Although I believe that using technology in teaching ESL/EFL is really important, each case, the context of teaching, is different. There is no one formula for all the teachers; on the contrary, using the technological tools should be customized to the needs of the program and the students. What are the needs of my program and my students? In the language school where I teach, the semesters are 8 weeks long. This means that given that in Week 1 we do assessment and in Week 8 we wrap it up and have parties, I have 6 weeks to teach my course and integrate technology meaningfully in my program. The emphasis of the program is also on academic preparation; therefore, any technology that I might be using in my curriculum needs to be used to prepare students for their life in an academic setting.
The major project that we do together over the 6 weeks I spend with one group is the research project. Students start early in the semester by choosing their topics and continue to collect data on that throughout the rest of the session. A research project can be both a boring and daunting assignment, done mostly by using the library system and its collection of books and other print materials. What I decided to do was to transform the nature of this project from a purely text-based project to a multi-media one. In addition to text-based resources students also look for information online using various other online applications.
In this diagram, the middle part, "Classroom Teaching and Learning," represents the traditional, closed, classroom environment. The learners interact with each other and with their teacher for a couple of hours a day. They use the tools available in the classroom setting: blackboard, textbooks, notepads, dictionaries. They also have contact with each other which means with other students learning English who are at the same level they are; therefore, there is not much linguistic input taking place in this environment.
"Content-Based Teaching" refers to the research project that students are required to do; their learning environment is somewhat extended because they need to find resources and interact in English outside of the classroom environment (e.g., library, other students, etc.). Having one project to work on is a good base to develop their linguistic skills as they can concentrate on one topic that is of interest to them and they can build their linguistic knowledge by focusing on one area of studies. In addition to that, working on this project allows them to become experts and that in turns builds their confidence in using the language.
The addition of online tools such as blogs, podcasts, bloglines, and flickr allows the students to extend this learning environment even further. By using these online applications for their research purposes, students find information outside the confinement of their classroom/textbook/teacher environment and can also interact in English by joining groups and looking for other individuals interested in the same topics they are interested in. The arrows represent the dynamics of interaction that is taking place between the learner's traditional learning environment and the extended environment that is available online.
What does "social media" mean for you? Which social media have you used already and what are your feelings about it? The brilliance of social media is that it allows individuals to connect. This is something that is not only crucial for ESL/EFL students but to everyone else in general. We now have various applications that we can use for personal interests to find out where people travel (43places) or applications through which we can share our professional interests or knowledge (del.ici.ous). I am also a big fan of other social networking sites such as Facebook because those allow us find others who have similar interests and join in a conversation with them. I connected with many other EFL/ESL teachers just by having my presence on that site. The socialization and sharing of information that take place on these sites is definitely revolutionary. It is also something that the students already have in their blood, so forcing them to use text-based only materials for research, studying, or practicing their English skills seems to be "going back in time" and utterly unnatural. Adopting to what they do and how they function in their out-of-school environments is crucial for us. Social media allows us then to be able to meet the students' needs.