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Students Guiding Students Through the Web
A Collaborative Web-based Project Developing Students'
Autonomy and Life-long Learning Skills

by Natalie Cigankova
- 2

Stage 3. Review writing (off-line)
Students organise their notes into review drafts according to the plan provided by the teacher. They can also compare the information from the website with the textbook or other resources. Students should realise that they are responsible for the accuracy of the information on the website if they recommend it to other students. They should mention the mistakes in their reviews. Students compare/contrast the text with the information in the textbooks and with other Web and library resources. They can also group the websites they visit according to some criteria (e.g. assumed readership, clarity, etc.). Students decide whether to recommend the website to other students or not. They should explain their decision and point to the mistakes and inaccurate information.
Students exchange the drafts with their group mates for peer feedback. They should find what they like the best in the review, and what is not clear for them and should be rewritten. Peer feedback. Discussion on the presentation guidelines. Students decide whether the reviews should be presented in paper form for publishing in a book or in electronic form for on-line posting.
Writing second drafts, which can be sent by e-mail to the peers for feedback if students continue writing at home. Rewriting and peer editing of the reviews. Discussion on the organisation of the book or a website for publishing the reviews.

This plan can be used with students of different levels of language and computer literacy skills. The teacher can further tailor it to accommodate the particular students' needs in the particular situations. Students' comments are collected and published in a self-published book to guide the next generation of students through the Web, so that they, in their turn, could contribute to the project and update the information in the Internet Guide for Writing Students.

Outcomes

All of the students evaluated the website review writing as a useful learning activity in their reflective essays and post-class interviews. The results of the formal assessment at the end of the term demonstrated a growth in the quality of students' writing in the target group, participating in the project, in comparison with the control group. However, the results of formal testing cannot reflect much more valuable outcomes, such as growing students' interest, confidence, and independence in learning. The analysis of students' reflective essays and post-class interviews generally support the results of yearly students' opinion surveys, showing an amazing change in the attitude toward the subject (from 70% negative and very negative towards 67% positive and very positive) and growth in students' confidence in writing, although such a change in students' attitudes could be explained by the excitement from the novelty of the Internet. Nevertheless, the experience of almost four years of using the activity allows me to conclude that in this case the difference between students' wants and their needs is very small.

Working over the project, students practice the following valuable skills:

• language and writing skills
Students read authentic texts, take notes, and rewrite their reviews several times to achieve the publishable quality.

• Information management skills
Students learn to cope with too much information on the website, to choose the relevant and to skip irrelevant information.

• Critical thinking skills
Students learn to evaluate relevant information, to compare and synthesise the information from different sources.

• Time management skills
Students learn to use the Internet to complete a concrete task in a limited period of time.

• Interpersonal communication skills
Students learn to work in collaboration to achieve the best results.

• Life-long learning skills
Students learn to understand their learning needs and preferences and how to satisfy them; they learn how to find on-line resources for further independent learning.
The skills that students obtain participating in the project can be transferred to other subjects, improving the overall quality of students' learning.

As possible drawbacks of the web-based project should be mentioned the anxiety of teachers and learners caused by the use of technology, the necessity of teaching computer literacy skills at the lesson, and a slow Internet connection or computer failure during the class. The teacher can reduce the negative effect by filling the website loading time with useful activities, e.g. giving the instruction on paper or organising short discussions on the students' experience of the Internet.

The highly positive results of the project allow the author to recommend this form of instruction as one that is useful, comparatively easy to organise, and highly stimulating.


References:
1. Dudeney, G. (2000). The Internet and the Language Classroom Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
2. Jones, C. (1986). "It's not so much the program, more what you do with it: the importance of methodology in CALL" System 14/2
3. Sercu, L and E. Peters (2002). "Learning e-learning - a comprehensive investigation of course developers' and language teacher trainees' views regarding the usefulness and effectiveness of a multimedia self-tuition course" In: ReCALL Vol.14, Part 1 (pp.32-46). UK: Cambridge University Press
4. Sperling, D. (1999). Sperling's Internet Activity Workbook. Prentice Hall Regents
5. Teeler, D. and P. Gray (2000). How to use the Internet in ELT
6. Wenden, A. (1991). Learner Strategies for Learner Autonomy: Planning and implementing learner training for language learners Prentice Hall International


The following websites provide the information on website evaluation:
http://www.lib.umd.edu/UES/webcheck.html
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/
Evaluate.html

http://www.namss.org.uk/evaluate.htm

Biodata

Natalie Cigankova teaches Academic Writing and Grammar, Applied Communication, Methodology of Teaching EFL Writing, and The Internet for ELT courses at the University of Latvia in Riga, Latvia. She holds an MA in English Philology from the University of Latvia and is currently working over the Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics in the field of CALL/WELL and computer applications for linguistic distance education.

Natalie

Natalie's interests are concerned with second/foreign language acquisition in the computer environment, computer discourse and computer mediated communication for language teaching.

Natalie is now engaged in a new E-university project creating web-based courses for linguistic education on the WebCT platform.

Natalie can be contaced at:University of Latvia Visvalza iela 4a, LV-1050 Riga, Latvia
Tel: +371 7034811
Fax: +371 7034813
E-mail address: ncigankova@hotmail.com

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