I have asked Steve McCarty, who recently participated in an electronic academic conference, to relate his experiences to us in an approachable way in terms of technical issues. This has been done with a view toward encouraging branches of JALT to investigate the possibility of organizing electronic conferences and publications in the future; steps that might serve to invigorate professional discourse and enhance our standing as an association.
In the view of this writer, an educator is a teacher and a lifelong learner, involved in the profession, the community, and the world. The Internet, connecting computers in a global communications network, opens mind-boggling possibilities and is already changing many paradigms related to education. This paper will introduce one of the world's first major academic conferences held entirely on-line, including a transcribed synchronous multiple user "MOO" discourse with EFL/ESL educators abroad.
The Teaching in the Community Colleges Listserv (TCC-L), based at Kapiolani Community College in Hawaii, distributes e-mail messages addressed to the list to its several hundred members, so asynchronous discussions continue year-round. To join the discussion list, e-mail <email@example.com> with no subject and the message: subscribe tcc-l first_name last_name.
There was a call for papers for The First Annual TCC-L On-Line Conference in CALLing Japan,(4 (3), 1995), the newsletter of the JALT CALL N-SIG. Abstracts for presentation proposals on the conference theme of "Innovative Instructional Practices" were sent to four vetters by e-mail. Papers were also submitted by e-mail. Conference Committee members formatted the papers with HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and started posting them on the World Wide Web (WWW) from March 25, 1996. To make interactions more like an in-person conference, a home page which included bio-data and color photos was created for each presenter. Presenters were able to send their material by regular mail to be scanned into digital format. From April 2-4 (3-5 in Japan) there were conference events, some posted on the WWW as they unfolded. About 750 participants registered for the conference, while anyone with WWW access can also read the conference papers (see url <http://naio.kcc.hawaii.edu/kcc/kccinfo.html>).
There were about 40 TCC-L conference papers. These papers are to be published in the TCC-L(E)J, an electronic journal that can be accessed via the WWW or gopher. Conference presenters were of all races, but predominantly based in the U.S. and other English native-speaking countries. It was a multidisciplinary conference, yet about a quarter of the papers were on language teaching. Three presentations were on TEFL, one each from Mexico, Indonesia, and Japan.
A one-hour synchronous session was scheduled for each presentation and was hosted by the Daedalus MOO (MultipleUser Domain, Object-Oriented). Participants with questions and comments met the presenters in cyberspace, and the group conversations appeared on everyone's computer screens nearly instantaneously via telnet. The possibilities of this medium have not been lost on L2 teachers, and Daedalus MOO also hosts a French language domain. While there is much the L2 teacher needs to learn first, it is even possible to join classes from other countries in real time.
Here follows part of the trancript of a Daedalus MOO telnet discussion on TESL/TEFL from 1-2 p.m., Hawaii time on April 4, 1996 (April 5 from 8 am in Japan). The passage is edited slightly for coherence. My interlocutors were ESL professors in California and Hawaii along with EFL professors in Mexico and Hong Kong.
*** Connected ***
Travelers' Inn. You are inside a small building used by travelers . . .
@go Athens Room
You see a conference room with chairs and tables which can be rearranged as needed. A tape recorder sits on a table . . . .
Dancar, Marsha, Bill Powers, Judi, and John-FR are standing here. You sense that Judi is looking for you in the Athens Room.
She pages, "Your paper is excellent, one any potential EFL teacher should have a chance to read."
John-FR asks, "If you are both teaching Japanese students to speak English, does it make very much difference that one of you is in Japan and the other [Marsha Chan] is in the US?"
Judi: "From McCarty's paper, I would answer yes, for he is looking at the constraints of the political system in Japan and its effects on TEFL."
John-FR says, "I expect the students living in the US are more motivated. How does one overcome the problems of cultural resistance?"
Steve says, "I try to acculturate and not impose Western paradigms."
John-FR says, "It reminds me of teaching Spanish in England. Students see their own culture as more important. But does not the language impose those [Western paradigms]?"
(part of a Daedalus MOO Athens Room session captured electronically by this writer)
Each MOO "room" has a description to create a shared ambience. Even so, the low-context environment can be disorienting, as the medium tends to overwhelm the message at first. And yet a substantive discussion could be discerned, an international comparison of TESL-TEFL situations. Each participant was actually operating a computer in Austin, Texas by remote control (TELNET), creating the virtual reality of seven people standing in a conference room.
Organizational and Technical Considerations
A discussion list or listserv, a mostly automated program in a host computer or server, creates an electronic network which is, moreover, a discourse community for people anywhere in the world with an e-mail address and an interest in the topic of discussion. As examples, Chubu University hosts , for discussions of FLT in Japan, yet L2 teachers abroad do join in. Provided one has a computer that has Japanese language capability, a teacher anywhere could also subscribe to at Chubu and participate in discussions of Internet applications to TEFL. Send e-mail to <majordomo@ clc.hyper.chubu.ac.jp> with just the message subscribe jaltcall (or subscribe net-lang). San Francisco State University hosts a very helpful network on L2 teaching via the Internet: send e-mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org> with the command subscribe neteach-l .
Organizations like NETEACH-L and TCC-L (Teaching in the Community Colleges) further receive permission from educational MOOs for list members to participate in regular real time discussions, giving the discourse community further opportunities for the meeting of minds. They also start separate mailing lists for those more deeply involved, such as officers or organizers of their annual conferences.
Participants in the TCC-L on-line conference filled out an evaluation form either by regular e-mail or via the Web by just clicking on the form at a certain WWW address. As with much of the conference interaction, via an Internet browsing program such as Netscape, clicking on highlighted words transported us via HyperText to the evaluation form or other links. While the one-hour MOO sessions were relatively long for questions and comments on presentations, messages to a new discussion list continued the commentary and evaluation process for a time after the conference as well. These messages and some transcribed MOO discussions were also posted on the WWW. In these media, a consensus was reached to expand TCC-L scope and internationalize the 1997 conference with the theme: "The Post-Secondary Teaching Profession in the Community and the World."
The TCC-L conference organizers further secured our use of a new Webbed MOO or "WOO" at California State University. Participants were granted passwords and a construction quota to build home rooms, as it were, in cyberspace, places where we could create a textual ambience and actually meet people黍r bring our EFL classes. The ambience can be read either in the room via telnet or by peering in through the Web. The text is programmed in ways explained by help documents in the MOO, and it can be edited through the Web without having to bother with HTML formatting. Each object constructed in the MOO, including one's own description, automatically has its equivalent home page on the WWW.
While it is inevitable that JALT will delve into these possibilities to further overcome spatial distances, one cautionary note is that money is being spent and not made by these electronic conferences and publications. Chapters may have the wherewithal but are geographically based, whereas N-SIGs, formed to overcome geography, would have to further rely on the resources of members and their institutions.
Nevertheless, for educator development, the number of electronic journals and conferences is growing exponentially, and many teachers will chafe until suitable hardware and software is available at their institutions. For one of the greatest revolutions in the history of education has already begun.
Steve McCarty, Professor at Kagawa Junior College, is on the Advisory Board of the Teaching in the Community Colleges Listserv and is a Contributing Editor of the Asia-Pacific Exchange Electronic Journal. He presented at the June, 1996 Knowledge and Discourse Conference at the University of Hong Kong (see WWW URL <http://www.hku.hk/engctr/home.html>). In JALT since 1983, he has been President of the Matsuyama and Kagawa Chapters, Bilingualism N-SIG Chair, and National N-SIG Representative.