Monday, January 14, 2013

Week 1: The basics

To my fellow classmates taking Computer Applications in Linguistics: Hi!  And welcome to my CALL blog.

If you don't know me, my name is Karen Lenz, and this is my final semester in the MA-TESL program.  Before coming to NAU I had the opportunity to work with a variety of ESL learners in a variety of programs (e.g., adult ESL, family literacy, workforce English) in Nebraska.  Now I get to teach ENG 105 to PIE students and ENG 205 to American students at NAU.

My experiences with technology in the ESL classroom deal mostly with the basics: in workforce English classes we would teach students to set up e-mail addresses, create resumes in Microsoft Word, and use Google Maps.  In family literacy classes, parents learned to access the websites their children were using at school.  In my PIE section of ENG 105, students have requested that we do our free writing and reflective writing during our lab days so they can practice typing.  We also spend quite a bit of time learning to format papers.  Students also appreciate the opportunity to practice using basic university resources such as BBLearn and NAU's library page.

These "basics" require a lot of energy and patience.  In the workforce English class, for example, many students had never used computers before.  Technology can raise students' anxiety levels and increase the potential for a chaotic class.  But for ESL learners living and studying in the US, the ability to master these basics and also learn to use new forms of technology is, I think, a prerequisite for academic success and employability.

Jena Lynch and I presented on the topic of making the most of limited technology last fall at the AZ-TESOL state conference.  Part of our presentation incorporated ideas from Egbert and Yang (2004), who encourage teachers to consider whether or not the use of technology promotes L2 interaction (and negotiation of meaning), learner autonomy, and a healthy stress/anxiety level.  Rather than using technology for its own sake, Egbert and Yang offer a reminder for teachers to return to the basic principles of second language learning and teaching.  Other considerations they mention include deciding whether or not a particular use of technology in the classroom provides learners with enough time and feedback, whether or not the tasks are authentic, and whether or not the activity allows learners to produce creative and varied language.

My experiences thus far with technology in the ESL classroom have given me respect for teaching "the basics," whether it's the basics of using a computer or the basic principles for second language teaching.  However, aside from brief introductions to English language teaching software and websites in our listening and speaking methods class, I do not have a lot of experience with computer applications in applied linguistics.  I hope to gain a better picture of the technology available to second language teachers and researchers as well as important considerations in implementing these resources.


Egbert, J., & Yang, Y. (2004).  Mediating the digital divide in CALL classrooms: Promoting effective language tasks in limited technology contexts.  ReCALL, 16, 280-291. doi:10.1017/S0958344004000321

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