Guiding Students Through the Web
A Collaborative Web-based Project Developing Students'
Autonomy and Life-long Learning Skills
by Natalie Cigankova
a powerful tool as the Internet allows the teacher to use
the wealth of on-line resources to enhance the students' learning
at the Academic Writing lessons. As many educators have already
noticed, a spontaneous, chaotic process of harnessing the
Web by students is taking place independently from teachers,
causing frequent cases of plagiarism and various citing errors
in academic assignments. Even when students use the Internet
for "proper" purposes, "one challenge for language
teachers is to shape some of their computer-using experiences
into language learning experiences" (Chapelle, 2001:2).
The purpose of this article is to suggest one of the possible
solutions: a collaborative web-based project aimed at incorporating
the information technology (beyond word processing) into the
process of developing advanced academic writing skills.
Evaluating websites and writing critical reviews for peer
reading, actively involves students into a purposeful language
learning activity. The development of all language skills
takes place when students read authentic and relevant texts
on-line, write several review drafts, and discuss their contributions
to the collective project and the content of the future Internet
guide-book. The learning resources, collected by students
for their own and other students' use, become tailored to
the students' profiles and learning context, because the future
users themselves have been involved in their careful selection
and evaluation. The crucial importance of the relevance of
on-line materials to local educational contexts and learner
profiles has been emphasised by the applied linguists investigating
the usefulness of on-line self-tuition courses (Sercu, Peters
from developing their language skills using relevant and,
thus, more effective learning materials, students acquire
a valuable quality - an ability to study independently. Anyone
who is engaged in teaching students to write in academic English
aims at developing life-long learning skills, enabling the
learners to achieve academic and professional success in future.
Students will need to further develop their writing style
while they are climbing their academic or professional career
ladder. However, what is most important for students to develop,
is the ability to learn without instructor, to find, evaluate,
and choose materials that would be the most useful for them.
The collaborative website review writing project aims at developing
students' autonomy in learning and at "helping learners
learn how to learn" (Wenden, 1991:11).
purposes of the project work, exploring resources for student
writers on the Internet, were to offer students a useful and
motivating writing task, to help them develop a critical attitude
towards the information on the Web, and to encourage students
to develop knowledge through collaboration. Originating from
well-known academic books and articles review writing, the
activity fosters the process of students' learning how to
find and evaluate information on the Internet, compare it
with the information from traditional printed library resources,
and synthesise it in writing website reviews. Similar activities
were described in ELT literature (Dudeney, 2000; Sperling,
1999, Teeler and Gray, 2000); however, we aimed at developing
a simple activity of review writing into a full-scale collaborative
project connecting generations of students into a community
of on-line learners.
the project in 1999 with Latvian undergraduate students preparing
to write their first academic papers, we aimed at introducing
an activity that can help to use the Internet for developing
student's on-line academic research skills and at proving
that the use of the World Wide Web in academic writing instruction
can benefit students. During three academic years as part
of their study program the students analysed and evaluated
the websites that might be of interest for writing students.
The experience gained allows the author to suggest the following
plan for the activity:
levels of language or computer skills
the class: teacher chooses the websites according
to the students' age and language level. A web page with
links to the websites could save time at the lesson and
make it more organised.
the class: teacher tries different combinations of
the key words for Web search to pre-view what students
might see when looking for the websites for evaluation.
class: teacher gives students a step by step instruction
on paper, so that students would not get lost on the Web.
Teacher may also want to pre-teach some difficult vocabulary
that students will see on the websites.
class: students decide what they would like to find
on the Internet (e.g. information on citing the Internet
sources) and write down the task for themselves not to
forget this purpose while searching the Web.
prepares students to use technology to the extent necessary
for the lesson (mouse skills).
preparation of students for working with authentic texts
and information overflow.
decides how to manage the lesson time.
decide how much time to spend on browsing, on reading
and note taking, and on writing itself during the lesson.
can provide the students with the following guidelines
for review writing:
2. The purpose of the website and assumed readership
3. Currency: when the website was created and last updated?
4. Ease of use
6. Links to other Web pages and websites
8. Special features
9. Recommendations (would the student recommend the website
to other students?)
discuss the list of possible criteria for website evaluation
provided by the teacher or develop their own criteria
working groups.Example criteria developed by students:
1. How inspiring is the website for writing? (Motivational
2. Overall clarity, including the language.
3. How informative the website is?
4. The relevance of the information on the website; currency.
5. How can the website support writing students: does
it contain dictionaries, sample essays and papers, e-books
and reference resources?
6. Teaching qualities of the website: are there interactive
exercises and self-tests?
7. Does the website offer information for students with
different learning styles, e.g. sound, animation and other
2. Web sites analysis and evaluation (students on-line)
read the content of the website and take notes answering
the teacher's questions. First reading: for general idea
or impression (e.g. the purpose of the website). Second
reading: for specific details (the date of construction,
the author or the university etc.).
read the content, evaluate it according to their own developed
criteria, and take notes on their findings.
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