Internet based language learning in Finland

Ilpo Halonen

Ilpo HalonenThere is a transition period from traditional school to eSchool taking place in societies where the newest technology is utilized. Mature eSchool will involve fast 24 h Internet connections and mobile devices with multimedia properties. Digital learning material will be down- and uploaded into and out of schools. There will be major changes both in school architecture and curricula. Other characteristics of the transition are rapid changes in educational contents, new methods of education and deep-going reforms in teacher education and training.

"To be able to do something new, one has to be able to stop doing old things", said Jorma Ollila, the managing director of Nokia 21st September 2000. What has changed in language learning? What needs to be done differently from old practices?

New technology has changed the world, and the Internet has strongly altered the language scene. English has become the 'lingua franca' of ICT, and the importance of written language has grown. Computer-aided learning requires learner-centred teaching methods. Utilization of the multimedia properties of computers will impact the development of education, of learning methods and especially of learning technology.

How do teachers of foreign languages react in the new situation? The development of technology is an autonomous process and it cannot be prevented. Most teachers have acknowledged this fact, but there are still difficulties for many to adapt to the new situation. Unfortunately only a small minority of teachers in Finland have accepted the challenge of new technology.

The administration of schools was decentralized in Finland a decade ago. This means that curricular activities are not administered by authorities but by schools themselves. National authorities are actually not responsible for what is taking place in schools. Even if they try to inspire experiments and new practices, there are not so many teachers who would like to abandon old ways of teaching and start using new ones. Another consequence is that it is not easy to find concentrated information about practical reforms. To me it seems that the scene of computer-aided education is really chaotic in Finland at the moment.

So, what do language teachers do? I am afraid most of them have not reacted to the technological change at all. Those who are conscious of the change try to reform their teaching. There are few concentrated efforts so far, but every reformer tries to come to computer-aided language teaching independently, what is very typical of Finns.

I think in this transition period the Internet-based language learning should be developed in cooperative projects with educators abroad. It is the quickest way to promote reforms and disseminate good new practices. As the national coordinator (a voluntary occupation) of the European Schools Project (ESP) in Finland I would like to recommend language projects of ESP, such as The Image, Das Bild, L?Image and Bilden. They offer good platforms for language teachers who are able to do new things instead of old ones.

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