Teaching languages online: Deconstructing the myths

Uschi Felix


Debates on e-learning often begin by comparing apples with oranges. The 'theatre of the classroom' and the rich social tapestry of the campus are contrasted with a barren, solitary, inhuman online experience consisting of no more than downloading texts and submitting assignments. While the comparison ensures amusing entertainment, it does no more than claim that a piece of technology cannot replicate or even simulate what a brilliant teacher can do in a classroom. Of course it cannot. What is more, without the intervention of a creative teacher, the Web and the Internet can at best function as a convenient materials resource and communication vehicle. This paper will take a critical look at popular myths attached to online learning from three perspectives: administrators, teachers and students. The central questions underpinning the discussion as a whole are (1) why would we want to teach online? (2) what are the constraints? and (3) how can we do it well despite the constraints? The paper argues that the exciting promise of the new technologies is that they offer an environment in which an innovative teacher can set up authentic learning tasks in which both the processes and the goals are stimulating and engaging, and which take individual student differences into account. It will demonstrate by way of practical examples that the new technologies offer great potential for adding value to face to face teaching and that the greatest challenge lies in designing and sustaining quality language programs at a distance.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.1705

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