Current accelerating technological advancement has increased the use of ICT in EFL learning and teaching due to the new opportunities they offer to increase the effectiveness of the learning and teaching process. This article reviews and synthesizes current studies and ideas on the use of ICT in EFL learning and teaching to present a general introduction to the what, why, and how of ICT use in EFL learning and teaching field. Overall, the discussion reveals that ICT use is beneficial to both EFL learners and teachers, because ICT tools can nurture knowledge selection and creation, collaboration, and reflection, and can make lessons more interesting, enjoyable, diverse, motivating and supportive. However, ICT use needs careful planning, well-defined objectives, and good guidance to the students to prevent the practice be a waste of time and effort.
Keywords: ICT, EFL learning and teaching, web-based learning
The advancement of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) during the past quarter-century has revolutionized the field of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learning and teaching. The influx of ICT tools into language learning and teaching has provided a growing range of possible solutions for refining teaching and learning inputs, processes, and outcomes (Pardede, 2012). Employing those tools, authentic learning environment that facilitates more motivating, pleasant, appealing and engaging classes to students can be easily accessed (Elliot, 2009). ICT also provides a variety of tools for educators trying to extend learning beyond the classroom (Haygood, Garner, & Johnson, 2012). In short, ICT today provides teachers with plentiful tools to prepare and convey audio-visual aids, multimedia presentations, visual resources and end-user software which can easily apply to produce new learning and teaching practices (Pardede, 2015).
The presence of these tools can be essentially advantageous. These tools can be used to meet one of the most important aspects of learning, i.e. to adapt educational practices to the cultural demands of the learners (Kreutz and Rhodin, 2016). Today’s students in all levels of education are majorly Generation Z. They are digital natives (born in the smartphone era and frequently use technology beginning from a very early age). Dudeny and Hocky (2008) stated that today’s learners “are growing up with technology. For these learners, the use of technology is a way to bring the outside world into the classroom” (p. 7). Consequently, incorporating ICT into EFL to create a varied learning environment to improve the teaching and learning process and to address students’ individual needs has become very essential.
This article reviews and synthesizes current studies and ideas on the use of ICT in EFL learning and teaching to present and show the what, why, and how of ICT use in EFL learning and teaching field. The discussion starts with a brief description of ICT and an overview of technology use in language learning and teaching. After that, the discussion focuses on the most common ICT tools used in EFL classrooms. After reviewing the advantages of using ICT in EFL learning and teaching, discussions end with conclusions.
The nature of ICT
The term ICT can be broadly defined as the electronic means used to create, process, store, display, share or transmit, and exchange information. In this general sense, ICT includes technologies such as television, video, radio, DVD, telephone (be it fixed-line and mobile), satellite systems, computer and network hardware and software, and all equipment and services associated with these technologies, such as e-mail and blogs and videoconferencing (UNESCO, 2007). In line with this, Hennessy et al. (2005) described that ICT includes various technical media that cover hardware (projection technology, laptops, desktop computers, netbooks, tablets, mobile phones, data logging, and digital audio and visual equipment), software applications (generic software, multimedia resources) and information systems (Intranet, Internet, cloud computing). These definitions indicate that ICT covers web-based and non-web-based technological devices. According to Meleisea (2007), ICT is “forms of technology used for creating, displaying, storing, manipulating, and exchanging information” (p. 29). A more complete list of technological tools facilitating information uses that build ICT is provided in Table 1. In the educational context, ICT is defined in a more limited scope and covers only computer and the common type of computer-based technologies including laptops, tablets, smartphones, and software, and internet-based technologies containing websites, blogs, email, and social networking sites such as YouTube employed to facilitate learning and teaching. According to Collis and Moonen (2001), ICT use in education includes (1) learning resources (i.e., Educational software, resources distributed via the Internet, and video resources); (2) learning instructional organization (i.e., Software and technological tools supporting face-to-face instructions, learning management systems like Edmodo, Blackboard, and Moodle, and computer-based testing system; and (3) communication (e.g. e-mail system and social media.
An Overview of Technology Use in Language Learning and Teaching
Technology use in language learning and teaching has begun centuries ago if the blackboard is considered a technological tool (Dudeney & Hockly, 2007). However, modern technology use in language learning may be traced back in 1921 when the first educational radio was used by Pennsylvania State College for broadcasting courses. Then the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) started educational programs including English language learning and teaching through radio broadcast in 1924. In 1930s experiments to use television to broadcast courses began. New development in language learning and teaching occurred in the 1970s to 1980s when two-way communication and use of computer-based technologies for interaction was introduced. White (2003,) called this era a better and improved communication chances between the teacher and students, and between the students themselves. (p. 15). This stage leads to the programs of English language learning and teaching in virtual learning environments. At the end of the 1980s, to realize the idea of e-learning, text reconstruction programs, such as TextPlay, Storyline, Storyboard, Storycorner and Developing Tray, were introduced.
A greater revolution occurred in the 1990s when the Internet and then mobile technologies were introduced into the field of language education. It quickly offers high convenience and minimizes the constraints of time and space through the transformation of textbooks into e-books, face-to-face to blended learning, paper-based exam to online exam, etc. The Internet makes study materials available online and can be accessed at any time and from anywhere. It also facilitates individual learning since the “training can be customized by allowing material to be adapted to individual levels and tasks to be paced according to personal progress” (Semenov, 2005). As ICT has become a part of daily life, teachers have big opportunities to create a learning environment more attractive and informative. They can use numerous learning materials, images, videos, and even free software to make their teaching more effective. Various social media can also be used to get in touch with their students. In short, ICT has changed not only the way teachers and students interact with each other, but also the material resources which are used in a teaching-learning setting. Farooq (2011) accentuated that the internet has changed the way the education is conveyed because the students now can attain new learning experience which was not possible through traditional approaches.
ICT Tools for EFL Learning and Teaching
ICT tools EFL teachers can use could be divided into two groups: non-web based and web-based learning tools. Web-based learning tools are technological devices used to facilitate learning in a web-based or online environment. Web-based learning tools have four major features: (1) they use web technologies and are delivered through the web; (2) they teach content that meets specific learning objectives aligned with the curriculum; (3) they are designed on the basis of a learning strategy and pedagogical procedure and (4) they contain reusable elements (Ogunbase, 2016). Non-web-based learning tools are technological devices used in a learning environment unconnected to the internet. Non-web-based learning tools include films, Audio CDs and CD ROM, DVD, language lab, and projector, while web-based learning tools include, among others, film, CD and CD ROM, DVD, language lab, and projector.
Non-Web-Based Learning Tools
Films could be a very powerful language teaching tool because they appeal the learners, increase their interest and held them retain the learned materials. Films are effective to provide facts, the process of doing something, actions skills, and background information. Primary level students are usually interested to watch the functioning of the speech organs and pronunciation. Watching films, the students could learn about cultural diversity or the way native speakers communicate using English.
Containing numerous multimedia files such as audio and video files providing a certain degree of interactivity with the students, audio CDs and CD ROM are widely used for listening comprehensions and pronunciation development exercises. These tools can also be effective to provide grammar learning. Some versions of CD and CD ROM also have test materials which facilitate the students to undertake a self-assessment to analyze their learning achievement.
The provision of audiovisual materials in the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) format has largely replaced the VC, not to mention video cassettes, which are now outdated. A DVD is comparable to audio disc. Flexibility is the only feature that makes DVD different from CD. A DVD provides the learners with the freedom to choose from an array of options and extra features, like watching a film or documentary with or without subtitles. Besides, r studentsDVD’s soundtrack and visual content are high definitions (HD). In addition to these features, its high availability and access make DVD popular among English teachers and learners.
Language lab is probably the most widely known modern technological language teaching aid. Using it, students can listen to the audios to recognize the different accent used, to learn to speak and to record their voices. Assigning the students to listen to the standardized materials, they can improve their pronunciation. Language lab is an essential result oriented tool which enhances the process of English language learning. Today’s lab not only include audios, videos, flash-based games, but also the Internet.
The projector is used in the conventional teaching method. It is a highly beneficial and effective alternative to chalk and talk for displaying the context to a large class. A projector enables teachers to show texts, images, and diagrams without necessarily write or draw them the board.
Web-Based Learning Tools
Also called technology-based learning, online education, e-learning, or distance learning, web-based learning tools are one of the fastest emerging areas. Web-based learning tools provide opportunities to create a well– designed, learner-centered, affordable, interactive, officiate, flexible e-learning environment (Khan, 2005). Numerous English web-based classes providing training for a variety of basic language skills such as learning, speaking, reading and writing which are interactive in various ways are available. The followings describe some of the common technologies available for promoting EFL learning.
By creating a personal free email account (g-mail, y-mail, yahoo, Hotmail, etc), the students can mail their assignment and get it corrected in turn. The teacher can also provide revisions, feedback, suggestions for the betterment of every work and send them back. E-mails can also be used to correspond with English native speakers. Combining e-mail with Google Drive, students and teachers or students and other students can collaborate to edit and revise an MSW Docs simultaneously. According to Gonglewski, et.al (2001), although e-mail is now regarded as a relatively “low-tech” medium, it can provide effective benefits to EFL learning process. Its potential to facilitate learners the chances to interactively communicative in the target language than was ever possible in the face to face learning is probably the most significant benefit. Some previous studies (Belz, 2002; Cooper & Selfe, 1990; Kern, 1995; Warschauer, 1996) revealed that e-mail use in language learning can reduce anxiety, promote communication, facilitate social learning, and improve writing skills.
A blog, according to Tindall (2013), is “an online forum for collection of personal writing, interactive discussion, and for educational activities such as reflection” (p. 51). In a similar vein, Farwell and Kruger-Ross (2013) define blogs as journals which allow thoughts and impressions to be analyzed. Besides, blogging becomes communicative and interactive because it allows different participants to play different roles in the writing process. After reading a post, readers can respond by writing on the reply section. The writer, in turn, can react to the response by writing below it. Therefore, blogs can be used as an excellent device for discussion and feedback. Pardede’s (2011) study investigating the use of blog to develop EFL writing showed that the majority of the participants viewed the use of blogs interesting and effective. Blackmore-Squires (2010) reported that blogging can enable students to be an analytical and critical writer, which in turn improve their self-confidence. He also claimed that writing on blogs offers many advantages, among others: (1) boosting feedback and representing both writing and reading activity; (2) exciting debate and critical analysis and promoting articulation of ideas and opinions; 3) posing chances for cooperative learning; 4) offering an environment for students to develop skills of persuasion and argumentation; 5) facilitating a more student-centered learning environment; and 6) providing informal language reading.
YouTube is an effective educational tool EFL teachers can utilize because it provides exposure to authentic English and promotes a more autonomous and student-centered learning style. It displays a wide variety of user-generated content, video content, movie clips, television clips, and music videos. If used creatively, they can provide teachers new ways to develop students’ listening and speaking skills. YouTube also provides a degree of English immersion which is possibly unavailable in EFL students’ environment. YouTube can also facilitate karaoke, an effective and interesting activity EFL teachers can conduct in the classrooms. Karaoke involves songs, a combination of music and lyrics offering many invaluable sources for language teaching, such as a cultural kaleidoscope, expressiveness, and recitability. The study of Roodt and Peier (2013) on YouTube use in the classroom for the engagement 2nd-year undergraduate course revealed that YouTube videos had a positive effect on students’ engagement. Similarly, Kelsen (2009) reported that YouTube use as supplementary material with Taiwanese EFL sophomore classes showed that students favored YouTube use in English learning because it is interesting, relevant, and beneficial.
EFL learning and teaching can benefit from mobile phones in various ways, especially because this technology allows students to conveniently access learning materials or do learning activities anytime and from anywhere. Mobile phones also make it easy to search for new words and to enrich vocabulary. Students can also use them to verify the spelling, pronunciation, and usage of the specific word they searched for. The study of Thornton and Houser (2004) investigating English vocabulary instruction using short messaging service (SMS) through smartphones among Japanese university students indicated that SMS students improved their scores by nearly twice as much as students who have received their lessons on paper. Most of the subjects prefer SMS instruction and they wish to continue such lessons. Dang’s (2013) study to exploring Vietnamese learners’ experience and attitudes towards the use of mobile phones in English language learning indicated that most participants use their mobile phones to study English and welcome towards this technology use in English learning in the future.
iPod is a multimedia device which can be effectively used to generate, deliver, exchange texts, image, audio and video scripts as per the requirement. Using it, teachers can send text messages which students should read and answer. Ipod also enables students to record and listen to their speeches, poems, short stories, etc. Therefore, this technology facilitates students to improve their listening, vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and writing.
Scope of ICT in EFL Learning and Teaching
ICT has been advancing during the last 25 years. New programs and devices appear every day. Therefore, it seems almost impossible to keep technologically up to date. However, the need to optimize ICT use in learning and teaching insists researchers on categorizing the most suitable technological devices for facilitating language skills learning and teaching. Basheer (2013), based on the belief that “each technological tool has its specific benefits and application with one of the four language parts” (p.111), organized ICT tools around the learning skills, i.e.: (1) listening skills (computers, broadcasting, CD-Players and Tape Recorders, etc.); (2) reading skills (Computer Reading-Based Programs, Multimedia software, Browsing the Internet, Electronic dictionaries, etc.); (3) writing skills (Computers, emails, Internet text-chatting, etc.); and (4) speaking skills (Internet voice chatting, Speed Synthesis Programs, etc.)
Advantages of Using ICT in EFL Learning and Teaching
Various studies have examined how ICT can benefit students and teachers when implemented properly. Cowie and Jones (2009) stated that ICT can nurture educational objectives like knowledge selection and creation, collaboration, and reflection. According to Uluyol and Ṣahin (2014), ICT use can make “lessons more interesting, more enjoyable for both teachers and students, more diverse, more motivating and more supportive of productive learning” (p. 67). Yang and Chang (2012) claimed, “technology has created opportunities for learning to become a more interactive process between instructors and learners, as well as among learners” (p. 128). Additionally, Houcine (2011) listed five obvious impacts ICT use to support EFL learning and teaching. First, it helps educators easily adapt teaching materials to meet circumstances, learner’s needs and response. Second, it offers access to authentic materials on the web. Third, it allows to react upon and enables the use of recent/daily news. Fourth, it helps teachers combine or use alternately skills (listening and speaking, reading and writing, speaking and writing) and media (text and images, text and audio, text and video clip) so that classes become more interesting and learners’ engagement boosts. Finally, it enables teachers and/or students to focus on one specific aspect of the lesson (grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, etc.).
According to Padurean and Margan (2009), ICT use in EFL classroom offers four benefits. First, ICT provides the capacity to control the presentation. Unlike books which have a fixed presentation, computers can combine visual with listening materials, text with graphics and pictures. Second, ICT offers novelty and creativity. ICT facilitates teachers to use different materials for each lesson. Third, ICT provides fast feedback to students` answers through error correction. Computers not only spot the mistake but also correct it and give the appropriate advice. Fourth, ICT offers adaptability. Teachers can adapt computer programs to suit their students` needs and level of language knowledge. This makes computer programs more learner-friendly, different from books which are produced in a single uniform format and need to be taught irrespectively of students` problems.
Challenges of Using Technology in EFL Learning and Teaching
Despite the numerous potentials ICT tools can offer to succeed EFL learning and teaching, the use of these technology needs careful planning, well-defined objectives, and good guidance to the students. Without these three factors, using ICT will more likely be a waste of time and effort. The cultural components of authentic teaching material, for instance, might be challenging and confusing to EFL learners. Also, the teacher and students need adequate training to use ICT tools appropriately. Blake (2008) accentuated that “Teachers inexperienced in using technology often harbour the belief that merely transforming an activity into a web or CALL format will guarantee its success for students. Again, any activity without adequate pedagogical planning- technologically enhanced or not- will produce unsatisfactory results with students, even if it’s attractive from a multimedia point of view” (p.11).
Teachers also have a crucial role to guide students to use the various new technologies. Although today’s students can competently use technology in their free time undertakings, it does not guarantee that they can effectively use the same media for learning. Teachers, therefore, need to use equitably simple exercises and applications in their teaching, because the main objective is not to expend much time understanding the complexities of the applications but to engage the students with the learning content. Thomas, Reinders and Warschauer (2012) accentuated, “Teachers also need to guide their students to use technology correctly, especially in privacy, copyright and security consideration in an online environment (p. 26).
Many studies have been conducted to investigate ICT use in EFL learning and teaching. However, this area is not yet fully explored. ICT provides teachers with plentiful tools to prepare and convey new learning and teaching practices. Various current ICT tools even provide web-based classes for a variety of basic language skills such as learning, speaking, reading and writing which are interactive in various ways. The reviewed ideas and studies revealed that the use of ICT is beneficial to both EFL learners and teachers because these tools can nurture knowledge selection and creation, collaboration, and reflection. They are also be effectively used to make lessons more interesting, enjoyable, diverse, motivating and supportive.
Although ICT tools are very potential to use to succeed EFL learning and teaching, their use needs careful planning, well-defined objectives, and good guidance to the students. Without these three factors, using ICT will more likely be a waste of time and effort.
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This article was presented in The UKI English Education Department Bimonthly Collegiate Forum held on Friday, October 14, 2016