December 2012
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USING TECHNOLOGY FOR THE CREATION OF ESP MATERIALS
Dafne Gonzalez and Rubena St. Louis Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela

Dafne Gonzalez

Rubena St. Louis

Finding or developing authentic materials in the field of English for specific purposes (ESP) has always been a challenge for classroom practitioners who are often faced with a scarcity of authentic input for their students. Advances in the area of technology have not only changed the way in which we live and perceive the world, but also given us access to content that was previously unavailable. Moreover, this new century has seen a number of communication tools with the potential to bring content into the classroom in a more dynamic and meaningful way in several formats that allow teachers to cater to students different learning styles (Gonzalez, 2006).

In this article, we describe a number of web applications that will enable classroom teachers to develop their own tailored ESP materials that could be used in either blended or fully online courses to develop vocabulary and practice the listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills needed to communicate effectively in today’s world.

The following applications, which are user-friendly and aimed at promoting learning and interaction with the language, will be a good start for those teachers who have had little experience with web-based tools. These programs will be beneficial especially for vocabulary acquisition in ESP, in which the meaning of words may change depending on the special content area. This is only a small sample of the many applications available on the web.

Word Dynamo is a free application that creates interactive exercises, such as matching, crosswords, listening and flash cards, using word lists created by both teachers and students. These lists can also be shared with others, giving students an added opportunity to expand their vocabulary in the specific field.

Quizzlet, a free tool, allows users to create interactive flash cards to study, practice, and test vocabulary. A text-to-speech application helps learners with the pronunciation and spelling of words and phrases.

Although many written texts can be found on the Internet for the teaching of ESP, fewer resources are aimed at increasing learners’ contact with the spoken language. In this case, text-to-speech tools such as HelloSlide and Voki can be used to convert written texts to speech and so allow students to improve their listening comprehension skills. This is especially useful in EFL contexts where native speakers are not always available.

Another challenge facing both teachers and students in an EFL ESP context is a lack of sufficient opportunities for oral practice in the classroom. This may be due in part to a reduced number of teaching hours and large classrooms. Web-based audio resources such as ChirbitandAudioboo can increase the number of contact hours with the language by allowing students to record and share audio files with teachers and classmates via computers or smartphones. MP3 Skype Recorderis another application that allows all parties in an online Skype conversation to be recorded in MP3 format. These tools allow teachers to hear, evaluate, and send constructive feedback to students whose progress can also be charted through the saved audio files. On occasions where the use of videos are required, students can gain experience through the use of Eyejot,which allows users to create, send, and receive video messages, without any program installation, on computers or mobile devices or directly to their social network. This type of program facilitates the reading of body language, which is an important aspect of human interaction and communication, and promotes discussion through the exchange of video messages. Applications of this kind are especially useful in areas where there is limited Internet access but extensive mobile communication. Finally, discussions on topics related to the students specific field of study can be made available through the use of voice forums such as VoxOpop. Experts in the area can be invited to give a short talk, and students will then have the opportunity to share their opinions and views on the topic. This type of voice forum also allows learners to actively listen to other speakers of the language and helps sharpen their listening comprehension skills. In an ESP context, these audio and video tools will permit teachers and students to create authentic tasks in their given content area, such as solving problems over the phone, having conversation with international colleagues, or taking part in video exchanges, and allow students to complete these using the target-specific lexical items.

Reading has traditionally been the skill most ESP practitioners tend to teach and to evaluate using methods such as multiple-choice questions and true/false statements. However, students need to develop the high-level cognitive skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation required to become competent readers (Singhal, 2004). This can be achieved through the use of graphic organizers such as Gliffy, Diagram.ly,and Buble.us. These applications facilitate the brainstorming of ideas and the synthesis of information through mind mapping. They can also be used as input for writing by allowing students to obtain and evaluate information from the text and then transform and communicate the message in their own words.

There are also applications such as Educaplay and LearningApps that allow teachers and students to create a number of different interactive learning activities that cater to different learning styles in one site and share these with an online community. Among the activities that can be created are drag-and-drop exercises, word games such as crosswords and Hangman, matching and memory games, illustrated quizzes, collaborative writing spaces, and dictations, among others. These activities can not only be content specific, but can also promote learner autonomy by allowing students to return to the material when they so desire and for as long as they want (Gonzalez & St. Louis, 2012).

Finally, all of the activities created with the tools described in this article can be housed using platforms like Edmodo, wikis, and blogs, where image and document files, videos, links, and different applications can be embedded and made available online to students. An ESP course can be created, nourished by input from students and content specialists, and easily updated over time, thus permitting content and the learner to interact through technology (Butler-Pascoe, 2009) in order to create an authentic, self-contained learning environment. Unlike static media (books), technology can also allow students to show what they have learned and are able to produce in the target language using different media (text, graphics, video, images, and podcasts) through interactive and visually attractive posters such as Glogster,which can be used as a learning portfolio. Teachers can also use this medium for students to develop specific interactive projects in their field.

Since the turn of the 21st century, the increasing use of the Internet has been persistently pushing back frontiers and thus enabling us to become participants of a global community. This opening of frontiers is also reflected in the amount of specialized information available through online magazines and journals, conferences, interviews, and news reports, to name a few. ESP practitioners should take advantage of these authentic resources that were previously so difficult to obtain and maximize their potential as learning materials. This gap between the authentic material available and ESP students eager to learn more about their content area can be bridged through the use of technology that is increasingly been used daily by students worldwide. ESP practitioners should not shy away from using the Web 2.0 applications that would help create authentic scenarios where students can use the specialized language needed to communicate in their fields.

References

Butler-Pascoe, M. E. (2009, June). English for specific purposes (ESP), innovation and technology. English Education and ESP, pp. 1–15.

Gonzalez, D. (2006). Using synchronous communication collaboratively in ESP. In E. Hanson-Smith & S. Rilling (Eds.), Learning languages through technology (pp. 11–24). Alexandria: VA: TESOL.

Gonzalez, D., & St. Louis, R. (2012). Promoting learner autonomy with web 2.0 tools. In C. J. Everhard, J. Mynard, & R. Smith (Eds.), Autonomy in language learning: Opening a can of worms (pp. 238–247). Canterbury, England: IATEFL.

Singhal, M. (2004). Academic writing and generation 1.5: Pedagogical goals and instructional issues in the college composition classroom. The Reading Matrix, 4(3). http://www.readingmatrix.com/journal.html


Dafne Gonzalez is a full professor at Universidad Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, Venezuela, and has been an ESP/EFL teacher for more than 30 years. Since 2002, she has been designing and teaching blended and fully online courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Rubena St. Louis is a senior lecturer at Universidad Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, Venezuela. She has been teaching ESP for more than 15 years and designing web-based materials since 2002.

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