With the advent of networked computers and Internet technology, computer-based instruction has been widely used in language classrooms throughout the United States. Computer technologies have dramatically changed the way people gather information, conduct research and communicate with others worldwide. Considering the tremendous startup expenses, copyright issues, objectionable materials and other potential disadvantages of technology, much research has been conducted regarding the effectiveness of, and better strategies for, technology integration. Taking the characteristics of language learning into account, this article helps answer two important questions: Do we need technology in language classrooms? And what kinds of services do computer technologies provide for these classrooms?
Web-based writing instruction has proved to be an important factor in enhancing the writing quality of low-ability English as a foreign language (EFL) students. In a study designed to examine the effectiveness of Web-based instruction in the writing of freshman EFL students, Al-Jarf (2004) found that the use of Web-based lessons as a supplement to traditional in-class writing instruction was significantly more effective than teaching which depended on the textbook alone. The experimental group of students received online instruction in which they posted their own threads, short paragraphs, stories and poems on a discussion board. They also located information from the Internet, as well as wrote paragraphs and checked their own spelling using Microsoft Word.
In another study, Hertel (2003) describes an intercultural e-mail exchange at the college level where U.S. students in a beginning Spanish class and Mexican students in an intermediate English as a Second Language class corresponded weekly for one semester. Survey results revealed this student-centered endeavor had the potential to change cultural attitudes, increase knowledge and awareness of other cultures, foster language acquisition, as well as boost student interest and motivation in language and cultural studies.
Bernhardt, Rivera and Kamil conducted a study in 2004 to examine the practicality and efficiency of Web-based placement testing for college-level language programs. Qualitative analysis of the data indicated that students, administrators and instructors benefited from the online placement tests. For students, accessing a placement test at their convenience without making an extra summer trip to campus was seen as an incredible time-saver. At the same time, having students participate in an academic exercise prior to arriving on campus sends a positive message regarding the importance and prestige of the language program at the university. For administrators, the time saved by eliminating this extra step throughout a summer orientation period is significant. Supervisors and instructors reported that more effective decisions were made when they had time to contemplate their students' performances, which brought them greater confidence in their curriculum when they encountered students at the beginning of a class session.
However, Chikamatsu (2003) conducted a study to examine the effects of computers on writing efficiency and quality among intermediate learners of Japanese who found computer use neither sped up nor slowed down their writing. Its use also did not facilitate writing efficiency in composition. Yet computer use did improve accuracy at the word level, indicating that learners benefited from computer writing. The study also showed that a possible explanation for the apparent ineffectiveness of computer use was that students might not have been skillful typists. For logographic languages such as Japanese and Chinese, which have input processes different from those of English and other Indo-European languages, computer use by second language learners is relatively uncommon and its impact on writing is uncertain. …