Mirrored from The Language Teacher, 21 (5), 42 - 49. [May 1997]
Classroom perspectives on the Internet
by Tim Newfields

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1985 was a pivotal year for educational computing in Japan. It was in that year the Ministry of Education's Study Group for Educational Computing and the National Council on Educational Reform published several key reports which influenced the course of educational computing in this country (Asano, 1996). Computer literacy was recognized as a fundamental skill in an increasingly information-oriented society. In that year the government spent two trillion yen on educational computers (Dai-Ichi Houki Shuppan, 1990).
Although Keio University, Tokyo University, and the Tokyo University of Technology established computer links in 1984, it was not until 1985 that overseas Internet links were set up. As Professor Jun Murai (1995), a leading Japanese Internet pioneer, pointed out, fiscal constraints hampered the early Internet growth in this country. In November 1987, there were only 110 Internet access points in Japan with perhaps a thousand machines connected to the Net (Kusamoto, 1988). The most substantial Internet growth in Japan occurred after commercial providers began offering services in 1993 (WIDE Project, 1996). Today there are over half a million Internet users in Japan according to a 1996 white paper by the Nihon Joho Shori Kaihatsu Kyokai [Information Processing Society of Japan]. An estimated 10% of all Internet traffic in this country is educational in nature.
Now, close to a decade since Internet resources first came to language classrooms here, it is worth examining what impact, if any, this technology is having on how foreign languages are being taught. Let's visit a few reading, writing, listening, and conversation classes to gain a perspective on how the Internet is influencing foreign language education in Japan.


In the search for authentic, up-to-date material, many teachers now create their own hypertexts. Basically, hypertexts refer to ways of storing documents so that readers can move through them selectively in a nonlinear manner. Hypertexts used in reading classes often contain Web excerpts. Some hypertexts are connected directly to the Web; others are networked to only local systems. Let's consider three examples of classroom hypertext use.
Since 1995, Glenn Sanders of the University of Shizuoka has been using a hypertext-based magazine for his reading class. This magazine contains twenty-three lessons covering various social, cultural, and environmental themes. Each page of the text includes a link to an English dictionary and an English-Japanese dictionary, as well as online assignments. Based on student feedback, Glenn is able to modify his text over the course of each semester.
John Kimball and Hiroshi Ohtake also use Web-based hypertexts for their reading classes. An abridged sample of Kimball's Web material can be seen at interserver.miyazaki-med.ac.jp/~Kimball/. Ohtake, who uses extensive medical vocabulary in his text, offers Japanese translations of key words in a portion of the computer screen.
With custom-tailored classroom materials, students using hypertexts described in these examples can pursue topics of particular interest in depth. For a thorough discussion of the educational merits of hypertexts, Higgins' "What is hypertext?" (1996) and Roffey's "Electronic Books: Fad or Future?" (1995) are worth reading.


Internet-based technology can offer three enhancements to writing classes: audience expansion, prompt feedback, and more choice regarding lesson content. Let's examine these more closely. Kitao (1988) has remarked that most traditional writing texts in Japan focus on sentence-level translation. All too often "composition" consists of a puree of outdated phrases, cultural platitudes, or Anglo-American trivia. By contrast, communicative writing approaches emphasizing student-generated Internet-based materials have been documented by Frizler (1995), Gebala (1996), and Ray (1995).

Multi-Object Environments and Writing/Reading

Seeing how easily Japanese children become engrossed in computer fantasy games, it is easy to sense the potential of multi-object environments. Commonly known as MO*s (or also as MOOs or M**s), multi-object environments represent collaborative attempts to create virtual worlds for education and entertainment. Whereas typical computer games are played by a few players in close proximity, MO*s can be played simultaneously by hundreds of participants worldwide.
Recent versions of Netscape and Microsoft Explorer allow MO* access via third-party software. The MO* experience is easier, however, with programs designed for multi-object environments. MUDDweller and Tinkeri View are popular Macintosh MO* programs. On the Windows side, MudWIN and tkMOO-light are both widely used. Detailed information about MO* client software is available at lc.ust.hk/mooclien.htm.
When connecting to an MO*, the host computer will ask you to create a log-in name and password. Next, you may be asked about your gender, age, occupation, native language, and interests. Most people adopt pseudonyms and virtual identities for fun and anonymity when MO*ing. When contacting the MediaMOO, for example, I become a pink strawberry. If children under 18 are using an MO*, it is particularly important to protect their identity as some MO* participants may prey on them. Some parts of MO*space are not really suitable for minors.
After creating a new virtual identity online, the next step is to explore the MO*space you inhabit and interact with others around you. To do this you will need to learn some of special commands, many of which are summarized at www.du.org/cc/basicmoo.html [dead link].
Though the earliest MO*s consisted mostly of battlefields, bars, and brothels, educational MO*s are becoming more prominent. A comprehensive MO* list is available at www.mudconnect.com/mud_search.html. A good example of an educational MO* for ESL/EFL students is schMOOze University. Established in 1994, today this virtual space has over 300 regular visitors from twenty countries. It has dozens of different rooms where you can chat, play games, or study. Before visiting this facility, check out their Web page at schmooze.hunter.cuny.edu:8888.
Michael Guest and Paul Snookes have used MO*s with college students. Before having students start MO*ing, they devote some time to teaching basic MO* commands. Unlike the World Wide Web, which can be navigated solely by mouse clicks, navigating MO*space requires learning a number of special commands.
In many respects, MO*s are ideal language learning tools. They require an ability to react quickly to lots of graphic images and text, and also some social skills. The nature of these social skills depends on the MO* you are in. Many MO*s for EFL learners encourage participants not to worry so much about mistakes and enjoy the MO* experience. Fortunately, most educational MO*s are friendly places.
Traci Gardner's MOO Teacher's Tip Sheet" (1995) has some good ideas about classroom MO* applications. Guest's "Interview with a Cat" (1995) also offers an excellent overview of an EFL MO* experience.


Many radio stations are expanding to the Internet, offering broadcasts to the general public. Radio Prague, for instance, began offering Czech, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish broadcasts in 1994 at http://radio.cz/ [dead link]. Today many people interested in the Czech Republic download these broadcasts. To enjoy an Internet radio broadcast, you need a software program to handle compressed audio files. A detailed list of Internet sound players is available at http://www.comlab.ox.ac.uk/archive/audio.html under "Software." Some popular sources of English language broadcast materials are available at http://www.vradio.com and http://www.radiospace.com/index.html. Internet broadcasts can be used essentially the same way as audio tapes in classrooms. If you have high-tech facilities, Internet broadcasts can also be used in conjunction with speech analysis software. Lambacher (1996) has hinted at some of the possibilities starting to emerge with audio technologies.
Since it can take hours to download broadcasts from a popular site with a standard 28.8 bps connection, Internet radio use has its drawbacks. Those living within receiving range of foreign broadcasts may find it cheaper to use AM/FM or shortwave material. As access speeds increase and audio compression technology advances, however, digital Internet broadcasts are likely to become more common.


Today Internet users can engage in "keyboard chats" across the world and respond to others in real time via what is known as Internet Relay Chat (IRC). IRC can be likened to a cross between a telex and ham radio. There are thousands of IRC channels, covering topics from anime and automobiles to zines and zoology. A complete list of IRC channels is available at http://www.irchelp.org. Useful information about IRC setup and commands can be found at http://www.sar.usf.edu/~paulino/html/ircstart.html. Though it is possible to telnet into some IRC servers, using a special IRC program is often easier. The most popular Windows IRC program is mIRC, which is available at http:www.generationsis.com/jirc.htm. The most popular program for the Mac is Icicle.

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