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Douglas DeLong
ALTIA Conference Presentation
August 3, 1999
Nagoya Congress Center
Nagoya, Japan

Using the Internet in the ESL Classroom
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet!

Good Morning. I'm very happy to be here today.

My name is Douglas DeLong. I've been teaching English in Japan for almost 7 years, and now I'm teaching in Mihara.

I've been invited to speak to you today because I LOVE the Internet! And I want to help you to stop worrying and LOVE the Internet!

I'd like to begin by talking about the Internet generally, and then I'll discuss how we can use the Internet in our classrooms.

First, I'd like to ask you a few questions.

-How many of you have never used the Internet?
-How many of you think the Internet is difficult to use?
-How many of you use the Internet in your school now with your students?
-How many of you have a personal or class web page?

So What Exactly is the Internet Anyway?

Well, the Internet is just a lot of computers connected to each other. If you have a computer, you can connect to all these other computers, and use your computer to find information about almost anything and communicate with people from around the world.

The Internet has only become a popular mass medium in the last few years, and it really is still just a baby. But it has already changed the way millions of people around the world live their lives. It has made their lives more interesting, productive, and convenient. Computer technology is improving very quickly and so we can look forward to even more amazing things from the Internet in the next 5-10 years.

Right now, the Internet is used for mainly 3 things: Email, newsgroups or mailing lists, and the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web, which is the largest part of the Internet, is made up of millions of web sites. These web sites can be just one page or many pages. The web uses something called hypertext links. That just means that pages are connected to other pages. So if you click on one of these links, you will go to another page that has related information. Going from page to page using these links is called web surfing.

A good way to think about the World Wide Web is to think of it as a giant library and the web sites as the books in that library. In many ways, being connected to the web really is like having the world's largest library right in your home or school.

So What Can You Do on the Internet?

Before I talk about the other areas of the Internet, let me tell you how the Internet has changed my life.

When I first came to Japan in 1991, I found that I was a little homesick for my hometown, which is Denver, Colorado. I wanted to know what was happening in Denver, so I called The Denver Post newspaper and asked them to mail the Sunday edition of the newspaper to me. So every week I got the Sunday Denver Post delivered to my mailbox. It was great. The only problem was that the newspaper arrived in my mailbox six weeks after it was published.

But I didn't mind. Even old news from home was better than no news.

But now, in 1999, I get up in the morning, connect to the Internet, and read The Denver Post every day on my computer. And it's not six weeks late! In fact, I can read many things before people in Denver will read the same thing in the printed newspaper. And if I get tired of reading The Denver Post, I can choose to read a newspaper from almost any city in the world! The same is true for magazines. You can now read hundreds of magazines online.

But that's not all. I can also use the Internet to listen to my hometown radio stations. I can use video on the Internet to watch news in English. I can order any book in English and it will be delivered to my door. I can even order my favorite American food, and it will be sent to me.

So sometimes, I almost forget that I live in Japan!

Before I connected to the Internet, I didn't write very many letters. It was too much trouble. I had to write the letter and put it in an envelope, then go to the post office, buy a stamp, and send the letter. Then, 5 or 6 days later, my letter would arrive in the U.S. If I was lucky, maybe I got a reply to my letter a month or two months after I sent it.

Now, when I want to write a letter, I just turn on my computer, write an email, click on send, and the letter arrives in my friends email box in just a few seconds. And I can look forward to getting a reply to my letter very quickly. So these days, I keep in touch with lots of friends all over the world.

So in many ways, the Internet has made the world a lot smaller. I know it has made my life a lot more convenient. For someone who is living in another country, a long way from home, it's a wonderful way to stay connected to your home country. And it has changed the way millions of people live their lives every day.

So What is the Internet Really About and How Can it Help Me
to Teach English and Help My Students to Learn English?

First, the Internet is about INFORMATION. It's a magic answer machine. On the World Wide Web you can find information about tropical fish, baseball, mexican food, UFO's, The Beatles, giraffes, Godzilla, or bonzai trees. You really can find information about almost anything you can think of.

If you're going to take a trip to Paris, you can find information about hotels in Paris, and when you find one you like, you can make a reservation right on your computer. You can even book your flight online. You can plan your whole vacation on the Internet.

And of course, almost every major company has a web site where you can find information about their products, and of course, buy those products. In fact, online shopping is one of the most popular things that people are doing on the Internet these days.

Secondly, the Internet is about COMMUNICATION. I mentioned email before. It's the most popular way to communicate on the Internet. But you can also communicate in real-time by going to a chat room, where you can type what you want to say, and other people in the room will "chat" with you by typing their messages.

You can also communicate in real-time privately, with just one other person, using software like America Online's Instant Messenger. I use my Instant Messenger to communicate with my family and friends in the U.S. It's much cheaper than using the telephone, because I'm just being charged for a local phone call.

Now, of course, you can also use special software to actually talk to another person on the Internet, using your voice. These Internet telephones are making the giant telephone companies very nervous, because they are afraid that if this becomes too popular, people will stop using the telephone, because it's much cheaper to talk on the Internet.

But right now the voice quality of Internet telephones is not as good as a regular phone, and of course, you are very limited in who you can talk to. In fact, you can only talk to people who have the same software program on their computer. But in the next few years, as the technology improves, Internet telephones may become very popular.

Another popular way to communicate is by using Newsgroups or Mailing Lists. Newsgroups are organized according to topic. So if you're interested in classic cars, for example, you can read messages from other people from around the world who are interested in classic cars. And, of course, you can write your own messages to add to the discussion. This kind of communication is a very wide-open and free discussion of anything related to the topic of the newsgroup. And there are newsgroups for almost any subject you can think of.

Mailing lists are similar to newsgroups, except that you sign up to put your name on the list, and then whenever a list member writes a message, it is sent to the email box of everyone on the list.

So newsgroups and mailing lists are a great way for you, as English teachers, to communicate with other English teachers from all over the world about teaching ideas. Or maybe you have a question about English or about teaching. Just send your question to the group and someone will send you an answer.

So how can the Internet help us to teach English and to study English?

Well, first of all, there are hundreds of ESL web sites. Some are for students, and some are for teachers. Some are for both. I'd like to talk to you about my web site, the Tower of English, as a way to show you what is possible on the Internet for teachers and students.

The Tower of English

I created the Tower of English about one and a half years ago. I wanted to create a fun and friendly place for ESL students to go and practice using English. I also wanted to make it easy for students to communicate with other students from around the world. The site is designed for students, but of course teachers will also find a lot of interesting resources that they can adapt for classroom use. It's been designed to be used by students in the classroom or at home as self-study. It offers something for every level of English. Although it's not designed for children, there are a lot of resources that young learners would be able to use. And there are plenty of exciting resources on the web that are designed specifically for children.

There are many very interesting and useful ESL web sites. Many of them offer activities, games, and quizzes for listening, grammar, and reading comprehension designed especially for students who are studying English. I took a little different approach to the Tower of English. I wanted my site to be kind of a guide to the Internet for students. I believe that activities and quizzes are very useful, but I think the best way to learn English is to get involved with authentic English. That is, real English as spoken and written by native English speakers.

And the Internet is the perfect place to find authentic English. So I've used the Tower of English to introduce students to places where they find and use real, authentic English. I've suggested some ideas for projects related to these sources, and have given students a lot of choices.

Recently, for example, students have been introduced to an artist who makes beautiful sculptures from egg shells. They have gotten involved in a project to feed hungry people by just clicking a button. And they have signed up to send their name to Mars!

The Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander is scheduled for launch on April 10, 2001. It is scheduled to land on Mars on Jan. 22, 2002, and begin exploring Mars. So NASA has a web page where you can send your name to them. They will put your name on a CD-ROM that will be put onboard the spacecraft and sent to Mars. Then they will give you a very nice certificate. So in a couple of years, you'll be able to look up into the sky and find Mars, and know that your name is up there!

I think that's pretty cool! And who knows, maybe someday you'll get an email from a Martian!

Anyway, while students are involved in these various projects, they are using real English to accomplish their goals.

Another very popular part of the Tower of English is called TowerPals. It's an easy way to find an email pen pal from another country. Right now, there are about 200 TowerPals from almost 40 different countries. There's also a place where ESL classes from around the world can meet each other and begin email projects with each other. These email projects are great for learning about other students' cultures and improving their English writing ability.

Students can also visit the Tower of English Debate Hall. There they can find links to web sites with information about the debate issue, and then they can write their opinion of the issue. Their opinion is then published on the site, along with the opinions of students from other countries.

Right now, the debate is about Gun Control. After the tragic shootings in Colorado in April, gun control became a very important and timely topic. So with web sites on the Internet, it's important to keep them updated and timely. The ability to do that is one of the strengths of this new medium.

What Else Can Students and Teachers Do on the Internet?

These days, it's become much easier to make your own web site. So many students are working together to create very interesting and useful web sites. These students might be in the same class, or they might be in different countries. At the Tower of English, I have a page called the Project Gallery. There you can find links to ESL student projects from around the world, and even learn how to get your students involved in making their own web page.

ThinkQuest is an organization that has a contest every year and gives awards to the best student web sites. One of the winners last year was an amazing web site about Leonardo DaVinci. It was created by a team of students. Half of the team came from a high school in New York and the other half of the team came from a high school in Sweden.

Working on a web site gives students a chance to be creative and to learn how to work together with other people for a common goal, which is a very important skill to have when you finish school and go out into the business world. Creating a web site gives students a real sense of satisfaction and motivates them to learn on their own. And, of course, if their web site is in English, it's a great way for them to improve their English level.

And of course, many teachers, like myself, have created their own web sites.This is really a revolution because it allows teachers to self-publish; to become their own publishers. You don't have to write something and then try to find a publishing company to publish it. You write it, put it on the Internet, and you're a published writer!

One of the most important developments in the last couple of years on the Internet is the big increase in the number of educational online courses being offered. These distance learning programs give you the chance to take a course right on your computer from the comfort of your home. You can actually receive a degree from a university by studying at home on your computer. For people who can't attend a regular school or university, this is a very exciting alternative.

And so now, you can find many online English courses on the Internet. You can use video and audio to have a real-time class with, for example, your teacher in the U.S. and other students from Asia, or Europe, or South America.

Another interesting development is that some ESL publishers are creating web sites that offer online activities to go along with the classroom textbook. The Springboard text from Oxford University Press is an excellent example of this.

For example, you can use Chapter 4 in the textbook to talk about fashion in class, and then go online and use the Springboard website to have your students try some online activities related to fashion.

Other teachers are working as private tutors on the Internet. These teachers use email or other programs to communicate privately with their students. This is a great way for students to improve their English and also a great way for teachers to get some extra income.

So is the Internet Perfect?

Well, no, there are some problems, but I'm here to tell you not to worry about the Internet.

What are some of the problems?

First, some people think that computers and the Internet are too difficult to use. They think you have to be a computer expert to understand how to use the Internet.

There are a lot of things to learn about using the Internet. But it's really not so complicated. In fact, as technology has improved, it has become easier and easier to use the Internet and computers. So what's the best way to learn how to use the Internet?

That's right. Get on the Internet! Let the Internet be your teacher. You will find lots of information and tutorials about how to use the Internet on the Internet! If you're a beginner, just use a Beginner's Guide to the Internet to learn the basics. And as you learn, you'll find the answers to your questions on the Internet.

Remember that the Internet is the magic answer machine!

So don't worry about the Internet being too difficult. It's really very easy to use. And it's getting easier all the time. The goal of computer designers is to make your computer just as easy to use as your television.

So just turn on your computer and go for it!

Secondly, many people are afraid that the Internet and computers will someday completely take over the role of teacher.

Personally, I don't think the Internet will ever take the place of the classroom teacher teaching English face-to-face with students. The Internet has its limits when it comes to learning English. The biggest one is that it isn't very good at letting students practice conversational English. But as a supplement to classroom learning, the Internet is very effective.


Because students, especially young students, really love using computers. They seem to have a natural ability to understand computers. And when a student enjoys doing something, he is more motivated to learn. When used as self-study at school or at home, the Internet allows the student to choose what and how he wants to study English, and gives him control over his learning experience.

Of course, there are many wonderful CD-ROM programs for learning English also. If you're going to set up a language lab in your school, I think you should use a combination of CD-ROM programs and the Internet, as well as videos and listening tapes to provide a full multi-media experience.

You should set up programs that allow the students to surf the web, but in a controlled manner. That is, they need to have a goal, something to work towards. You should be able to find lots of web sites, starting with the Tower of English, where you can find ideas for such activities and projects.

Thirdly, there is the problem of Internet addiction. This is a real problem for some people. The Internet can be such a compelling and interesting experience that it can draw you into the computer and you can lose all sense of time. It's not unusual for a person to go online and then to discover, much to his surprise, that he's been online for several hours, when he thought it was a much shorter time.

So the Internet is like anything else. It's better to use it in moderation. In the classroom, you would probably want to schedule specific times for Internet use and limit students in the amount of time they spend online.

Fourthly, some people worry that students will go to inappropriate web sites. Well, there is software available to block out certain kinds of sexually explicit web sites, for example. But personally, I don't believe in using this kind of software. I think it's really just a form of censorship, and I think the Internet has to be a completly free medium.

Besides, a lot of times, this sort of filtering software doesn't do what it's supposed to do. For example, it may block a student from finding information about breast cancer because it found the word "breast" on the page.

So what do you do you if you're worried about what your students are looking at? Well, first, I would tell them what kind of Internet activity is acceptable and what kind is unacceptable. And then I would monitor their activity as much as possible. Remember that students should be given a goal when they are using the Internet. Don't just put them in front of the computer and tell them to start surfing.

Let's Review What We Can Do on the Internet!

What can students do?

Students can communicate with other students from around the world.

Students can use web pages to find information about things they are interested in. They can read, write, and listen to authentic English.

Students can work with other students to create their own web pages.

What can teachers do?

Teachers can find an incredible amount of resources for teaching English, including many teaching ideas and complete lesson plans.

Teachers can communicate with other teachers from around the world to exchange information.

Teachers can create their own web pages.

And of course, one of the great things teachers can do on the Internet is find a job. I'm looking for a new job for next year, and so I'm able to check hundreds of job listings for jobs all over the world. And since I have my resume online, it's easy to email it to any prospective employer.

So Should You Use the Internet With Your Students?

Personally, I think it's very important that schools have access to the Internet. The U.S. has set a goal of having every school in the country connected. And so far about 80% of American schools have been connected to the Internet.

The Internet is not something that's coming in the future. It's here now, and I believe that schools that are not connected are going to get left behind. And teachers who don't use or understand the Internet are going to be at a disadvantage.

So I would say to you, as teachers, that if you don't know much about the Internet, now is the time to learn. If you don't have a computer, buy one. If you can't afford to buy one now, find someplace where you can access the Internet, like a library or an Internet cafe, and start to use the Internet. Or find someplace where you can take computer and Internet lessons.

If your school doesn't have Internet access, find out if there is a plan to provide access in the future. Start meeting with other teachers and administrators and organizing plans.

Don't get left behind! Now is the time to stop worrying and love the Internet!

Thank you very much.