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Teachers' Use of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) in Teaching and Learning of English as a Second Language in Secondary Schools

Literature Review

Context and Background

Before examining the literature regarding the needs and perceptions of teachers toward using ICT in teaching ESL students and the actual academic outcomes of ESL students from the use of ICT, it is necessary to provide a brief background and context toward the subject in general. From a learning standpoint, the use of ICT in the classroom is viewed as a way to allow students to move from passive learning in which they simply listen to lectures and memorize course concepts to active learning in which they are engaged with the instructor and with other students to share information and gain knowledge.

Furthermore, it has been argued that the use of ICT in the classroom, regardless of the content, allows students to develop larger social and technological skills in order to use the information and knowledge obtained in the classroom in the same ways in which they will be expected to use that knowledge in a real-world setting.

However, simply placing computers and other technologies in a classroom is not enough to enhance student academic outcomes. Instead, the theoretical model of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) has been developed to help explain the role that teachers and their beliefs about the use of ICT in the classroom. The TPACK model is based on the idea that the skills and knowledge possessed by teachers, their perceptions of ICT and behaviors regarding how they use ICT in the classroom directly impact the learning outcomes from ICT. In the classroom, it is the characteristics under which ICT is used and integrated into the curriculum that effects how well it improves the ability of students the learn the course content. If ICT is available in a classroom but is not used, then no effect will occur even though the technology is available. Teachers must actually integrate ICT into their teaching activities in a meaningful way.

English Technology

However, it has also been noted that even if ICT is available and used in the classroom, the perceptions and abilities of teachers also affect the overall impact on the students. For example, a teacher may belief that the use of ICT in the classroom is a waste of time or that the technologies that are available for use are more for fun than for actual learning. In this situation, it is likely that the perception of the teacher that ICT is a toy rather than a learning tool will result in ICT not being used to its full potential. Even more, if a teacher beliefs that using ICT in the classroom is a waste of time, then the learning activities for which the ICT are used are likely to not being helpful in improving student learning and interactions with regards to the subject matter.

Finally, if teachers lack the skills to use the ICT that is available to them or the knowledge of how to integrate it into the curriculum, then this will also diminish its effect on student learning outcomes. Regardless of how much a teacher wants to use ICT in the classroom or beliefs that it can improve learning outcomes, he or she must have the professional knowledge and experience to be able to integrate ICT into the curriculum in a way that allows students to interact with each other and to improve their own abilities in relation to the subject matter. In the ESL classroom, this means that teachers must have the skills and knowledge of how to use ICT to allow students to work with the language and to communicate in a way that mirrors real-world communication.

Overall, the perception exists within the academic community that the use of information and communication technology is an important part of the learning process. However, from a theoretical standpoint, the way in which ICT actually impacts student learning outcomes is a byproduct of the larger perceptions, beliefs, and knowledge that teachers possess about the use of ICT in the classroom. Even for teachers who have positive perceptions about the use of ICT in the ESL classroom, the TPACK model indicates that they must have professional knowledge and skills about how to integrate ICT into the curriculum in a way that enhances learning as opposed to simply allows computers or the internet to be used in the classroom.

Teachers' Perceptions and Knowledge of ICT

General Perceptions and Knowledge. Rahimi & Yadollahi investigated the perceptions about the use of ICT among ESL teachers in Iran. The goal of the study was to determine how the perceptions and knowledge of the ESL teachers impacted their use of ICT in the classroom. The researchers found that the ESL teachers in their sample from Iran were more likely to use ICT in their classrooms when they had more experience in using information and communications technology. Even more, the researchers found that teachers who had higher levels of education, such as a Master's degree, were more likely to use ICT in their ESL classrooms as compared to teachers with lower levels of education. The findings of this study seem to demonstrate the usefulness of the TPACK model in that the teachers who had more experience with ICT and who had higher levels of professional education were more likely to use it in their classrooms.

In fact, the idea of professional development and knowledge being related to the use of ICT in the ESL classroom was an important finding of research conducted by Wozney, Venkatesh & Abrami. The researchers investigated the personal perceptions of using ICT in the classroom among a sample of teachers in Quebec, Canada. The researchers found that those teachers who were more confident in using computers were more likely to have positive attitudes about the integration of ICT in the classroom. Based on this information, the researchers argued that professional development assistance on the part of schools systems is vital to helping teachers gain confidence and experience in using ICT in the classroom. The researchers explained that with professional development seminars and courses, teachers can be shown not only how to use ICT in their classrooms, but also how others have been successful in using ICT to improve student learning outcomes.. Albrini conducted a similar study regarding the perceptions of ICT in the ESL classroom among a sample of teachers in Syria. The researcher concluded that the teachers in the sample generally had positive attitudes toward the use of ICT in the ESL classroom. However, the researcher explained that the data indicated that individual perceptions about the use of ICT in the classroom were predicted by competence in using computers. Once again, the argument was made that it is the job of schools to work to influence and motivate teachers to achieve a positive attitude about the use of ICT in the classroom by exposing them to ICT information and experiences.

Archambault & Oh-Young found in their research regarding the integration of ICT in the classroom that the teachers who were sampled were confident in their abilities to deliver lectures and perform traditional classroom teaching. However, with the introduction of ICT in which a transition occurred from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction, the confidence among the teachers in the sample declined dramatically. In this way, the work of schools and school administrators may not just need to be about changing the perceptions of teachers toward ICT, but improving their knowledge of ICT and how to use it to engage in student-centered instruction. Buabeng-Andoh argued based on the findings of his research of a sample of teachers in Ghana that one of the problems for teachers in using ICT in an effective way is a lack of knowledge about student-centered instruction.

This information is important because it indicates that the use of ICT in the ESL classroom may not be only about teachers' perceptions of ICT or their experience with ICT. Instead, ESL teachers may also need to gain additional knowledge about how to perform student-centered instruction because of the control and engagement that occurs on the part of the students with the use of ICT. Another way of thinking about the issue of the need to change how instruction occurs is that teachers have to be willing or have the knowledge to change the way in which they have provided instruction, particularly for older teachers who may have only used teacher-centered instruction for decades.

Based on the arguments that have been raised about the need for schools and school systems to attempt to change the ideas that teachers have about the use of ICT in the ESL classroom, the question arises as to whether such a change in actually possible. Levin & Wadmany conducted a longitudinal study to investigate whether teachers' perceptions about the use of ICT in the classroom changed with long-term exposure to ICT. The researchers found that after being exposed to ICT over a three-year period, the perceptions and beliefs about technology in the classroom did indeed change. The change that occurred was from a belief that ICT was not useful as a teaching tool to a belief that it could be used to enhance student outcomes. The importance of this research is that it demonstrates the need to expose teachers to ICT in general as a means of increasing positive perceptions about the use of ICT in the ESL classroom. It has been noted that among ESL teachers in China, ICT is largely something that has not been considered for integration into the curriculum. The reason for this lack of consideration about the use of ICT is because many Chinese teachers have simply lacked exposure to information and communication technology.

However, it must be remembered that the TPACK model indicates that the personal beliefs and perceptions of teachers are important in relation to how ICT is integrated into the teaching process. Part of the personal beliefs and perceptions of teachers may not be solely about technology or the use of technology in teaching. Instead, it may be that personal beliefs about professional development are also important. Mumtaz noted from her in-depth review of the literature that the perceptions of teaches about the need to engage in professional development related to the use of ICT in the classroom was important in whether ICT was used, as well as how it was used. The argument that seems to be made is that if teachers are not motivated to engage in professional development regarding ICT, then they are not likely to use ICT, or will not be effective in using ICT if they are forced to use it by school administrators.

While the literature about the perceptions of teachers with regards to the implementation of ICT in the ESL classroom has mostly focused on the actual professional knowledge and personal motivations of these teachers, it has also been noted within the literature that attitudes about the assistance that is received from school districts for the implementation of ICT impact the use of technologies in the classroom (Samuel & Bakar, 2006). If teachers feel as though they do not receive enough assistance with time and information about how to implement ICT in the ESL classroom, or if they feel that the technology to which they have access is not adequate for classroom instruction, then they are not likely to use it.

Attitudes Toward Specific Technologies. Thus far, the review of the literature regarding the perceptions and knowledge of ESL teachers toward ICT has indeed focused on teacher perceptions of ICT in general. While this literature has allowed for a greater understanding of why teachers possess certain perceptions about the use of ICT in the classroom, it is worthwhile to examine the limited literature that is available on the use of specific ICT, such as web-based instruction or electronic whiteboards. The useful in reviewing this literature is that it can provide a greater understanding about whether ESL teachers may embrace certain technologies over others. Because the use of ICT in the classroom requires an integration between teaching and curriculum, the effective use of ICT is about more than simply using a particular technology (Kern). Instead, teachers must perceive the value of using specific technologies in providing ESL instruction. At the same time, they must perceive that the effort involved in the use of a particular ICT is worth the benefits that are achieved.

Agbatogun investigated the perceptions of ESL teachers in Nigeria about the integration of personal response systems into the classroom. Personal response systems are identified by several names, such as audience response systems or audience paced feedback in which students are given a remote control that allows students to select responses to a question or test and immediately record their responses on a computer to be viewed by the instructor and the entire class. The data collected for the study showed that ESL teachers in Nigeria were generally positive about the use of personal response systems in the classroom to allow for interaction and feedback among students. There was a general attitude among the teachers who were sampled that personal response systems could be effectively integrated into the ESL classroom and could improve the communications skills of the ESL students.

Yunus, Salehi & Embi examined the perceptions of ESL teachers in Iran regarding the use of digital comics as a way to increase language proficiency of ESL students. It is important to note that the use of digital comics did not simply refer to reading comics online. Instead, digital comics referred to the creation of comics by ESL students using computer software. The idea was that students could create comics that contain simple words and sentences as a way to become more proficient with their English language skills, while being engaged in a fun activity. The researchers found that the teachers had positive attitudes about he use of digital comics in the ESL classroom. The teachers believed that the use of the digital comics could attract the attention of students, especially students with lower achievement levels. However, the teachers also stated that the use of digital comics in actual practice was time consuming and not practical to the classroom environment.

These findings suggest that while ESL teachers may embrace the idea of using ICT to increase student outcomes, the practicality of what is required to prepare for the use of ICT may diminish the desire and willingness to use it. In the case of digital comics, much preparation has to occur to gain access to the computers and software to allow the students to create the comics. Even more, the teachers must be knowledgeable about how to use the software and how to integrate the activity into the curriculum.

Similar findings arose from a study conducted by Isman, Abanmy, Hussein & Al Saadany regarding the use of Whiteboards among teachers in Saudi Arabia. Whiteboards are touch-sensitive devices that allow for interaction between a person and a computer with the use of a pen, finger, or some other input device. The board can display graphics or animations, and allows a person to interact with the content by writing words. All of this is displayed on the board to be viewed by others, such as students in a classroom. In the case of the teachers in Saudi Arabia, the researchers found a general lack of enthusiasm for the use of the Whiteboards. While the teachers were positive about the potential of the Whiteboards to enhance learning, they found the Whiteboards difficult to use and to integrate into the curriculum. Furthermore, the teachers indicated that they lacked the knowledge and professional development to use the Whiteboards in an effective manner.

The literature regarding ESL teacher attitudes toward specific information and communication technologies have indicated that while a generally positive attitude existed toward the use of digital comics, Whiteboards, and personal response systems, the perceptions about the actual integration of those technologies into the classroom were less than positive. However, the lack of positive perceptions about the integration of these technologies into the ESL classroom seems to center around a lack of professional knowledge about how to properly integrate them in an effective manner into the classroom. The literature seems to indicate that while ESL teachers in countries around the world recognize the usefulness of ICT, they lack the knowledge about how to integrate ICT in a way that does not result in a lot of wasted time that could be used for instruction.

Student Outcomes from ICT in the ESL Classroom

With the problems and issues that have been identified from the literature review of the perceptions and knowledge of ESL teachers regarding the use of ICT in the classroom, the next area of concern is the actual academic outcomes that arise for ESL students when ICT is used in the classroom. Marzban compared the achievement of ESL students in Iran between those that completed traditional classroom instruction and those who completed computer-assisted language learning. The researcher conduced a pre-test and post-test to measure the reading comprehension of the two groups. The results of the study showed that reading comprehension scores were significantly higher in the post-test for the group that received computer-assisted language learning as compared to the post-test results of the group that received traditional classroom instruction.

Lee investigated the impact of the use of the use of word processing software to write stories among a group of ESL students who were from various countries around the world. The idea behind the research was to determine if something as simple as the use of word processing software to complete a writing test resulted in higher grades as compared to a standard pencil and paper test. The results of the study showed that not only need the ESL students who took the written test using the word processing have higher grades on the test as compared to the ESL students who completed the pencil and paper test, but the inter-rater reliability of the graders on the tests that were completed with the word processing software was higher as compared to the pencil and paper tests.

The larger implication of the findings of this study is that while ICT can encompass a variety of technologies in the classroom, the use of something as basic as word processing software to give written tests as opposed to pencil and paper tests can positively impact the written language abilities of ESL students. While it is not possible to know what the scores on the tests that were completed on the word processing software were higher than the pencil and paper tests, one hypothesis might be that the students felt that they had greater freedom to experiment with the English language as mistakes could easily be deleted and corrected. In contrast, correcting mistakes on a pencil and paper writing test is much more complicated. Another hypothesis about the increased scores on the tests that were completed using the word processing software may be that young people are simply more comfortable communicating using a computer, even if the communication only involves typing a story that will be printed and given to a teacher for grading. As the use of computers for even the most basic of communication has become the norm, high school students may be more comfortable typing language as opposed to writing it by hand, with the result being higher grades on written tests.

In fact, the results of the study conducted by Chuo (2007) seems to indicate that ESL students are simply more comfortable writing on a computer as opposed to using pencil and paper. The researcher investigated the use of the WebQuest Writing Instruction Program on a group of ESL studemts in Taiwan. The study involved an experimental group who received writing instruction in English using the WebQuest program in which they received instruction and tasks that required visiting specific web sites. The control group received traditional ESL writing instruction in the classroom. The results of the data analysis showed that the WebQuest students not only had higher scores on written comprehension tests, but also reported less apprehension about completing the writing assignments and tests. It would seem that the online assignments and tasks were simply more comfortable to the students as opposed to completing traditional classroom assignments and tests.

Once again, the hypothesis that can be drawn from the studies that have been reviewed is that ESL students are simply more comfortable and more involved in instruction that involves ICT. Because of the prevalence of computers, the internet, and other communications technologies in the live of students around the world, conducting ESL instruction with ICT is more meaningful to them and encourages greater participation and motivation in the learning process. The fact that using what is now considered to be one of the most basic of computer technologies, which is word processing, has been shown to result in higher writing scores for ESL students demonstrates that ICT does positively impact ESL outcomes. Furthermore, this would seem to be an indication that an ESL classroom does not necessarily have to be equipped with the latest ICT. Instead, some ICT simply has to be available and an instructor has to be willing to use it in a way that engages students.

On a general level, Sankaran, Sankaran & Bui examined the attitudes of ESL students toward web-based and traditional lecture classroom formats, as well as the academic outcomes of each format. Interestingly, the authors argued based on their analysis of the data that there was not a major difference in preferences for one instructional format over another among the ESL students in the study. Instead, the researchers argued that when both formats were available, students generally selected the format that they preferred, and when that format was chosen, academic achievement was generally good. One of the concerns with this study is that actual academic performance was not compared using a control group and an experimental group. Instead, the study seemed to be more focused on how or why certain ESL students would choose an ESL class conducted online as opposed to an ESL class conducted with a traditional lecture format.

Lopez investigated the academic performance of ESL students in language and math in a classroom in which Whiteboard technology was used. The researcher used a quasi-experimental design to investigate language and math performance of ESL students in classrooms in which Whiteboard technology was used as compared to English speaking students. The results of the study showed that with the use of the Whiteboard technology, greater parity was achieved in academic performance between the ESL students and the native English speaking students in language and math. While this study involved both ESL students and native English speaking students, the results are still important because they indicate that the use of ICT can indeed greatly improve academic performance for ESL students to similar levels as native English speaking students.

It would seem appropriate to generalize the findings of this study to suggest that in an ESL classroom, the use of Whiteboard technology can improve the language skills of ESL students because of the increased interactions that occur among students and teachers, as well as the way in which instruction can be made to be more meaningful as compared to traditional classroom lectures. The use of Whiteboard technology makes it possible for students to become more engaged in the learning process because the instruction is student-centered as opposed to teacher-centered.

Rather than using computer technology among students in the classroom, Estoque examined the use of telecollaboration on the academic performance of ESL students in a Filipino high school. The process of telecollaboration allowed the ESL students in the Filipino high school to use the interact to engage in interactions with English-speaking students in other countries. The idea was for the Filipino students to create journals and engage in ongoing discussions with English-speaking students as a way to increase real-world language comprehension. The researcher examined the academic performance of one group of ESL students that engaged in the telecollaboration and one group of ESL students who completed standard ESL instruction. The results of the study showed that the ESL students who engaged in telecollaboration had higher scores on tests that measured language comprehension as compared to the students who engaged in the standard classroom instruction.

In a similar type of study (Khoii & Arabsarhangi examined the impact of the use of Wikis on the academic performance of ESL students in Iran. A wiki is an online collaboration system that allows people to add and update information with other users. The use of wikis in this study allowed the ESL students to share information over the internet with each other as a way of allowing them to not only focus on their writing skills, but also to allow them to use the English language to communicate with each other and share information. The students who took part in the study were divided into two experimental groups and one control group. The students in the control group wrote stories in English by themselves in a normal classroom environment in which the stories were given to the teacher for grading. In one of the experimental groups, the wiki was used as part of a traditional classroom environment. The instructor gave writing assignments, but the assignments were completed online in the wiki. In the other experimental group, however, all writing and feedback was performed in the wiki. The results of the study showed that the students in the experimental group in which all writing and feedback was conducted in the wiki outperformed the students who only wrote in the wiki but received standard classroom feedback, as well as the students who engaged only in the normal classroom ESL instruction.

The results of these studies regarding the use of telecollaboration and wikis provides evidence that ESL instruction becomes more meaningful when ESL students can use language skills to engage in activities that are meaningful to them. By collaborating with other students over the internet, ESL students are using their language skills in a more real-world setting. This seems particularly important given that students around the world are accustomed to using the internet and find online collaboration to be meaningful. However, on a larger level, it may be that students are indeed simply more comfortable using computers as opposed to what is considered to be the somewhat outdated method of learning a new language by completing tasks and assignments on paper. When ESL students are able to provide responses using a personal response system or add information to an online discussion, the technology may get their attention and motivate them to actively engage in learning.

Overall, the results of the literature that has been reviewed regarding the impact of ICT on ESL student learning outcomes has indicated that the specific ICT that is used may not be as important as the way in which it is used. What is meant by this is that students may indeed be drawn to technology in the learning process. If this is indeed the case, which it would seem to be by the results of the studies that have been reviewed, then it is the task of teachers to use the technologies that are available to them to make learning English a meaningful and interesting process.

It was noted in the literature that some teachers are not motivated to use ICT in the classroom because they feel that the technology available to them is outdated or difficult to use when it is available. Teachers may need to focus less on their own motivations and more on the motivations and interests of their students, especially if their motivations are to ensure that their ESL students are able to learn as much as possible and have the highest academic outcomes possible. At the same time, it was argued that schools and school administrators must make the effort to demonstrate the usefulness of ICT in ESL instruction. The studies that have been reviewed have demonstrated in real-world terms that ESL student performance increases when ICT is used.

Unfortunately, the literature also indicated that many teachers, especially older teachers, are simply not comfortable with the move from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered instruction. In this regard, schools and school administrators may have to spend more time showing teachers how to give up some of the control of the classroom to students in exchange for students who are more motivated so that they actually need less supervision to ensure that work is completed and that learning is occurring. If the fear or concern of teachers is giving up control, then the way in which to motivate them may be to help them realize that students are more engaged in learning English when technology is involved.

Finally, the literature showed that teachers often lack the skills about how to use ICT or how to integrate it into a classroom environment. As with the other issues that have been discussed, a need for greater professional development exists. The literature actually indicated that most ESL teachers are interested in the use of ICT in the classroom, and actually think that it is important. However, the interest and belief in importance of ICT does not translate into the usage of ICT in most situations. Teachers need greater professional development and greater exposure to ICT in order to be able to use it effectively in the classroom. This seems especially important to teachers with less education who themselves may not understand how to use ICT as part of instruction or who may not have experience and knowledge of various types of ICT, such as wikis or Whiteboard technology.

References

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