Digital Technology in EFL Classrooms
Technological devices are now heavily integrated into people's lives. Electronic devices have transformed the ways of spreading information and have created a space for sharing opinions and communicating with others. Moreover, it is noticeable that digital technology is becoming a part of contemporary education, offering students a safe and comfortable environment. For example, EFL teachers, language instructors who teach English as a foreign language, have started actively integrating various techniques into their classes. In the framework of contemporary English teaching, the studying process focuses more on communicative needs and learners’ interests. Therefore, teachers are challenged to come up with innovative and various activities in the classrooms (Abbas, 2018).
Engagement refers to the amount and type of learners' participation in class activities. What is interesting is that students' engagement is dependent on the context, meaning that participation during class activities is influenced by cultures, communities, families, peers, and even the overarching school curriculum. These factors can influence various layers of engagement as well. Hiver et al. (2021) mentions that engagement always has ties to a specific object. For instance, people might express interest in a topic, person, or activity, meaning engagement has links to interpersonal components and the surrounding of learners. Thus, engagement is flexible and lively because it is connected to the learner's interests and surroundings which in turn influence students' participation in the classroom. These characteristics can offer educators a better understanding learners' overall engagement (Hiver et al., 2021).
Hiver et al. (2021) define three dimensions of engagement in language learning in their research. The first one is behavioral engagement. It corresponds to the number of learners taking part in activities. Behavioral engagement involves a focus on tasks, voluntary participation in discussions, time spent on tasks, and quality of learner involvement (Hiver et al., 2021). Another dimension of engagement is cognitive, which refers to the mental effort of students during the learning process. Cognitive engagement generally involves peer communication, sharing opinions, and offering feedback. Hiver et al. (2021) also highlight the importance of emotional engagement. This type of engagement is defined by learners' reactions while, particularly in foreign language classes, they perform activities in the target language and experience positive emotions, such as enjoyment and enthusiasm. In contrast, negative emotions, including anxiety, boredom, and dissatisfaction, harm engagement and the learning process in general (Hiver et al., 2021)
Since English is an international language, a greater emphasis is put on developing listening and speaking skills, which are considered complex language skills. Developing engaging and motivating activities is essential to create a supportive environment. Abbas (2018) mentions that video materials, unlike traditional books, expose students to natural use of language, and various accents and dialects, which leads to a better understanding of the language. Moreover, the use of videos in the classroom can be easily adjusted to a specific topic based on the students' interests. Videos also create a comfortable environment for students to overcome the anxiety which can be present when they start using the target language (Abbas, 2018). Using text messages is another way to enhance engagement in learning English. Texting is one of the most popular means of communication among young adults, who send around 60 texts per day (Li &Cummins, 2019). Adopting text messages in EFL classrooms can be a successful strategy to help learners enhance vocabulary by using the target language. English teachers apply a one-way communication model to create activities for the students. In this context, students receive messages with fill in the blanks exercises, writing, or sentence construction tasks using target words. The instructors monitor the time spent on the tasks and the level of performance. EFL instructors can also use two-way text interactions with their students to promote better engagement. Learners receive study materials via text at a particular time and have a specific time limit to complete the tasks and study the materials. This model plus the consistency of sending messages and using the target vocabulary helps students set an organized learning routine. Moreover, text messages allow teachers and students to track their progress easily. This program allows instructors to send summaries to learners regarding their progress and vocabulary learned (Li & Cummins, 2019).
Moreover, online platforms can help learners practice other language skills. For example, Mudra (2020) mentions that students who update a status or post on social media are more motivated to work on their writing skills. Posting online also makes them feel satisfied with their ability to express their thoughts in a foreign language. Similarly, interactive websites and various digital platforms can help students improve their reading, as online materials have visual supports, such as images, illustrations, animated materials, or hyperlinks which can improve engagement. Multiple features of online texts help learners to concentrate better on tasks, such as hyperlinks which make it easier for learners to look up unknown words (Mudra, 2020).
Another benefit of digital technology is the daily integration of the target and the improvement of listening skills. Different types of media content in English, such as music and podcasts, are widely spread among young learners. Students can enjoy listening to discussions on relevant topics, enhance their vocabulary and understand the deeper meaning of words (Mudra, 2020).
The implementation of digital technology in the language learning process, offers both instructors and learners authentic materials and a more comprehensive range of activities. For example, a study was held in a private Turkish university in Istanbul during the spring semester of the academic year 2014-2015. The participants were 85 EFL students in the age group between 18 and 24 years old, the English language levels were intermediate and upper-intermmidiate. Throughout the study, students were assigned to create a class magazine using the mobile application WhatsApp. Participants were divided into small groups of three. In each group administrators and instructors observed each stage of the project, while students voluntarily divided tasks between each other. While practicing expressing thoughts in the target language, students also learned how to manage group projects and to cooperate in both formal and informal environments. The study revealed a positive impact on language learning and group collaboration. Additionally, the use of text messages made communication between students and instructors more transparent due to the opportunity for instant feedback (Avci & Adiguzel, 2017).
Digital technology in classrooms is beneficial not only for learners, but for EFL instructors as well. Teachers can use visual aids, plan interactive class activities to increase a better understanding of the material and engage more students. For instance, authentic illustrations help learners make associations with words during reading exercises and encourage learners to stay focused. Online platforms can also increase communication between teachers and students, with some EFL instructors now creating Facebook group chats to allow learners to share their experiences or concerns during the course (Mudra, 2020).
Overall, digital technology has a positive impact on language learning. It helps students to create an organised studying routine, practice language at any time or location, and integrate the target language into everyday life. Electronic devices also allow students to practice several skills at once, to stay focused, and to feel comfortable participating in class activities. Another important aspect of using online devices in classrooms is the development of interpersonal and collaborative skills among students. Thus, digital technology should become an essential part of the curriculum, as it allows EFL teachers to prepare authentic materials for learners while easily guiding them through the different stages of learning a foreign language while keeping them engaged.
Avci, H., & Adiguzel, T. (2017). A Case Study on Mobile-Blended Collaborative Learning in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Context. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(7). doi:10.28945/2051
Hiver, P., Al-Hoorie, A. H., Vitta, J. P., & Wu, J. (2021). Engagement in language learning: A systematic review of 20 years of research methods and definitions. Language Teaching Research, 136216882110012. https://doi.org/10.1177/13621688211001289
Hyte, H. (2022, March 19). What's the difference between ESL, EFL, ESOL, ell, and ESP? Reading Horizons. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://readinghorizons.website/blog/what-s-the-difference-between-esl-efl-esol-ell-and-esp/
Li, J., & Cummins, J. (2019). Effect of using texting on vocabulary instruction for English learners. Language Learning and Technology, (23), 43–64.
Mudra, H. (2020). Digital Literacy among Young Learners: How Do EFL Teachers and Learners View its Benefits and Barriers? Teaching English with Technology , (20), 3–24.
Verheijen, L. (2013). The effects of text messaging and instant messaging on literacy. English Studies, 94(5), 582–602. https://doi.org/10.1080/0013838x.2013.795737
Cover Image: Gothe Institut. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goethe.de/en/spr/mag/nnn/22259738.html.
Figure 1: Language Magazine. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.languagemagazine.com/2018/10/22/1-in-4-students-is-an-english-language-learner-are-we-leaving-them-behind/.
Figure 2: Abbas, I. (2018). The Power of Video Materials in EFL Classroom from the Perspectives of Teachers and Students. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Language Research, 5, 161-181.
Figure 3: Li, J., & Cummins, J. (2019). Effect of using texting on vocabulary instruction for English learners. Language Learning and Technology, (23), 43–64.
Figure 4: Colorin Colorado. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.colorincolorado.org/teaching-ells/technology-english-language-learners.