EL-Online is an English language learning resource which has been developed by the Digital Education Network. D.E.N. has drawn together a number of English language professionals who are experienced in producing material for the Internet and each one has been assigned the development and administration of a subsection within the site. Authors have been commissioned to develop exercises, activities and resources for each section. The main language skill areas covered on his site include reading, vocabulary and grammar.
The educational objectives of this web site are to provide top quality resources for English learners in the areas of reading, vocabulary and grammar in an interactive environment. The material and the manner in which it has been presented is intended to encourage and stimulate the student learn by maximizing interaction with the English language.
The main subsections linked to EL-Online website are: The On-line English Grammar, The Grammar Clinic, The Practice Pages, English Alive and Focus on Words.
The On-line English Grammar, as the name implies, is an on-line grammar. It is comprehensive as well as searchable. A feature that adds utility to the grammar is the accompaniment of sound files to assist in pronunciation. The On-line English Grammar links to relevant exercises on the EL-Online site.
The Grammar Clinic is a forum and discussion group where questions about grammar can be posted and where participants can join in debate on topics of interest with others around the world who have similar interests in the area of grammar.
The Practice Pages is a comprehensive collection of links to sites with English language exercises developed by English language specialists and contributing teachers for the use of both teachers and students. Some sites make use of hypertext and other forms of interaction with users. Included in this subsection is testing material and even a 6 unit course for prospective teachers of English as a foreign language.
English Alive is a newly developed resource for English language learners on this site. It contains a varied range of English language activities and exercises and makes uses frames extensively/
Focus on Words is a subsection of this site specializing in providing vocabulary resources relating both to the meaning and the origins of words to the user. Key elements of this site are hyper-linked word lists, clear definitions, explanations, thematic grouping of words and interactive tests. There are both public access and registered user areas in this section.
For purposes of this evaluation I am limiting my comments in this section to one of the branches or subsections of EL-Online. Judging from its content of English Alive it is directed primarily to adult language learners with an intermediate level of proficiency in reading who are predominately businessmen and professionals. It is not in the opinion of the evaluator this section is not suitable for use by beginners. The content of this specific section of the site includes: short stories, articles, graded readers, vocabulary, verbs, dialogue, the lighter side (humor) as well as links to other websites for learners of English.
The short story section includes stories by the great British and American writers. The stories have been simplified for use intermediate learners of English. Readers of the stories are assisted by an online glossary in which difficult words in the passage are highlighted and may be clicked on to bring up a definition in the frame to the right of the text. The site is designed so that readers can almost immediately revise vocabulary either in context or using definitions only with words not in context.
This site publishes featured articles from The Economist every two weeks. This international weekly newspaper has been chosen by the authors of the site because of the good quality of its English and interest to the visitors of the site. Difficult words are highlighted in the text, and if the reader clicks on one of these, three possible definitions of the word appear in the frame to the right of text. This helps the reader to develop the skill of deducing meaning of unknown words from the context, rather than relying on the dictionary alone. The articles are also accompanied by reading comprehension questions.
English Alive is experimenting with various ways to develop English vocabulary. One of these ways, as has been mentioned before, is by the revision of words encountered in context while reading a short story. Another way makes use of an on-line dictionary. Readers are asked to match words with definitions written in simple English. A third way employs translation from another language.
In the section on verbs several methods of helping students to master the irregular English verbs are used. One method is to lay them out in tables in a manner similar to that found in most grammar books. A more challenging and innovative method is based on interactive self-testing. The learner is given a question to which he or she responds and then clicks the mouse to see if the answer was right.
In the section on dialogues the reader may choose various routes through dialogues which deal with everyday events using a method known as "branching dialogue". Each choice that the reader makes leads to further choices. A number of different dialogues are possible. Many of the expressions contained in the dialogue are linked to notes about them which can be read in another frame.
The section entitled "The lighter side", as the name implies, is intended to be a little lighter and more fun for its users. In an activity called Combwords the reader is presented with a set of three unusual words which are connected to each other in some way. A definition is displayed and the reader is asked to connect one of the words displayed with the definition. Eventually with each correct answer a puzzle is completed. This activity is intended to stimulate the development of the readers passive vocabulary.
The site includes a beginning level graded reader entitled, The Refugees by Elizabeth Laird which connects directly to an on-line dictionary.
As do most other similar sites this one also has links to other web sites of interest to English Learners. These are listed in two broad categories "Worth a visit" and "ELT Book Publishers".
This evaluator was left with a very favorable impression of this website overall.
EL-Online does not try to "be all things to all people". One of the reasons for its apparent success as a website, I think is because of its select focus. It does not try to focus on both the teacher and the learner at the same time. Nor does it attempt to meet the needs of all types and levels of language learners. There is a specific focus in the site on reading, vocabulary and grammar skills not on all of the language skills. Some may find the limited scope of this site restricting. Everyone will not find what they need on this site, but if the clear links to the parent site, Digital Educational Network, are explored much more information can be easily accessed.
The site shows the good input that it has received from English language professionals. A good variety of activities and exercises have been carefully designed or selected with the learners needs specifically in mind. I particularily liked the "branching dialogue" and "Combwords". There is not over-reliance on any single method. I especially appreciated the extensive glossing of reading selections using hypertexts in frames. The site is highly interactive in nature. Effective use of frames provides immediate reinforcing feedback to the user. This is a major strength of this site. Some may find the more traditional methods of presentation of grammar and vocabulary objectionable.
The graphic design of the site helps to effectively supports its educational objectives. It is an attractively designed site. It is simple and functional and should be easy for most users to master. The user is not overwhelmed by visual "overkill" or by a paralyzing array of choices that "wow" but bewilder users instead of gently directing the user. Help close at hand, appropriate to the level of the user and easy to use.
I think that this site can be a very useful tool in the hands of those for whom it has been specifically designed.
Reviewer: Paul Seefeldt
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org