EVC Connects Teachers and Learners Online

Learners and teachers of English explore free online tools for computer-mediated communication in an online community based at the National University of La Plata andmoderated by Nelba Quintana. See Andrew Boon's Portal article, "Is There Anybody Out There?," Essential Teacher, June 2005 (pp. 38-41).

At English Virtual Community (EVC; see http://ar.groups.yahoo.com/groups/inglesunlp/), an informal online community (operated by the School of Languages at Argentina's National University of La Plata), learners and teachers of English interested in developing language learning and teaching skills explore free computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools.

EVC works like this. Periodically, the moderator or a member proposes a topic by e-mail. As the moderator, I often choose topics based on teaching materials--for example, "Describe the city where you live" or "How do you celebrate Christmas?" Other topics are based on current concerns or issues. For example, during the 2002 political crisis in Argentina, a time when many Argentineans emigrated to the United States or Europe, the question "Shall we go away looking for a better life or stay and reconstruct the country?" raised a lot of interest.

Once the topic is introduced, members reply by e-mail. The results may be a debate or simply reactions based on members' experiences. As a moderator, I reply to members with encouragement or advice on improving their writing. Sometimes members participate spontaneously instead of proposing or responding to a topic (e.g., by sharing poems, riddles, jokes, or short stories).

EVC has explored and successfully exploited a variety of free Internet tools ranging from a simple e-mail list to voice chat. Members have uploaded photos, organized a cyberlibrary of interesting messages, carried out surveys, and held synchronous meetings online using voice chat. In the future, I hope to incorporate Webcam conferencing.

From a Writing Project for Students …

EVC has its roots in an online course I took in 2000 on teaching using information and communication technologies. The contact with people from different places and cultures was enriching. I asked myself, Why not start an online e-mail writing project in my city that would be available to anyone who wanted to join?

Initially, the purpose of EVC was to help learners develop their English skills through communicative exploration of online CMC tools rather than through a syllabus. Learning took place through a two-way channel between native and nonnative speakers of English. This approach attracted the attention of people of different ages and from different places.

… To a Community for Students and Teachers

Since its inception, EVC has developed into a friendly community of practice. Although members communicate mainly in writing, the development of writing skills is no longer an overt goal. Rather, community members seem to be motivated primarily to interact for personal reasons and, in so doing, to learn as much as they can about the multimedia CMC tools that support the experience.

For teachers, EVC provides professional event calendars. Teachers also use the authentic material sent by members in their classes, ask colleagues for help, and share their experiences with or knowledge about Internet resources.

The community also motivates students. One colleague encouraged the adolescent students she taught to enroll in EVC but did not expect them to be enthusiastic about it. To her surprise, they enrolled, carried out a survey, and even completed a report on the hardware used by EVC members. They presented the printed report to the teacher, who was astonished at the amount of effort that had gone into the project.

Join Us!

EVC is open to everyone, and members come from various parts of the world. If you would like to meet teachers and students who are practicing English and exploring CMC tools, please join us (see http://ar.groups.yahoo.com/groups/inglesunlp/ for instructions).

Nelba Quintana (escuelaunlp@yahoo.com.ar), the creator and moderator of EVC, is a teacher of English language and literature and sworn translator at the National University of La Plata, in Argentina.