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Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms

through the Use of Technology

Sangmin Lee (Woosong University)

Lee, Sangmin. (2005). Translating constructivism into EFL classrooms through


the use of technology. Multimedia-Assisted Language Learning, 8(1), 220-249.

This paper outlines the rationale of how technology can be a component of


constructivist learning environments to support student learning in EFL
classrooms. Constructivism values interaction, communication, learning
communities, and collaboration during the learning process, beyond skill and drill
and rote memorization activities or individual cognitive activities. This paper
particularly focuses on how technology can foster authentic learning, ownership
of learning, situated learning, collaborative learning, and learning with
multimedia. This paper investigates how computers can be used to add the
values listed above to EFL learning from a constructivist perspective, and how
key elements of constructivism are exemplified on the Internet, in Email
activities, and discussion boards. This paper also highlights the significance of
media literacy and provides suggestions to enhance media literacy in English
classrooms. In the last section, an extended definition of literacy and language
education is discussed along with technology as a value system. In accordance
with this new definition, teachers' roles in the Electronic Era are also newly
defined to best support student learning in technology-enriched EFL classrooms.
Sangmin Lee 221

I. INTRODUCTION

The recent development of technology has brought fundamental changes to human


society, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Without a doubt, these changes are
substantially reshaping education - transforming what we learn, how we learn, how we
teach, and how schools function. As Tuman (1992) states, it "reshapes not just how we
read and write and, by extension, how we teach these skills, but our very understanding
of basic terms such as reading, writing, and text" (p. 5).
EFL classrooms are no exception for these changes. For the last couple of decades,
English teachers have witnessed dramatic paradigm shifts in language teaching and
learning, both in pedagogy and technology. In pedagogy, heavily influenced by learning
theories, educational psychology and linguistics, second language learning theories and
teaching methods have developed from the structural perspective to the cognitivist to the
sociocontructivist. Coupled with the development of technology, the shifts and changes in
second language learning theories and teaching methods have been accelerated. The rapid
development of the networked computer in recent years has brought at least two
changes to language teaching. Firstly, a great many documents are produced and
distributed in English on the Internet everyday, which, in turn, has speeded up the role
of English as a global language in many fields both online and offline. Secondly, the
capability of the networked computer has opened up new opportunities of learning
English. Traditionally, ESL/EFL learners pedagogically has been limited to classroom
experiences that mainly depended on teachers and textbooks and focused on verbal and
written teaching/learning modalities. In contrast, networked computers allow an array of
possibilities for second/foreign language learners to obtain more authentic and updated
learning materials, directly engage with people in the target culture, and learn with
multimedia. Despite some limitations to learning on and with computers, technology
offers a potentially great learning opportunity to EFL learners.
However, although the development of technology may make teaching and learning
more or less efficient, technological efficiency does not necessarily result in effectiveness
in learning. Poorly planned use of technology is often found in EFL classrooms. Such
use exhibits a poor understanding of the epistemological underpinnings of learning and
instructional design and is not in sound pedagogy. A different epistemological
understanding of learning inevitably leads to different teaching methods and practices in
classrooms. Correspondingly, different understandings of learning will frame the uses of
technology in classrooms and instructional designs in different ways, such as Crook's
222 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

(1994) metaphor of computer-as-tutor, computer-as-pupil, and computer-as-tool.


While many variety of learning theories explicate the learning mechanism, the present
article will focus on constructivism. Within a constructivism frame it will examine how
learning is conceptualized and how constructivism identifies the ideal learning
environment. This article, then, grounded on constructivism, will explore how technology
can support the learning environment to maximize student learning in EFL classrooms. It
particularly focuses on how technology can foster authentic learning, ownership of
learning, situated learning, collaborative learning, and learning with multimedia. In the
next section, this paper will investigate how computers can be used to add the values
listed above to EFL learning from the constructivist perspective. In the last section of
this paper, the extended definition of literacy and language education will be discussed
along with technology as a value system. In accordance with this new definition,
teachers' roles in the Electronic Era will be also newly defined to best support student
learning in technology-enriched EFL classrooms.

II. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: CONSTRUCTIVIST LEARNING


ENVIRONMENTS

For the last decade, a considerable amount of interest has been paid to
constructivism. It has been a valuable frame to explain how learning occurs, to define
key factors for learning, to suggest how teachers can support student learning, and to
identify key components of optimized learning environments (Corich, 2004; Draper, 1997;
Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1999). The most fundamental premise of constructivism is that
rather than being passive recipients, learners actively construct knowledge through
interaction with others and the outside world by assimilating and revising their prior
knowledge both in depth and complexity. When the learner encounters new knowledge
which is not compatible with his or her prior knowledge and experiences, then he or she
reflects upon his or her status quo and modifies, updates, evaluates, and revises his or
her prior knowledge. This brings conceptual changes that are then internalized in the
learner. In constructivism, knowledge does not reside internally in a person, but is
constructed through interaction within the discourse community. Likewise, meaning does
not reside internally in words; rather, it is always negotiated within a certain discourse
community.
Within the constructivist framework, "literacy events should be experienced by
learners as collaborative social activities with goals embedded in natural settings, and not
Sangmin Lee 223

as isolated and decontextualized events" (Chong, 1998, p. 82). Good language education,
hence, is "something meaningful and relevant to the students' life and effective literacy
instruction is meant to utilize students' prior knowledge, connect with their life
experiences and build new knowledge upon them" (Zhu, 1998, p. 240). Thus, meaningful
and collaborative activities situated in authentic contexts are important for effective
language education.
Constructivism maintains that the learning environment plays a key role in student
learning. Duffy, Lowyck, and Jonassen (1993) identify eight characteristics for the
constructivist learning environment distinctive from other learning environments: a) it
provides multiple representations of reality; b) multiple representations represent the
complexity of the real world; c) it supports knowledge construction rather than
knowledge reproduction d) it emphasizes the social construction of knowledge; e) it
stresses authentic tasks embedded in meaningful contexts; f) it emphasizes project- and
task-based learning similar to real-world settings; g) it encourages learners' reflection;
and h) it activates content- and context-dependent knowledge. In short, effective learning
environments should be able to nurture learner-centered classrooms, foster learners'
reflective thinking and inquiry, encourage them to have control of their own learning,
allow them to follow their individual interests and needs, facilitate collaborative and
situated learning, help them develop metacognitive skills, and finally, encourage them to
be self-generators of knowledge, active designers of their lives, and functional members
of their communities.
Technology, if used and embedded in education appropriately and effectively, can
facilitate a constructivist learning environment, either in supporting learning or
transforming it. A number of previous studies argued that multimedia and technology
can support a constructivist learning environment (Cey, 2001; Corich, 2004; Draper, 1997).
Roberts and Carter (1988) list the benefits of using computers: a) to motivate students;
b) to help the teacher present difficult concepts through the use of pictures; c) to
provide students with feedback; d) to provide unlimited numbers of individualized
lessons; f) to provide a much richer environment for teaching; and e) to give practice in
learning problem-solving strategies. Sewell (1990) also proposes that technology a) helps
a learner gain a better knowledge and understanding of some aspect of the curriculum;
b) provides motivating and challenging learning environments; c) encourages social
interactions; and d) provides rich environments to enable students to utilize a variety of
strategies on a number of occasions.
A large number of studies also support the claim that technologies can bring a great
224 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

deal of benefits to learners: as a way of bringing closer connection to their career goals
and their personal interests, active experimentation rather than passive assimilation, and
more active involvement in learning (Schofield, 1995), as a vehicle for transforming
education (Means et al., 1993), as a way of increasing the emphasis on developing
problem-solving skills and encouraging students to reflect on their own thinking
processes (Papert, 1980), as a way of bringing the resources of the outside world into
the classroom (Bossert, 1988), and as a way of fostering the development of inquiry
skills (Goren, 1985; Lawler, 1984). Others explore the possibilities of technologies to let
students follow their own interests more than they currently do in most school settings
(Feurzeig, 1988) and the prospect of shifting from didactic approaches to more
collaborative and learner-centered ones (Collins, Brown & Duguid, 1989).
More specifically, Frizler (1995) lists a number of the benefits of using technology in
EFL classrooms. It a) offers real world examples of integrated knowledge; b) is a rich
source of authentic language and culture material; c) enables possibilities for collaborative
learning; d) allows students to retrieve up-to-date and abundant information; e) develops
students' skills to locate and evaluate the information online that they need; f) appeals to
learners with different learning styles; g) offers the opportunity to write with real
purpose for a real audience; h) builds critical thinking skills; and i) presents the
opportunity for on-line publishing.
In sum, computers have a great potential to provide a means for students to express
themselves, communicate with others, and find and process information more effectively
and efficiently. They also reinforce inquiry, reflective and critical thinking, connection
with the outside world and collaborative and situated learning. Put another way,
computers are a good component of constructivist classrooms when appropriately and
effectively integrated. They are a means to an end to help student learning and a tool to
think with, to teach with, and to learn with, not an end to learn for. The rest of this
paper will discuss how technology can furnish a constructivist learning environment in
EFL classrooms.

III. POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY IN CLASSROOM

1. Authentic Learning

A myriad of previous studies have shown that when learning content is introduced
through authentic activities, learning will become more relevant to each student and more
likely to apply to other and future situations (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). Authentic
Sangmin Lee 225

activities are usually defined as the everyday activities that people engage in within their
own culture. Castellani and Jeffs (2001) illustrate the benefits of authentic learning: a) it
encourages richer knowledge structures; b) it promotes a more active role for the
learner; c) it is interesting; and d) it enables varied media which provide intrinsically
motivating activities and cognitive scaffolds.
One of the most challenging problems that most of the traditional schools face is the
discrepancy between knowledge learned in school settings and knowledge useful in
real-world settings. Typically, schools present knowledge out of context, as isolated
facts, separate from the real world. As a result, knowledge becomes too abstract and
students have trouble applying the abstract knowledge to their real-life situations. Thus,
very often the students find English textbooks neither interesting nor meaningful. In
contrast, technology-integrated classroom activities can make learning English more
authentic. The Internet, for example, by presenting the content (English) in a variety of
different contexts and taking students beyond the four walls of classrooms, assists
students to make connections to the outside world and make their knowledge useful to
real-world problem solving.
Authentic activity naturally leads to meaningful learning. As Grabe and Grabe (2004)
ascertain, the presentation of information alone does not necessarily result in the
generation of knowledge. Without students' active mental engagement, learning cannot
happen. To encourage students to engage actively and productively in learning, that is,
to make their learning meaningful, the learning contexts and authentic learning activities
are crucial, because "authentic tasks provide a way teachers can establish a context
likely to produce learning that transfers" (Grabe & Grabe, 2004, p. 60).
Telecommunicative projects facilitate EFL student writing by developing students'
sense of audience, promoting ownership for learning. One of the challenges to EFL
students in writing is that they have to fabricate an imaginary audience for their
writing. Previous studies prove that audience awareness has a positive effect on
compositions, such as more cohesive compositions, better communication skills and a
careful balance between their own expressive needs and the expectations of their readers
(Clark, 1985; Flower & Hayes, 1981; Kroll, 1986). This authentic writing situation in
telecommunicative projects also promotes EFL students' use of more authentic English
for the purpose of communication with their partners. According to Baker, Rozendal and
Whitenack (2000), audience awareness affects three dimensions in students' writing: a)
topic selection; b) choice of sign system; and c) edits and revisions. Students with
audience awareness were more careful to select in all three dimensions. Likewise, Gallini
226 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

and Helman's study (1995) of an Email project of fifth-grade students shows that the
students demonstrated greater audience awareness for their online audience among the
three audience groups of their teachers, a self-selected classmate and distant on-line
partners. Gallini and Helman explain that the students perceived the on-line
communications as more authentic and showed better improvement in their composition.
These real-life and more meaningful telecollaborative projects also foster students'
ownership for learning, which will be discussed in the following section.

2. Ownership for Learning

Ownership is well-known as one of the most critical components for learning (Langer
& Applebee, 1986; Honebein, Duffy & Fishman, 1993). With ownership, students have
responsibility for their own learning, develop critical and reflective thinking and other
metacognitive skills, actively apply their prior knowledge and experiences to novel
situations to solve a problem through inquiry, and define their own criteria for
evaluation. Students with ownership have higher intrinsic motivation, set up personal
goals meaningful to them, actively construct knowledge, are independent of instructor,
and demonstrate positive behaviors (in cognitive and metacognitive, affective, personal
and social, and individual difference quadrants) which, in turn, encourage them to master
the content knowledge (Savery, 1996). They are, thus, self-monitoring, -regulated,
-directed, and -controlled learners, who have the skills to generate new knowledge on
their own.
By providing immense opportunities of different accesses and approaches of
information and knowledge, hypertext and the Internet help the learners become more
constructive readers and knowledge generators. Marchionini (1990) asserts, "hypermedia
is an enabling technology rather than a directive one, offering high levels of user control.
Learners can construct their own knowledge by browsing hyperdocuments according to
the associations in their own cognitive structure. As with access, however, control
requires responsibility and decision making" (p. 356).
Technology has the potential to enable learners to be engaged more actively and
positively in their learning by providing opportunities for student-centered and
inquiry-based learning. Technology has greatly changed the map of classroom discourse.
By redistributing power and authority within the classroom, technology can allow
students to have more control over the texts, their thinking, behaviors and learning,
which heightens their ownership. In the classrooms of the Electronic Era, teachers are no
longer the only source of knowledge and learning is not only the transmission or
Sangmin Lee 227

dissemination of knowledge from teachers to students. By utilizing technologies as


knowledge resources, students have more control over their learning (student-centered
classroom), and gear their learning toward more inquiry-based, rather than rote
memorization of textbooks. Authentic tasks in meaningful contexts and real-world
problem solving tasks in the Internet learning environment also heighten student
motivation and ownership for learning. A considerable number of previous studies on
online writing courses clearly show that electronic collaboration in a writing course
creates learner-centered classrooms and fosters ownership of the students within a
technology-rich environment (Anderson, 2002; Ragan & White, 2001). In addition,
telecommunicative projects, such as discussion boards, E-pal projects, ListServs, creation
of webpages and collaborative projects with distant partners, can connect students with
the outside world, and owing to their authenticity, learners tend to participate actively in
such projects.

3. Situated Learning

All learning, especially language learning, should be situated within the context and
the community where the knowledge is used. Yet, still in many traditional EFL
classrooms students learn English as fragmented, decontexualized, and abstract
knowledge, separate from their experiences and real world situations. As a result,
students frequently experience difficulty making any meaningful connections between
prior and new knowledge, converting new information to their own knowledge, and
applying it in other contexts. According to Collins et al. (1989), the most natural way to
learn new skills and knowledge is by embedding them in their social and functional
contexts. Lave and Wenger (1991) outline the methods of apprenticeship learning as a
situated learning model: observation, coaching, and practice. According to this model,
learners acquire skills and knowledge through observation and mimicry of their masters
(experts) as peripheral participants in situated learning contexts. What is critical in this
learning model is comparing their own practice and cognitive models with their masters',
finding the differences between them, reflecting upon their own performances, and
appropriating those of their masters. As this process proceeds, apprentices move to more
important roles from peripheral positions and the role of masters slowly fades away.
Hypertext reading and writing satisfies at least two conditions of situated learning.
First, considering that all knowledge is situated, not isolated socially, politically, and
historically, learning with the Internet is an effective way to acquire situated knowledge
in different contexts. This can complement learning limited only to a classroom setting,
228 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

because the Internet connects learners not only with the outside world, but also with
experts in the content knowledge regarded. Tuman (1992) succinctly states, "[hypertext]
aid[s] our close reading of individual texts by providing novice readers with the web of
connections expert readers have always had" (p. 5). Therefore, in the hypertext learning
environment, the addition to learning is content knowledge from experts. Learning also
takes place as students see how experts think through hyperlinks, because hyperlinks are
not randomly chosen; rather, they are very deliberatively selected based upon the
creators' beliefs, values, ideology and pedagogy. The paths of hyperlinks demonstrate
how experts think and what they believe about the content, which is not feasible with
printed texts. As Landow (1997) ascertains, multi-links and paths of hypertexts bring
another benefit to the students, i.e., to show and lead the way of how more advanced
readers, thinkers and experts think and read the text. Hyperlinks of online texts, thus,
externalize and exemplify the way experts think alike. By following the multi-links,
students can read the experts' cognitive models and then appropriate and assimilate to
them.
Secondly, the Internet presents the knowledge, information and issues concerned in a
variety of contexts from different perspectives and approaches, unlike books which
present knowledge in limited contexts or even out of context. Learning knowledge in
many different contexts helps learners apply and adapt new knowledge to different
settings and more easily transfer from one situation to another. Whereas printed EFL
materials are often presented as fragmented and fabricated knowledge, materials online
are hypertexts interconnected with other materials situated in the gigantic web of real
contexts. Thus, reading online can furnish EFL students with better opportunities to
examine how English is used in real situations and to acquire the language and the
target culture within the context.
Other technology-integrated activities, such as collaborative writing projects, website
creation projects, and discussion boards, can facilitate situated learning in EFL
classrooms. Collaborative website creation can provide an authentic situation for students
to use English, and, during the project, they can learn both English and technology from
their peers as well as from their teachers. Online discussion boards are also another
good example to provide situated learning in EFL classrooms. On the board, students
learn the different skills of how to use English appropriately for different purposes, such
as how to argue and debate in the new language. When well-integrated and
well-situated in larger classroom activities, online discussion boards can be valuable
springboards and reflection spaces to connect and expand classroom discussions. Thus,
Sangmin Lee 229

these projects can promote not only cognitive skills but also metacognitive skills. Briefly
put, students learn the language and develop learning strategies in a more situated
context within the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978).

4. Collaborative Learning

Since knowledge is socially negotiated and constructed through interactions, learning


should be embedded in social, collaborative and meaningful activities, not as isolated
decontextualized events. Collaborative learning can bring benefits to students in many
ways. First of all, learning in collaboration is more similar to work in the real world,
which can prepare students better for real-world situations. By working in groups,
students assist and supplement each other's knowledge, skills and perspectives. Group
work is also effective in decentralizing the classroom, and relinquishing more control
from teachers to students.
Similarly, learning with computers and the Internet is also effective in reducing the
dominance of teachers and texts. The Internet contributes to decentralizing the classroom
by providing knowledge sources other than teachers and by deneutralizing texts by
providing a variety of different perspectives and interpretations. Furthermore, due to the
fact that everything is interconnected through hyperlinks, the Internet as hypertext is a
huge collaborative work by its nature. By allowing readers to create, edit, and add their
own writing, some hypertext software, such as In Memoriam, StorySpace and Intermedia,
engage learners in more active participation in collaborative construction of meaning and
writing.
There is a wide selection of technology-integrated projects that can promote
collaborative learning in EFL classrooms. Even a simple project using Word, such as
making a newspaper, can make the project more interesting and enhance collaborative
learning among students. Of course, this can be done with pen and paper, but technology
makes collaboration more efficient and seamless and students can easily accumulate and
organize their writing to present the final product. Besides, because of the polished and
professional look of the final product, the students are usually more motivated.
Online writing projects also provide more collaborative learning environments where
students can participate more actively in collaborative work, either with their classmates
or with distant partners. As previous studies ascertain (Garner & Gillingham, 1996; Kern,
1995) that networked communication increases and tremendously influences human
interactions, telecollaborative and telecommunicative projects can promote social
interactions in EFL classrooms both locally and globally. E-interactions enable
230 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

scaffolding between participants so that students can have support either from
instructors/experts and more advanced and capable peers, who are in distant places.
Online discussion boards, ListServs, Email projects, online writing centers and global
network learning projects are good examples to expand students' interactions. Through
interactions, these projects heighten students' perspective-taking and promote
self-reflection (Kirkley, Savery & Grabner-Hagen, 1998).

5. Multimedia Learning

Technology in EFL classrooms enables students to learn English with multimedia.


Dyrli and Kinnaman (1995) define multimedia as "the seamless digital integration of text,
graphics, animation, audio, still images, and motion video in a way that provides
individual users with high levels of control and interaction" (p. 95). Since the early uses
of audiovisual language labs, multimedia have been widely used in EFL classrooms.
Apparently, multimedia have aided the development of richer curricula and better
teaching strategies (Gordon, 2001). This, in turn, has motivated students and helped their
understanding of the language and the culture. Instead of flat and monotonous printed
textbooks, through different types of multimedia, students can learn English and its
culture more vividly by watching, visualizing, and listening. From this perspective,
multimedia offer a rich learning environment which cultivates constructing meaning with
multiple representation modes and leads to a better and richer understanding of detailed
and complex information (Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson & Coulson, 1992).
By providing multi-sensory opportunities for learning, technology can bring benefits
to students from the perspective of multiple intelligences (Gardener, 2001). Whereas
printed textbooks give benefits only to verbally motivated students, multimedia and
hypermedia appeal to and accommodate students with learning styles other than verbal,
such as visual, aural, kinetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal learning preferences. Thus,
new technologies make it possible for students to access ideas in multiple ways and
enable them to actively construct meaning and participate in learning (Wood, 2001).
Utilizing technology in EFL classrooms also can narrow the gap between high and
low prior knowledge students. According to Kinzer and Leu (1997), the amount of prior
knowledge is critical to making connections with and generating new knowledge.
Multimedia can fill the gap by complementing the limitations caused by the lack of prior
knowledge, because multimedia and hypermedia environments might "develop different
ways of knowing, using different media sources, depending upon which resource is most
helpful in clarifying a particular concept" (Kinzer & Leu, 1997, p. 132). Studies also note
Sangmin Lee 231

that graphics and images are essential for understanding and memorization in some
content-related learning (ChanLin, 2001). According to ChanLin, graphics and images
provide memory cues (which connect with prior knowledge) to facilitate semantic
connections in learning concepts. In many cases, visual descriptions reduce cognitive load
and help readers understand the content better. Thus, using multimedia and technology
can help narrow the discrepancy among the students of different English proficiency
levels by mediating among them.
Moreover, in the Electronic Era, knowledge and information are no longer limited to
verbal forms. Cope and Kalantizis (2000) point out the importance of a pedagogy of
multiliteracies. They maintain that meaning is made in multimodal modes where the
textual is related to and integrated with visual, audio, spatial, and other modal patterns.
Needless to say about other media, the Internet alone is an immense resource bank
which is combined with different types of multimedia and modalities. Language
education, therefore, should include all sorts of stored material including images and
sounds as well as texts, because in the real world, meaning-making is not confined only
to language. As Valmont (2003) states, "the real world does not just reside in a verbal
form, nor can be fully expressed only by language" (p. 34). Constructing meaning with
printed words alone is qualitatively different from constructing meaning with multimedia.
Technology-integrated projects
make it convenient to incorporate
nonverbal symbols into verbal
texts. With word processing
programs, PowerPoint, and web
authoring programs, students can
incorporate nonverbal symbols into
their text with ease. Figure 1 is a
PowerPoint project by Korean 6th
grade students. In this project,
[Figure 1] PowerPoint project sample they represented the theme of the
book they read (verbal symbol) by
juxtaposing the picture of Jews being transported to Auschwitz (nonverbal symbol) to
highlight the meaning of friendship during the war. By incorporating nonverbal symbols
into their project, the students learned how to construct meaning and deliver their ideas
effectively to others by orchestrating verbal and nonverbal symbols in a new language.
Through multimedia-enriched activities, students will become knowledge generators,
232 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

rather than mere knowledge consumers in the Electronic Era.

IV. TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES IN EFL CLASSROOMS

1. The Internet

The Internet revolutionized how to read and write, how to communicate, and how to
disseminate knowledge and information. Rather than learning static, linear, and somewhat
mono-perspective knowledge through textbooks, through these new channels, students
can absorb more dynamic, authentic, and non-linear knowledge. Nelson (1987) defines
hypertext as "non-sequential text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best
read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks
connected by links which offer the reader different pathways" (p. 2). These open-ended,
expandable, flexible, incomplete, non-sequential, and multi-sequential characteristics of
hypertext (e. g. printed texts - fixed, isolated and boundary materials) allow readers
more control over their reading and provide them with rich-resource learning
environments. Consequently, to make it useable based upon each student's needs and
purposes, they need to develop skills to locate information quickly and accurately, and to
evaluate information critically, rather than learning by rote memorization or passive
absorption of knowledge. In doing this, students also develop learning skills and
metacognition, which enables them to become lifetime learners.

[Figure 2] Benefits of the Internet

The Internet leads the students to self-exploration and self-discovery by allowing


Sangmin Lee 233

them to follow their own inquiry, interests, and needs. The learning outcome will
increase when students have space to choose their own topics for projects, instead of
one fixed topic for everyone. Browsing for the topic for their essays, locating the
information they need, comparing different information, and making decisions are active
processes that require critical and flexible thinking. In this light, learning with the
Internet helps the students become more active learners.
In addition, the immense amount of information from multi-perspectives on the
Internet enhances students' abilities to reflect upon their own perspectives and consider
alternative or multiple perspectives. By confronting a variety of ideas online, students
assimilate new information to their previous understanding and modify it in light of new
information. As a consequence, their understanding of content knowledge gains in depth
and detail, and their critical insight about their own perspectives and the world increases
(Strommen & Lincoln, 1992). Through unlimited resources and a great deal of different
"otherness" on the Internet, students are presumably more easily engaged in inquiry
through the process of setting their own goals and purposes, accommodating their
interests and needs, reflecting their prior knowledge and experiences, comparing with
new information, and finally reevaluating their previous egocentric perspectives.
The Internet is a valuable learning support tool in EFL classrooms by providing
linguistic exercises (Li, 1995) and authentic language materials (Lixl-Purcell, 1995),
stimulating authentic communicative exercises (Rosen, 1995), and publishing students'
works (Bowers, 1995). In a study on the use of the Internet in Korean English
classrooms, Chong (1999) concluded that the Internet a) helped enhance student
motivation and self-efficacy in learning English; b) helped students learn the target
culture; c) helped students generate knowledge rather than just consuming it; d) helped
improve student reading ability; and e) helped students participate more actively in
classroom activities. Kim and Kim (2004) discovered that the Internet is a useful
learning tool to assist students' listening comprehension skills in English by supplying
innovative materials and supporting effective teaching methods in Korean English
classrooms.
The Internet also furnishes other learning opportunities that go beyond mere
gathering of information. The suggestions for using the Internet more effectively in EFL
classrooms are a) to allow students to follow their own inquiries using the Internet; b)
to provide an opportunity for students to compare different sources and perspectives on
the same issue; c) to furnish an opportunity for learners to examine how the issue is
portrayed in English in online media; and d) to promote media literacy by examining
234 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

both verbal and nonverbal symbols and juxtaposing them.

2. Email Activity

Not only the Internet, but also email activity with the people of the target language
(through E-Pal or Key-Pal websites) can advance EFL students' multiple perspectives
by furnishing opportunities to engage them in direct communication with native speakers
of the language and reach other cultures. Through email exchanges, students can explore
and test what they have learned from the text in a more authentic context and in a
more meaningful way by corresponding with students from the target culture. Contacting
real people beyond printed textbooks can expand student learning beyond the classroom,
which not only leads to better understanding of the target culture, but also fosters
student awareness of their own culture. This activity can expand the students' cultural
awareness and gain what Giroux (1994: p. 32) calls "encounter with otherness," through
which the students' world moves their ideas across time, space, and culture, abandons
cultural stereotypes, revises their thoughts and expands their empathy toward other
people.

[Figure 3] Benefits of Email

The E-pal activity is an authentic learning situation to bring real world relevance to
EFL classrooms and to practice language skills. Kern (1995) also ascertains the benefits
of international email exchange as an organizer to make a project a meaningful
experience for ESL/EFL students. Writing to their E-pals will make a great difference in
many senses compared with writing an essay. First of all, it offers a real audience for
Sangmin Lee 235

their writing, which allows students to write in a more long-term, dialogic and
interactive way, rather than a one-time writing assignment. Having an authentic
audience generates an authentic purpose for writing and the use of authentic and live
English. As a writing activity, by providing a real audience and a real purpose for
writing, the E-pal activity can enhance student motivation and promote their control over
their own learning. Since the primary goal of email exchange is communication with
others, this activity also can help develop interpersonal and social communication skills.
These communication skills, in turn, affect their metalinguistic skills, because when they
write emails, students think about their own audience. E-mail, on the other hand, as a
text-based medium, encourages communication without the benefit of having a "live"
person to clarify meaning. As a result, students must think carefully about how to relate
their thoughts to others. Moreover, the delayed responses that are inherent in email
exchanges foster a reflectivity that may be absent from traditional learning environments
(Poole, 2000). In short, these attributes of email can contribute to improving EFL student
writing and communicative skills in a more natural way.
There are several pedagogical aspects that teachers need to take into consideration
when they begin an international E-pal activity in EFL classrooms. First, this activity
requires much preparation as the teacher must find the email partners (or a partner
class) according to the students' proficiency levels and interests and modulate the
different schedules of different school systems or different countries. Second, monitoring
during the activity is essential. The teacher should check to see if there are any cultural
stereotypes or misrepresentations of race and culture in students' emails. The teacher
should also check their language to see if there is any inappropriate language being
used. In short, he/she needs to moderate the whole process. This is somewhat difficult
since email is a private activity; thus, it will be useful if he/she uses an E-pal site that
enables the teacher to monitor students' ongoing email correspondence.

3. Online Discussion Board

As a new form of communication and writing space, a discussion board can provide
opportunities to explore a new medium, express ideas to a real audience, and encounter
multiple and alternative views. To date, a large number of studies have reported the
benefits of discussion boards in learning. Laurillard (1995) notes that the online forum
enabled teacher-student and student-student dialogue that led to increased discussion,
interaction and reflection, while motivating students and enhancing the flexibility of
learning. Furthermore, a discussion board can help make students' articulation of inner
236 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

speech more visible and clear (Ede & Lunsford, 1990; Wells, 2000). It is also reported
that online conferencing fostered in-depth discussion and promoted reflective and critical
thinking (Hara, Bonk & Angeli, 2000). A number of previous studies also conclude that
asynchronous discussion can facilitate collaboration and interaction between students and
teachers and among students, even beyond classrooms. Harasim (1994) refers to online
discussion as "an augmented environment for collaborative learning and teaching giving
learners flexibility, choice and freedom and enabling divergent thinking through idea
generation" (p. 60). Bober and Dennen (2001) also note that online discussion helped
students to share knowledge by developing shared ground and intersubjectivity among
the participants. Hiltz (1994) argues as well that online conferencing supported
interpersonal exchange, which led students to engage in the social construction of
knowledge. Carlson (1995) contends that a computerized writing environment can improve
the quality of writing by bridging the gap between thinking (process) and writing
(product).

[Figure 4] Benefits of Discussion Board

Benefits of asynchronous discussion also include more active and equal participation
of the students (Brush et al., 2002; Cecez-Kecmanoiv, 1999; Cooper & Selfe, 1990; Myers,
1993; Spitzer, 1989), more time to reflect upon others' postings and their own before
posting and better opportunities to engage in multiple viewpoints on the on-going topics
(Beach & Lundell, 1998; Cooper & Selfe, 1990; Cohen & Riel, 1989; Wells, 2000). In sum,
electronic discussion boards can encourage student engagement, reflection, and inquiry,
and promote ownership of their learning.
Sangmin Lee 237

As with the email activity, a discussion board also has great potential for EFL
classrooms, both as writing and discussion activities. Instead of writing an essay to the
teacher, on the discussion board, students are engaged in the process of negotiation of
meaning. Understanding others' messages and making themselves understood by others
on the board provides a real purpose for using English to the students within the
discourse community. During the process of the negotiation of meaning, discussion
boards strongly support the co-construction of knowledge among students and foster the
construction of a learning community, which is a key to constructivism. Moreover,
discussion boards help students produce more outcomes in English. Since students have
more time to reflect upon their usage of English before posting their messages on the
board, both their anxiety and inhibition levels can be lowered (Chang, 2003). This is also
a good opportunity to engage shy students, who do not actively participate in
face-to-face discussions, in conversation. Overall, computer-mediated communication
increases the level of interaction and embraces different types of interaction in EFL
classrooms, which permits students to co-construct knowledge and link reflection and
interaction (Salaberry, 2001; Warschauer, 1997).
Here are the tips for the EFL teachers who want to use a discussion board in their
classrooms. Even though there is a significant amount of previous studies which claim the
positive relationship between using a discussion board and learning outcomes, it does not
guarantee the success in every classroom. The teacher must carefully consider the
dynamics of the classroom environment before launching a discussion board, since there are
many variables in all classroom environments. Therefore, the success of a discussion board
activity often depends on the teacher's role and ability to utilize appropriate techniques to
moderate the activity and orchestrate it with other classroom activities. For example,
teachers need to carefully formulate questions on the discussion board to stimulate
students' inquiry and motivate them so that more students can participate in the discussion.
In addition, teacher's replies provide valuable feedback, which supports students both
cognitively and affectively and helps them develop a higher level of language proficiency.

V. SHIFTING ROLES OF TEACHERS

Doubtlessly, technology in EFL classrooms has transformed the role of the teacher. In
this environment, teachers are less authoritative and more collaborative figures (Schofield,
1995); as a result, it promotes more student-centered classrooms. The reader-centered
feature of hypertext and the Internet as a resource tool also reconfigures the roles of the
238 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

students and the teacher by deneutralizing of texts and decentering of the teacher.
However, relinquishing the proscenium does not mean that the teacher's role is
diminished. Rather, it becomes more important as the teacher becomes a designer,
planner, moderator, facilitator, coach, co-learner and supporter of students' learning. As
designers and planners, teachers take responsibility to discover students' needs, interests
and goals and bridge them with learning in the classroom. They also act as mediators
between the technology and the students to integrate the technology effectively and
appropriately into a broader context in accordance with the students' needs and the
teacher's own pedagogy. As facilitators, they help students develop their metacognitive
skills, encourage students to think about what they need to know, and empower them to
be self-regulated and responsible for their learning. In the classrooms, teachers support
students to be active, significant, functional and critical members who can participate in
meaning-making in the real-world discourse community.

[Figure 5] The Location of Technology-Integrated Activities

Although technology can bring a great deal of benefits to learners, it cannot be a


panacea to education. If it is not properly integrated into learning contexts and
effectively used, students cannot take any advantages in the use of technology in
education. For example, the fact that abundant information is available on the Internet
does not guarantee better education. The role of teachers, here, is to guide, facilitate, and
assist students to sort out which information is appropriate for their current needs and
interests. Teachers need to provide guidance of when students need to use technology,
Sangmin Lee 239

when they need to use more traditional ways, such as books (since technology is not
always the best tool), what types of technologies they need, and for what purposes they
use technology. Simply using technology in the classrooms without sound pedagogical
consideration would not benefit students. As Figure 5 shows, each technology is located
in one of the four dimensions between individualized learning and collaborative learning
and between student-centered learning and computer-centered instruction. Their locations,
yet, are not fixed; rather, they are malleable to use. For instance, website creation can
be either an individual activity or a collaborative one depending on how it is utilized.
Teachers need to select an appropriate tool and creatively incorporate it according to
their learning objectives and each classroom context.
Despite the potential benefits of technology in EFL classrooms, it is not the tool that
makes learning successful; it is the people. As Lanksheare et al. (2000) clearly state,
technology does not generically embed pedagogical views or educational implications in
them, because they were not originally created or designed for educational purposes.
Thus, when teachers use these tools in educational settings, they need to adapt and use
them for their own context, purposes, goals, and ideas, and most importantly, with
"critical technological pedagogy" (Selfe, 1990).
Technology is deeply embedded in a larger socio-political context thus, without
critically considering all the potential dangers, variables, and contexts of the use of
technology, it could exacerbate the status quo. Duin and Hansen (1994) warn about the
potential limitations of technology as well as its benefits, when using it without a critical
perspective:

These networks, for the most part, encouraged an exchange of ideas for
cooperative meaning making, involving a wider spectrum of student voices.
However, without the benefits of critical perspective and planning, networks
can exacerbate the potential to inhibit interaction and collaboration, permit
students to avoid active participation and learning, allow only a select few to
control the power, and limit accessibility. (p. 104)

Furthermore, computers are a value-ridden system. As Handa (1990) argues, "The


computer is not simply neutral. Emerging at a particular period in time, in a particular
social context, the computer is a tool reflecting the politics and ideology of both" (p.
161). Hence, teachers should not let technology be a transparent mediator; they need to
be aware of how technology is socially constructed and should "construct with students
240 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

critical literacy practices that bring texts, the world represented, and consciousness into
an ideological relationship" (Myers, 2002, p. 134).
As technology is a mediating tool with which we can communicate, learn and extend
our thinking, by the same token, language is another technology with, through, and in
which we think and learn about the world, construct meaning, and express ourselves. In
this light, both are technologies and at the same time, mediators. Both of them, as
cultural artifacts, are never meant to be separate from their contexts, such as political,
economic, historical, and sociocultural backgrounds. They are always burdened with
certain values and beliefs, which do not necessarily serve students' values or benefit
them. Therefore, teachers need to be aware of the potential benefits of technology, as
well as the potential dangers, of students becoming passive receivers of those values
laden in language and technology without critical thinking (Sung, 2003).
In EFL classrooms, students position themselves in the world while learning a new
language and technology; in other words, they establish their identity and the
relationships with others. Therefore, in technology-supported EFL classrooms, the
teachers are dealing with two heavily value-ridden systems, language and technology.
On the one hand, technology "can liberate students, who discover new ways of sharing
and receiving information, of reacting and responding to their own texts and those of
others" (Duin & Hansen, 1994, p. 90). However, on the other hand, without the teacher's
intentional, careful, and critical guidance, it "can repress students' voices, by sustaining
existing social and political systems that characterize the dark side of our educational
system" (Duin & Hansen, 1994, p. 90).
Using technology in EFL classrooms, after all, immensely depends on the teacher's
epistemology. Besides, despite the potential benefits, technology is not for everyone
(Hiltz, 1995). Classrooms are complex learning environments in which numerous
variables, factors, and processes are comprised in relation to other factors (Salomon,
1996). Thus, when incorporating technology into EFL classrooms, teachers should
carefully consider the factors and variables before making decisions to benefit students.
As Riel (1990) notes, "New tools alone do not create educational change. The power is
not in the tool but in the community that can be brought together and the collective
vision that they share for redefining classroom learning" (p. 35). Technologies are always
shaped and socially constructed by the people who use them in a specific context and
the value of language and technology in education depends greatly on the community
that uses them. The challenge, therefore, is how teachers can provide a space and
context for students to voice their experiences for their own purposes and in their own
Sangmin Lee 241

interests in their language without losing their own discourses to the hegemonic
discourse of English.
People tend to reproduce the system; that is, we tend to teach as we were taught.
However, the next generation's learning mechanism will be quite different from ours.
Already their learning process and strategies have diverged from ours, both cognitively
and socio-cognitively. There may not be a "best way," after all. Accordingly, it is each
teacher's responsibility to determine and construct "their own best ways," by reflecting
upon current pedagogy, deciphering their students' needs and purposes, continually
re-defining and re-adjusting the classroom discourse, and deciding how to support
student learning.

VI. CONCLUSION

This paper explored how technology can be a component of constructivist learning


environments to support student learning in EFL classrooms. Constructivism emphasizes
that meaning and knowledge reside within the community where they are used, not in
the word in the absolute sense. From this perspective, literacy becomes a set of socially
organized practices which make use of a symbolic system and the technology for
producing and disseminating it (Chong, 1998), in order to exchange ideas, jointly
construct, negotiate meaning, and become aware of the dialogic process (Gardner, 2001).
Literacy cannot be understood outside of social contexts of use, as it means different
things to different people across communities and cultures. Therefore, second/foreign
language education should go beyond functional literacy (how to read and write) in ways
that situate content knowledge within the various social milieu around language. It
involves how to read meanings, how to view the world, reality, and ourselves as well as
others. Literacy education, in Freire's (1987) term, is to teach how to read the world, not
just the word, and learning a new language, in Kern's (2000) term, involves thinking
differently about the language and the culture.
Additionally, constructivism views learning as a social construction of knowledge
through interactions with others, not as a phenomenon inside an individual's head.
Therefore, language should be taught as discursive knowledge, not as an automatically
or readily transferable subset of skills or abilities. However, it is not simple to bring in
the social contexts of using language into the EFL classrooms as they are remote from
its authentic discourse communities. Traditionally, EFL students have had very limited
language learning experiences with textbooks and classroom teachers. Technology now
242 Translating Constructivism into EFL Classrooms through the Use of Technology

offers new and exciting opportunities for EFL students to go beyond textbooks and
classroom walls.
Undoubtedly, technology has penetrated every area of human life. Education is no
exception. Technology has brought a fundamental change in the ways we communicate,
how we read and write, and how we learn and teach. Not only have methods changed;
technology has reshaped the very nature and concept of communication and learning. If
used appropriately and effectively, it can bring a great deal of benefit to students. As a
resource tool, it can provide extensive resources in content areas that go far beyond
those of printed texts. As a communicative tool, technology can connect students with
others beyond the four walls of classrooms and encourage extending and expanding their
views beyond their own contexts. Technology is a constructive tool in supporting
students to construct meaning and being generators of knowledge in real life discourse.
It can also serve as a cognitive tool to develop students' metacognitive skills so that
they may become self-directed lifetime learners. Lastly, it should be a situated learning
tool, embedded in and designed for each classroom context; it should be a component of
constructivism and a functional environment for learning. The list of the benefits of
technology discussed in this paper is not exhaustive; there are other potential benefits
yet to be explored.
The Internet, email, and discussion board activities discussed in this paper can be
vehicles to translate constructivist philosophy into actual practice in EFL classrooms.
Instead of skill and drill and rote memorization activities grounded in behaviorism, these
technology-supported activities support meaningful learning and situated knowledge in
context. While cognitivism views learning as an individual cognitive activity,
constructivism values interaction, communication, learning communities, and collaboration
during the learning process. Technology-supported activities facilitate these key elements
of constructivism by connecting learners to their peers and the world outside.
Technology has great potential; it has a transformative power (to bring fundamental
change in education and pedagogy) beyond mere incremental use (to assist traditional
classrooms to improve efficiency) when effectively and creatively embedded in curricula.
Being aware of both the potentials and limitations of technology and choosing how to
use it in the educational setting is an individual teachers' choice. Technology use in
education is still in its rudimentary stage and there are not many empirically examined
and conclusively proven results. It is in teachers' hands to best support the students to
be functional members of the society and become lifetime learners who have the ability
to think and act critically with the power to control their own lives with the new
Sangmin Lee 243

language.

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Key words: constructivism, technology, EFL classrooms


Author(s): Lee, Sangmin (Woosong University), mleepsu@yahoo.com,
office phone: 042) 630-9783

received: March 10, 2005


accepted: May 5, 2005