fltuzi [at] nrm.root.or.jp
Tokyo Christian University, Japan
Language learning requires many hours of practice time. On average 2500 hours is required for a student to achieve an intermediate level of proficiency in a second language (Omaggio, 21) . If a student desires to achieve this level of proficiency in the four years they attend college, they will be required to study approximately two hours everyday. That is fourteen hours a week and sixty-one hours a month.
Since the number of study hours is so extensive, many language programs cannot provide all the hours necessary to reach an intermediate level of English. However, there are other ways to satisfy the study hours these students require. One way to assist in meeting this need for more practice is automation. In other words, teachers can help students practice through computerized practice activities and online testing. There are a number of benefits for computerized materials. One of the most obvious benefits is that students can practice in or out of class. They can practice anytime they desire provided they have computer access. In addition to versatility, students can receive immediate feedback from computerized practice materials since they are computerized. Furthermore, using computerized materials allows students to work at their own pace. Student can be discouraged when the class materials don’t address their specific needs. At the same time it is frustrating for a teacher to manage a class containing students with markedly different levels. But computerized practice materials provides the students an opportunity to practice with their specific weaknesses at their own pace.
Although there are many benefits to using computerized materials, there are some possible drawbacks too. Possible drawbacks to computerized materials are cost and time. The better online testing programs like Question Mark Designer are quite expensive (Question Mark Computing, 1997) . Although there are some relatively inexpensive online testing programs, they are not ideal. All of the software packages that I have tested work about the same. The teacher must input all of the materials into the program, question by question. Many seasoned teachers have a plethora of teaching materials saved on their computers; however, these materials cannot be transferred to the testing program. In other words, the teacher must re-input the data that they already input into a word processor. This is time consuming. Wouldn’t be nice if there was a program that could create computerized materials directly from a word processor? Another problem with commercially made programs is that the data teachers input is not accessible to other programs. For example, if I create a test in a testing program like Quiz Master(Ez Use, 1997) , I cannot take that test and input into a word processor. So I cannot combine or transfer the data. Transferability is a must with programs, but many testing programs lack this feature.
Some computerized quiz centers are located on the Internet (Mello, 1997) . Although taking quizzes while connected to the Internet is motivating, there are also some drawbacks. Mello mentions four possible problems with Internet based quizzes.
- The necessity of having an Internet account to be able to access the information.
- The problems of the Internet itself, that is, the connection is sometimes slow or down.
- The students have to keep their own score as they check their right and wrong answers against the correct answers given.
- The students do not know how much time they spent on each quiz, allowing them to better judge their performance.
Using computerized tests off the Internet can eliminate all of these problems. Computerized testing materials can also save time and money and at the same time provide for students individual needs. Furthermore, teachers can lessen their frustration by instructing students to concentrate on strengthening their individual weaknesses via computerized materials.
Having looked at a number of online testing programs, I believe that most of these functions are possible inside the Microsoft (MS) Word environment. In other words, MS Word has all the tools necessary to produce computerized practice and testing materials. In the remainder of this article I will explain some ways to use these tools.
The basic tools in creating online materials are macros and forms. A macro is a series of commands which are performed automatically. For more information about macros, please look at the Alternatives section of this paper. A form is a special gizmo that is inserted into a document. They contain options for a user to select. For example, a teacher has a short reading piece and some multiple choice questions after the reading. One question is
Who is the main character? A) Mickey B) Minney C) Donald D) Pluto
Instead of writing four choices for the students to select or mark on a paper, insert a Drop-down form. When students select this form on the computer screen, they will see a drop down box with all of the options. They select the correct answer and go to the next question. Thus, forms take the place of all major question formats: true false, multiple choice, fill in the blank, etc.
With these two tools, teachers can create online materials that students can use to practice.
Creating Online Practice Materials
The first step in making online activities is to select the materials to be converted. As was mentioned earlier, many teachers have practice materials which they made in a word processor. Instead of using them in class or for homework, teachers can convert these materials to online activities which students can use to suit their individual needs. Modern word processors have converters which transfer materials from one word processor to another. If there are no materials which can be converted to MS Word, then teachers will have to spend the time inputting the materials. These teachers will not save time with this system but they will benefit by saving money and retaining versatility. In either case, open MS Word and select the materials to be used.
Next select View from the menu bar. Then select Toolbars, and check Forms toolbar from the pull down menu, and press OK. The Forms Toolbar appears.
It contains eight buttons. Row one buttons are Textbox, Check Box , Dropdown box, and Form Options. Row two buttons are Table, Frame, Shade and Lock. The text button allows students to fill in the blank, and the dropdown button lets them select from a list of possible answers, i.e. multiple choice. When the online form is completed press the lock button to prevent students from modifying the form.
Now that the materials are loaded and the form toolbar is open, begin inserting forms where students will make options or fill in blanks. For example, in the following sentence students find and fix the errors.
- A Letters on a table in the kitchen are from a America.
To make this an online form, simply replace the mistakes with dropdown forms.
Select the first mistake (A) and then press the dropdown button. The A is replaced with a gray area. Double click on the gray area and the options form appears.
Add the answer and distracters in the Item drop-down list. When you finish adding the items and distracters, press OK. Follow the same procedure for the second error. When all three bookmarks are finished, the sentence will look like this: