August 2002 TESOL Journal Special Issue

Creating Meaning with Computers

Co-Editors' Note

Deborah Healey and Sarah Klinghammer

This special issue of TESOL Journal explores the "constructivist" use of computers; in other words, how CALL is used to help EFL/ESL language learners and teachers construct meaning in their learning environments.

The two major types of constructivism are cognitive and social. Cognitive constructivism refers to the learner-centered aspects of the theory, which posits that learners are not passive recipients of learning but that they construct their own knowledge from information received. Social constructivism, a concept based in large degree on the work of Vygotsky and Piaget, occurs when others, usually more advanced, help learners understand ideas and concepts beyond their baseline level of understanding.  

In a constructivist environment, the learner is the center of the learning process, the one who constructs knowledge and meaning, linking incoming or new knowledge and information with existing knowledge. The teacher provides the environment for relevant learning by creating whole, authentic, inherently interesting activities and by setting up multiple representations of reality and actual experience for learners, thus enabling them to construct their own knowledge. Typical activities for such an environment are investigation, discussion, collaboration, and negotiation.   

The authors in this issue discuss ways that CALL can be used to set up such environments and facilitate the activity within them. By thinking of computers as a valuable tool in a constructivist learning environment, the authors make good use of the power and potential of CALL, not only to teach technical skills, but also to help learners create knowledge. We start with some articles about teacher training: Leslie Opp-Beckman describes an online project with English teachers in Africa; Lia Kamhi-Stein and her MA students discuss using technology to learn about technology; and Susana Sotillo shares what happened in her wireless MA TESOL class.  The next four articles continue with variations on the theme of computer-mediated communication: Sophie Ioannou-Georgiou offers suggestions about using virtual reality via MOOs; Dawn Bikowski and Greg Kessler offer some tips about discussion boards, as does Wendy Sunderland-Smith; and Mark Freiermuth encourages teachers to try directed chats for EFL students.
This issue’s tips are about four projects that use technology in different ways: to create a documentary, to author English for specific purposes exercises, to take a virtual trip, and to help ESL students feel more connected to their school. The reviews include an overview of companion sites for ESL/EFL textbooks and a look at a pronunciation product.

Using computers to create meaning is a broad topic. We hope that you will enjoy this cross-section of ideas - and be inspired to try more of your own.

See more about the TESOL Journal Special Issue
Last updated 22 March 2003 by Deborah Healey. Email Deborah.