March 1996 — Volume 2, Number 1
E-Mail for English Teachers: Bringing the Internet and Computer Learning Networks into the Language Classroom
Mark Warschauer (1995)
Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
Pp. vii + 120
ISBN 0-939791-62-5 (paper)
US $17.95 ($15.95 members)
To write a book that deals with computer technology is like trying to hit a moving target; when you finally draw a bead on the target, it moves. Even if you score a direct hit, by the time you get it to market a good portion of it will be outdated. On the other hand, the market demand for books on computers and the Internet is tempting to prospective authors. In E-Mail for English Teachers, Mark Warschauer has hit the target and delivered a book that provides useful and timely information for teachers who want to learn how to use electronic mail and other Internet resources in their work.
In the introduction, Warschauer anticipates the question of skeptics who wonder why they should use electronic mail (e-mail), especially since they are busy enough without expending the time and effort to develop a program for student use of e-mail. He provides three reasons for using e-mail in the English classroom: (a) it provides students an excellent opportunity for real and natural communication, (b) it empowers students for independent learning, and (c) it enriches the experiences of teachers.
In seven compact chapters, Warschauer gives helpful information for getting started and for using e-mail for a variety of teaching and learning purposes. He also includes useful instructions for finding information on the Internet and describes some models that apply the ideas outlined in the book.
Chapter 1, “Getting Started,” begins with a brief history of e-mail and explains it in layman’s terms. Readers who want to see the big picture first will appreciate the explanation of computer networks, from LANs (local area networks) to WANs (wide-area networks) to the widest area network, the Internet. The author also describes what is needed in order to begin using e-mail for English teaching.
Chapter two, “E-Mail for Teacher Collaboration,” provides a thorough explanation of TESL-L, a computer mailing list that is devoted to matters of teaching ESOL. Newsgroups are described and compared with computer mailing lists. Warschauer recommends some newsgroups of interest to ESOL teachers. The chapter ends with a mention of MOOs (technically, multi-user dimension, object oriented: graphic- and text-based multi-user environments where people from around the world can chat in real time and perform a variety of [-1-] simulations), and information on TESL-EJ, the electronic journal for ESOL matters.
The third chapter, “E-Mail in a Single Classroom,” begins with a section devoted to teacher-student communication via e-mail, and is followed by a section on out-of-class electronic discussions by way of class mailing lists and class newsgroups. A section on learning activities touches upon using e-mail for distribution of class materials, a collective class journal, class discussions, collaborative writing, peer editing, and grammar review. The chapter closes with three sections that deal with learning applications for real-time communication, which, as Warschauer points out, require special software.
Chapter four, “E-Mail for Cross-Cultural Exchange,” includes explanations of activities for linking students from different classes and different locations. It begins with a section on pen pals and continues with discussions on international student discussion lists (computer mail lists), and team-teaching projects. A departure from e-mail follows with a discussion of two Internet resources that permit real-time communication: Internet relay chat (IRC) and multi-user dimensions, object oriented (MOOs). This chapter closes with a thoughtful section on assessing the benefits of cross-cultural exchanges via e-mail.
The first four chapters fulfill the author’s promise to provide all the essential information an English teacher needs to begin using e-mail as a resource for teaching English. Chapter five, a four-page interlude on the use of e-mail in distance education, serves as a transition to a discussion of other Internet resources.
Warschauer provides immediate and practical information in chapter six, “Finding Resources on the Internet.” A comprehensive discussion of using Gopher for finding information and resources is followed by a section on using Telnet for logging in to distant computers to obtain information or for checking your own e-mail when away from home. Specific instructions for using Telnet to get on-line magazines and to access a language database are provided.
A section on FTP (file transfer protocol) begins with a general description and is followed by specific instructions for using FTP to obtain song lyrics and for transferring software. The biggest section of this chapter is devoted to the World-Wide Web, the fastest growing Internet resource. After an introduction to the Web, Warschauer provides a section on how to navigate the Web, including instructions for accessing the Web with Netscape. This is followed by specific instructions for accessing and using EDWeb (an on-line tutorial on education, technology, school reform, and the Information Highway), City Net (tourist information, maps and photos for cities and countries all over the world), and EXCHANGE (an electronic cross-cultural ESOL magazine). Web addresses, known as Universal [-2-] Resource Locators (URLs), for about twenty other Web pages devoted to language, literacy, and ESOL issues are also provided. The chapter ends with a mention of the Purdue On-line Writing Lab and the University of Missouri’s Online Writery, Web sites that provide writing and grammar help. Both newcomers and veteran e-mail users will welcome the material in this chapter.
The final chapter, “Putting It All Together,” returns to e-mail with a collection of principles and tips for using e-mail in the variety of ways outlined in the book. Warschauer frames this discussion around four pairs: student-machine, teacher-teacher, teacher-student, and student-student. Tips for introducing students to e-mail are organized in three lists: before class, while training students, and on-going. The chapter closes with three models in which some of the activities discussed in the book have been practiced.
Appendices to the book include a bibliography, related journals, contacts and organizations, and a glossary.
In E-Mail for English Teaching, Warschauer provides a compact collection of background information and instructions for teachers who want to learn how to use e-mail for professional development and for helping their students learn the language. Clear writing, the use of jargon-free language, and explanations of technical terms make the information here accessible to beginning and veteran Internet users. The author draws on his experience as a teacher-trainer and in conducting computer seminars for faculty and staff at the University of Hawaii (where he is studying computer-mediated communication in language teaching) to deliver a book that provides useful and timely information for teachers who want to learn how to use electronic mail and other Internet resources in their work.
The organization of the sections on e-mail, from teacher collaboration to single classroom to interclass connections, is a natural sequence. The final chapter, “Putting It All Together,” is also well organized into intuitive combinations: student-machine, teacher-teacher, student-teacher, and student-student with lists of tips and principles for each pair.
Only in the first chapter did I have a problem with organization and content. A section devoted to modems comes before an explanation of why a modem might be necessary. The section at the end of the chapter on the UNIX operating system seems out of place because it is system-specific and something the e-mail beginner is not ready for.
For the reader who wants to explore the topics in this book further, Warschauer provides a comprehensive bibliography. The [-3-] references at the end of each chapter are convenient for locating resources specific to the chapter.
The screen shots throughout the book are helpful, though it would have been nice if these were numbered for in-text citation. Likewise, an index would have been a helpful addition, especially for reference uses of this book.
While the primary audience for this book is teachers who want to begin using e-mail for professional development and in their classes, many veteran Internet users will find helpful information in E-Mail for English Teaching. Administrators of programs for teaching ESOL, from K-12 through adult to MA-TESL programs would do well to make this book available to their teaching staffs and student teachers.
Virginia Commonwealth University
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