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 2002:45).
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).
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
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
prepares students to use technology to the extent necessary for the
lesson (mouse skills).
preparation of students for working with authentic texts and information
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
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
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 potential)
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
7. Does the website offer information for students with different
learning styles, e.g. sound, animation and other special features?
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.
3. Review writing (off-line)
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.
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.
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.
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.
second drafts, which can be sent by e-mail to the peers for feedback
if students continue writing at home.
and peer editing of the reviews. Discussion on the organisation of
the book or a website for publishing the reviews.
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.
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.
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.
Students learn to understand their learning needs and preferences and
how to satisfy them; they learn how to find on-line resources for further
The skills that students obtain participating in the project can be transferred
to other subjects, improving the overall quality of students' learning.
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.
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.
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
4. Sperling, D. (1999). Sperling's Internet Activity Workbook. Prentice
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
The following websites provide the information on website evaluation:
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's interests are concerned with second/foreign language acquisition
in the computer environment, computer discourse and computer mediated
communication for language teaching. Now
she is engaged in a new E-university project creating web-based courses
for linguistic education on the WebCT platform.
can be contaced at:University of Latvia
Visvalza iela 4a, LV-1050 Riga, Latvia
Tel: +371 7034811
Fax: +371 7034813
E-mail address: email@example.com
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