop or cell phone. Students and teachers no longer need to be in the same place at the same time to communicate. Using Blackboard, blogs, wikis, or chat room portals, L2 writing teachers can effectively instruct via a 100 percent virtual environment. Even more important, the writing process and writing itself has also changed for L2 learners. Take, for example, the wiki software tool. Wikis have impacted writing in four major ways.

First of all, by using a wiki for L2 writing, both the student and the instructor can view all the steps of the editorial process. Revisions are automatically tracked and saved; they are easy to view. L2 writing students have the chance to see and review their writing errors. They can also evaluate their writing progress. Second, research on L2 writing indicates that writing proficiency can be correlated to length (Kyoko, 2009). A wiki allows the student and the instructor to see how much is written at different points in time. The wiki also offers a record of the benefits of continued efforts by tracking length to fluency. Third, a wiki can help with the problem of convincing L2 writers that editing is an ongoing process. Because a wiki allows multiple writers to work collaboratively on one text, as well as the option of asynchronous writing, the concepts of adding, expanding, reorganizing, and correcting a piece of text are highlighted, with the teacher serving as an on-call model/mentor while L2 writing students are actually engaged in collaborating to produce text (Lund, 2008).

Finally, the Internet and tools such as wikis offer L2 students an authentic social context in which to interact and communicate using the written word. Having an audience and publishing one’s work adds validation and a sense of purpose for all writers. L2 students respond to publishing; it gives their work real value. Moreover, Internet publishing reaches a wide audience; millions of people across the globe have access to information on the Internet.

IMPLICATIONS OF ICTS

The way ordinary people are using the Internet, and the fact that so many people are employing the Internet, has significant economic, cultural, and social impact. Today’s international, multilingual student community is taking advantage of ICTs to communicate and collaborate with others. Students are using the Internet to gain knowledge and share information (Gibbons, 2010). L2 students are using ICTs to gain fluency in English, and we, as teachers, must be technologically current in order to meet their needs.

Yet, for teachers and students, interacting with ICTs has three profound implications regarding L2 English writing. The first implication is rhetorical, as digital writing has changed the way we teachers both perceive and teach the art and craft of writing. No one doubts that the Internet has changed English writing styles and syntax. ICTs have changed English sentence structure, style, and rhetorical delivery in a variety of genres (Crystal, 2003). Educational research (Cummings & Davison, 2007) indicates mixed opinions regarding this rhetorical and stylistic shift in written English among ESL students using some types of ICTs to communicate.

English is the dominant language on the Internet (Crystal, 2003); English is used as a favorite language of text messaging among myriad cultures. Many studies have shown that English itself is in flux; even the intermingling of English with major languages, such as Arabic, has created a new language variant (Warschauer, El Said, & Zohry, 2002, which I term “a new online ‘Creole’.” This phenomenon can be found in other parts of the world, including Singapore, China, Korea, and Mongolia (Warschauer, 1999; Danet & Hering, 2007). Moreover, English itself has changed: English text on the Internet displays writing that is shorter, less grammatically inclined, and full of acronyms, emoticons and new words, or words imported from other tongues (Danet & Hering, 2007; Warschauer, 2007).

This brings me to the second implication: interaction. In addition to rhetorical changes, ICTs have also impacted how writers and readers interact with written text. Writing concerns not only the words on a page, but also the means and mechanisms for production. Thus, writing with a pen is different than writing with a computer, as computers make editorial revisions simpler and faster to accomplish. ICTs have also changed publication venues for all writers because print media has gone digital, visual, and interactive. Text information has transcended time and space. It is quick and easy to get into cyber print. Even the economics of presenting written text has radically changed. Yahoo, for example, has a self-publishing venue that allows writers to design and produce their own texts for public consumption―and make a profit doing so, thus bypassing large publishing conglomerates. Anyone with access to the Internet and a grasp of basic Internet skills can publish a blog, post an opinion, become a journalist, or create a multimedia Web site.

Yet easy revisions and open access to publication also have negative repercussions (Radia & Stapleton, 2008). A wiki that is not password protected is susceptible to unkind comments and even malicious hackers. As teachers, we must protect our L2 students’ privacy and offer them writing guidelines for online peer comments, evaluations, and edits. L2 students searching for information to use in their essays may be deceived by the openness of the Internet, where sites often lack authority and rigor (Radia & Stapleton, 2008). Information can be saturated with ideological agendas. L2 writers must first linguistically decode information, and then determine whether what they read is objective and biased.

When L2 writers go online for ideas to use in their own writing work, they must be taught that many sites are not transparent or culturally neutral; some sites are offensive in content, despite the fact that anyone can access them. Research indicates that L2 student writing can inadvertently reflect an ideologically charged site (Radia & Stapleton, 2008). Furthermore, L2 writing credibility may suffer if L2 students access unconventional and/or manipulative Web sites. Indeed, increasing globalization and increasing information overload are both contributing to the redefinition of standards of English writing in terms of academic rigor for all students.

Clearly, all L2 English writing students around the world have more choices in researching, presenting, and delivering information because ICTs for writing have changed production and distribution channels. With Internet technology, L2 English writing has become more sophisticated but more accessible (Gibbons, 2010). Many ESL education classrooms seek to establish Internet relationships around the world. Students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds have the opportunity to link up with each other online. Responses arrive in seconds rather than weeks. As all English writers and their audiences expand and relate to each other on a global scale, new ways of composing are being created. Teachers must be prepared to use ICTs as part of their pedagogical practices. At the same time, ESL instructors must be alert to the negative implications that arrive with the Internet’s open access.

This brings me to the third implication: the role of instructors in online L2 English writing practices. ESL instructors must be computer literate. They must offer students tools, skills, and strategies not just to produce traditional academic texts but also to generate documents that are appropriate to the global market, such as written texts designed with multimedia technological tools. English teachers must provide communication tools, along with grammatical and linguistic tools, to generate today’s and tomorrow’s global writers.

Today, L2 English writing classrooms are interactive networks that exist online as well as inside a physical space. Anywhere in the world, L2 writing can be a collaborative process, a socially situated process. The notion of a writer sitting alone at a desk in a room, struggling to put pen to paper, is outdated. Technology has changed the way writers work and the way writing can be taught. ESL teachers can help their L2 English language writers by using ICTs to generate effective English writing and meaningful communication. ESL students everywhere need to understand English grammar and gain fluency in using different writing genres and sophisticated computer technology to create meaning. We must give our L2 students the ICT option, while continuing ourselves, as educators, to keep up with technological innovations, and acknowledging them as revolutionary teaching tools.

REFERENCES

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Cummings, J., & Davison, C. (2007). The international handbook of English language teaching (2 Vols.) Norwell, MA: Springer Publishers.

Gibbons, S. (2010). Collaborating like never before: Reading and writing through a wiki. English Journal 99(5), 35-39.

Kyoko, B. (2009). Aspects of lexical proficiency in writing summaries in a foreign language. Journal of Second Language Writing, 18(3), 191-208.

Lund, A. (2008). Wikis: A collective approach to language production. Recall 20(1), 35-54.

Mak, B., & Coniam, D. (2008). Using wikis to enhance and develop writing skills among secondary school students in Hong Kong.System, 36, 437-455.

Radia, P., & Stapleton, P. (2008). Unconventional Internet genres and their impact on second language undergraduate students’ writing process. Internet and Higher Education, 11, 9-17.

Tan, E. T., Ng, M. L. Y., & Saw, K. G. (2010). Online activities and writing practices of urban Malaysian adolescents. System, 38, 548-559.

Warschauer, M. (1999). Electronic literacies: Language, culture and power in online education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Warschauer, M., El Said, G. R., & Zohry, A.G. (2002). Language choice online: Globalization and identity in Egypt. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 7(4), 0. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2002.tb00157.x


Valerie Sartor has been an ESL instructor since 1980, when she began her 3 ½ year service as US Peace Corps Volunteer teacher in South Korea and the Central African Republic. Her master's degree is in Russian Language and Literature. In 2003 she acquired updated TESOL certification from SIT. She is fascinated with the language acquisition process, both for herself and her students. From 2004 until the fall of 2008, she lived in North China, teaching ESL, working as an editor and writer, and also as an IELTS examiner. From Aug 2009 to June 2010 Valerie was a US State Department English Language Fellow in Turkmenistan. She publishes widely. Currently Valerie is working on her PhD, specializing in bilingual education and TESOL at UNM.

« Previous Newsletter Home Print Article Next »
Post a CommentView Comments
 Rate This Article
Share LinkedIn Twitter Facebook
In This Issue
LEADERSHIP UPDATES
ARTICLES
COLUMNS
ABOUT THIS COMMUNITY
Tools
Search Back Issues
Forward to a Friend
Print Issue
RSS Feed
Poll
What environment do you prefer to work in?
Mac
PC
Other
I feel comfortable in all environments