Schetzer & Warschauer (2000) in their article An Electronic Literacy Approach to Network-Based Language Teaching, discussed the conceptual framework of the development of electronic literacy, its classroom application and implication for research in this area.
What they have pointed out about the definition of ‘literacy’ is illuminating. While traditionally, a literate person means being able to read and write, the word ‘literacy’ has to be redefined in this new information era. Anyone who doesn’t know how to use computer to access information would be left out and deprived of much benefits in today’s society. While Internet literate people are able to book train tickets online by several clicks on the mouse, immigrant workers who feel at a loss in front a computer will have to get up before sunrise, travel to the station and stand in queue for several hours before they could get a most cherished ticket for home— not to mention that it is still possible that they might not be able to get one even after such painstaking effort. ‘Electronic literacy’ just means so much, and perhaps more.
Internet is a hotpot of information originating from any unchecked source. Newcomers to the electronic world and immature users such as teenagers need to be guided to select the information judiciously and use the internet to their own advantage, lest they get lost in this dazzling unknown territory. If an important part of our life is spent on the Internet, teaching appropriate use of informational technology through language teaching is just as important as teaching language through using informational technology. And it’s best if both ends are considered at the same time.
Although teenage students (which are my major concern) are quite familiar with the Internet nowadays, it is still necessary to teach them how to select the information to their own use. Some of the suggestions for classroom application in the article are worth a try.
Doing a research project is a good way to improve reading skills, such as skipping and scanning for the information they need. The research can be about anything that they are interested in, such as collecting information for a profile of a basketball star, about the places they want to visit abroad. To do these, the language teacher should also be a proficient user of the internet and able to teach the students the techniques for checking the reliability of the information and teach issues related to Netiquette, copyright, censorship etc.
For communication, keeping contact with a foreign friend though email can provide the students opportunities to get in touch with a native speaker and learn the foreign language and culture from the pen pal. A class website in English would be a good platform for the students to share their joys and concerns. Students can practice writing by initiating topics or responding to others’ words.
However,it is not so practical for a language teacher to teach how to create, maintain and market a website in a foreign language, especially when the main target is still to get good grades in exams. This might be an extracurricular project some students work on with a language teacher plus a technology teacher.
In sum, it is necessary, useful and important to incorporate teaching the use of IT into the aims of language teaching though it would naturally be more demanding on the language teacher. I think the status quo in China will remain “teaching English through using IT" for a period of time— though even this may not be a common practice, but the idea of teaching language in order to use IT provides us a new perspective to reflect on and guide our teaching. Hopefully, the two aims mentioned in the beginning of this passage will be realized in a balanced manner.