Interactivity in Teaching ESL Composition Online
by
F. Scott Walters

(EdPsy 490-I Major Project Report)


 

 Background    |   Research Questions    |    Procedure    |    Results    |    Evaluation    |    Appendix
 
 

Note:  While the first three paragraphs of this report are virtually identical to those of the previous one,
the rest of the report is not.


      Background:   The Intensive English Institute (IEI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has since 1972 been providing instruction in English to non-native-English-speaking students intent on entering an English-speaking university (for many of them, the University of Illinois itself). To this immediate end, among the academic goals of these students is to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). In addition to providing instruction in various components of English language use -- structure, academic reading and writing, communicative strategies, academic listening and speaking, improvement of which skills are viewed as central to any effort at English acquisition -- the IEI also offers elective courses in TOEFL preparation -- Structure, Reading, and Listening. 

       One limitation of these latter three elective courses is that up until recently, they have not directly addressed the needs of students as far as preparation for the Written portion of the TOEFL is concerned. Justification for this has been that (1) development of basic, intermediate, and advanced writing skills has been offered in the core IEI curriculum; and that (2) up until recently, the Written portion of the TOEFL (formerly, the Test of Written English, or TWE) was offered only periodically, not at every TOEFL administration. However, in July 1998 the Educational Testing Service (ETS) implemented its new Computer-Based Test (CBT) in many countries, and made the Written portion a requirement for examinees taking the CBT. Given this development, it might be natural for intensive English programs such as the IEI to implement an elective course to help students prepare for the Written portion. 

       However, there were real administrative problems involved, chief among them being insufficient time for a TOEFL elective instructor to cover the academic essay-writing topics required without also drastically cutting back on coverage of topics in the respective TOEFL Reading, Listening, and Structure courses, each lasting only four weeks. In the fall of 1999, therefore, it was tentatively decided by the TOEFL elective instructor (the present writer) to pilot a TOEFL-Prep Writing component during the upcoming TOEFL Structure class, to be held from November to December 1999. However, in order not to diminish the class time needed to cover the grammatical topics needed for preparation for the TOEFL, it was decided to offer the TOEFL-Prep Writing component asynchronously, that is, entirely outside of class in an online environment. 

       Data were collected on student performance, and the overall effect of the asynchronous online component appeared to be favorable.  (Click here to read the results of the previous pilot study.)  On the other hand, a serious shortcoming of the previous study was that interactivity of the lessons was limited; hence, no conclusions could be drawn as to the effectiveness of types of interactive exercises on the learning of basic ESL composition skills.

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       Research Questions.  For the present study, the research questions of the previous pilot were repeated (with the exception of the fourth question dealing with differences in effectiveness on learning between online and in-class ESL composition instruction):
 

  1. Overall, is an asynchronous, online format an effective mode for the teaching of basic English essay-writing skills to intermediate ESL learners? 

  2.  
  3. Which subskills may be most effectively taught thereby, and which least effectively taught?

  4.  
  5. Can effective, interactive exercises be devised to give intermediate ESL learners practice with elements of essay composition? 

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       Procedure.

       I.   Instructional Materials.   The present writer (who was also the ESL instructor involved) designed a set of five online lessons in HTML format, using two HTML editors, Netscape Composer 6.1 and BBEdit Lite 4.1. The documents were written primarily on a Macintosh G3, but results were checked periodically on one of several IBM-compatiable computers to ensure near-uniformity of look and feel. The five lessons, accessible from a webpage that served both as main menu (click here to see the menu ), covered the following writing subtopics: (1) Basic Paragraph Structure, (2) Paragraph Coherence, (3) Basic Academic Essay Structure, (4A) Comparison/Contrast Paragraphs, (4B) Cause/Effect Paragraphs.  Lessons 4A and 4B, which had not been created for the previous pilot study, contained interactive lessons written in JavaScript.  (The interactive exercise for Lesson 2, also written in JavaScript, and formerly possessing technical problems that had plagued the previous study, was revised.)  In the course of the TOEFL class, the third lesson was skipped, so that Finally,  the instructor posted a four-item questionnaire, answers to which were to be submitted before the end of the semester.

       II.   Participants.   Out of twenty students enrolled in the Spring TOEFL elective, only three students chose to participate in the online writing-prep component. Of these, only two submitted homework/data consistently. For reasons of privacy we will refer to them as Students A, B, and C.  Student A was a female native speaker of Japanese who had been placed into an intermediate-level class of the IEI, "Section 3B". Student B, a female native speaker of Spanish (from Venezuela), had been placed into an upper-intermediate-level class, "Section 2C." Student C, a male native speaker of Japanese, was a member of an intermediate-level class, "Section 3A."  All had been frequent attendees of the early-morning TOEFL Listening and Reading classes. Student B had often actively participated in class discussions about course material -- asking questions, attempting to negotiate meaning with the instructor and other students, and co-operating with fellow students during periodic in-class pairwork. Due to their somewhat lower level of oral proficiency, Students A and C had been somewhat less active in whole-class discussions (although Student A occasionally plucked up enough courage to ask questions), and had shown themselves to be more comfortable (and verbal) in periodic in-class pairwork.

       III.   Introducing the Writing Component.   During the last week of the Reading componment of the class, the instructor briefly outlined the format of the Written portion of the TOEFL. (For more information on the TOEFL Written portion, click to an Educational Testing Service [ETS] webpage linked here. Note: You must scroll down briefly to read about the Written portion.) Then, to familiarize the students with the format, all the students were given a sample 30-minute practice test, prompted by directions given in the class textbook. (Click here to see the pretest essays that the four participants produced.) The student essays were collected at the end of the 30 minutes and returned two days later with feedback regarding grammar, word usage, and mechanics.

       On the day the diagnostic tests were returned to the students, the entire class was then invited to participate in this study, and informed of the voluntary nature of the component. (Click here to see the informational handout given to them.) They were asked to (1) read one web-posted lesson per week, (2) do the relevant writing task, and (3) e-mail their written work to the instructor for comment and evaluation. E-mailed submissions arrived in the instructor's e-mailbox within a few days of the assignment of each web lesson.  Feedback was e-mailed back to the student within two days of submission. Usually this e-mailing occurred within a few hours of submission; other times, due to recurring instructor illness, as much as 48 hours elapsed before feedback was e-mailed to the students.)

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       Results.
       As mentioned above, because of the voluntary nature of the exercise and the intensive nature of the students' courseload, only three out of twenty individuals in the TOEFL Reading class volunteered to take part in the online tutorial project.  The amount of data collected in thus study, as with the previous study, therefore, is not a large as what would be desired.  Nevertheless, it is believed that the level of participation was sufficient to give one a general sense of the effectiveness of (a) the online environment and (b) of the interactivity of some of the online exercises in the teaching/learning of basic English writing skills.

       As with the previous study, this paper will first review the available data (the pretest work and assigned homework) and then (see the section "Evaluation" below) examine the direct student feedback on the online tutorial lessons.  When reviewing the data and evaluating the online lessons, however, it should be kept in mind that the focus will be on the students' development of written organizational skills in a macro-sense -- coherence, unity, adequately-focused topic sentences, use of details, mastery of special rhetorical forms such as cause/effect paragraphs -- as opposed to grammatical accuracy alone, since grammar was not a central focus of the lesson materials.
 

       Student A.

       Pretest.  On the pretest Student A's topic sentence suggests that the person did not fully understand the  prompt, and she shows little understanding of basic academic paragraph form. The individual sentences do have some relation to the general topic of adult children living with their parents, but they are not organized in such a way as to support the topic sentence.  Coherence and unity are lacking.

       Basic paragraph structure. The first homework assignment shows a bit of improvement.  Ignoring issues of word choice ("...even though it is a country"), one can see a fairly clear topic sentence whose proposition is generally supported by the succeeding sentence.  Transitional markers set off supporting sentences, although one feels it would be helpful to have phrasal markers such as, "The first reason it is nice is..."  There is some confusion with the last two supporting points, since the student uses "finally" to set off the penultimate supporting detail.  The voluntary revision shows definite improvement in the areas of organization and support; there is a clear differentiation between major transitions and minor transitions, and the additional detail is both more interesting and pertinent.  Relatively minor problems (lack of indentation and continuing problems with the penultimate and ultimate supporting sentences and their transitions) do not obscure the signs of overall improvement. (On the "down side," the three discrete topic sentences have problems either with focus or implicit pronoun reference -- reference to a non-exisitent prior paragraph, e.g., "There is another group of them published monthly.")

      Coherence. The paragraph for Lesson #2 is in some respects a bit of a backslide (curiously, this was also the case with regard to the second paragraph for Student A in the previous study.  Might this mean that more scaffolding/practice is needed in the subskill of coherence?).  The problems with word choice and syntax make it difficult to assess the organization per se.  Moreover, by mid-paragraph it appears that the writer has gone off-topic, creating essentially two paragraphs or subsections of a comparison-contrast essay.  In short, it seems that on a micro-level the student understands the meanings of the individual conjunctions, but because of weakness in vocabulary and grammar is as yet unable to knit sentences with the conjunctions into a coherent whole.  (Unfortunately, there was no revision of this paragraph submitted.)

      Multi-paragraph essay. With her first multi-paragraph essay, Student A makes a fair attempt at separating main points into individual paragraphs, each with its own topic and supporting sentences, although there are some problems.  The main problem is the lack of introductory paragraph with main thesis.  Without a thesis, it is difficult to know what the pronoun them refers to in the topic sentence of the first body paragraph, which in general has a lack of focus, as well as problems with word choice which obscure the meanings.  The second and third paragraphs likewise have problems with word choice.  Finally, the concluding paragraph is of only one sentence, too short, though it does seem to suggest a main thesis.  (Note: Concluding paragraphs were not emphasized in this online tutorial.)

      Comparison/Contrast Paragraph.  Word choice likewise is a problem in this paragraph, as is syntax and pronoun reference.  However, the overall organization, including use of transitions, is fairly good.
 

       Student B.

       Pretest. The pretest essay of Student B shows that she has a general understanding of the format of the "basic" five-paragraph academic essay, with introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and concluding paragraph.  The main thesis anticipates the essay structure fairly well; however, and the individual paragraphs lack details.
 

      Basic paragraph structure. With this single-paragraph essay, aside from word choice and syntax problems, the inappropriate use of the first-person pronoun and slightly inaccurate use of one transition ("In second place"), Student B shows a good grasp of basic paragraph structure.  The topic sentence is clear and the supporting sentence are logically laid out.  There is a lack of details, especially with regard to the sentence, In that sense, this University gives us much more possibilities to choose the career that we are looking for.  One would expect some conrete examples here.  On the whole. however, it is a more well-supported paragraph than those in the pretest.  (The three sample topic sentences all possess satisfactory focus, althougb the use of the first-person pronoun is inappropriate for most kinds of academic essay work.)
 
 

       Paragraph coherence. A fair command of coherence markers has already been shown in the Lesson #1 paragraph, so there is no quantum leap here in Lesson #2, although one can discern awareness of the difference between "major" and "minor" conjunctions in, for example, Student B's use of "One reason is that Miami is..." and "For example, even though...".   Unfortunately, this student did not submit more homework, though one can see that she has made some progress in organzation and use of supporting detail since her pretest.
 
 

       Student C.

       Pretest. Like Student A, Student C provides on the pretest only a single paragraph.  The topic sentence is preceded by an inapproppriate first-person reference, but it does provide an overall idea that is developed in the body of the paragraph.  There is a general grasp of the components of an English academic paragraph, with three discernable major supporting sentences set off by transitions.  Topic development, however, is marred by problems with syntax and word choice common for students on the intermediate level.
 

      Basic paragraph structure. In his homework for the first lesson, Student C produces a bare-bones, academic-type paragraph with a well-focused topic sentence, three supporting sentences, and one detail sentence accompanying each major support sentence.   The whole, however, is formulaic, since the detail sentences do not really illuminate the major supporting lines very much, partly due to word choice problems.

       Coherence. This Lesson #2 paragraph suffers most from the point of view of focus and unity; exactly what the topic sentence and the paragraph as a whole are about seems uncertain. Does the passage wish to give a list of reasons why students study abroad ("in the United State also there are many international students"), or try to persuade the reader to study in the United States "you can make many foreign friends")?   Despite the lack of focus, this paragraph does attempt to develop its main idea with details more than does the paragraph in Lesson #1.  (No sample topic sentences were submittted by Student C.)

          Comparison/Contrast.  In Lesson #4A, Student C provides a credible paragraph with a clear topic sentence, major and minor supporting sentences, and appropriate use of contrastive transitions.  Moreover, aside from the odd use of capitalization in the word "VIDEO," and the inappropriate use of the second-person pronoun, it appears that Student C appears to have made a quantum leap in paragraph writing.  The only major "downside" is the merely factual and nonsummative concluding sentence.  Given that the lessons did not focus on concluding sentences, this is understandable.

        Cause/Effect.  Finally, with his cause/effect paragraph, Student C seems to backslide in the area of coherence, along with word choice and syntax.-- it is not altogether clear, for example, what connection there is between the sentences Tokyo and Chicago are also well known by subway systemand Tokyo and Chicago are always crowded with many cars.  On the other hand, he does seem to have a command of the meanings and uses of some comparative transition words -- both, also, is similar to.

       Evaluation.

       As with the previous pilot study, in evaluating the effectiveness of this pedagogical website, at least two kinds of data may be taken into account -- student performance on the assigned homework and student feedback/commentary on their written performance and on the website itself. These results may be considered in the light of the questions raised in the "Research Questions" section above, which are restated here for covenience:

       Question 1. Overall, is an asynchronous, online format an effective mode for the teaching of basic English essay-writing skills to intermediate ESL learners?   As with the previous study, even though the sample size is rather small, the answer to this question would be a qualified "yes."

        Examining the objective, writing-related evidence, one can see that in most cases steps toward mastery of basic paragraph structure, the use of transitions, and organization in specialized rhetorical formats can be discerned. However, it can be seen that when a student (as for example, Student C) attempts to tackle a new skill -- e.g., use of cause/effect transitions -- skills in other areas -- paragraph coherence -- appear to backslide.  This would seem not an inherent fault of the online environment itself, but a phenomenon attributable to the normal vacillation of an ESL learner's interlanguage (i.e., the developing foreign/second language of a non-native learner), made in the process of acquiring new discourse structures.

        As for the self-reports on the participant questionnaire, while only two of the three participants submitted feedback (the same percentage as in the previous study), the feedback was quite positive. Student B wrote, "I really feel that the online lessons helped me to improve my English essay writing, because before that [sic] online classes I had no idea about what an essay was and how to write one (save some classes in Reading & Writing)."  Given the objective evidence and the subjective reports, therefore, the instructional impact of the online ESL writing tutorial seems positive overall.

       Question 2. Which writing subskills may be most effectively taught thereby, and which least effectively taught?   As with the previous pilot study, it appears that the aspect of academic writing that was most effectively learned by the learners in this pilot was the learning of transitions -- that is their general meanings -- although the distinction between major and minor conjunctions did not always seem clear to the students.  This conclusion is expanded to include those transitions used for the two specialized rhetorical formats offered in this second pilot -- comparison/contrast and cause/effect. -- although it shoudl be kept in mind that (again) the n-size was small.  Since many ESL/EFL learners, in the experience of this writer, do emphasize vocabulary building in their learning process (sometimes at the expense of higher-level skills such as discourse competence), that the apparently best-learned elements of writing (that is, conjunctions) happen to have a discrete-point character is not surprising.

        Unfortunately, little data was obtained regarding acquisition of skills in writing in the basic five-paragraph essay format.  As mentioned above, only one of the three participants (Student A) submitted a draft essay, and in the end that unit was skipped due to lack of time. Based on Student A's submission, it could be tentatively concluded that in future greater coverage should be given in the online tutorial to the crafting of introductory paragraphs, since Student A apparently had trouble conceptualizing and executing same.

        As with the previous study, the most difficult feature of essay writing for the three participants seemed to be the use of supporting details. Again, this appears to be more be a function of the intermediate level of the learners than a function of the online lessons. On the other hand, when the need for supporting details was pointed out by the instructor/investigator pointed out to the students in e-mailed feedback, it was observed that, whether in voluntary revisions or successive assigned paragraphs, the students did attempt to employ more supporting details.

       Question 3. Can effective, interactive exercises be devised to give intermediate ESL learners practice with elements of essay composition? The increased generation of supporting details (mentioned immediately above) in succeeding paragraphs seems to indicate that the e-mailed-feedback component of the tutorial system (itself an example of interactivity) was useful in helping the students acquire certain writing skills.  Another facet of interactivity, and a primary focus of this study, was the possible effectiveness of four new exercises written in JavaScript (two each in the Comparison and Contrast and Cause and Effect lessons) along with a revised version of the interactive exercise written for the lesson on Coherence.

       In the first study, there emerged some problems with the old Coherence exercise, which contained a single paragraph with text box "blanks," into which the student was to type possible transitions provided in a table on the form. The problems were due to the fact that given multiple if statements associated with a single "Check Your Answer" button, it was difficult to program in an overall else statement to cover mistyped or erroneous student responses. Alternate if statements were devised to cover several conceivable, "typical" mistakes, such as leaving off a comma from a transitional word or phrase, but this programming device could not cover all possible errors. The result was that if a student filled in a later box first, but then went back to change an answer in a previous box, he or she would receive no feedback. For this present study, a way around this problem was devised: The investigator simply copied the paragraph several times and assigned only one text box to each page, each box constituting an interactive "blank" into which the student would attempt to type an appropriate transition.

        Similar means were employed in creating the two interactive exercises for the Comparison and Contrast transition unit, which exercises also consisted of a series of nearly-identical webpages presenting a single paragraph .  For the Cause/Effect unit, two different interactive formats were devised, partly for variety's sake (to hold learner interest), partly to see if the students found them useful for learning. One exercise consisted of a sentence-combining task using cause or effect transitions; the other employed buttons embedded within single paragraphs on which buttons appeared either correct or incorrect transitions.  Students were asked to guess which "buttoned" conjunctions were correct and which incorrect.  Clicking on a button caused an alert box to appear, on which the student could read whether or not she or he had guessed correctly,

        For all exercises, old (that is, revised "old") and new, it was felt that detailed grammatical or discourse-relevant feedback be given, rather than simple phrases such as "Correct!" or "Good job!" Hence, detailed feedback was written into the JavaScript if statements for all response options, and larger textareas or text boxes were designed into the interfaces.

        To paraphrase a primary motivation for this study, How effective might the above innovations be in helping Students A, B, and C learn discourse elements in academic English?  This question is difficult to answer since due to their coursework commitments, the students could not spare the time to answer very many specific questions, whether online or in face-to-face interviews.  However, some conclusions may be tentatively deduced from the available evidence.  (See the Appendix for the questionnaire responses.)

        If one considers the objective writing evidence (see Appendix below), one can see, as noted above, that the learners all evinced at least moderately progressive command of the basic rhetorical-format elements (topic sentence, supporting sentences with details, appropriate transitions). These steps toward mastery are clearly the result of student interaction with the website as a whole, but as to which portion(s) proved to be the most effective for learning -- the static lecture pages, the teacher feedback via e-mail, the fill-in-the-box transition exercises, the interactive sentence-combining exercises, the find-the-error alert-box exercise, or some combination of the above -- such cannot be precisely known at this writing, given student time constraints vis-a-vis debriefing and the low n-size.

        Similarly, when one turns to the subjective student reports, definite conclusions are hard to come by because of the paucity of data,  However, some of the student comments are encouraging.  For example, both Student A and Student B answer in the affirmative when asked whether the website had helped them learn English essay writing.  Student B wrote that before taking the "online classes I had no idea about what an essay was and how to write one (save some classes in Reading & Writing)."  This comment points to at least overall effectiveness of the website for this person.  A breakdown as to which website component was the most useful is not possible, although the phrase, "had no idea what an essay was" suggests that at least the hyperlinked webpage lectures were a key factor in learning.  It should be noted, however, that prior classroom exposure to concepts of basic rhetoric may have been carried over into online study.  Recall that Student B's pretest essay was the only one that had an even a bare-bones multi-paragraph format.  The paranthetical comment, "save some classes in Reading & Writing," however, suggests that Student B found the online site a beneficial review and/or a means to build on prior knowledge, as affirmed by her statement, "I really feel that the online lessons helped me to improve my English essay writing."

        With regard to ease of navigation, both students answered in the affirmative, which suggests that the given online format itself was at least not a hindrance to acquiring some rhetorical forms/skills.  The relative unifornity in design -- text layout, textbox positioning, navigation links, etc. -- apparently provided a relatively "transparent" on-screen environment for the learners.

        As to the usefulness of the interactive exercises, Student A's comment, though slightly obscure due to her interlanguage, is rather suggestive:  "Yes. Because trying writing let me know what I cannot understand."  It is possible to interpret this response as meaning that when this student typed various response options into the input text boxes (in her words, "trying writing"),  then the programmed, detailed feedback provided her with an understanding of why a given reponse was acceptable or unacceptable ("let me know what I cannot understand").  Although likewise encouraging, Student B's response is relatively vague by comparison, even though her English proficiency is higher: "and the interactive exercises were useful."

        Significantly, Student A's response brings to mind an issue raised at the conclusion of the previous study with regard to examining teaching composition online from the standpoint of ESL learning theory.  As Chapelle (1999) points out, tasks in computer-assisted language learning (CALL) need to be analyzed from a perspective of language authenticity. How similarare the online language-learning tasks to real-world writing activities that ESL learners will eventually perform?   In this connection, the interactive exercises apparently referred to by Student A (and by Student B in a more general way), can be seen as having both "inauthentic" and "authentic" aspects that may be appropriate for online ESL learning. On the one hand, the act of typing discourse markers into empty textboxes is not a very authentic, real-world activity. On the other hand, it can be argued that there is an authentic aspect in the above exercise in that even the discrete-point nature of the activity can have value if the rhetorical elements are analyzed in a discoursal context. Student A wrote, "[T]rying writing let me know what I cannot understand."  As analyzed above, this possibly means that the detailed feedback on responses was of help to her in understanding why a given response was correct or incorrect.  Within the context of the Coherence exercise, for example, this detailed feedback, and the (in)correct response itself which the learner has typed into the textbox,  can be related by the learner to an entire sample paragraph in which the response textbox is embedded, which paragraph the learner is engaged in completing.  As she or he progresses through the activity, the learner has the opportunity -- indeed, the necessity -- to refer to the entire paragraph in trying out possible candidates for sentence and paragraph completion.  That is, the learner needs to interact not only with the individual single-word and phrasal conjunction options (lexical level), not only with the individual sentences that the boxes are embedded in (sentential level), but also the paragraph as a whole (discourse level).  Hence, given the textual layout, given the fact that understanding "basic" academic paragraph elements are essential to success in U.S. academic culture, given the interactive webpage design, the objective evidence in Student A's writing work, and finally her above-mentioned self-report on the questionnaire, it seems quite possible that the exercises in this online tutorial possess a useful degree of language authenticity.

        A final comment by Student B suggests that online writing tutorials be supplemented by in-class lessons, "because in my opinion that would encourage people to study."  (It is possible she is speaking about herself since she did not submit work for Lessons #4A or 4B, yet it is also true that none of the participants submitted all the "assigned-but-voluntary" homework.)  This comment needs to be considered cautiously.  Integration of online with in-class work is certainly a viable idea in situations in which time can be allotted for such.  However, in cases such as the IEI, where (as mentioned in the Background portion of this paper) for administrative reasons, asynchronous learning seems the only practical option, perhaps what is needed as an external motivator is the "carrot" of a formal grade.  (For legal reasons, this study was a "non-credit" venture as far as the students were concerned.)

        Issues for future research.
       The results of this pilot study, as with the previous pilot, are encouraging.  However, there are several issues that need to be addressed:  First, obtaining a larger n-size is essential to bring sufficent data to bear when analyzing/evaluating the effectiveness of a given piece of courseware.  In addition, it may be desireable (given the luxury of that hypothetical, large n-size) to incorporate all three types of interactive exercises into each lesson, in an effort to see which type of interactivity is best suited to which component of academic writing.  On the subject of content, given the problems that at least some students had with topic sentences, major and minor conjunctions, and introduction paragraphs, interactive lesson(s) dealing with each content issue should be devised and incorporated into the tutorial website.

       As mentioned also in the previous study, considerations of the writing processmust inform the planning, beta-testing, execution, and evaluation of any CALL writing tutorial site. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned limitations on time and student participation -- as well as a wish to "get the bugs out" of the first pilot's JavaScript-related problems before expanding the website too greatly -- forced the investigator/instructor to focus this present study only on how this CALL environment might affect the teaching and learning of organization and coherence,only two aspects of the writing process,  although coherence within two specialized paragraph forms -- comparison/contrast and cause/effect -- were apparently profitably added to the bank of online resources.    However, as Reid (1994) points out, the academic writing process (any writing process, actually) involves several other factors, among them topic selection, audience identification, purpose, pre-writing strategies, drafting, revision, and editing.  Certainly a semester-long study needs to be performed, in which these aspects of the writing process are addressed via webpage presentations,  online interactive activities, and asynchronous teacher feedback.  For further suggestions as to how these aspects might be taught and learned online, the reader is referred to the Evaluation portion of the previous study.
 


Works cited.

Chapelle, C.A. (1999). Theory and research: Investigation of "authentic" language learning tasks. In Joy Egbert and Elizabeth Hanson-Smith (Eds.), CALL Environments: Research, Practice, and Critical issues. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Others Languages (TESOL).

Reid, Joy (1994) The Process of Paragraph Writing, 2nd Ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
 
 


       Appendix.

Click on the links below to see individual student work. The Lesson links in the first row will take the reader to the original online writing lessons. (Absence of link denotes no homework / data submitted.)
Pretest
Lesson 1
Paragraph Structure
Lesson 2
Coherence
Lesson 3
Essay Structure
Lesson 4A
Comparison & Contrast
Lesson 4B Cause & Effect
Questionnaire
& Responses
Student A
Student A
Student A
Student A
Student A
Student A
Student A
Student B
Student B
Student B
Student B
Student B
Student B
Student B
Student C
Student C
Student C
Student C
Student C
Student C
Student C

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       A.   Baseline data (Pretest)

The pretest essays below were responses to the following prompt, taken from Phillips, D. (1996). Longman Preparation Course for the TOEFL Test, Vol. A, 2nd ed. White Plains, NY: Addison-Wesley, p. 354. (Note:   This topic-prompt was the same as that used in the first pilot study.)

(N.B.: 30 minutes were given to write these essays. All student errors are retained in the typescripts. However, the spacing between paragraphs is not a feature of the original student responses but is editorially inserted to enhance readibility.)
 
Pretest: Student A 

    If they hope to live with their parents, they should do it after the age of 25. Most people in Japan live with parents at their home. After they marry, some of them leave their home and the others keep living their home with parents. Usually, the oldest sons are required to live with their parents. Also, they are required to take care of their parents when their parents can not help themselves. Because of it, they are allowed to live in their house. Other sons and daughters have to leave their house. If they are single, they may live at their home until they get married. And also, it spends people a lot of money to live by theirselves, especially in a big city. If they want to leave their home and live alone, they can do it. But they don't prefer to do it. 

Top    |    Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2    |    Lesson 3  |   Lesson 4A 
Lesson 4B

Appendix Menu










 

Pretest:  Student B

       People should never live at home with their parents after the age of 25 because they have to get their own responsabilities and become independent people.

       People, who as soon as possible, leave their parents' home get responsabilities. this responsabilities are going to give them the tools to build their future. Also, responsabilities permit people to get mature and to know what they really want for their future. In that sense, when people leave parents' home they have to pay apartment rent and get their own money in order to be able to live which means responsabilities

       On the other hand, people who leave their parents' home after age of 25 become independent. In my opinion, this is very important, because they begin to think and do the things by themselves, with out paretns' voice that says what do they have to do.

       However, leave parents' home sometimes is very difficult in some countries. For example, in South American countries as mine, economy is very bad and it is so hard to have enought money to support yourself. At age of 25 you are leaving the University and you have to begin to work. At the begining you can't get enought money to be independent, save you have parents' rich who give you some money.

       In conclusion, I think that people have to leave their parents' home after age of 25 in order to build their own life and get responsabilities which prepare them for the future.

Top    |    Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2    | Lesson 3  | Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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Pretest:  Student C

       I agree with that opinion. People need the independence from their parents. Fisrt, we have to live alone someday. Then we need to care ourselves. For example, we have to earn the money to live. We prepare for ourselves to live alone or with our family. Second, we need to take care for especially person. For instance, we will be married and to live with wife or husband. We have to raise our children. Finally, we need responsibility of human being. We take care about our parents and children. We respect our old family. That age is suitable for us to be independent. It's not too young and not too old. If you are younger than 25, you'll need a help from your parents. If you are older than 25, your parents will worry about you. In conclusion, to be independent and to to live without parents are important for us. It's a kind of rule that we attend the social life. So we have to try to live without parents. 

Top    |    Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2    | Lesson 3  | Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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       B.   Lesson #1 Homework.


Lesson 1:  Student A
(Basic Paragraph Structure)

Three topic sentences:

  • Many magazines are published weekly.
  • There is another group of them published monthly.
  • People can also see magazines published quarterly.


Homework Essay:

       My hometown is a nice place to live in though it is a country. First, we have some season's events, such as a summer festival and a spring party. We can enjoy ourselves in all seasons. Everyone may join them if he or she want to do. And also, we can find and feel seasons. It is surrounded mountains. In winter, we have much snow. In fall, leaves turn red. At night, we see stars in the sky. Finally, it takes us only twenty minutes to go to the center of city by car and by bus. We can buy anything we need. In addition, we have many choices of entertainment. There are many towns in Japan but my hometown is best to spend life.
 

Voluntary Paragraph Revision after Teacher Feedback:

My hometown is a nice place to live in. For example, one reason is that there are many season events people can enjoy all through the year. They participate in them; for example, a spring party called "cherry blossom festival" and a summer festival where we see many women with yukata-it's similar to kimono, which are held in some areas. Also, people can find some Japanese traditional things; such as a light stand called "Bonbori" and shops where they sell olden foods and toys. Another reason is that people can see the change of seasons because mountains surround this town. In spring, cherry blossom trees bloom and birds sing. Since leaves turn yellow and red, the whole mountains change their color in fall. In winter, we have much snow. Though air is so cold, we can see children play outdoors with their cheeks red. They make snowman. Moreover, at night, there are so many beautiful stars in the sky. On the other hand, we can play winter sports; for instance, ski and snow board, near the town. Finally, this town is not far from the nearest city. It takes only twenty minutes by car. We can buy most things we need. In addition, there are some kinds of entertainment. It is convenient to spend life in this town.
 
 

Pretest    |    Lesson 1    |   Lesson 2    |   Lesson 3  |   Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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Lesson 1:  Student B 
(Basic Paragraph Structure)

Three topic sentences:

  • My hometown is the most beautiful place that I will never forget.
  • Paris would be the place where I would like to travel when I get married.
  • The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has many resources for students who wants to have a great education.


Homework Essay:

    The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has many resources for students who want to have a great education.  First, we can find as many careers as we could ever have imagined.  In that sense, this University gives us much more possibilities to choose the career that we are looking for.  In second place, this University has a lot of laboratories which help students to do their assignments and also, help them to be informed about what is happened around the world.  This is possible thanks to computers and sciences labs such as Physics and Mathematics Labs or FLB and Union Computers Labs.  Likewise, the University is very well placed because it is in the middle of the Illinois State.  That is a good resource for students who live in this State and so much more for people from Chicago who come here to study. Thus, the University of Illinois is one of the most important Universities, which offers a lot of benefits to students.

Pretest    |    Lesson 1    |   Lesson 2    | Lesson 3  |   Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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Lesson 1:  Student C 
(Basic Paragraph Structure)

Three topic sentences:

  • My hometown, Shimada, is famous for some interesting feature.
  • New York has some famous place that people want to go.
  • There are several interesting ways using computer.


Homework Essay:

       My hometown, Shimada, is famous for some interesting feature. First, there is an old bridge. That is the longest bridging that is made by wood. Guiness Book introduces it. Second, there is famous source of Japanese tea. There are many tea farms in that area. Finally, there is strange old-fashioned dance. It's a rare traditional Japanese dance and it held every four years. In conclusion, my hometown is a good place to spend my life. 
 
 

Pretest    |   Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2   |   Lesson 3   Lesson 4A   | Lesson 4B

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       C.   Lesson #2 Homework.


Student A: Lesson 2
(Coherence)

        Speaking English is useful for people who study it. For example, they try to use the most appropriate word while they are speaking. In such a case that they have forgotten it, or that they don't know it, they express by other ways, such as examples and additions or extra explanation. They make correct sentences as possible. Because of it, they make an effort to tell something with all knowledge. Moreover, they effort to listen to somebody when they have a conversation. They have to understand what other people say in order to keep it. Also, they need to ask about others if they can't listen to and understand. They learn new words in the same time. On the other hand, they have some difficulties. One reason is that they don't have many times to talk with native speakers. Some of them don't like talking with persons who learn English. So, it is hard to find them. Another reason is that they hesitate about talking to others. Most native speakers are willing to talk to them. However, they speak fast. Then the person has to ask them to speak slower, or to repeat again many tines. Because they are not used to speaking and listening to English, they worry about asking repeatedly. The best choice is that they try to have as many opportunities to speak as they can, and do the best.
 
 

Pretest    |    Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2    |   Lesson 3   |   Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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Student B: Lesson 2 
(Coherence)

      Miami is one of the best places to go on vacation for people who live in Venezuela's Capital - Caracas - for different reasons. One reason is that Miami is closer to Caracas than other cities. For example, you can arrive there in almost 3 hours by plane, which sometimes is faster than to go to the next state in Venezuela by car. However, you can spend a lot of time going from Caracas to Maiquetia where is the Simon Bolívar Airport. Moreover, Miami is a very warm place. Its temperature is always between 70 and 80 which means that you are going to enjoy almost the same weather that in Caracas. Another reason is that Miami is a cheap city and you can find good things for low prices. Also, Venezuelan people like to buy imported things such as Levi's, Tommy Hilfiguer or Spirit, and going to Miami they can buy that kind of things cheaper than in Caracas.

Voluntary Paragraph Revision after Teacher Feedback:

Miami is one of the best places to go on vacation for people who live in Venezuela's Capital - Caracas - for different reasons. One reason is that Miami is closer to Caracas than other cities. For example, even though you can spend a lot of time going from Caracas to Maiquetia where is the Simon Bolivar Airport, you can arrive in Miami in almost 3 hours by plane, which sometimes is faster than going to the next state in Venezuela by car. Moreover, Miami is a very warm place. Its temperature is always between 70 and 80 which means that you are going to enjoy almost the same weather as that in Caracas. Another reason is that Miami is an inexpensive city and you can find good things for low prices. Also, Venezuelan people like to buy imported things such as Levi's, Tommy Hilfiger or Spirit, and going to Miami they can buy those kind of things cheaper than in Caracas.

Pretest    |    Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2    | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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Student C: Lesson 2
(Coherence)

       Have you ever thought to study abroad which is very popular in all over the world, in United State also there are many international students. One reason is that there are many exchange program in almost university. Also, there are many exchange students in there. Moreover, almost university and college have a language school, which is for international students who don't have enough TOEFL score or just study English. Another reason is that students have curiosity and want to have experiences in another country. It is very good to have many experience in young age. For example, you can make many foreign friends, so you can get many things which you don't know and haven't heard about. Your world is spread out. On the other hand, some students have problems, such as, home sick, mental illness, to get accidents,and so on. However, it is good experience also.

Pretest    |    Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2    | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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       D.   Lesson #3 Homework.


Student A:Lesson 3 
(Multi-paragraph Essay)
(Note: The spaces between paragraphs are added to aid readability and were not part of the original student essays.)

      First, people do not have any doubts about relations between them.  People know many famous jinx, such as Friday the 13th and Pharaoh's Curse.  One  reason is that it is connected with happening in the past. In historic times, people continue to tell about it repeatedly. They believe it without evidences. Another reason is that certain bad things broke out by accident on the same or at the same place people feared. It was enough to believe it.  Besides them, they did not have any idea to think of it. In ancient times, they could not know it as same as in present times. Therefor, there was no doubt that every event has a cause and an effect.

        Second, science technology did not develop so much in the past that it could not help people to know a reason that bad luck happened. Scientific research is important to seek the fact. In addition, there was a lack of information and data. Less information limited investigation. On the other hand, social customs did not accept scientific evidences. They were more useful factor than science. They refused the truth.

        Finally, people are interested in various kinds of superstition. For example, many women like their horoscopes. They do not have reality and evidences at all. They influence only person's mind. When people read them, they appear as the truth if people think they tell the truth. Furthermore, some persons believe seriously the existence of superstition. They do not want the relation between a cause and an effect. It is no matter for them. Moreover, as the latest scientific research cannot tell it, it is able to bring much interest to people.

     Because of these reasons, people have believed jinx since ancient times.
 
 

Pretest    |    Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2    |   Lesson 3   |   Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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E.   Lesson #4A Homework.

Student A:  Lesson 4A

    Though Japanese and English belong to the language, they are extremely different styles of language. For example, Japanese is different from English with respect to pronunciation. Japanese dose not almost have intonation patterns. Also, it has clear sound, and which is easy to pronounce. English, however, always has them and unclear sound, such as [r] and [l]. It is difficult to listen to and pronounce. Another area where there are differences between them is in their structure. English has many complicated rules, for instance, present perfect and present perfect progressive, in structure. In addition, order of Subject, Verb, and Object is decided to put into sentences in English; while it is not decided strictly in Japanese. Moreover, Japanese does not have difficult rules such as present perfect. Besides of them, English differs from Japanese with respect to writing. In English, when people write something, they need a little attention. If correct letter, word and form are not used, it may mean other thing. People have to change verb's form into past tense in order to express the past. On the other hand, in Japanese, people hardly need to change whole words into other forms. So, it is difficult to study both languages because they have nothing in common.
 
 

Pretest    |   Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2   |   Lesson 3   |   Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B
 

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Student B: Lesson 4A
(No homework submitted)

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Student C:  Lesson 4A

     Although TV and VIDEO are both useful home devices, there are some interesting differences between TV and VCR. First, the sources of each device are different. For example, TV programs are broadcast by invisible ways such as electrical wave, satellite and cable. On the other hand, VIDEO sources are tapes, CDs and DVDs. Second, the programs of the two devices have different styles. TV broadcasts live programs such as news, sports games and entertainment shows, while VIDEO plays recorded programs such as movies, music videos and exercise videos. Finally, as far as operation is concerned, the two devices differ greatly. Unlike TV programs, which can't be stopped in the middle, VIDEO programs can be stopped and repeated as many times as you want. In conclusion, TV and VIDEO are different devices.

Pretest    |   Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2   |    Lesson 4A   |   Lesson 4B

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F.   Lesson #4B Homework.

Student A:  Lesson 4B
(No homework submitted)

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Student B:  Lesson 4B
(No homework submitted)

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Student C:  Lesson 4B

Similarities between Tokyo and Chicago

     Tokyo is similar to Chicago in three interesting ways. First, both Tokyo and Chicago have the same modern transportation. For example, both of them have an international airport such as Narita and O'Hare. Tokyo and Chicago are also well known by subway system. Tokyo and Chicago are always crowded with many cars. In addition, other similarity between Tokyo and Chicago is the nice structures. For instance, Tokyo tower is similar to Sears tower in that both towers are famous in the world. Buildings are clustered around the center of Tokyo, and Chicago too. Tokyo is located at the intersection of highways, and Chicago is too. Finally, as far as entertainment is concerned, there are big amusement places. For example, Kasai aquarium is similar to Chicago aquarium in that both aquariums are beautiful. Both of them have some beautiful parks in the central city. Tokyo and Chicago are fascinating cities in the world.

Pretest    |   Lesson 1    |    Lesson 2   |    Lesson 4A   |  Lesson 4B

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QUESTIONNAIRE
  1. Do you feel that the online lessons helped you improve your English essay writing?
  2. Were the lesson webpages easy to use? If not, why not?
  3. Was the interactive exercise in Lessons #2, 4A, and 4B useful? Why or why not?
  4. How might the online lessons be improved?

  5.  

E.   Questionnaire Responses.
Student A
  • Yes.
  • Yes.
  • Yes. Because trying writing let me know what I cannot understand.
  • I am sorry that I did not have enough time to do every lesson.




 

Student B
  • I really feel that the online lessons helped me to improve my English essay writing, because before that online classes I had no idea about what an essay was and how to write one (save some classes in Reading & Writing).
  • Also, the WebPages were very easy to use,
  • and the interactive exercises were useful (at least those that I did, I apologize because I did not do all of my homework).
  • However, I think the online writing lessons can be improved giving some lessons together (student-professor) at the same time, because in my opinion that would encourage people to study.




 
 

Student C
(No feedback submitted)

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This page was created by F. Scott Walters on 4/14/00.
It was last updated on 4/28/00