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Jerry Bicknell

TE 365 CMC in Education

Case Study

CMC Case Study

Background and Instructional Setting:

            The course that I chose to investigate is being taught Sunday mornings (11:30 a.m GMT) under the auspices of English For Internet (EFI). English For Internet is a free, web-based English as a Second Language (ESL) "School." The following description is taken from the EFI web site <>:

StudyCom (of which English for Internet is a part) is a teaching project initiated and overseen by David Winet, who also teaches at the University of California at Berkeley (Extension) English Language Program.

The purpose of the project is to explore and expand the educational potential of Internet by offering free online instruction by volunteer teachers to students from all over the world, in order, in part, to facilitate the learning of English by students who might otherwise not have access to, or resources for, 'real world" and/or paying classes; and in part to identify:

1)the advantages and disadvantages of online education as compared to traditional in-class education, and

2)the optimal methods for instruction and learning within the online environment.

Normally, students sign up for courses by completing a form at the EFI website


            The instructor, Vance Stevens, has years of ESL and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) teaching experience. In May of 1997, he began work as Computer-Assisted Language Learning Coordinator for AMIDEAST at the Military Language Institute in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where he has "helped to set up yet another language center." There he "established the concept of networked computers on teachers desks, in the classrooms, and in labs, then identified the software, specified the computers to be purchased, and helped design the furniture appropriate to teaching in a largely computer-based facility." He adds: "The result has been in operation since March 1998, and is slated to undergo phases of expansion culminating in the construction of a dedicated building for our resource center." In addition to his responsibilities for Amideast, Vance regularly volunteers to teach free online courses at EFI.

Elements of the Course:

Infrastructure Required to Conduct the Course

The course that I am describing is one of a number of newly established "Real Time Classes" courses being offered at the "Virtual Schoolhouse/EFI" <>. The course, "EFW: English for Webheads" <> is taught entirely online using four software applications: an internet browser, email (which may be a free, web-based email account), ICQ (freely downloadable at: <>), and The Palace software (also freely downloadable at: <>). Any Internet-capable machine with an internet browser can be used, however, a java-capable browser running on a multimedia machine is necessary in order to run the ICQ, and to access the alternate java-based access to the EFI classrooms at The Palace. [I could access The Palace at home on my Macintosh LC 520, with downloaded software, however, the ICQ program would not run, nor could I access the java-based EFI classroom site, although my Netscape Navigator 4.0 browser is nominally java-capable. Apparently, the processor in the LC 520 is not capable of running either program.]

            In spite of the expressed purpose to offer "free online instruction by volunteer teachers to students from all over the world, in order, in part, to facilitate the learning of English by students who might otherwise not have access to, or resources for, 'real world" and/or paying classes," the infrastructure required for courses such as the one here investigated require very high-end, top-of-the-line computer equipment and internet connectivity, which, I suspect, is not readily available to all students "who might otherwise not have access to, or resources for, 'real world" and/or paying classes." It should be noted, however, that many other courses are offered at EFI, which do not require such state-of-the-art equipment. [Last autumn, I briefly taught an English for Academic Purposes course, in which all that was required of the students was email access and access to a simple text-capable web browser.]

Classroom Utilization; Instructional Materials Developed/In Use

            As stated, the course is conducted entirely online. Students logon from Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, and Thailand and "meet" via The Palace software at the EFI classroom <HOST: PORT: 9997> and use ICQ (internet communications software), both of which they must download and install on their machines. In addition to realtime chats, the students contribute information and pictures for their own "Webheads" web pages, which Vance puts up at his site <>, and eventually mount their own web site at Geocities <>.

            Other resources are available to all EFI students. They can sign up for a number of grammar, reading, writing, listening and speaking courses, all conducted via the Internet. There is also an online chat room as well as a space at SchMOOze University <>, and a links page which lists a number of online ESL sites and homepages for the software used in the various courses. In addition, Vance has a number of resources available for students via his web site "Outta-site" links for ESL students at <>. This page includes a wide range of online resources for both ESL students and teachers. Vance also maintains an ESL home page which he describes as "a comprehensive web-based resource which I and others can use to set up and implement computer-based language training overseas," available at: <>

Instructional Teaching/Learning Theory and Practice

            Students participating in the course are expected to complete three assignments, which I have included in the appendix. Although not explicitely stated by Vance at his web sites, one can easily determine from the resources and activities included that his theory of teaching encompasses a Dewian/constructivist's hands-on approach to learning. Students are required to actively communicate in English to complete all the activities for the course. At a minimum, they must communicate with the instructor (and other students) via email. More active involvement requires downloading the appropriate software (intermediate to advanced English reading skill is necessary to successfully complete this activity), and participating in the real-time discussions held at the "Virtual Schoolhouse/EFI" via The Palace software and ICQ. The students are requested to log their chat sessions, to review them for errors, to revise them and send them to the instructor as email attachments.

            Particularly challenging is the assignment to create their own web site, for to do so in English requires not only an acceptable level of English skill, but also the confidence in one's language abilities (as well as in the technical details of using the Geocities site) that underlies such a public display of one's abilities. In keeping with the name of the course, the World Wide Web is at once the venue for the course, and the focus of this "sheltered content" course. Thus, one can infer that Vance believes in the importance of both input and output for active language learning.


            Since this is a free course, students are not formally evaluated on their performance. The instructor does provide evaluation of their performance, both in real time through "whisper" commands in The Palace, which the students must respond to in their revision of the logs, and asynchronously through email-based feedback on their revised logs. In the final analysis, the public nature of their discussions and the work on their web pages/sites is the ultimate evaluation as the other students (in the case of the Webheads pages) and any Internet user who happens on their site (in the case of their own Geocities sites) are free to comment on the English content of the pages.

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For comments, suggestions, or further information on this page, contact Vance Stevens, page webmaster.

Last updated: November 8, 1998 (Jan 29, replaced appendix with link)