This paper has been prepared for presentation
The Asia-Pacific World Wide Web Conference, August 23, 1996 - Beijing
The Second Hong Kong Web Symposium, August 27-28,1996 - Hong
The Content-Based Approach To Internet
- The content-based approach to second language
acquisition is a well-
established method among language instructors. The idea of increasing
language proficiency as the student takes a course in another academic
discipline works (Brinton, Snow and Wesche, 1989). The
strength of the content-based method is that language
learning is contextualized and purposeful. The more language is used in the
pursuit of a specific goal, the sooner the language is acquired. Language
proficiency sneaks into the student's tool kit almost without noticing as the
student's interest in the content leads to language solutions. If we think of
computing as having a language of its own, then moving toward a content-based
approach to internet literacy is only a simple adjustment. This paper
will briefly discuss the philosophy underlying our content-based approach to
internet literacy, and provide extensive practical examples of its
- Content-based Second Language
- The essential difference between a content-based approach to language
learning and traditional approaches is that the focus is not exclusively, or even
primarily, on language learning. Instead, the focus is on learning the content
subject. Widdowson (1968) first proposed academic
subject matter as an ideal
vehicle for language teaching, noting that vocabulary, linguistic structures
and modes of expression tend to appear repeatedly in a given subject area. The
practice necessary for linguistic mastery is gained through a natural cycle of
language pattern repetition native to the discipline of study. In art history
courses, for example, native patterns are descriptive, while the social
sciences use argumentation structures involving cause and effect.
- The rationale for the content-based approach is reinforced by Anderson's
cognitive theory of learning (1985) which posits two different kinds of
knowledge: declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Declarative
knowledge is what a person knows about, while procedural knowledge is
what a person can do. The content-based approach produces both
declarative and procedural knowledge. The student gains mastery of the
language (procedural knowledge) and mastery of the subject (declarative
knowledge) simultaneously. Since internet literacy demands procedural, not
declarative, knowledge, the content-based approach should produce internet
skills just as it produces linguistic skills.
- The content-based approach uses task-based teaching principles to provide
learner with purposeful tasks, the mastery of an academic subject, and repeated
opportunities for meaningful communication. The key then to the content-based
approach is to increase students' procedural knowledge by providing them the
right tools (linguistic or internet) that they need to master their academic
- The World Wide Web (WWW) is, in many ways, an ideal teaching tool for
discipline because it
provides opportunities for both procedural and declarative learning. For
learning language in particular, the WWW not only provides abundant
comprehensible input (Krashen, 1981), but the
multimedia environment is highly
contextualized, an important factor in second language acquisition (Cummins,
1984). The WWW's graphical interface provides a myriad of contextual clues
aid students' understanding of the content.
- There are other features of the internet which facilitate learning as
both for language students and for students of other subjects. Through
applications such as CU-SeeMe and Internet Relay Chat (IRC), the
provides an authentic environment and real audiences for students. The
internet environment offers more resources than a single classroom
teacher ever could. Students can work independently, discovering ways of
finding, presenting and organizing information that is uniquely theirs.
- Students who post their work on the WWW know that their audience is real
therefore, their communication must be meaningful and appropriately presented.
Knowing their audience extends beyond the teacher is a powerful motivater for
students. Therefore, the internet characteristics which make language
learning more exciting also make learning any subject more enjoyable.
- Computing as a Second Language
- The content-based approach to internet literacy borrows basic principles
the content-based approach to second language acquisition and produces internet
competency as a by-product of mastering an academic subject. A more
traditional approach to internet competency would have students enroll in an
information science course and spend 100% of their course time learning
computer skills. Students highly motivated to learn computing no doubt would
learn much more computing in such a traditional course than they would in a
course using the content-based approach. Many students, perhaps an
overwhelming majority, however, never take an information science course.
Indeed, many students are computer phobic, literally jumping out of their seat
the first time they touch a keyboard. To reach these students, alternative
approaches to computer literacy are necessary.
- Currently, we are visiting professors at a Japanese college where all
instruction is in English using a content-based teaching model: every content
course has an English language instructor assigned as an adjunct to facilitate
language learning. The average language proficiency of our Japanese students
is below 430 on the TOEFL. As we struggle to find effective teaching methods
that lead to mastery of content and increase language skills, it has become
apparent that computers are uniquely suited to the task. We have found that the
same language principles used to support course instruction in political
science, art history or applied information science can be used to teach
- Although the genesis of our approach came from a content-based second
acquistion model, it is intended for course instruction across all disciplines
at all educational levels. Our main purpose in this paper is to free the
content-based method from its language learning roots and transform the method
into an interdisciplinary approach within the university used to advance
computer literacy in all fields, including language learning. In sum, the
content-based approach to internet literacy is a method designed to weave
skills seamlessly into the university curriculum, whether the course is a
political science course, a biology course or a language course.
- The principle loom used to weave these skills into the curriculum is the
Wide Web. The WWW opened access to other internet applications in a way
previous internet components were unable to do. The WWW's multimedia
capabilities, its ease of use, and its publishing potential place the WWW at
the center of the content-based approach to internet literacy. The WWW is
quickly absorbing and supplanting the other major internet systems. Today,
from within a single web browser it is possible to send email, view USENET
bulletin boards, telnet to other computer systems, transfer files and programs,
and engage in real-time communication with other users. What were once
separate components are now becoming functional strands in a single world wide
web of computer communication. The WWW is the door through which we must pass
to achieve full internet literacy, even if it is the most recently constructed
passageway onto the internet.
Constructing Courses Following the Content-Based
Approach to Internet Literacy
- Our concept of the content-based approach to internet literacy uses a
combination of step-by-step computing instructions and the learning of discrete
computing applications in order to complete content projects. The internet or
computing skills for each course segment are presented in class and through
written and audio-visual modules.
|Internet Learning Module|
|Viewing Word to Web, a
requires the Shockwave
(© Dana Ward)
Mastering each computing application always involves learning content material.
In addition to completing content-based tasks during the course, there is often
a "cap stone" project which requires students to combine several
computing and internet applications.
- The course syllabus, reading assignments, research resources, computing
instructions, and sometimes quizzes are all online as part of the internet
acculturation process. As the course is planned, these basic, common sense
principles will help create a course resulting in internet literacy:
- 1. Each new computing skill should be
introduced in the
context of a content task.
- 2. Each step of the new computing
task must be clearly
documented, with supporting explanations readily
available in a variety of formats (e.g., written
instructions, audio and/or video demonstrations).
- 3. Skills should be introduced
sequentially so that each
new skill builds on previous learning.
- 4. To the extent possible, new tasks
of previously learned skills to reinforce learning.
- 5. Design a "cap-stone" course
requirement that cannot
be accomplished without acquiring internet literacy.
- 6. Encourage students with more
advanced internet skills to
share their knowledge in order to bring the entire
class to the same level as quickly as possible.
- A student should be considered "internet literate" when the student has
mastered the following broad skills:
- 1. Emailing, including
attachments and the ability to use
- 2. Web browsing, including the
ability to configure helper
applications, set all options, manage bookmarks, download files
and applications, take digital notes from online resources,
and use search engines;
- 3. Writing simple Hypertext
Mark-up Language (HTML)
including construction of homepages, links, image embedding
and simple colorizing.
(a) Scanning text and visuals for HTML markup.
- 4. Using real-time internet
text based tools (e.g., IRC), audio (e.g., e-phone, Maven,
and video (e.g., CUsee-ME).
- 5. Telneting and logging onto
other servers, downloading
and applications using file transfer protocol (ftp) and
using gopher tools.
- 6. Utilizing USENET
newsgroups and bulletin boards.
- The remainder of this paper will provide examples of relevant task-based
activities designed to move students toward mastery of these six internet
- Introducing Email
- The first internet skill to be introduced is always email. Email is
to master, it places students on the internet immediately, provides a means of
communication between and among faculty and class members, and connects the
class to a much wider set of resources via well chosen discussion lists.
Students can immediately set up a group mailing list so assignments,
feedback, and information can be shared by the entire class.
|English language learners can be
introduced to the internet and
personal writing through email
penpals from around the world. An
excellent resource for teachers
looking for penpals is through
the Intercultural Email Classroom
- Within email, the next level of mastery involves discussion lists
the content of the course. Virtually every academic discipline and
every topic within a discipline has at least one, if not dozens, of email
discussion lists to which one subscribes via LISTSERV. Subscribing to a list
brings students into contact with people sharing similar interests, many of
whom are experts in the field.
|MODERATED LIST FOR ESL
|English language learners at the
college level can be introduced to
moderated discussion lists by joining
a student list. In addition to two
general discussion lists, CHAT-SL
(low level) and DISCUSS-SL (high
level) students can choose to subscribe
to topical lists. There are
currently lists dedicated to learning
English, current events, movies,
music, and sports.|
- An excellent resource to learn about the internet in general and LISTSERV
particular is Patrick Crispen's Internet Roadmap. The roadmap itself
originally was available through LISTSERV, but now it is permanently lodged at
the Library of Congress's FTP site.
Instructors merely need to download a copy of the desired lessons, paste each
lesson into an email message, and forward a copy to the class list. The
Roadmap is also available
on the WWW.1 In class, the students
could be shown the web site, but the first message sent out to the class
discussion list should be a forward of Crispen's second lesson on LISTSERV.
- Although discussion groups and chat rooms are an exciting and engaging
introduction to the internet, students should also be warned that discussion
lists can be a tremendous time drain, are sometimes of only limited utility, and
almost all wear thin in time. Consequently, instructors should choose
discussion lists carefully to insure the list is useful for the course content.
- Later in the semester, when the first writing assignments are due,
email attachments should be added to the students' repertoire of internet
skills. Most students already know how to use a computer for word processing
(if not, "remedial" sessions should be arranged outside of class) and how to
cut and paste documents into email, but many do not know that documents can be
electronically transmitted in ways that preserve the formatting. Students
can be taught to save documents in Rich Text Format (RTF) and then compacted to
ease the rate of transmission. Utilities such as Compact Pro (download
for MAC), Stuffit-Lite (download
and Stuffit-Expander (download
for MAC) should be required for the course.
- To integrate course content with learning these tasks, the instructor
prepare a set of reading assignments which can be used to illustrate how to use
email attachments. For example, a lecture on the origins of committees in the
U.S. Congress could be preceded by learning how to save, compact, and attach a
set of documents including statistics on the number of committees formed,
members of the committees, and discussion records. An internet module on
and filing the documents would be part of the homework assignment.
- Introducing The World Wide Web
- The second internet tool to introduce is a browser for accessing the WWW.
Netscape or an equivalent browser3
is essential to the success of the content-based approach to internet literacy.
The course syllabus should be designed as a web document containing course
readings, research resources,
class assignments and, most importantly, the internet modules to which the
student will turn for help implementing the various computing applications used
in the course.
- Make sure each student knows how to use the browser and configure the
preferences within the first or second class session. The first content reading
assignment, ideally, will be a WWW
resource. Assigning experienced students the task of instructing less
experienced students quickly brings the class to a common level. Providing a
checklist of basic techniques to be covered gives students a chance to get to
know each other early in the class and mitigates against boring the students
with more advanced web skills. Ending the session with teams competing in an
internet treasure hunt is a fun way to hone new browsing skills.
Below is a list of questions that can
be answered by "surfing" the
internet. You have until the end of
the Political Science class to email me
your answers. Be sure to use the
search engines found on "Web
Prizes will be awarded to the first
four people to answer all the
questions, or to the four people who
have answered the most questions at
the end of the hour. You must
properly cite your source.
|1. What was the rate of growth in
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for
Egypt in fiscal year 1992/93?|
|2. If you are in Hong Kong, and want
to go by subway from Diamond Hill to
Kowloon Bay, what line do you take
and how long will it probably take?|
|3. In what year did La Trobe
University in Australia open?|
|4. What is the Italian word for
|5. How many Yuan is a U.S. dollar
worth in China?|
|6. Who wrote "Alchemy for a New
World Order -- Overselling Preventive
Diplomacy" in the May/June 1995
issue of Foreign Affairs? |
|7. What does the first paragraph of
the "Final Act Embodying The Results
of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral
Trade Negotiations (GATT treaty) say?|
|8. Who is the current President of
Costa Rica? |
|9. What is the Japanese word for
|10. What is the exact text of the
first amendment to the U.S.
- Throughout the semester add to students' browsing capabilities. Early on
teach how to save notes from online sources and how to
cite electronic references. For example, to introduce basic internet skills
in a content-based art history class, students were assigned the task of finding
an example of Greek or Roman architecture on the WWW, writing a description of
it, and then using the computer image for an oral report. The students were sent
several appropriate URLs through email. They were introduced to the Netscape
browser and shown how to cut and paste the URLs into the Open Location
- The English language and computer skills used to accomplish this task
complemented and reinforced each other in the service of learning content. One
of the great benefits of this type of integrated approach is the immediate reward
the WWW provides. As students learned each new skill -- opening a location,
capturing an image, saving the image, resizing it and importing the image into
their own document -- the immediate visual feedback resulted in undisguised
- As students begin research projects, learning the parsimonious use
- of search engines is essential. An online guide to Boolean searches
and contests to see who can find
discrete information most quickly with the fewest number of extraneous "hits"
will help students learn basic search techniques.
- As a follow-up to the art history task described above, students were
introduced to search engines and were required to complete a table comparing the
lives and works of three famous artists of the Italian Renaissance: Leonardo Da
Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Students drew slips of paper out of a bag, each
with the name of a different work of art on it. One student picked "DAVID,
sculpture". Her task was to find the artist. She confidently typed the name
DAVID into Web Crawler's window. The search
did not yield the name of an Italian Renaissance artist, but gave her 10,000
references for the name David. That one failed attempt provided her with the
motivation to focus on the process of narrowing, classifying and using
appropriate key words to locate resources.
- After each student identified an artist, the students were taught an
additional computing skill -- how to make a table. This was followed by more
computer searches to find and classify the specific information about "their"
- Hypertext Mark-up Language
The easiest way to introduce students to HTML is to have them link their
course projects to the class syllabus. The first research paper assignments
can be put on the web within a single class session. Taking a word document
which has been saved in RTF and turning it into a document ready for the WWW is
a simple three step process: 1) Save the original in RTF, 2) Open the RTF
file with the application "RTFtoHTML" (download
a copy), 3) Link the resulting html file to the
syllabus. As the students call up their papers in a browser for the first
time, the room always fills with excitement.
- Once a document is on the web, students easily can be taught the basic
elements of HTML style. There are many excellent resources online from the
most basic simplified html commands to the complete html language. Once
students see how easy it is to put work on the web, all the instructor really
needs to do is link the "how to" resources to the syllabus, show students how
to scan text and graphics, sit back and watch their work progress. Later, more
advanced audio and video embedding techniques can be added to the students list
of internet skills.
- A group project is a good way for skills to be disseminated among
students. In any course students can be assigned the task of creating a course
homepage with links to resource materials and to each student's work in the
course. Constructing a basic homepage is a short task, usually lasting only two
class periods. As a result of classroom instruction almost all students have
produced their own homepages (Class of 1998 and Class of
- A group "cap-stone" project involving writing HTML can
designed for any course. In Introduction to Information Science, the capstone
project one year produced The Digital Consumer.
Each student produced a Consumer's Guide to Online Shopping for a
particular product or service, consisting of several web pages of their own text,
linked to WWW shopping sources all over the world. The projects were "published"
when students linked their final product to their own homepages.
- Real-Time Internet Communication
- Text, audio and video real time communication is now
for internet use. Internet Relay Chat is the basic application for text based
real-time communication, CU-SeeME is the state of the art low cost audio-video
system, while there are several competing audio only transmission systems
including MAVEN, Internet Phone and so forth. All three forms of real-time
communication can be employed to link students with classes at other
universities anywhere in the world.
- Two classes in Japan employed this technology to teleconference with a
class at Pitzer College
in California. Students from both sides of the world
shared their knowledge about environmental problems and solutions, providing the
Japanese students with a unique opportunity to communicate "face-to-face", in
English, with their American counterparts.
- Telneting, FTP & Gopher
- Once the backbone of the internet, these tools
- have been overshadowed by
the WWW, but are nevertheless indispensable. Most students will not be able to
place files on the web without the ability to telnet, many important library
resources are still only available via telnet, substantial archives remain
accessible only through gopher, while FTP has become fully integrated with the
WWW. A session teaching telneting and logging onto a UNIX machine could be used
to teach students how to manage files, search for information, and explore the
text-based side of the internet. If nothing else, students will appreciate the
ways in which graphic information has actually slowed traffic on the internet and
may lead some students to save time by downloading information without accessing
the WWW. A good stop on the WWW to find useful telnet sites is at Hytelnet.
|An English language activity using TPR (Total Physical
developed to teach both vocabulary and show students how FTPing works.
Computers in the classroom were labeled as "clients" and "servers". Students were
given roles and signs identifying them as "Fetch" (a MAC application for
transferring files, download a
copy), and as "Compact Pro" (the
file compression application). By acting out the sequence necessary for FTPing,
students mastered both the language and the application.|
- USENET Newsgroups
- The internet owes a great deal to USENET and it will continue to
an important niche on the internet even though other systems are slowly eating
away at its edges. The most important USENET resource for students are the
various newsgroups which carry the major news wire services. Clarinet is the principle supplier of these
services. While public bulletin boards can be useful, private, internal bulletin
boards set up on local area networks (LAN) can work well as discussion forums for
- News stories relevant to course content often do not make it into the
major media. These stories, as well as the headlines, can be regularly read by
students via USENET or a combination of USENET and the WWW. InfoSeek is a WWW
search engine which will provide a personalized news feed for each student in the
class. Simply filling out an on-line questionnaire will return stories on the
selected topics each time the student returns to their personalized InfoSeek
bookmark. Many of the news stories returned are found on USENET. It is also a
good idea to teach students how to select their own newsgroups in applications
such as "InterNews". That way they will be able to quickly access current
information relevant to the course.
- The internet has brought those who use it closer together. We can
communicating with someone in China at one moment and someone in Argentina the
next. Instantaneous worldwide connection is having a major impact on how the
world's peoples interact. We have an obligation to equip the next generation
with the tools necessary to survive in a "virtual" environment.
- Consequently, the content-based approach to internet literacy makes
educational and economic sense. The model presented here stresses an infusion
approach in which computing skills are sequentially introduced into regularly
scheduled content courses. Because it means adding to what is already there, not
starting from scratch, it is possible for educators to bypass many of the major
drains of time and energy spent proposing and implementing new courses. As more
and more educational institutions go online, computers are becoming available to
students everywhere. It makes sense to make optimal use of the resources already
in place by incorporating internet proficiency into each student's educational
plan. We must also remember that the digital environment is a relatively
paperless environment; an important consideration given the earth's limited
- If the authors of this paper are any indication, becoming internet
literate is within every student's reach, for as recently as eighteen months ago,
we, too, were counted among the internet illiterate.
- *A special thanks to Jesse
Ward-Karet for his html expertise, graphics, design advice,
- and knowlege
of the internet.
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