Publishing ELT Materials Via the Internet - Its Implications and Potential

Snookes, P. Ohtake, H. Kubota, A.


1. Introduction


In this paper we describe a feasibility project which involves using newly available Internet resources in order to investigate the possibility of improving on the distribution of traditional ELT paper-based newspaper reading materials. The project involved us in producing and distributing, via the Internet, several ELT worksheets, in an appropriate format, to teachers in Japan and around the world between the months of January 1997 to April 1997. The worksheets we produced were meant to be printed out and taken into the classroom and not necessarily used on-line. The primary purpose of this project was to focus on the feasibility of using the Internet in such an endeavour. Since this was a feasibility project, we didn't distribute these worksheets to a large numbers of teachers.

This paper is intended for two types of reader: those teachers interested in keeping abreast, in a general sense, of the latest developments in using the Internet in ELT and secondly teachers who are interested in understanding how to put into practice new methods of producing and distributing ELT paper-based reading materials via the Internet. This latter group of readers might be more interested in the sections in this paper relating to the more practical aspects of this project.

We will investigate the implications of this new approach on the pedagogical content of these reading materials. We will also explain the necessary procedures and software required in the process of producing such ELT materials. This will be followed by an analysis of how these materials can be distributed in a variety of formats via the Internet. We also explore the advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet in the process of producing and distributing teaching materials. The implications, for the average English language teacher, of using the Internet for accessing and publishing ELT paper-based newspaper reading materials will also be discussed.

The primary focus of this paper is to explore better ways of producing and publishing desktop published ELT newspaper reading materials. As CALL enthusiasts, we have to be careful not to become overly focused on the technology. In this project, as in previous projects (Ohtake et al., 1995; 1996) we asked ourselves the following question (Snookes, 1991: 2): "What is the best medium to use in order to carry out this task?" Gange (1977) defines the term 'medium', when employed in an educational context, to be 'whatever combination of things or systems of things used to deliver communications or other instructional stimuli to the learner.' We have attempted to avoid the temptation of using the technology because it is able to carry out a certain task without due consideration regarding the efficacy of the chosen medium.

2. Producing English Language Teaching Materials in a Suitable Format


2.1. The Content of the Teaching Materials


Due to copyright restrictions (more on that in 3.3 below), we were not able to distribute the worksheets we created to as large an audience as we would have liked. However, for the purposes of this feasibility project it was necessary for us to involve only several recipients. This means that many of the comments below on the responses of students was limited to our own university students. Our next project will involve much more extensive research into the desirability or otherwise of up-to-date newspaper texts being used in the classroom.

Although the contents of the teaching materials are extremely important, this is not the central issue in this feasibility project. The primary purpose of the project was to try to improve ways of producing and publishing desk top published ELT newspaper reading materials. Perhaps the most significant improvement made possible via the Internet is the ability to publish and send such teaching materials in a very short period of time. This has important implications for the content of the newspaper texts which are selected for the worksheets. Namely, the newspaper texts should be current and timely. In one sense, all newspaper texts from an up-to-date newspaper are current and timely. The reason the newspaper has chosen to publish the article is because it is anticipated that readers perceive the news to be relevant and worthwhile reading because of the date of the newspaper or news magazine.

As practising teachers in the classroom, we assume that students are more eager to read newspaper texts which are up-to-date. If students are presented with newspaper articles which are years old, they often perceive such dated texts to be simply a language task with little or no regard to the actual information contained within the article. Spolsky (1994) points out how important content or face validity is to those who participate in ELT activities. It is now very easy to access electronically readable up-to-date newspaper texts from the Internet. These articles can be cut and pasted, with due regard to copyright restrictions, and made available for students along with suitable tasks in a worksheet. We had very positive feedback from all of the several teachers we sent our worksheets to. The feature which impressed them most was how up-to-date the texts were.

The texts should be relevant in some way to the students. Peacock (1997) suggests that students find authentic materials to be more motivating because they are intrinsically more interesting. Nonetheless, it is not enough for the text to be authentic. Grundy (1993) puts forward the view that the learning tasks themselves should also be authentic in order to foster relevant learning experiences in the classroom. The following extract, from one of the newspaper text reading worksheets we published via the Internet, illustrates this last point. This is a task in response to a newspaper article about a security van which crashed in a poor neighbourhood in America. The money spilt out onto the road and the local residents ran off with the money. This particular activity generated a lot of interested discussion amongst the students.

Reading tasks should not be separated from the other three skills involved in language learning. In the task above students were expected to work in small pairs and small groups thus integrating reading, speaking and listening skills as discussed by Grellet (1992).

There has been a shift, in recent years, of emphasis in ELT reading activities from 'comprehension' to 'interpretation' (Widdowson, 1992). A worksheet containing a newspaper text about the Peruvian hostage crisis contained the following interpretive tasks:

2. How honest would you have been?
  • If you had found this money on the street what would you have done?
  • I would not have pocketed the money but would not have informed the police.
  • I would've made sure nobody was looking and would have taken as much money as possible.
  • I would've telephoned the police as soon as possible.
  • I would've taken a small amount of money.
  • The worksheets should also be attractive to look at. Students and teachers are used to reading professional output with most materials that they read. This is particularly true in most classrooms, as course books are almost always attractive to look at.

    Here is an outline example of one of our ELT newspaper reading worksheets (See Note 1) which has been desk top published in an attempt to make it attractive for the students to look at:

    (An extract from one of our reading materials worksheets)

    The art work in the worksheet above was taken from Microsoft Publisher clip art files which comes with the package. Clip art can also be found on the World Wide Web and CD ROMs. Here are two example WWW locations:
    Photo Disc: http://www.photodisc.com/index.asp
    Art Today: http://www.arttoday.com/cgi-bin/search

    It is very easy to do searches by topic and locate suitable images to include in worksheets. One advantage of including images is that it is possible to adjust the size of the images so that the text fills the whole page. Thus leaving no unsightly gaps at the end of the worksheet.

    2.2. The Producing of the Teaching Materials


    In order to produce the newspaper text ELT materials, teachers can use either a word processing or a desk top publishing software package.

    2.2.1. Desk Top Publishing Software


    Desk top publishing software makes it possible to produce a more sophisticated layout. This kind of software is intended for documents with both a combination of text and graphics. However, it can be complex to use this kind of software. Most of the desk top publishing software is very complicated to use and is intended for highly trained professionals to create professional output such as newspapers and magazines. Also, in the hands of an ordinary user, the worksheets can look amateurish when compared to professional output.

    We used two different desk top publishing software packages to produce the worksheets in this pilot project:
    We found Adobe PageMaker rather a difficult package to use. This was mainly due to our lack of experience in desk top publishing. It is more suitable for users with some experience of desk top publishing. This desk top software is used extensively by professionals. The on-line help and the user guide were not very well written. But it is easy to find good quality commercial books which explain how to use PageMaker at the appropriate level.

    MS Publisher was much easier to use. The on-line help was very useful and easy to understand. The user interface was also much friendlier than PageMaker. This might have been due, to some degree, to familiarity with the Microsoft interface which is similar in most of their software packages on both the Macintosh and the PC. Also Microsoft Publisher has what are known as wizards. They are a very useful facility which considerably simplify the production of worksheets. The user is asked to give certain relevant parameters, in dialogue boxes, and much of the hard work is done automatically. However, once certain templates are set in place, it can be difficult to make changes for an inexperienced user. Also, professional desk top publishing specialists would consider this software too limiting.

    We would therefore suggest that those teachers with little experience in desk top publishing use an easier software package such as MS Publisher. Those teachers with more experience or the desire to reach a much higher level of competence and achieve a much higher quality of output might want to use a more professional software package such as Adobe PageMaker.

    2.2.2. Word Processing Software


    The main advantage, for most teachers, of using a word processing package is that they are familiar with at least one word processing package. This means that the teacher is able to concentrate more on the content of the teaching materials rather than worrying about the operational overload of using unfamiliar software. Also the teacher does not have to learn new and complex software. However, the most significant disadvantage is that it is not possible to do many of the things which can be done with desk top publishing software. Word processing software is primarily intended for documents which contain mostly text with some graphics.

    We experimented with creating ordinary plain word processed text documents and these seemed to be acceptable for many students because they are familiar with receiving teacher-produced worksheets on a regular basis in the classroom. Teachers also appeared to be equally enthusiastic about receiving worksheets prepared using both word processing and desk top publishing software.

    3. Distributing English Language Teaching Materials Via the Internet


    In this section we discuss the steps which we took in order to distribute the worksheets via the Internet. It has been possible for many years to send plain text across the Internet and there are well established resources on the Internet which allow access to English language teaching materials. But now it is possible to produce English language materials on a personal computer and distribute them via the Internet, in a desk top published format, on all of the major computer platforms. This means that documents with their original layout, formatting and graphics can now be made sent over the Internet. As can be seen in section 2 and in Appendix A of this paper, many of our worksheets were desk top published and therefore we took advantage of this new way of distributing materials via the Internet.

    3.1. Format of documents


    Adobe (http://www.adobe.com) has set up an Internet standard for producing and distributing documents which can be accessed by all the major computer platforms. This is known as PDF (portable document format). Page et al. (1996) boldly state that "Publishing with PDF is fast becoming a de facto standard on the Web". These PDF documents can be read by Adobe Acrobat Reader which is readily available as freeware.

    However, it is not possible for teachers to edit materials with Acrobat Reader. Also large PDF documents can take a long time to download over the Internet but most ELT worksheets are very small and only take seconds to download. This was the case when we distributed our worksheets in PDF format via the Internet. None of the teachers had any problems when we sent them worksheets, in PDF format, via the Internet.

    3.1.1. The software and procedures necessary to make PDF documents


    The first step is to produce the worksheets with any appropriate software, as discussed in section 2. We then used Acrobat Exchange, which is a suit of software packages in order to change ordinary documents into PDF format, is needed. This software is not freeware. We found this stage to be quite difficult. Basically, if documents are fairly simple with few graphics then Acrobat Writer is most suitable. But if the worksheet is a desk top published document with complex layout and graphics rich content, then Acrobat Distiller is better. The steps involved in both are fairly complex and we would therefore recommend a book with clear instructions on the steps involved in preparing PDF files. The PDF documents can then be made available via the Internet.

    3.1.2. Other Options


    Sending attached documents created with software which the recipient also possesses. This means that teachers can edit the document to meet the specific needs of their students. MS Word Viewer (freeware) enables users without MS Word to view Word documents. But it is only available in Windows. As all of the recipients of our worksheets had Acrobat Reader, it was not necessary for us to send documents in MS Word format. However, we did experiment by sending some MS Word documents but we were not sure if the recipients had the same fonts that we used when preparing the worksheets. This meant that we could not be confident that the original layout was preserved.

    3.2. Distribution of documents


    3.2.1. Email


    We distributed our worksheets as attached documents via email. This meant sending one email to all recipients. Although we only sent our worksheets to a small number of people, potentially thousands of people could receive documents regularly employing the same methods. It is also possible for readers to request email documents with email software such as listservs. Readers could be sent a regular email which has a synopsis of all the worksheets which are newly available. Next to each synopsis is a unique number. The reader is then given instructions on how to send that unique number to the listserv software. On sending the unique number the reader receives an email reply with the requested worksheet as an attached document.

    3.2.2. World Wide Web


    The most recent version of Acrobat Reader (3.01) enables readers to view PDF files within a WWW browser. We experimented with this approach in a very limited way and found that it works well. These PDF documents can then be viewed and printed out on a local printer. PDF files are able to retain all of the formatting in the original documents. In contrast, HTML (the programming language in which WWW pages are created) is considerably more limited (Page et al. 1996).

    3.2.3. FTP


    It is relatively easy to set up an FTP site which will enable users to access PDF documents. Most users now use the WWW to download such documents using FTP. Search facilities can be made available on the WWW. Although we didn't utilise these ways of distributing our worksheets via the Internet, such approaches are readily available on many Internet sites.

    3.3. Copyright Issues


    It can be very difficult and problematic to get copyright permission to publish newspaper texts. If you are willing to pay for copyright, then it is possible to make your documents available on the Internet. We found it both daunting and difficult to get permission to publish our worksheets even after protracted correspondence with the newspapers concerned. If you are not able to pay copyright fees, then it is possible to give readers a WWW address of the location of the article in question. Students and teachers can then access the article for their own use. This, as far as can be understood, is not breaking the copyright laws. The worksheet could then be made available excluding the newspaper article. This could be problematic if the layout of the whole worksheet was an important issue. The tasks would be well laid out but the newspaper text would be just in plain text without any columns, or other such formatting. But Grellet (1992) maintains that it is not enough for the text to be original but also the newspaper article's presentation and layout should be retained. However, there are several newspapers which are now available via the Internet in a document format (see PDF below) which would enable readers to access the newspaper article with all the formatting intact.

    4. Implications for English Language Teaching


    This new way of preparing and publishing desk top published materials is likely to have far reaching consequences in the ELT world. The main benefit will be the ability to publish up-to-date newspaper reading materials with attached ELT worksheets.

    4.1. Advantages


    This way of producing and distributing ELT newspaper reading worksheets is better than paper because paper-based materials are often outdated by the time they are published, marketed and distributed. To overcome this problem some publishers have recently been making newspaper reading materials available which are published four times a year. However, it is now possible to make worksheets available within less than 24 hours using this latest Internet technology. This is the single biggest advantage and we think this one benefit alone outweighs most of the disadvantages put together. We had a unanimously enthusiastic response from the several teachers we sent our worksheets to on this very point of the advantages of being able to have up-to-date reading materials with attached ELT worksheets available. This new approach to publishing worksheets is better than individual teachers preparing their own materials because many teachers lack the time, or experience to produce their own worksheets. Also teachers who often prepare worksheets for their own students are, at best, able to share their materials with only those colleagues in the same institution. This new way of distributing teaching materials promises that teachers or publishers can now make up-to-date newspaper texts available to anyone anywhere in the world who has an Internet connection.

    It is also possible to respond quickly to feedback from teachers and students and adjust the teaching materials accordingly. Present traditional paper-based teaching materials on the other hand can only be given out for feedback in the initial stages prior to publication. Once published it is difficult to make changes to these books. During our project we were able to receive very useful feedback from a selected worldwide group of English language teachers who received our worksheets via the Internet. We were able to respond quickly to their feedback and make appropriate adjustments relatively quickly. These Internet available teaching materials, in certain circumstances, can be modified by individual teachers, thus enabling teachers to personalise worksheets to meet the needs of their students. In order to do this, teachers need to purchase Acrobat Exchange (as discussed above).

    It is possible to make the teaching materials available through an Internet search. Such a WWW search facility could include: author, date, level, topic, language skill, function and grammar points. It is also possible to invite teachers and students to give feedback on materials and then make them available for others to read on the WWW. Students and teachers both share the perception that up-to-date newspaper texts are more desirable than having texts which are out of date by the time they are published in traditional paper-based ELT books. The novelty factor can make students and teachers enthusiastic about this new way of delivering ELT worksheets (Fox, 1988). Yet this initial enthusiasm soon starts to wane as students and teachers become more accustomed to the technology and focus more on the content of the worksheets rather than the operational aspects of the computer hardware and software.

    4.2. Disadvantages


    Readers need to have expensive computers. In many countries they are either heavily rationed or simply not available. In comparison, books are relatively cheap and readily obtainable in many countries. Readers also need to have to have access to the Internet. Most universities now have access to the Internet but very few schools do at present. But that is likely to change in the next several years with projected numbers of schools being connected to the Internet increasing at an exponential rate. Jacobson (1995) predicts that the number of WWW sites will increase from about 5000 in 1994 to somewhere between 1 to 5 million by the year 2000. Developing countries are unlikely to have access to the Internet or computers for a very long time in the future.

    It can also be difficult to learn how to use computers. Teachers and students are often intimidated and uncomfortable when using computers. As experienced computer users, we found several of the steps involved in producing and distributing the worksheets difficult and time consuming. Software (especially on the Internet) is frequently changing and this can confuse users. An aversion to the unfamiliar can make some teachers and students reluctant to accept this new approach. There is less time to edit and proof read, if the teaching materials are prepared on a daily basis. Sometimes the Internet is down. The appearance of the worksheets can look amateurish especially if they are produced by teachers. If an individual teacher tries to create worksheets, he or she may lack the skills that a professional desk top publisher has. Although there may only be subtle differences, most readers can sense (if not explain) the differences between amateur and professional output. It is difficult for individual teachers to get copyright permission. This requires professional publishers to sort out this issue. The traditional paper-based distribution methods are better established than new, unfamiliar methods.

    4.3. Future Directions


    This way of publishing is likely to become significant, especially in the area of ELT newspaper reading materials with a timely focus. It is likely to become commercial in order to solve the copyright problem and the professional layout issue. Also a team of people with a variety of skills would need to be assembled, if this became a larger project. A needs analysis could be conducted of what teachers and students require. However, many publishers are adopting a wait and see attitude because most commercial organisations on the Internet are losing large amounts of money. Also it is relatively easy to copy information which is in computer readable format. This makes publishers reluctant to become involved in this new medium. However, the United States is proposing to make changes to copyright law in order to overcome some of the problems which are presently holding back many companies because of the problems with copyright infringement on the Internet. "The Report of the Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights" (Brown, 1997) proposes the following changes:

    Devices or Methods designed to circumvent anti-copying mechanisms


    The Working Group foresees all sorts of inventions designed to protect copyrighted materials on the Internet. Accordingly, with the apparent intent to address this future contingency, the Working Group suggests that all technology, devices, or systems primarily designed to defeat these future anti-copying mechanisms be prohibited. White Paper at 251-57. This is a significant change.

    Less time sensitive teaching materials could be made available in this way, if there is a good WWW search facility which would enable teachers and students to access materials in a way that is not possible with paper-based media. This could mean that there might be a major switch from traditional paper-based book publishing to using the Internet to distribute teaching materials more effectively.

    Notes:


    You can contact
    Paul Snookes of by email at paul@po.cc.yamaguchi-u.ac.jp
    WWW: http://paul@paul.hmt.yamaguchi-u.ac.jp/personal/
    Hiroshi Ohtake of Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine by email at ohtake@koto.kpu-m.ac.jp
    Akira Kubota of Tsukuba University by email at kubota@sakura.cc.tsukuba.ac.jp

    References:


    Brown, R. (1997). The Report of the Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights of the White House Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF).
    Fox, M. (1988). A report on studies of motivation, teaching and small group interaction with special reference to computers and to the teaching and learning of arithmetic. The open University, Institute of Education.
    Gagne, R. (1977). The Conditions of Learning. CBS Publishing, Asia.
    Grellet, F. (1992). Developing Reading Skills. Cambridge University Press.
    Grundy, P. (1993). Newspapers. Oxford University Press.
    Jacobson, R. (1995). Publishers and the Web. Chronicle of Higher Education, A17 - A18.
    Ohtake, H., Snookes, P., Kubota, A. (1995). Creating World Wide Web English Teaching Materials: An Automated System. Bulletin of The Chubu English Language Education Society, 25, 145-150.
    Ohtake, H., Snookes, P., Kubota, A. (1996). Implications for English Teaching Derived from the Life-Science Dictionary Project. Bulletin of The Chubu English Language Education Society, 26, 49-54.
    Page, B., Holm, D. (1996) Web Publishing with Adobe Acrobat and PDF. Wiley Computer Publishing.
    Peacock, M. (1997). The effect of authentic materials on the motivation of EFL learners. ELT Journal 51/2: 144 - 154.
    Snookes. P. E. (1991). The Use of Information Technology in an English Language Unit of a British University. Master's thesis. Lancaster University, UK.
    Spolsky. B. (1994). Comprehension testing, or can understanding be measured? in Language and understanding. Ed. Gillian Brown, et al. Oxford:Oxford University Press.
    Widdowson, H. G. (1992). Practical Stylistics: An Approach to Poetry. Oxford University Press.

    1 Please refer to Appendix A (Acrobat Reader file) to see the worksheet in more detail.


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  • Read the text below and decide what kind of approach the Peruvian Government is now using on the hostage takers.
  • Do you think this new approach is a good idea?
  • What do you think the Peruvian government should do next?