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Computer Literacy Essay

Teaching with New Technology is a series that provides teachers with practical, research-based approaches to using computer technologies in their language classrooms. We have deliberately chosen to use the term ‘computer-based technologies’ to highlight the technologies where the computer is an obvious tool. Many other classroom tools and artefacts use digital technology, but they do not involve computers as machines in any obvious way. Such tools and artefacts include VCRs, mobile phones, clocks and language labs.

These new computer-based technologies were initially taken up by teachers who had a passion for computer technology. Now that these technologies have been used in language education for almost two decades, many other teachers want to explore their use in their own classrooms. Language teachers are interested in using computerbased technologies both to facilitate language learning and to help their learners acquire the new literacies of the digital age (see, for example, Snyder 2002).

In English language education in particular, teachers of immigrants and refugees realise they need to help their learners acquire computer skills since students are likely to take jobs that require familiarity with a range of digital literacies. In many countries where English is being learned as the global language for wider communication, students want to learn English to access the new technologies. While still only 10 per cent of the world’s population is online, digital literacies are increasingly becoming an essential tool for social, educational and occupational worlds.

The goal of this series is to provide based technologies with practical techniques and lessons they can use in their language classrooms. However, the philosophy behind the series is that, as language teaching professionals, teachers teachers who are new to computer[I]t is not so much the computer but the kinds of tasks and activities that learners do on the computer that can make the difference … (Hoven 1999: 149) Series introduction v iv Teaching computer literacy want more than hints and techniques; rather, professional teachers want to understand the research and theory on which teaching approaches are built.

They are also interested in understanding the issues surrounding the use of computer-based technologies that still need to be explored and in conducting research in their own classrooms. While this series focuses on the adult learner, many of the activities can be used in classrooms of children and young adults. Although the various features of the new technologies often overlap in use inside and outside the classroom, teachers (and learners) need to be able to approach teaching and learning with these new technologies in incremental stages.

Therefore, each book in the series focuses primarily on one aspect of using computer-based technologies in the language classroom. Each book: • • • • summarises the principal findings about the use of computer-based technologies to support teaching and learning in language programs; offers practical suggestions for teaching using these technologies; provides detailed lesson plans for some suggestions; and raises issues that teachers can explore in their own classrooms. TEACHING COMPUTER LITERACY

Introduction The chapters in this book are organised around the premise that language teachers can help their students gain crucial computer literacy skills. Not all teachers want to become full-time computer trainers but each, we argue, has a role to play in helping their student gain the skills needed to live and work in the Information Age. To frame our discussions, we first define ‘computer literacy’ and explore reasons why it is important to the language learner. What is computer literacy?

Many of the suggestions for teachers to explore involve action research, a research methodology for practitioners to investigate their own work practices. In educational settings, action research provides teachers with a tool for: • • • • planning what and how they will investigate; teaching based on what they want to investigate; observing their practice; and reflecting on their observations. Our rapid uptake of computer usage demands new ways of thinking about what we teach, how we teach it and, increasingly, how we justify our pedagogical choices.

For the English language teacher, there is a great urgency to look beyond traditional forms of print media in order to consider how we prepare students for careers that require active participation in the new literacies of the digital age. Indeed, the concept of literacy, as Alvermann and Hagood (2000: 193) point out, is ‘on the verge of reinventing itself ’. Although traditionally defined as the ability to read and write, an understanding of what it means to be literate needs to be extended. Whether through a perspective that it is a fluency with knowledge structures and enabling

strategies (Potter 2001: 4; Silverblatt 2001: 2–7), or an ability to use and produce digital information (Gilster 1997: 1), or an ongoing negotiation through a multiplicity of discourses (Cope and Kalantzis 2000: 9; Snyder 2002: 3), While technology offers new ways coming to terms with new concepts to teach the traditional literacies of in literacy helps us to understand, decipher and control the influence and reading and writing, learning how meaning of digital information in our to use digital technology has become itself a vital stepping stone to being lives (Kasper 2000).

One foundation for gaining such control is through the ‘literate’ in the twenty-first century. (Goodwin-Jones 2000: 11) mastery of essential computer skills. Introduction 1 This process is then reiterated, with teachers changing their practice based on their observations and reflections, and then beginning the cycle again (for example, Kemmis and McTaggart 1988; Burns 1995). An extensive bibliography is provided for teachers who want to explore any of the concepts and findings discussed in this series. The bibliography, which includes both referenced materials and materials for further reading, is organised by chapter at the end of each book.

vi Teaching computer literacy As noted by several researchers (US National Research Council 1999: 9; Council of Australian University Librarians 2001: 2), basic computer literacy – the learning of specific hardware and software applications – is a prerequisite for engaging with the new ‘digital’, ‘silicon’ or other ‘electronic literacies’. If our students are unable to effectively operate a personal computer, we argue, they would lack the requisite foundation on which to build the sophisticated skills that are now needed to fully participate in today’s digital society.

Locating computer literacy books by Tuman (1992), Snyder (1997), and Reinking, McKenna, Labbo and Kieffer (1998). In essence, these books consider how digital technologies change the way we work with, and seek to understand, the ever-broadening range of texts available to us. Encompassing a broad agenda with a self-proclaimed ‘manifesto’, prominent literacy theorists calling themselves the New London Group put forward the concept of ‘multiliteracies’ as a way to explore ‘literacy learning and the design of social futures’ (Cope and Kalantzis 2000).

In this perspective, teachers are urged to facilitate literacies out of the perceived needs of learners that arise out of a situated community through overt instruction and critical framing in order to come to a transformation of practices. Topics of concern include the appropriate roles of schools, addressing differences in culture and developing curriculum innovation. More recently, Snyder introduced the term ‘silicon literacies’ to extend earlier work concerning the influence of hypertext and computer technologies on textual practices and understandings (Snyder 1997; 2002). Online literacy (Snyder and Beavis 2004) is a further extension.

Other researchers prefer the term ‘electronic literacies’ (Warschauer 1999) to describe the activities that take place among language-learning students and computers. The concept of information literacy has emerged from the work of library and information studies. ‘Information literacy’ is defined as an understanding and a set of abilities that enable individuals to ‘recognise when information is needed and have the capacity to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information’ (American Library Association, in Council of Australian University Librarians 2001: 1). ‘Fluency’ versus ‘accuracy’.

In the literature on computers and learning, four perspectives can be identified: • • • • the the the the skills perspective; textual practices perspective; sociopolitical perspective; and information perspective. Numerous books are available that introduce everyday users to some of the key concepts and new skills needed to work with computers. Follman (2001), for example, provides a succinct history of the Internet and how it works. Gilster (1997), although published some years ago, provides advice that remains relevant on how to navigate through a ‘flood of online information’ using a variety of hypertext techniques.

In books such as these, gains in both understanding and using digital literacy practices are seen as utilitarian skills for survival in the Information Age. With a view squarely on practical outcomes, Corbel (1997) focuses on teachers who want to gain practical skills in their work with electronic texts. Throughout the work on computer literacy, Corbel considers the techniques to teach and learn the most popular suite of applications – Microsoft Office. Teachers are advised to think of documents in terms of their textual structures – for example, through effective use of the ‘outline’ view.

At its heart, Corbel asks us to reconsider how the flexibility of digital texts affects our work styles and related literacy practices. Solidly grounded in literacy studies, there is a large body of work concerning the impact of new text types and textual practices on traditional views of literacy. Major works in this area include edited 2 Teaching computer literacy What is striking about much of the writing that surrounds computer literacy is that it does not focus on the acquisition of basic skills. Rather, the works talk implicitly about an extended and more elaborated form of computer literacy.

Thus writers discuss the nuances of silicon literacy and digital literacy, for example, or they pluralise literacy to signal a more complex view of it. Why is this? Introduction 3 The following, from the Council of Australian University Librarians’ Information Literacy Standards, provides a clue: A 1999 report of the US National Research Council promotes the concept of ‘fluency’ with information technology and delineates several distinctions useful in understanding relationships within information literacy, computer literacy and broader technological competence.

The report notes that ‘computer literacy’ is concerned with rote learning of specific hardware and software applications, while ‘fluency with technology’ focuses on understanding the underlying concepts of technology and applying problem solving and critical thinking to using technology. (US National Research Council, in Council of Australian University Librarians 2001: 2) CHAPTER ONE Linking computer training and language learning.

The first challenge faced by ESL and other second language instructors who set out to teach computer literacy is to motivate students in their use of technology. By working on a computer, they may suggest to students, you will learn a language. Often, however, students simply do not know how to use computers. It is common to find that many language learners do not possess basic computer skills, particularly among newly arrived migrants (Corbel and Taylor 1998).

Without essential ‘computer literacy’ skills, researchers have found that students within a well-resourced tertiary environment, for example, … the bond between technology and language come to resent technology use in the modern world should prompt all and fare poorly in the larger language professionals to reflect on the ways in goal of language learning which technology is changing the profession of (Lewis and Atzert 2000). English language teaching in particular, and applied linguistics as a whole. But how does Some second language teachers one reflect on something that is invisible? may simply assume that learners (Chapelle 2003: 1)

In the above excerpt, we see that computer literacy is viewed in a basic way which implies that it is less interesting and valuable than information literacy. The word ‘rote’ here, for example, can be seen as being somewhat dismissive. Nonetheless, its appearance here is instructive in that it connects us to a recurring debate in communicative language teaching concerning the appropriate balance between form (grammar) and function, between accuracy and fluency, and between language usage and use (Widdowson 1978). Indeed, the excerpt explicitly uses the term ‘fluency’ as it frames the concept of information literacy.

Fluency in information, silicon and digital literacies is an admirable goal. But how are the basics – that is, the accuracy – to be taught and learned? The issue of accuracy is notably absent in the research literature. In work thought likely to address the issue most comprehensively (Reinking, McKenna, Labbo and Kieffer 1998), we found attention focused on broad transformations of education, text and society. With the exception of work by Murray and McPherson (2003), there is little on how to teach the basic skills that might underpin such transformations.

The aim of this book is to help language instructors teach computer literacy skills. Within the context of teaching English as a second language (ESL) in adult immigrant learning centres, we focus on the ways instructors can define, use and integrate computer literacy skills in their own techniques and sequences. In the remainder of this book, we hope to reduce the gap between theory and practice in computer literacy. 4 Teaching computer literacy already have such skills. Certainly, educators in the area of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) generally ignore the need to develop computer literacy (Gruba 2004).

The ever-crowded syllabus, a lack of training, and poor classroom support provide a set of convenient excuses. Ideally, however, computer literacy can be presented as a dualpurpose activity that raises proficiency in both language and computer skills (Debski 2000). Why do we teach computer literacy? Students need to acquire computer skills for many of the wide range of reasons they need to acquire second language skills: • • to communicate effectively in society; to interact with family and friends; Linking computer training and language learning 5

• • to function effectively in the workplace; to learn new ideas, and for fun and pleasure. • Imagine, for a moment, the frustration of an immigrant father who cannot access the online documents needed to lodge a health insurance claim after being told they are ‘on the Web’, or the friends who drift apart because they do not know how to exchange email, or, indeed, the skilled worker who is denied employment because of poor typing skills. Students are expected to hand in documents that are typed, properly formatted and printed.

Content teachers are less tolerant of spelling errors, which, they perceive, are due only to the lack of using a spellchecking tool. Students need computer skills as much as they need language skills to prosper in the fast-paced Information Age. Students also need to understand the concept that they can ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by learning computer and language skills at the same time. Teachers can argue powerfully that the combined skill sets can lead students to better job prospects, increased interaction in society, and a wider range of entertainment options.

Teachers need to reinforce the point that fluency and accuracy in both areas can develop concurrently, without the loss of one skill set over the other. Further, instructors need only to remind students of the frequent uses of both computer literacy and second language skills across the curriculum: increasingly, content teachers integrate Web-based resources, utilise multimedia presentations and expect students to participate in online discussions.

In essence, we teach computer literacy skills because they: • • lay the foundations for developing a critical understanding of the Information Age; help students make effective use of computers, both in classroom and workplace settings, which in turn improves attitudes and reduces frustration; shape a proactive view regarding the role of computers in everyday life; assist those who are ‘technophobic’ to overcome fears of increasing computerisation of government and social support agencies; create a solid skills base among students so that we can collectively Teaching computer literacy

• pursue more creative uses of computers in the syllabus, such as project-based learning; extend the personal enjoyment gained through keeping in touch by regular email use, for example, or in finding satisfying search engine results; provide ‘realia’ for terms that relate to hardware, software, the Internet, and the many different uses and phenomena that have arisen from online culture. If motivated properly, the teaching of computer literacy skills can be a productive exercise for both instructors and students.

Teachers gain valuable professional development experience that expands their own repertoire, while students make essential links between language learning, computer skills and the world beyond. A considered focus on computer literacy in the classroom provides both teachers and students with a skill set to make better use of both CALL and productivity applications. Why should language teachers teach computer literacy? Second language instructors already have a full curriculum to get through each term. Why should they teach basic computer skills as well?

Simply put, second language teachers should teach computer literacy because they are in the best position to be the most effective instructors. In many ways, the learning of computer skills is uncomfortably challenging to adults; often, older students report that they feel both helpless and powerless in the computer classroom. Such feelings resonate with teachers of adult immigrants who share a deep empathy with their learners. This depth of understanding, and patience, is not common among computer trainers, who tend to focus on technical proficiency.

And it is precisely a supportive attitude – not technical proficiency – that helps students confront their fears and learn computer literacy. Clearly, the ‘work’ of language teachers is now seen to increasingly revolve around introducing new media and text types (Lankshear and Knobel 2003). Because of their familiarity with differences in genre, an intimate understanding of the complexities of language acquisition, and an empathetic attitude towards their students, instructors are among the best suited to make sense of the role of language in the digital world that increasingly surrounds us all.

Linking computer training and language learning 7 • • • 6 What skills do the teachers themselves need? Teaching suggestions Establish the rationale Teachers are often hesitant to teach computer literacy because they are concerned about their own perceived lack of skill in using computers. For instructors who have not recently tried to acquire a complex set of skills, finding themselves in the position of learner can be a salutary reminder of the challenges facing their students.

The rhetoric of personal empowerment so often pushed by the computer industry – that it is simple to become networked, fluent and effective – can lull us into passive inaction. But the truth is that the acquisition of computer literacy skills comes through the result of sustained personal effort within a supportive social context. Maintaining the individual drive is a challenge, but it is likely that most staff have access to both formal and informal support networks that allow teachers a chance to share challenges and deal with difficulties.

Experienced teachers develop ways to cope with the unanticipated and the unexpected; as explorers in the Information Age, they learn to seek elusive answers to difficult challenges. Indeed, a Plan P (for paper) is often crafted alongside Plan C (for computer) just in case they need it. • • • • • • • • • Help students, and some teachers, see ways in which computers can be used effectively and appropriately in their classroom learning and everyday lives. Be candid as you explain why computers are being used in language learning, especially if the student is older or has a fear of or aversion to computers or machines.

Connect computer literacy to the lifelong development of coping skills. Give examples of how language and computer skills are often intermingled in the workplace. Name ways that computer literacy skills can help students gain better marks in other educational settings – for example, through improved clarity of presentations, better organisation of thoughts, an integration of visual and textual information, and the spelling and grammar checking of elements in a single document. Address the view that computer skill acquisition interrupts, or perhaps even competes with, proper language learning.

Make the linguistic aims of the lesson clear at the beginning, pointing to ways in which the particular lesson embeds the use of computers to give added benefit to the student in achieving proficiency. Attend particularly to fee-paying students, who may complain if they perceive that they do not get the language instruction they have paid for. Remind students that both newly developed ‘digital’ and ‘traditional’ occupations in a variety of workplaces, including restaurants, auto mechanics’ workshops and the clothes-manufacturing industry, now fully integrate computers to complete tasks.

Adopt a positive, playful attitude • • 8 Teaching computer literacy Try to maintain an upbeat atmosphere in the classroom, and consider playing music in the background as students do their lessons. Point out that computers are ‘dumb’, waiting for every command. Linking computer training and language learning 9 • • • • • Bring in cartoons such as Dilbert that poke fun at computers and people who work around them everyday. Name your workstation something silly, and give it a personality. Team-teach, if possible, to share the workload and break up the presentation.

Be sure to limit presentations of detailed computer tasks to less than 20 minutes at a time before letting the students practise on their own. Use props and other realia to act out computer processes. Lesson plans Lesson to familiarise students with computers Objective: Students will be made more aware of basic computer terms. Materials: Paper and/or a whiteboard and pens for brainstorming, computers, newspaper sections and/or magazines that advertise computer equipment and software. Procedure: Part 1 – away from the computer • With the whole class, brainstorm some of the ways they have encountered the use of computers throughout the day.

• Brainstorm a list of the positive and negative effects that computers may have on everyday life. Part 2 – in front of the computer • Give students a tour of the hardware in front of them. • Provide a list of specialist vocabulary such as ‘keyboard’, ‘screen’, ‘desktop’ and ‘hard disk’ on a handout, using images if necessary. • Make sure that students understand what software is, and how software is divided into different applications. Part 3 – in front of the computer • Ensure that students know how to turn on the computer, particularly if the monitor and central processing unit (CPU) are separate.

• Reassure students that the computer ‘crashes’ occasionally, and remind them that they should save and backup their work frequently. • Ensure that students know how to turn off a computer safely by following standard procedures. Extension: • Have students come up with a list of different computer manufacturers or a list of differences between laptops and workstations. Look at advertisements for computer equipment in magazines or newspapers and talk about prices, vocabulary and different features of various systems. • 10 Teaching computer literacy

Linking computer training and language learning 11 Lesson to link computer and language skills Objective: Students will be able to make the connection between effective computer use and language proficiency. Materials: Paper or whiteboard with appropriate pens, computer workstations. Procedure: Part 1 – away from the computer • • With the whole class, brainstorm some of the ways they have encountered the use of computers throughout the day. Brainstorm a list of the positive and negative effects that computers may have on everyday life, focusing on how they transmit information.

List the ways that computers can help people communicate more effectively with each other – for example through organisation, clarity of presentation, ease of transmission. With a list of general topics in mind, students work in pairs to develop five interview questions about computer literacy. Students interview each other about computer literacy, paying particular attention to how attitudes are presented. Reports of the interviews are presented in front of the class, and the teacher writes down some main themes that emerge as continued points of discussion.

Students use the results of the brainstorming session, the interview questions and the interviews to write up a brief report about the need to be computer literate in the Information Age. Lesson to link computers with previous life experiences Objective: Students will become more aware of their attitudes towards computers. Materials: Paper or whiteboard with appropriate pens. Procedure: • Start with a reflection on how fears or apprehensions can be overcome in any setting. Use small groups to reduce anxiety and build up trust.

Discuss with the students their previous experiences in learning computers, and bring out some of the frustrations they have encountered. Arrange the list of frustrations thematically, that is, by Attitude, Physical barriers, Lack of resources or other categories that emerge. With a list of frustrations on hand, break down the source of problems into categories that include: Physical problems (poor typing skills), Lack of resources (outdated computers, difficult or expensive machines), Lack of experience (brief exposure to computers) or Fear (insufficient understanding of computers). Think of ways to overcome such frustrations.

For example, are there low-cost providers of recycled computers in the area? What are some of the ways of attacking a fear of computers? In what ways can physical barriers be overcome? Talk to students about the types of jobs they would like to get after they graduate from language classes: does the work involve computers? If so, how much? If not, do advanced positions within the same profession require computer skills? Bring in guest speakers, if possible, who represent careers that make extensive use of computers: software engineers, journalists, graphic designers, IT specialists, accountants, and academics, for example.

• • • • Part 2 – away from the computer • • • • • Extension: • • 12 Teaching computer literacy Linking computer training and language learning 13 Issues to explore Issue Teacher skills CHAPTER TWO Addressing learner needs The second challenge facing the teacher is to address the range of needs that learning groups have. Many of the same personal characteristics and experiences that affect language learning (Ellis 2004) can also affect computer literacy learning. In addition, the complexity of computer hardware Me no like this box.

No have this and software creates the potential for box at home. No need to learn learners to diverge away from each computers. I hate this box. other in different ways once they are in (Derwent 2002: 4) the computer room. While divergence and self-directed learning in a single classroom can be seen as a benefit of computer-based learning (Beatty 2003), such independent behaviour presents a number of practical issues for the teacher. In this chapter, we address learner needs in terms of orientation and attitude.

Orientation Traditionally, many ESL teachers have said they don’t feel it is ‘their job’ to teach computer literacy skills. But if they don’t do it, then who will? Exploration – action research • • • • • Think about your own feelings about teaching computer literacy and develop a brief set of questions to see if others share your attitudes. Conduct an informal ‘qualitative survey’ of your colleagues by asking them about their attitudes towards teaching computer literacy. Write down the key points they make.

Categorise your notes so that three to five themes emerge about the topic. Define each of the themes in a single sentence, and use quotes to support your framework. Sketch a model training curriculum that would provide ESL instructors with the skill set needed to teach computers effectively based on your thematic framework. Issue Computer literacy as a means to an end Note that computer use has occasionally been very high in certain refugee settings because users had a very real need for the communications opportunities offered by the Internet.

Exploration – questions to think about We know that many adult learners: • • • • • • • are intimidated by computers and fear them; think computers are clever, and they themselves are stupid; have rarely used computers, typewriters or calculators; cannot see the link between computers and their future jobs; are happy to let their children work with computers, but see themselves as too old and see no need to use computers themselves; want to learn to use computers to help their children at home; see computer skills as an advantage in the workplace.

• • • • What would most motivate your learners to practise their computer skills? Why do overseas students frequently know how to use email? What are the key generational differences in attitude towards the Internet? Where can you find safe and authentic ‘keypals’ for learners wanting to use email?

Teachers have also noted that even those students with the greatest phobias, once they are encouraged to engage with the technology, begin wordprocessing, sending emails and feeling greater confidence in their ability to negotiate the literacies in an English-speaking environment (for example, King Koi 2002). Addressing learner needs 15 14 Teaching computer literacy Attitude The development of a positive attitude towards computers is crucial to success in a language learning context (Lewis and Atzert 2000).

Particularly in the case of adult migrant learners and low literacy beginners, a negative attitude may be the result of: • • • • • coming from a cultural background that does not encourage active, critical learning; a lack of previous exposure to the use of computers for learning; individual learning goals and basic literacy levels; not seeing or feeling a personal need to use computers; not being aware of the possibilities and opportunities that are available through using networked computers – for example, for email, letter and photo exchanges; a need for very gradual input and possible bilingual support.

To minimise resistance to computers, and thus help meet the needs of older learners, try these strategies: • • Include classroom preparation of vocabulary and a small number of specific tasks that will not overtax the students. Encourage learners to work initially in small groups or pairs. These pairings may comprise either weaker students together (so as not to lose face and not be anxious about expressing doubts and asking questions) or between more skilled students with less able ones to provide

peer teaching. Start with the educational styles that learners are most familiar with, depending on their age, gender, cultural background and other demographic factors, in order to avoid too many stressors on the situation. Gradually acclimatise the learners to the computer room environment by making sure that the screen doesn’t become the sole focus of activity, for example.


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