Hello again, readers. Less than 12 hours after publishing my blog post about Google, I am back again with yet another update. This time I only have one article that I am reviewing and so this is likely going to be my shortest blog post to date. The topic for discussion today is one that is near and dear to my heart: HTML. Many of you might look at HTML code and it would look no different to you than the famous neon green code of Matrix fame. I first cracked the code of HTML when I was about 15 or 16 years old, back in the days of dial-up Internet and the dominance of America Online (AOL) in the Internet Service Provider (ISP) arena, when I taught myself how to code web pages from scratch using HTML without the aid of any programs such as Dreamweaver.
If you are unfamiliar with many of the terms I used above, worry not. Knowledge of HTML and website design is not needed as the piece I will be looking it is actually an early chapter out of a book and gives an introduction to the wonderful world of HTML. Before I get into the various topics covered in the chapter I read, I feel that I should air a few grievances I first, while others are sure to follow later.
In a chapter that seems to be aimed at novices with no knowledge of writing HTML or how the Internet works, Blake (2013) attempts to cover too much in just 23 pages (24 if you count the notes) and extends into areas that novices will have a hard time understanding as they are likely to still be trying to wrap their heads around the few basic HTML tags that are introduced. In addition, this chapter begins with the topic of the Internet being great for finding primary source materials for lessons, but quickly jumps to a lesson on the history of the Internet, only to revisit the topic of the Internet as a useful tool in foreign language (FL) classrooms in its final pages (pp. 25-27). I believe the author should have simply made this chapter into two distinct chapters, having one focus on the history of the Internet and rise of HTML and the other focusing on the usefulness of the Internet as a tool for enhancing learning in FL classrooms. Those grievances aside, I want to now take a deeper look at the content of the chapter, varied as it may be.
The chapter starts with some statistics concerning the enormous growth of Internet usage worldwide since the year 2000 as well as a breakdown from a report done on the activities teenagers are using the Internet for. Unsurprisingly, the most popular of these activities is processing email at 89%, while buying merchandise is the smallest percentage mentioned at 43% (p. 25). These statistics might be useful in enlightening educators who are completely out of touch with the types of activities their students like to engage in when it comes to technology, but for the rest, it just punctuates already familiar knowledge with some handy numbers to go along with it. The first section then ends with the aforementioned talk about the Internet being a prime place to find authentic source material for teaching foreign languages.
From here we get the entire history of the Internet recounted to us, going as far back as the 1960’s and the precursor to the Internet, ARPANET, which was funded by the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA for short (p. 28). Again, this seems very misplaced in a chapter that begins and ends with talk of how the Internet can be used inside a foreign language classroom.
Eventually we do get to the redeeming part of the chapter wherein Blake talks about the common mistakes teachers make in using websites in their FL classrooms. One such mistake is using websites to try to teach grammar in a contextualized way, but still using discrete grammar exercises. In Blake’s view, doing so is a failure to take the Internet’s abundance of authentic material and using it in a way that allows students to be both autonomous in their learning and collaborate with their peers (pp. 39-40). Blake then moves on to talk about a topic that should be familiar to those of you that read my previous blog on Google. Without mentioning the term action competence, Blake speaks of the necessity for students to take their knowledge and apply it to a situation in which it is meant to be used and how more interactive tools are necessary to accomplish this (p. 42).
The final section of the chapter focuses on Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) for teaching grammar and how this type of teaching can be accomplished using web technologies. Blake again emphasizes the need for communicative activities that force students to negotiate meaning in order to deal with real-world tasks that they are asked to perform (p. 43). Blake gives some ideas for such cooperative activities, but sadly, the list he constructs for suggested activities contain many items that students perform on their own. This leaves the section feeling disjointed, as was the problem with previous sections. Certainly the entire list of suggestions causes students to engage with the material more than they would have through a lesson following the strict grammar translation method and he gives many ideas for how to help students determine meaning from unfamiliar structures with materials that are above students’ current level. I can acknowledge that as a positive. I do, however, believe that Blake should have separated the discussion on activities for engaging with authentic materials on their own or with teacher support from discussion on activities that involve collaboration with peers that will be more communicative in nature, especially because the section started off talking about cooperative approaches. Were it I writing this chapter, I would have chosen to focus on the cooperative methods as Web 2.0 technologies, as we have been discussing lately, are ideal for crafting activities suited for this style of learning. Bouncing back and forth between activities that can be done alone and then talking about cooperative activities like presentations or writing an essay about cooperative work only serves for readers to miss the point that Blake is desperately trying to make (p. 45).
I would like to read more of this book to see how Blake expands upon certain ideas, but after doing this reading, my fear of being subjected to more disjointed writing and having too many topics crammed onto an insufficient number of pages is likely to keep my experience with Blake’s writing to this lone, isolated chapter.
Blake, R. J. (2013). Brave new digital classroom: Technology and foreign language learning. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.