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The Firewall in the Mind (Slide 18) Paradigm Shift

Although the computer has changed how we teach and learn in ways we could hardly have anticipated a few years or even a few months ago, I've tried to show what the mindset of ESL teachers was a few decades ago, and what a radical paradigm shift many of us from that era have had to make in order to accommodate computers and use them appropriately and effectively.

It's important to keep in mind that there has been no shift in pedagogical goals -- we have always wanted to promote communication in a target language, but just lacked the means. The shift has been in what it is now possible for us to do in a language class with regard to exposing students to the world of their target language. In other words, what teachers were doing before, they did in the interest of efficiency. These methods that I have been recalling were designed to make maximum use of the only native speaker informant that many students were likely to have.

At first, computers were seen as a way to increase this efficiency by increasing the possibilities for drill and practice, or by emulating what might be called the teacher's knowledge base and doling that out to the students. But as computers have grown to be more ubiquitous, they have now become accepted means of communication themselves. Therefore, the most successful paradigms to employ them in language teaching today, I believe, involve using them in such a way that they do an end run around the teacher and put students in touch with other target language speakers in authentically communicative situations.

This is what language teachers have always dreamed about. But not everyone with access to computers has realized yet that the wall preventing language learning in a context of free expression is no longer there, once we can comprehend how computers can be used to help your learners form supportive communities for rewarding language practice.

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Last updated: May 23, 2001 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0