3. What is interaction

(Last udated: 2000-12-19)

3.1 The use of the web
3.2 Two forms of interaction
3.3 Limited interaction

3.1 The use of the web

The world wide web as well as other relevant internet technologies can be used in three major ways to assist language learning and instruction:

  1. Means of delivery. For example, teaching syllabus, class notes and homework assignments can be made available on the internet so that students can access them 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
  2. Source of authentic target language materials. Web pages created in the target language can be used as sources of language learning materials. For example, online newspapers published in the target language can be used as supplement materials to help improve learners' reading skills.
  3. Means of interaction:
    • Between language learners and the rest of the world. Through the use of the web as well as other internet-related technologies, for example, learners and native speakers of the target language can be brought together to form a virtual language environment. A popular form of this kind of interaction is the use of web-based forums or bulletin boards on which users can post their messages and engage in discussions and thus interact with each other.
    • Between a computer and a learner. Materials are designed in such a way that a learner can use them for self learning. This will be the focus of this tutorial. As compared with traditional man-computer interaction, the world wide web provides many unprecedented potentials.

Thus far, the first two uses of the web have been the most popular among language learners and instructors (as in other disciplines). Interaction between a learner and the rest of the world is also popular. In comparison, the use of the web in the form of user-computer interaction is more difficult to implement and hence is used less frequently.

3.2 Two forms of interaction

In simplified terms, interaction is just a two-way communication between two parties. As far as language learning is concerned, interaction on the web (or more broadly the Internet) takes place in two different and yet related forms: 1) An optional medium of communication for group interaction on the Internet; 2) Interaction between a computer and a learner via the web.

3.2.1 Group interaction on the Internet

The web and the relevant internet technologies can be used as a means of communication to facilitate interaction among learners, instructors and their role models (i.e., native speakers of the target language). Technically, such user interaction can be realized through different internet services:

  • Email and mailing list: Email is perhaps the number one killer application on the internet for individual and/or group interaction;
  • Newsgroups and web forum/bulletin board: They are good at facilitate group interaction and projects;
  • Real-time online chat/net conferencing: It can individual- or group-based.
  • Filesharing and group collaboration: Yet another form of user interaction through sharing.
  • Web-based communication with the above services at its backend.

3.2.2 Learner-computer interaction

By learner-computer interaction we refer to the use of web-based materials in such a way that a learner is engaged in some language learning activities in which the computer plays the role (very often in a limited manner) of both an instructor and the role models of the target language. Such an interaction can be either in real time or non-real time depending on how it is programmed.

The emergence of the web makes such learner-computer interaction possible on a larger scale and more distant locations. In contrast, on a standalone computer, a learner can only interact with a computer system that is physically accessible to him.

Note that this kind of web-based interaction does not differ fundamentally from that based on standalone computers. What has been improved in this new era is accessibility of resources and easiness of use. As a result, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

3.3 Limited interaction

Before we move on to discuss details of web technology, we should bear in mind that:

  1. Interaction between a computer and its user is limited. This is due to the limitations of current computer technology. While computers are very good at mechanical tasks such as validating a multiple-choice quiz, they lack the kind of intelligence that humans have which is required in, for example, grading a student composition.
  2. Group interaction through the internet is almost unlimited. Use it creatively.

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