|Vol. 10, Issue 3, March 2010
MyNorthStarLab - Point/Counterpoint
Beginning last summer, I decided to use MyNorthStarLab, a publisher-produced CMS based on one of their titles, for an intermediate-level listening/speaking class. My decision was based on a two-hour talk I attended, about an hour of which outlined MNSL. My interest was piqued. I like to think I am a teacher who is open to using new technologies in my ESL classroom, so I forged ahead without any real instruction – other than the on-line tutorials – learning while using. (I went on to use it twice more in different programs and at different levels.)
Christina Cavage, an ESL professor with extensive experience using technology in the classroom, and I answer the question:
Do you think classroom teaching/student comprehension is improved by the use of products like MyNorthStarLab?
In short, my answer would have to be “I’m not sure.”
On to student comprehension.
One final note, although there are benefits to using MNSL and similar products, I am worried about their impact on face-to-face instruction.________________________________________________________________
Blended learning, e-learning, web-based environments . . . these are terms that we are bombarded with on a daily basis in this 21st century. However, are these new and emerging technologies applicable to the ESL classroom? And more importantly, are they effective classroom tools? Do they truly improve learning and increase learner gains?
Of course the developers and marketers of such materials would assure us they do all that more, but I decided to find out for myself. Always having had an interest in technology in the classroom, I decided to participate in a trial of MyNorthStarLab with Pearson Education.
Intrigued, but somewhat cautious, I oriented my high beginning class to the web-based tool. I will never forget the faces of my students that day. They were hooked, and so was I. Thus, the love affair began. From an instructional standpoint a web-based instructional tool like MNSL enhanced learning.
First, blending classroom instruction with a web-based tool allows the learner to interact with the course content at a higher frequency. Students who might normally open their books for 15 minutes an evening to study or do a vocabulary exercise were now spending two or three hours an evening online interacting with the course content. I wanted to be sure it wasn’t just the novelty of it all, so I decided to conduct my own little classroom research. For one unit in the text, I assigned all the vocabulary exercises on MNSL for students to complete. One of these exercises was a pronunciation exercise where students had to listen to the vocabulary item and its definition and repeat both, recording themselves. I received these recordings via MNSL, listened to my students, and recorded feedback back to them. Additionally, as the instructor, I could see how many times they recorded and could even listen to each of the recordings they attempted. However, for the next unit, I decided to only assign the very traditional vocabulary exercise in the book, I even hid the exercises on MNSL. I assessed both vocabulary units through a test. The unit in which the students had to complete the MNSL exercises, all 18 students in my class scored an 80% or higher on the assessment. However, for the second unit vocabulary, only 55% scored 80% or higher.
Now, I realize that this was not a scientific research project, however, it demonstrated to me, and to my students, that the level of engagement was much higher when they were using the blended learning environment of the online lab.
Eugenia "Debbie" Coutavas received a B.A. in History of Art with a minor in photography from the University of La Verne in Athens, Greece, and an M.A. in TESOL from Hunter College. In addition to teaching for more than ten years, Debbie was also the Web site coordinator for Hunter College's IELI Web site.
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