CALL colloquium – KOTESOL 2004

Here’s my 10 minute introduction to online homework to be presented at the CALL colloquium, “CALL in context: incorporating CALL into specific curriculums in Korea”, at the 2004 international KOTESOL conference:

Online Homework

Online homework works well with Korean university students as nearly all have personal computers and all have access to university computer labs. I’ve been assigning online homework for about three years now and I just had my first student who was unable to do online homework, a woman in a continuing education class who is over 60.

1. Preteaching vocabulary

Having students do vocabulary work at home means more time for communicative activities in class. I like using the internet better than paper handouts because I can use colored pictures and students get feedback as to which answers are correct from the computer.

2. Reviewing vocabulary

Imagine you’ve given the vocabulary test, graded it, and given it back. How can you encourage students to go learn the words they missed on the test now that the assessment is over? I offer extra credit if students post a message about a word they missed on the test. On students can do just that. I ask them to post a message with a sentence that contains the word, the source of the sentence, an explanation of the sentence, and a definition for the word.

Usually there are several students writing about the same word. I ask them to reply to each other because if each person starts a new topic the board will be harder to use. I’d rather have one thread with 20 examples, than 20 threads with one example each. For example:

Ultimately, this could be a collective vocabulary journal. One student might collect a few example sentences for a few different words, but together our students can share hundreds of examples of thousands of words.

With lower level classes, directions will often be a major issue. It’s best to have one or two classes in the computer lab to show students what to do.

3. Extending grammar knowledge

In New Interchange 2, comparisons are studied in the context of houses and apartments. Students spend their time learning how to compare apartments, but will they be able to apply this grammar to other topics?

To help them, I’ve set up Here students share example sentences that contain the grammar in question in different contexts. In this thread, my colleague’s students have posted sentences comparing the number of CDs owned by different family members, the number of home runs hit by different baseball players, the approval rates of different candidates, the popularity of different movie stars, the number of restaurants in different areas of Seoul, etc. –

I suggest that my students find their examples in books, newspapers, or on TV shows or web sites, but many of my colleague’s students have written their own sentences. This is great in that learners are personalizing the activity and saying something that’s important to them. However, there are lots of mistakes and it may take my colleague a while to respond to them all. He should, though, to maximize the learning potential of this task. At the very least he has students thinking about using the grammar to express ideas unrelated to houses and apartments.

As with the vocabulary message board, directions are a major issue here. It’s best to show students what you want before asking hem to do it.

4. Repeating tasks

It’s generally agreed that learners will produce more accurate language if they have some time to plan what they want to say. Martin Bygate has shown us that when completing a task for the second time students use more complex language.

I want my students to produce more complex and accurate language, but I don’t want to do the same task in class more than once. Having students discuss the topic before class on a message board gives them time to plan and since the in class activity would be their second experience expressing their ideas, we can expect more accurate and complex language to emerge during the in class activity.

I have one lesson in which students listen to a song about the death penalty and analyze the song’s arguments. Then they express their own thoughts on I read their posts, offer suggestions regarding the language and then the students discuss the issue in groups. There’s always a chance that a learner will continue discussing the topic after class with other people using the message board (the website gets up to 1000 visitors a day, but I’m not sure how many end up at he death penalty message board), but so far I haven’t seen this. I have seen, however, learners discussing other topics on the message boards with people they would never have met if I hadn’t introduced them to the message boards.

5. Authentic audiences

I once had my students writing personal anecdotes in Interactions 2, chapter 4. Of course, writing an anecdote for me isn’t very authentic when students could just tell me in person (and I did hear each person’s anecdote as they worked on them in class). I sent students to to read some messages and find pen pals in other countries. Each student took a few minutes to read the introductions and find someone interesting (each student had to choose a different person so that we wouldn’t be sending 15 emails to one person). They wrote that person an introductory email asking if that person would like to be pen pals. Only about half of the students got a response but those students at least had a more inspiring audience – an interesting person in another country – for their anecdotes.

6. Study aids

After in class activities and the accompanying teacher feedback, students are usually left on their own to prepare for tests. I’ve developed some online activities designed to give my students practice with the types of questions they’ll see on the tests. These activities are better online because students will get some feedback as to which of their answers are correct. Some examples:

7. Optional homework & developing independence

Optional homework is generally associated with intrapersonal intelligence and can help students become more independent. After each activity, students can be referred to a web site on a related topic. For example after doing an information gap based on tigers, I suggested that students read more about tigers on During a unit on movies, I suggested that students talk about movies on None of my students did post a message on the forum, but at least they had the opportunity for extra practice.

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