LINGUIST List 12.2820

Sat Nov 10 2001

Review: Windeatt et al., The Internet

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <terrylinguistlist.org>


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  1. Juris G. Lidaka, Windeatt, Hardisty & Eastment, The Internet

Message 1: Windeatt, Hardisty & Eastment, The Internet

Date: Fri, 9 Nov 2001 09:24:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Juris G. Lidaka <lidakaoscar.wvsc.edu>
Subject: Windeatt, Hardisty & Eastment, The Internet

Windeatt, Scott, David Hardisty, and David Eastment (2000) The
Internet. Oxford University Press, viii+136pp, paperback
ISBN 0-19-437223-5, Resource Books for Teachers series.

Juris G. Lidaka, West Virginia State College

The title of this book is deceptive, especially when its small size is
considered. It is not some unspecified description or history of
the internet, but what the series' name indicates: It is a resource
book for teachers, specifically for those who teach English to those
who do not primarily speak the language. It assumes its readers are
able to use computers, but not much more, and issues the standard
warnings about the semi-chaotic free range of materials that
browsing the web can lead to, though perhaps not enough about the
web as the ultimate vanity press.

After a general introduction with discussion of how to use the book,
there are three core chapters subdivided into many activities, with
six (or seventeen, potentially more) appendices, followed by a list
of other books in this series before the index to this book, a
peculiar order. Usefully, the table of contents indicates chapter
and section titles, skill level assumed for the students, and the
estimated time for the activities, as well as pages. In the
chapters themselves, large marginal glosses highlight aspects of
each activity, such as the level and time already mentioned, but
also aims of the activity, technical requirements, student
knowledge, teacher preparation -- almost universally a reference to
"Appendix E ('Activity links', page 121)" and a reference to the
book's web site http://www.oup.com/elt/rbt.internet -- and procedure.

What is not particularly obvious is why activities do not proceed
from lowest to highest levels of students; that is, the very first
section of the first chapter indicates skill levels in this order:
Intermediate and above, All, All, and Elementary and above.
However, it is not the language skills that are a concern here but
the logic of the activities: students must use a search engine to
find something, then use it more effectively for targeted searching,
and finally organize saved bookmarks (Netscapespeak) or favorites
(Microsoft Internet Explorerspeak) that result from those searches.
It would not be hard to quibble with the trade-offs between skill
levels assumed and organization or activity.

The first chapter, "Core Internet Skills," covers searching and
sorting, evaluating, and communicating. The nature of the first bit
is indicated above. Evaluating covers appearance and design of
sites, followed by contents of news sites based first on their
headlines and then on the articles, with a closing glance at
critical evaluation. Communicating means lurking on a discussion
list and discovering netiquette, sending electronic greeting cards,
and sending e-mail to lists.

The second chapter, "Focus on Language," covers electronic
dictionaries or thesauri, word puzzles, weather, finding help with
emergencies and currency conversion, employment, weddings,
grammatical errors, discourse markers, verb tenses, reported speech,
and making questions. This is quite a grab-bag, but it lends itself
to further ideas a teacher might have.

Third is "Focus on Language Skills," not apparently different from
the previous chapter, but filled with very many activities broadly
categorized into writing, reading (yes, in that order), listening,
speaking, all of the above, and finally translating. Activities
include creating home pages, writing Valentine's Day verses,
messaging via IRC (internet relay chat), following cooking and other
instructions, listening to news and audiobooks, talking about the
supernatural, telling jokes and stories, reviewing books and
performances, examining machine translation, translating texts, and
practicing simultaneous translation.

The appendices are a glossary, a subdivided discussion of the web,
one of other forms of electronic contact (e-mail, lists, MOOs, BBSs,
etc.), another of "Internet resources," an unsubdivided (in the
table of contents) one of "Activity links" for the three main
chapters, and a short bibliography. The links for activities will
be most often used and are keyed to chapter and section, but it
would have been far more useful in the chapters to point directly at
the page, since the appendix is eleven pages in all and the constant
references to "Appendix E ('Activity links', page 121)" become
tedious, given the growing need for flipping pages beyond page 121,
while proceeding through the book.

As mentioned above, there is a related web site with updates every
three months (apparently not in practice, since the latest date, not
placed on all pages, is 15 Sept. 2000). Though worksheets for the
activities are clearly labelled in the book as "photocopiable" yet
copyrighted by OUP, the web site includes them in Microsoft Word
*.doc format, which should be easier for teachers to work with if
they have Word (I prefer not to); if it is Word 6, Word 97, or Word
2000; if they are on some Windows platform; and if they know how to
download the files and find the downloads on their hard drives.
Teachers using Apple or Linux machines, or others, may write for
RTF, HTML, or other versions, but these will be perforce
translations and may require considerable review. Fortunately, at
least Word 98 on a Mac will read the files.

It is this situation at the end, just as that at the start, that
gives me pause: how computer-literate the teacher (and at times the
student) really must be. Much of this book is basic enough that
just about any user can perform the tasks, yet some parts are far
more complicated or difficult than they are presented as. For
example, the activity on organizing bookmarks/favorites requires
that the teacher prepare a bookmark/favorite file and wisely urges
that this file be backed up somewhere so it can be copied onto more
than one computer for multiple students and multiple classes.

I do not doubt that most web surfers have by now made such files,
but experience has convinced me that very few know the names and
locations of those files. Will they be able to install such a file
on multiple computers in a lab, and will they be able to restore the
original files on those very lab computers? The activity is far
from being as simple as implied, and it will probably take much more
time and effort than is indicated in the activity (1.4, pp. 32-33)
or in the cross-referenced discussion of bookmarks/favorites (pp.
22-23), which gives the filename for Netscape bookmarks (but not its
location) and the foldername for Explorer favorites (but not its
location). There are default locations for these, but those can
change depending on the version of the web browser and on the person
installing or setting it up, as well as the platform (Windows,
Apple, Linux, etc.). On some systems, access to system files and
even settings may be limited to administrators, as well, so lab
users or teachers may not be able to save or restore anything
without additional effort.

Similarly, one task is for students to create a home page (3.1, pp.
67-68); required knowledge includes, of course, the teacher's
needing to know to create and publish web pages, so attention is
directed to Appendix B4 'Writing Web pages.' The discussion there
is good for those more experienced, but the very first method will
lead the inexperienced astray very quickly, since it says that you,
the teacher, can use

	any word-processor or text-processor (such as
	Windows Notepad): type in the <b>HTML</b>
	codes yourself, and then save the page with the
	extension <i>.htm</i> or <i>.html</i>.

That will work with a text editor like Notepad, but the danger is
that most teachers are going to go with the first bit of advice: a
word-processor. That is likely to mean Microsoft Word, and saving
with that extension will not do the trick -- there is more involved.
Even explaining how to do it in Word means a much longer, more
complicated and off-putting text, and that will come at the expense
of the simplicity desired.

These are minor points given the glorious variety of exercises and
ideas posed in this short book, so I regret going on about them for
so long, but I wish more balance could have been achieved between
simplicity to help teachers get into using the ideas and fullness of
explanation so they really can use the ideas. The many suggestions,
with planning tips and estimates of time, will be very valuable to
L2 teachers. The web is a tool, and <i>The Internet</i> is an
excellent treasury of suggestions for using it to help students
learn English.
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