One of the commonly used learning management systems that can facilitate the teaching-learning process is the WebCT (Web Course Tool). The WebCT has several tools (such as email, discussion board and links). This paper discusses how different WebCT tools can be used to develop an effective TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course for fourth-level students specialized in English. A questionnaire was used to explore the participantsf interest in using WebCT; to identify the main technical difficulties facing participants using WebCT and to investigate how WebCT can influence affective and pedagogical factors that play a key role in learning efficiently and effectively.
In recent years, hundreds of universities have developed Internet-based courses using one learning management system or another for either delivering distance learning courses or supplementing teaching classes on campus. As any other teaching tools or methods, using Internet-based learning has several advantages and disadvantages that can be summarized as follows.
The effect of these advantages and disadvantages may differ from one teaching context to another, depending on various factors such as the learning management systems (software) adopted, student number, course content and purpose. One of these commonly-used and promising learning management systems is WebCT (Web Course Tools) which has recently begun to catch the attention of more studies (e.g. Al-Ayyat, 2003; Burgess, 2003; Murphy and Lindner, 200?; Pauley, 2000; & Tittenberger and Nazarko, 2003). Most of these studies explore two main issues: technical difficulties facing WebCT users and studentsf perceptions to WebCT. One of the areas that such studies have not investigated is how certain WebCT tools can be used to supplement English language courses taught on campus. Another area of concern is how WebCT can influence the affective and pedagogical factors needed for learning the language efficiently and effectively.
WebCT has more than twenty tools that can all be used to enhance campus learning and facilitate full-distance learning courses. Appendix (A) outlines the main WebCT tools and their functions. Which tools to choose for teaching a particular course depends on the content, requirements and components of the course to be taught as well as technical factors related to accessibility. In the context of this study, ten suitable WebCT tools (listed in Appendix B) are activated to enhance the quality of the TEFL course which was given to undergraduate English language students studying at the Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine. The TEFL course covers several topics related to preparing students to teach English as a foreign language. Appendix (C) lists these topics as well as the aims, outcomes of the course.
This study intends to achieve the following purposes:
Although there is no general agreement on specific definition of affective factors, many educators agree on the importance of these factors in language learning. In one of his Ph.D. thesis articles eLiterature Review: Affect in Language Learningf, Finch (2000) reports that
gStern's claim that ethe affective component contributes at least as much and often more to language learning than the cognitive skillsf is supported by a large body of recent cross-disciplinary research showing that affective variables have significant influence on language achievement (e.g. Gardner 1985; Skehan 1989; Spolsky 1989; Gardner & MacIntyre 1992; 1993a;)h
According to Finch (2000),
Arnold & Brown (1999) provide a more contemporary perspective from the view of the language learner as an individual (anxiety, inhibition, extroversion/introversion, self-esteem, motivation [extrinsic/intrinsic], learner styles) and as a participant in a socio-cultural situation (empathy, classroom transactions, cross-cultural processes). These two articles will be used here as the basis for discussion and the reader is referred to them for a more detailed examination of the issues
Finch (2000) adds that
Arnold (Ed.1999) defines affect in terms of easpects of emotion, feeling, mood or attitude which condition behaviourf, while Dickinson (1987, p25) describes it as being concerned with the learner's attitude towards the target language and users of it, and with his/her emotional responsesh.
Scovel (1978, p31) defines affective variables as "those that deal with the emotional reactions and motivations of the learner; they signal the arousal of the limbic system and its direct intervention in the task of learning".
In the light of studies discussed above, affective factors are used here to refer to ten psychological and motivational factors essential for successful learning: interest, self-confidence, motivation, confidence in teacher, autonomy/independence, excitement, attitude, patience and perseverance, interpersonal friendship, and anxiety and tension.
Pedagogical factors are related to developing skills and abilities that enhance learning and teaching English as a foreign language through using WebCT tools to supplement face-to-face lectures. These experience-based factors include exposure to a variety of practical TEFL skills: giving a better presentation on a TEFL aspect, gathering information to ease doing a research paper on a TEFL aspect, exposure to opposing teaching concepts, increasing communication with the teacher, exchanging pedagogical opinions with more freedom, understanding content and achieving course aims, varying course activities and assignments, developing writing and communication skills, ability to cope with challenging learning and teaching techniques. As such all these factors would produce language learners and teachers who can learn and teach the language effectively and efficiently and thus achieve the aims of the TEFL course taken by participant.
The population of this study consists of all students (N=40) enrolled in the TEFL course in the second semester 2004. They are fourth-level female students specialized in English language and literature at IUG. The course is part of a four-year B.A programme that prepares students to be teachers. Because not all participants were familiar with WebCT, a brief training course was given to them. Therefore, all participants were familiarised with using WebCT just few days before the TEFL course began. Other colleagues teaching other courses were also using the WebCT with the same group of participants
A three-part questionnaire is used for data collection. The three parts relate to technical, affective and pedagogical factors that affect learning. In addition to including 26 multiple-choice items in the three parts, 2 open-ended questions are used to give students opportunity to express their opinion openly by adding any additional relevant comments. The listing of all questions can be found in Appendix (D). A copy of the questionnaire was sent to the participants at the last week of the semester. The students were given the choice to submit it back either by e-mail or hand. All 40 participants responded to the questionnaire. Most students responded by email.
The main data elicited from the questionnaire are collected from five-point Likert-scale responses (Strongly Agree; Agree; Neutral; Disagree; Strongly Disagree). The data are analysed by using descriptive statistics of frequency count and percentage scores.
The study results can be outlined in the following tables and figures.
Table (1) shows that the majority of students (60%) accessed WebCT from university (public computer labs and library computers) which explains the technical problems they face as will be shown later.
|University public labs||31||42%|
Figure (1) shows the percentages of the five technical difficulties students face when they use WebCT. The most common difficulty is the slow connection to the Internet. Only 13% responded with facing no technical difference.
Below is a technical-related sample of commonly-repeated negative comments as written by students in the questionnaire. They are ordered in accordance with frequency.
When the students were asked about the most preferred WebCT tools, they gave very close scores to most tools. Table (2) shows that all participants like all tools almost equally as the difference in frequency is so slight. The table also shows the results in a descending order where three tools (Links and References, Email, and Discussion) come first in terms of recording the highest frequency score (38 ? 11.2%) and thus the most liked. The least liked tools, however, are both gContenth and gGetting Exam Resultsh online. It can be assumed that students do not like gContenth tool as much as the other tools because they prefer to use textbook in print. But what interesting is the studentsf preference not to receive results by email. This could be explained by the effect of affective factors associated with marks
|1.||Links & references||38||11.2%|
|3.||Lecture notes & summaries||36||10.6%|
|4.||Announcements (student tips)||34||10%|
|7.||Getting exam results online||25||7.3%|
There is an overall studentsf support to encourage using WebCT by the university. The majority of participants (30 ? 75%) strongly agree to encourage using the WebCT by the university and some (9 ? 22.5%) agreed on such support but only one student who expressed her disagreement on promoting the use of WebCT. Such high ratio (97.5%) of support to using the WebCT at larger level at the university could be due to the different affective and linguistic benefits the participants gained from using WebCT. Below is a sample of positive comments as written by students in the questionnaire:
The results in Table (3) show a general agreement among students on the positive effects of WebCT on affective factors needed for successful learning but with little difference in the degree of such effect. The most common positive effect is on enhancing self-confidence and learning independence, followed by developing a feeling of patience & perseverance needed to be a successful language learner & teacher. However the least effect is on motivating students to participate in class. One possible reason for this could be using the WebCT communication tools (email and discussion).
|Affective effects of WebCT||Strongly agree & agree||Neutral>||Agree & strongly disagree|
|1.||Increased my interest in TEFL||32||80%||8||20%||-||-|
|3.||Motivated me to participate more in classroom||25||62.5%||10||25%||5||12.5%|
|4.||Strengthened confidence in the course instructor||29||72.5%||5||12.5%||6||15%|
|5.||Helped me to be more independent learner||35||87.5%||2||5%||3||7.5%|
|6.||Increased my excitement about language learning & teaching||32||80%||6||15%||2||5%|
|7.||Developed a more positive attitude towards the instructor||32||80%||6||15%||2||5%|
|8.||Developed a feeling of patience & perseverance needed to be a successful language learner & teacher||33||82.5%||7||17.5%||-||-|
|9.||Developed better interpersonal friendship with the instructor & other colleagues||31||77.5%||7||17.5%||2||5%|
|10.||(Previous Exam Tool) reduced anxiety & tension about exams||27||67.5%||7||17.5%||6||15%|
Again, Table (4) shows a general agreement on the positive pedagogical effects of using WebCT on the participants where the vast majority (97.5%) approved the usefulness of WebCT in providing the students with a variety of practical TEFL skills. Another advantage in ratio (95%) is developing writing and communication skills needed to contact with colleagues and the teacher.
|Pedagogical effects of WebCT Tools||Strongly agree & agree||Neutral||Agree & strongly disagree|
|1.||WebCT enhanced face-to-face lectures||33||82.5%||5||12.5%||2||5%|
|2.||"References & Links" and "Extra Material" provided me with a variety of practical TEFL skills||39||97.5%||1||2.5%||-||-|
|3.||"Reference & Links" and "Extra Material" helped me to give a better presentation on a TEFL aspect||32||80%||8||20%||-||-|
|4.||"Reference & Links" and "Extra Materials" provided rich resources for gathering information that made it easier to do a research paper on a TEFL aspect||35||87.5%||5||17.5%||-||-|
|5.||"Reference & Links" and "Extra Material" exposed me to a variety of opposing teaching concepts & techniques||36||90%||4||10%||-||-|
|6.||"Discussions" and "Mail" encouraged me to communicate frequently with the instructor||37||92.5%||1||2.5%||1||2.5%|
|7.||"Discussions" and "Mail" encouraged me to exchange pedagogical opinions with more freedom||33||82.5%||6||15%||1||2.5%|
|8.||"Previous Exams" enabled me to better understand the course content & achieve its aims successfully||35||87.5%||3||7.5%||2||5%|
|9.||" Lecture Notes & summaries" developed my writing & communication skills||38||95%||2||5%||-||-|
|10.||WebCT enhanced the opportunity of varying course activities: assignments, research papers, quizzes, exams, etc.||35||87.5%||5||12.5%||-||-|
|11.||WebCT enabled me to cope with challenging learning & teaching situations||37||92.5%||3||7.5%||-||-|
Four major findings emerged from this study:
The study shows favourable results concerning the studentsf perception to the positive effectiveness of WebCT. The participants have taken the TEFL course enthusiastically and enjoyed the benefits they gained due to using WebCT. Results have indicated that students would like to continue this project next year, and that they intend to make using WebCT a required element in their courses. These results resemble the findings of several related studies (Al-Ayyat et al, 2003; Burgess, 2003; Murphy and Lindner, n. d.; Pauley, 2000; & Tittenberger and Nazarko, 2003) conducted in different contexts. For instance Murphy & Lindner (n. d.) conclude that such positive responses are
ggood news for teachers who are incorporating or wish to incorporate technology into their teaching as a means for improving teaching. . . . It is hoped that as WebCT and other online course tools become more commonplace, and as students become more familiar with the technology, student learning, teacher effectiveness, and course efficiencies will improve.h
One of the central issues that has strong agreement among the participants is the importance of WebCT in improving the level of affective and motivational factors vital for successful language learning. Results indicate that WebCT has positively affected the ten psychological factors included in the questionnaire and mentioned above. The affective domain and the emotional factors which influence language learning have been of interest in the field of language teaching for a number of years. Many educators support the belief that effective and successful language learning cannot take place without the presence of these factors. Many growing studies have also shown that using useful technology-based approaches to language learning, including WebCT, would enhance these factors in different ways. In this context, Benson (2001, p140) and Toyoda (2001, p9) state that using technology-based approaches to language learning supports students feeling of autonomy.
Emphasizing the importance of motivation, Van Lier (1996, p98) argues that motivation "is a very important, if not the most important factor in language learning", without which even 'gifted' individuals cannot accomplish long-term goals, whatever the curricula and whoever the teacher. Mantle-Bromley (1995, p383) presume that "If we attend to the affective and cognitive components of students attitudes, as well as develop defendable pedagogical techniques, we may be able to increase the length of time students commit to language study and their chances of success in it."
Again, the findings of this study report that the tools gLinks & References, E-mail, and Discussionh have all equally occupied the highest rank among all other tools in terms of offering pedagogical benefits. They are followed by the tools of gPrevious examsh, Lecture Notes and Summariesh. Combining the questionnaire responses with the researcherfs classroom observations and oral comments expressed by students during the sixteen-week course, possible justifications can be outlined as follows.
The negative responses and comments expressed by the participants over accessing their WebCT and the long time needed for downloading require more focused attention and improvements on the part of course designers and IT specialists to keep the students' enthusiasm about WebCT. The challenge of making fast-accessing, fast-displaying, and fast-loading internet-based software has been stressed by several recent studies (Al-Ayyat et al, 2003; Everheart, 1996; Kelly, 2000 & Murphy and Lindner n.d.) as a basic criterion for keeping the visitorfs enthusiasm. A possible suggestion to keep studentsf positive attitude towards WebCT is to increase studentsf awareness about this technical problem and to offer highly valuable and unique content that meet studentsf needs and make them feel that the content quality is worth the time spent. In this regard, Al-Ayyat et al (2003) assert that gAccessibility problems can be reduced if faculty adhere to certain guidelines with respect to the materials they post, and take into consideration that file size increases download time for students. Additionally, to reduce incompatibilities, materials should be made available in a global file format such as PDF . . .h. Another suggestion is to keep gthe consistency in page layouts and page elements and menus as this will not only help to make a web site attractive but also aid web visitors to find their way around the site and do not get lost in the cyberspace (Tittel & James, 1995 in Embi 2004).
This sudy investigated four aspects related to WebCT: the participantsf level of interest and attitude towards WebCT, the affective factors influenced by WebCT, the pedagogical factors influenced by WebCT and technical problems facing WebCT users. The participanatsf responses to the first aspects were positive and encouraging. The study also identified some key technical challenges that need to be overcome.
Although the study is limited to forty female students specialized in English, its findings may offer a glimpse of how a particular set of students views and deals with technology in language teaching-learning context. The study may also add to our understanding of how several WebCT tools can influence key factors for efficient and effective language teaching and learning. Furthermore, the study indicates how useful WebCT can be to supplement on-campus lectures, especially if used with students who are comfortable with using technology and do not encounter serious technical problems. However, to maximize the different benefits of WebCT, further research needs to be conducted taking another group of participants: larger in size, mixed in gender and at different study level and courses.
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|1.||Add Page or Tool||To add pages of course content, WebCT tools, or links to websites and external applications to the course, e.g. Extra-Material Page, Previous Exams Page, Lecture Notes Page, etc.|
|2.||Assignments||To create and distribute course assignments to students, and download, evaluate, and assign a grade to the completed work.|
|3.||Bookmarks||To create their own custom shortcuts to key pages.|
|4.||CD-ROM||To provide students access to multimedia files instead of uploading the files to course content.|
|5.||Chat||To promote direct communication.|
|6.||Content Module||To develop the learning materials in various ways.|
|7.||Discussions||To discuss and exchange information about particular topic.|
|8.||Glossary||To list definition of relevant terms.|
|9.||Index||To cross reference key terms and concepts within the course content.|
|10.||Link||To connect students to sites on the Internet relevant to the course topics.|
|11.||For communication between students and instructor and students.|
|12.||My Grades||To release grades to students.|
|13.||My Notes (Annotations)||To have students create their own annotations of various text documents - then have the students compile their notes and share them with the whole class.|
|14.||Quizzes||To practise quizzes.|
|15.||Resume session||To pick up at the last place students were in the course path pages.|
|16.||Search||To locate topics in the course.|
|17.||Self-Test||To practice self-answered tests.|
|18.||Student Presentations||To create groups of students to do a joint project relevant to the course they study.|
|19.||Student tips||To send announcements that appears on the screen as soon the students log on to WebCT.|
|20.||Syllabus||To present information about course and instructor.|
|21.||Whiteboard||To allow designers, students, and teachers to enter text, draw objects, insert graphics, and make modification in order to have online discussion.|
|Links & References||Provide quick links to relevant resources (articles, journals, etc) available on the Internet that may promote teaching English as a foreign language. These links are classified according to the topics included in the course. For instance, some links grouped together on how to teach pronunciation, reading, writing, etc.|
|Facilitates communication among all students taking the course and between students and teacher.|
|Discussion||Provide a platform for discussing controversial issues related to teaching English where all students are encouraged to participate in the discussion. For instance, students were encouraged to debate this question: to what extent do you agree on banning the use of learnersf mother tongue in English language classes?|
|Previous exams||It is a link that provides students with all previous exams on TEFL.|
|Lecture notes & summaries||A tool that provides notes and summaries to lectures|
|Assignments||Describe written assignments, such as papers and essays.|
|Announcements (student tips)||Students can get announcements about exams, assignments, etc as soon as they log on to the WebCT.|
|Extra materials||This tool provides students with extra-supplementary articles, essays and information relevant to the course topics.|
|Content||This tool links students to the main e-content of the course.|
|Getting exam results online||Through this tool, students can get access to view the results of their exams and quizzes.|
This course is an introduction to Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). It develops the studentsf pedagogical knowledge and the basic skills needed to teach English efficiently. The course is divided into 3 main areas:
|1.||Due to the use of WebCT, my interest in the TEFL course increased|
|2.||Using WebCT made more self-confident learner|
|3.||Because of WebCT, my motivation to participate in classroom was improved|
|4.||Using WebCT strengthened my confidence in the course instructor|
|5.||Using WebCT made me more independent learner|
|6.||Using WebCT made more excited about language learning and teaching|
|7.||Because of using WebCT, I developed a more positive attitude towards the instructor|
|8.||Using WebCT developed the feeling of patience & perseverance needed to be a successful ELT teacher|
|9.||Using WebCT tools (email & discussion) to communicate developed interpersonal friendship with the other colleagues and the instructor|
|10.||Looking at WebCT tool "Previous Exams" decreased anxiety & tension about exams|
|1.||WebCT is a useful technological system that enhances face-to-face lectures|
|2.||WebCT tools "References & Links" and "Extra Material" provided me with a variety of practical TEFL skills|
|3.||WebCT tools "Reference & Links" and "Extra Material" helped me to give a better presentation on a TEFL aspect|
|4.||WebCT tools "Reference & Links" and "Extra Materials" provided rich resources for gathering information that made it easier to do a research paper on a TEFL aspect|
|5.||WebCT tools "Reference & Links" and "Extra Material" exposed me to a variety of opposing teaching concepts & techniques|
|6.||WebCT tools "Discussions" and "Mail" encouraged me to communicate frequently with the instructor|
|7.||WebCT tools "Discussions" and "Mail" encouraged me to exchange pedagogical opinions with more freedom|
|8.||WebCT tool "Previous Exams" enabled me to better understand the course content & achieve its aims successfully|
|9.||Using WebCT enhanced the opportunity of varying course activities: assignments, research papers, quizzes, etc.|
|10.||WebCT tool" Lecture Notes & Summaries" developed my writing & communication skills|
|11.||Using WebCT enabled me to cope with challenging learning & teaching situations|
Nazmi Al-Masri has a Ph.D in TEFL and Curriculum Development from the University of Manchester, UK. His research interests are teacher trainining, academic writing, and using technology in TEFL. He teaches at the Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine.