University of Helsinki,
Department of Teacher Education

Research Report 1991/

Seppo Tella
Introducing International Communications Networks and Electronic Mail into Foreign Language Classrooms: A Case Study in Finnish Senior Secondary Schools

161 + 36 pages


The general purpose was to make senior secondary school teachers of English as a foreign language and their students aware of the possibilities of some pedagogical applications of Information Technology in foreign language (FL) teaching. The specific purpose was to study how computer-mediated, foreign language referential communication, carried out via communications networks and electronic mail (e-mail), could be adapted to FL teaching in Finnish senior secondary schools. The research model combined foreign language education and Information Technology (communications networks and e-mail). The scientific problem was built on communicativeness as a general objective in FL teaching and communications networks contributing to simulating communicativeness in FL classrooms. At the operational level, this led to introducing communications networks as a technological innovation into FL classrooms.

The study was a multisite ethnographic case study, with elements of exploratory, collaborative, change-oriented fieldwork-based development research. The research problems included the innovation/adoption process, learning tasks, and the teachers' role and position. The Finnish participants included six classes (Form 1 or 2) in three senior secondary schools, with four teachers of English (mother tongue: Finnish). The foreign participants consisted of schools in Britain and USA (with further contacts in Canada, the German Democratic Republic, Austria, Iceland, Sweden, and Japan). The fieldwork period lasted from November 1989 until May 1990.

Data gathering techniques included participant--observation, analysis of e-mail correspondence, informal discussions with teachers (and some students), teacher and student questionnaires, handouts, printouts, and teachers' logs. Occasional video and audio recording and photographing was included (microethnography).

Introducing a technological innovation into FL classrooms was well achieved, serving as a model for future action. No significant attitudinal or preference barriers prevented the Finnish teachers from learning to use communications networks or e-mail. The teachers realised these would soon be an integrated part of FL teaching, though incorporating them in the FL curriculum called for extra work. Methods of work slightly changed, taking the authenticity of e-mails into account, though the linguistic features of the e-mails were occasionally over-emphasised. The lesson format was learner-centred but somewhat teacher-monitored. Learners' autonomous, dyadic and small group work increased, while teachers partly became co-learners with regard to students.

Keywords: Electronic mail, Communications Networks, Computer-Mediated Communication, Computer-Assisted Language Learning, Foreign Language Teaching, Innovation, Senior Secondary School.

(PDF); Also see: 99, 110