English Teaching, 59(4)l 2004



Content Course Design Using Online Manuals: Meeting Specialized Student Needs Without Writing the Textbook



Everette Busbee

(Jeonju University)


Busbee, Everette. (2004). Content Course Design Using Online Manuals: Meeting Specialized Student Needs Without Writing the Textbook. English Teaching, 59(4), 257-281


Content courses, although effective at improving English because they use language solely for communication, are rare because they place two time demands on teachers. The first is gaining sufficient knowledge of the subject. The second, arising from the scarcity of up-to-date technical textbooks at an appropriate level of English, is the need to design a course from scratch and produce all its reading material, matched to specific learner needs. This is equivalent to writing the course textbook without reward, which few teachers are inclined to do. The author argues that, first of all, a content teacher’s mastery of the subject hardly need match that of an L1 teacher, but more important, readily available online editable files, if well chosen, can be a source for both the syllabus and reading material. A simple editing of a manual’s table of contents can give a course outline, and this framework allows easy selection of readings that can be used as-is or slightly edited. Teachers who minimize preparation time will be more inclined to teach content, to the benefit of learners. Course design using online manuals is illustrated by an IT content course in server configuration designed by the author from a single large online manual and taught to a class of Korean IT majors bound for a year’s study of IT in India.



I. Introduction


In 2001 a Korean government program arranged for a large group of the nation’s Information Technology (IT) college majors to go to India for a year of study. The main goal was for participants to pass a demanding Microsoft certification, but a secondary goal was for students to become proficient in English, because the medium of instruction in India was to be English. The cost per student, including fulltime classes and room and board, was low to begin with, but to increase the appeal of the program, the government and participating universities each paid a portion of the fees. Further, students were to receive two semesters of college credit, and because the cost of the program approximated the cost of tuition if students remained in Korea, participation was good, with 55 Jeonju University students applying.

The government, feeling that the students could use some preparation for studying abroad, funded a month-long intensive English program for three hours each morning, with three hours of IT instruction taught in Korean in the afternoon. The program was to run from late January to late February, with the students scheduled to leave in early March. I rarely teach classes other than regular semester, for-credit writing, teacher training, and computer classes, but as the only native speaker on campus who could teach computers, I   was asked to design and teach the program.

The situation seemed ideal for a computer content course, which I have taught for over ten years (Busbee, 2000). Although computers can also be useful tools for real-time error correction in writing (Busbee, 2002) and increasing reading speed (2000b), the computer as subject is the best way to utilize computers in EFL/ESL classes (Busbee, 2001a). Content courses are effective bridges from beginning to advanced language classes (Dupuy, 2000), but they are rare in Korea, which relies mainly on traditional conversation classes, which although normally taught with at least an approximation of the communicative approach, rarely involve true communication based on a need or desire to know. Content courses, on the other hand, involve information that students are expected to master in detail, so almost all student-teacher interaction occurs for the sake of communication based on the need to know. A bonus is that not only are English skills gained in a content course, the content itself is learned.

Accordingly, I designed a course in server configuration and taught it two of the three hours allotted for English study, with the other hour being devoted to elementary conversation-listening. All content material had to be at a level of English that matched that of the students, which was quite low, and this presented a problem. Because of limited demand, textbooks rarely exist for content courses aimed at a specific group at a particular language level, focused on semester-long academic topics, especially of a technical nature. Even if such books were produced in the technical fields, they would hardly be revised often enough to remain current. As for the present students, who had completed two years as IT majors and possessed good vocabulary and some reading skills, but who had beginner listening and speaking skills, there was no hope of finding a textbook that fit their needs. For many such courses, the teacher must, in effect, write the textbook.

Ten days were allotted to design the course, including producing all materials. This was demanding in that the course had been allotted about 50 hours, which is equivalent to a three-credit semester course. Further, because the students had just finished their sophomore year in IT, material at a fairly high level would be required so as not to duplicate what they had already learned, since such duplication would eliminate the theoretical underpinning of content teaching, the need to know. Ten days for syllabus design and materials generation was hardly sufficient, but devoting even that amount of time for course designing was not inviting, for as is standard with special EFL/ESL programs that fall outside a teacher’s main duties, work put into course design goes unrewarded.

Further, even if I were inclined to write a rough text for a class I would surely never teach again, I am hardly qualified to write a book for an Introductory Server Configuration course, although I am qualified to teach it as a content course. (I will discuss the issue of teacher qualification in some detail later. I will just say here that the dearth of content courses is partially due to EFL/ESL teachers shying away from teaching them due to feelings of inadequacy; that is, their lofty standards end up depriving students of experience in content courses.)

Online books, being in editable formats, at first looked promising as a source of reading material that could be whipped into shape with a minimum of rewriting, but it was quickly apparent that the English was too advanced and too wordy. An online manual, however, turned out to be written more simply and economically, and provided not only the reading text for the course, but also the course outline and the detailed syllabus, with minimal effort.

This paper describes the development of that course, focusing on the rationale behind the choices concerning syllabus design and the production of teaching materials, all the while minimizing the investment in time. The aim of this paper, then, is not to provide a teachable course with a lesson plan and supporting materials, for it is unlikely that any native speaker will ever be called upon to teach a server configuration course. The aim is to offer a way to quickly develop and provide high-quality materials for any content course of a technical nature that might suddenly and unexpectedly be offered to an EFL teacher. That is, the principles of course design and material development presented can be applied to any specialized technical course with sufficient concise and direct online documentation. In order to provide further assistance for those who might teach content, a brief background on content is presented, along with a discussion of the problems that may accompany the development and teaching of content courses.



II. The Need for Content Courses


In spite of today’s English conversation classes being overwhelmingly communicative in approach, the success rate of these classes is disappointing. This may be due to the artificiality of the communication. If true communication involves the need or desire to know information, then communication during role-play or pair discussions on favorite movies is marginal, for the motivation to know is fleeting at best. EFL reading classes suffer from the same shortcoming. Their topics are overwhelmingly of general interest, such as the life of bees, the history of rubber making, child labor, or environmental issues. Such topics relate to the specific needs and interests of few young adult EFL students, even though child labor and the environment are admirable topics. Further, language classes based on general interest readings change topics every class or two, which prevents the deeper treatment of a subject that would arise from a sustained need to know.

EFL students simply don’t have much experience dealing with English as a medium for obtaining information that they need and/or want to know. Pally (2000a) noted that her EFL students enrolled at New York University had generally read ESL/EFL textbooks or newspapers, but had rarely had to do more than answer general comprehension questions. None of her students had been required to master much vocabulary or form, and none had studied a subject long enough in a language class to synthesize information.

How might it be possible to escape the pervasive feeling of artificiality in an EFL classroom, a feeling that leads to content being treated casually? There have been attempts to increase the relevancy of classroom language. The most promising was English for Specific (or Special) Purposes (ESP)/English for Academic Purposes (EAP), which is geared toward a particular field, such as banking or IT, and normally cover material that students will need to be able to handle in English (Dudley-Evans & St. John, 1998). However, ESP/EAP, when taught as a conversation course, does not include communication based on the need to know, and such classes may at times be nothing more that a traditional conversation class using the particular language of a field (Busbee, 2000).

It would be better to somehow produce a situation in which a need or desire to master a body of information leads to communication. Such a situation is, in fact, easy to produce: All classes dedicated primarily to content, as opposed to language, either in an L1 or L2, are based on communication. This is true whether the course is Industrial Design, Immigration Law, Photoshop for Schoolteachers, or Hotel Management. In such courses the desire to know ideally arises from students seeing a place in their futures for the information covered. The desire to know may also arise from a baser need, one that has motivated students since the dawn of organized education, the need to pass tests; for at the very least, content courses treat content with respect, and have midterm and final exams that test solely on the information covered. This respect for content may even lead students to ask questions in order to better grasp the information, and this student-teacher interchange is a communicative teacher’s dream-come-true.

As to whether this type of teaching is, in fact, language teaching, Krashen (1984, p. 62) wrote that "comprehensible subject-matter teaching is language teaching" [his emphasis]. Widdowson (1990) is equally direct: “The effectiveness of language teaching will depend on what is being taught, other than language, that will be recognized by the learners as a purposeful and relevant extension of their schematic horizons" (p. 103). Strohmeyer (2000) sums it all with "I have always considered any language as a 'carrier wave' for the actual information or subject that the students have wanted to learn…. I am convinced that Language as Language should not normally be taught to anyone but cultural anthropologists leaving for New Guinea and linguists ... and that teachers should always teach something else” (p. 4).

Two decades ago the communicative theorist Littlewood (1984) noted that listening and reading worked well for typical large class sizes, and that listening and reading were at least as effective for language learning, and perhaps more effective, than speaking. All that is required for such a class to work is for the teacher to present an appropriate level of spoken English in a comprehensible manner (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2000) and use an appropriate level of reading material.

A final comment on the value of content courses relates to their authenticity. Short (1993) states that while ESL classes devote the most time to how to say something in imagined situations, with the emphasis on social language competency, content classes provide purpose, meaning, and authenticity, which adds to their rigor. The resultant higher standards can affect motivation (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994), because students are held accountable for the meaning of the English used in class (Busbee, 2000). Further, “authenticity in academic reading…simulates conditions outside the physical boundaries of the class” (Levine, Ferenz, & Reves, 2000, p. 8).



III. Content Course Issues


Pally (2000b) points out that Content-Based Instruction (CBI) is hardly a settled issue, with 25-year-old debates still continuing as to the role of content in EFL classes. Questions center on the nature of the content and how to present it in class, along with who is qualified to teach that content and how they should master it. Brown (2004) identifies the issue of most practical importance to teachers, the expectation placed upon them to design a course to meet very specific needs, but with little or no preparation time.


1. The Nature of Content


Content can be theme-based, linked, or sustained (Sustained Content-Based Instruction, SCBI) (Pally et al., 2002). Themes, such as the ubiquitous “rain forests,” exist in almost unlimited numbers (Meinbach, Fredericks, & Rothlein, 2000), and these themes often change from class to class as the semester proceeds. A linked class is, in effect, two classes, an English class paired with a content class, so the English teacher is not really teaching a content course. A sustained content course follows one discipline for a considerable length of time, usually a college term, with the class being taught in English by a language teacher.

A sustained content course (General Psychology, Visual Design, Server Configuration) eliminates the superficiality of the typical conversation class. Kerans’s (2001) account of a health care content program in Spain demonstrates this. Her listening goal for the first term is “merely gaining tolerance for extended speech” (p. 15), because her students failed to get this in their previous EFL classes. This relates to the difficulty Korean college students have with the short talks on the TOEIC and the relative ease of the short dialogs.

Theoretically, the nature of the content in CBI does not matter, what matters is that there is some subject for which students process input for content (Busbee, 1998). However, certain subjects seem to lend themselves better to the content course than others. Subjects in which the finer points of language itself are an issue, as in philosophy, are inappropriate, as are those that argue about the finer points of interpretation of meaning, as in history. The best subject matter, at least for up through the high-intermediate level, is one that normally incorporates straightforward grammatical patterns along with a manageable vocabulary.

A class at the lower intermediate level or below requires the simplest language and least ambiguous content possible, and for this the subject of computers is hard to beat. Korean English education sophomores with standard computer fluency can usually glean most information from an English handout on coding color for a Web page. They cannot get much information from a handout on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In 1993, teaching my first computer course in Korea, I discovered that, with patience, my sophomores were capable of 100% comprehension of much of the official WordPerfect manual, which was authentic English designed for native speakers.


2. Teacher Qualifications for Content Courses


Teacher qualification is an issue in content courses in Korean universities, where native speaker teachers normally have only a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts, with most advanced degrees also being in the liberal arts, especially English. However, professors of English tend to be the most qualified of all non-native speakers to teach a content class with English as the medium, so native speakers may not have much to offer for teaching literature.

The liberal education of most English teachers helps explain why some EFL teachers want to pair up with a content teacher, as in Heuser and Varga’s (2003) social psychology research project. It also helps explain the frequency of such subjects as film (Pally, 2000b; Chapple & Curtis, 2000) or pop culture in general (Duff, 2001). While I have not seen an official History of Rock Music content course, I know of cases in which native speakers have taught with this theme, and surely many native speakers would qualify as teachers for it, although I would not. If we focus on subjects more academic in nature, an EFL/ESL teacher’s having to learn content is similar to the demands placed on any teacher in any field.

Three factors largely determine whether a native speaker is qualified to teach a particular content course. The first is the level of the subject being taught, as in Photoshop I and II, but it is not always that simple. While Photo Editing and C++ Programming may both be sophomore computer major courses, the latter is on a higher level, in that it requires several years longer to become a good C++ programmer. Courses in programming, the intricacies of hardware, and computer theory are best left to experts teaching in the L1. On the other hand, introductory computer courses oriented toward single programs or closely related programs are especially good candidates to teach in English to EFL students. This is no matter what the student level in computers, because a junior computer major who has not studied photo editing will arrive as a beginner in Photo Editing.

However, student level is at times important, and it is, in fact, a second factor in determining whether a teacher is qualified to teach a particular content course. A course on the Microsoft Windows GUI for freshmen will, for example, be a more likely candidate for a content course than the same course for seniors. The third factor is the place of the content in the total education of the students. That is, a Photoshop course for design majors, who may use Photoshop professionally, will demand deeper knowledge from a teacher than a Photoshop course for secondary school English teachers, who will use Photoshop primarily for preparing class material.

Content courses therefore demand considerably less content knowledge from the teacher than often assumed, especially given that students are putting all their effort into trying to just grasp just what is being presented in an L2, and few are inclined to question teachers concerning areas not covered in the syllabus. Still, teachers in general shy away from topics other than current events and other general interest topics. This is unfortunate, because a general interest course often has no counterpart in L1 courses and thus “feels” like an English course. Students enrolled in an official computer course taught in English view it as a computer course, not as a language class, and they seek the class content, if for nothing else, to score well on exams.

A realistic view is that we should be primarily experts in teaching English and secondarily in the subject matter of content courses. Leave the advanced teaching of content to the L1 faculty of that field, but do not fear teaching the elementary classes. Content course teachers must of course do a creditable job, but they must not operate under such lofty standards that they fail to teach classes they could in fact teach well.

This is especially true for general computer content courses, due to a basic concept of operating systems such as MS Windows: The learning curve decreases with each program mastered. It may take a computer novice 50 hours to learn Photoshop at just a rudimentary level, in that all basics from file management on up have to be learned. After this, PowerPoint might only require an additional 10 hours or so for basic fluency.

Applying all this to my server configuration course, an estimated 10 hours of preparation with the documentation for a full-featured server allowed me to teach a 50-hour non-credit introductory course in server configuration and administration to new 3rd-year IT majors who were heading to India for a year’s study. Preparation time included going over each day’s material about 15 minutes, which was sufficient because less material is covered in an L2 than an L1. Content included setting up chat rooms, forums, and email systems, etc., which none of these IT majors had yet worked with hands-on, so any information gained in the course was surely of value. However, content did not deal with hardware or any issue outside the Microsoft Windows GUI environment, subjects that were left for either Indian teachers or Korean professors upon the students’ return.



3. Producing Course Materials


Because content teaching can include a large variety of specific subjects at a variety of levels, such as EAP for Masters of Architecture Students (Swales, et al., 2001), there will be many subjects that lack the demand required for the production of a book. The selection of ESP/EAP content books is so limited that it has led one leader in the field, Johns (1990), to ask whether such textbooks actually exist. Consequently, with the possible exception of a few popular subjects such as banking or some of the engineering fields, it is up to the teacher to come up with the material. It is ironic that the lower the level of student English, the less likelihood of finding a textbook: While simply-written books on Photoshop are available, there appear to be no books along the line of Introduction to Photoshop for Lower-Intermediate EFL Students.

The effort required of teachers to prepare material for ESL content courses can easily discourage them, especially in combination with the effort needed to learn, maintain, or stay current in the content (Brown, 2004). A dilemma for ESP/EAP teachers is that they “find themselves in a situation where they are expected to produce a course that exactly matches the needs of a group of learners, but are expected to do so with no, or very limited, preparation time" (Johns, 1990, p. 91). Nunan (1987, p. 75) says that “if teachers are to be the ones responsible for developing the curriculum, they need the time…to do so.”

In effect, teachers who develop all the material are writing a textbook without receiving any reward, either financial or in career advancement. This may help explain the scarcity of computer content courses, despite the field’s simple, straightforward language being among the most appropriate of any subject matter.

For the non-tenured native speaker EFL teacher in Korea, heavy teaching loads and the high turnover rate would likely preclude not only the desire but the possibility of developing the detailed course materials for a sustained class. As a practical matter, then, a typical native speaker teacher cannot produce the materials necessary for a class such as the one described in this paper.

There is, however, a solution. Most software comes with an online manual, and this is often written in simple, direct, economical English. All the teacher need do is quickly edit the English to better match the level of the students. With nimble editing—replacing a few difficult words and simplifying the occasional complex grammar, as well as deleting unnecessary sections—a functional and adequate text can be produced in a short time, especially if the teacher can avoid the temptation to spend too much time polishing the text. Anything that can reduce the time required for preparation will increase the chances that the teacher will continue to teach content courses.



IV. The Program, the Students, and General Goals


Asked to take this program about ten days before it was to begin, I was told to do whatever I thought appropriate. Brief preprogram interviews conducted by Korean English-teaching staff indicated that both speaking and listening skills were scant. In such a situation, a teacher could hardly be faulted for taking the “realistic” view that a month would have an inconsequential effect, and that at the very best an introductory conversation text could be covered, giving students a bit of survival English so they could find their way around an airport and order in restaurants.

But frankly, there was little reason to fear these students would mistakenly board a plane for China when trying to get to India, no reason to fear that they would go hungry in New Delhi. However, a certain amount of concern was reasonable as to how much they would be able to learn about IT in India, especially in their first few months. Nevertheless, it seemed prudent to include at least one hour a day of instruction to 1) improve listening skills so the two hours of content instruction that followed would be more effective, 2) expose students to the patterns and vocabulary of the language that was to used in the content instruction, and 3) work on some basic conversation skills. The second and third hours would be for the IT content course, and the first step for developing that course was to define the goals.



V. Designing Around Student English and Motivation


A course should be designed around the specific content needs of the students, but it should also be built around their level of proficiency and willingness to work. Determining individual proficiency for a large number of students requires time and effort, while determining the general proficiency of a group is quick. Although applicants were told that the primary consideration for acceptance to the program was their English proficiency, which was to be determined by their TOEIC scores, no applicant had taken this test, so this could not be used as a source of information. Although most applicants had just finished their sophomore year and so had just completed a four-semester sequence of required two-hour-a-week English conversation classes, such classes are notoriously ineffective. Whatever the reason, a meeting with the students during a brief orientation a few days before the program showed that their English was lower than the level of our typical entering English education freshmen.

Nevertheless, as graduates of Korean high schools the IT students had considerable vocabulary and the ability to get much of the information contained in written sentences and short paragraphs. In addition, the Korean vocabulary concerning the field of computers is heavily laced with English loan words, which tempers the normally daunting process of mastering a field’s vocabulary. A further plus for this group of students was that at the time of the program, competition for enrollment in IT was so intense that students often chose IT at a local university rather than one of the liberal arts at a Seoul university. Accordingly, the students were quick learners.

The administration, concerned about maintaining student motivation, informed students that any unexcused absence would result in immediate expulsion from the program. Further, the administration said, a final exam would be given, along with the TOEIC, and a sizable portion of those with low scores would not be sent to India, although all were indeed sent. Additional motivation surely arose from concern about the effect insufficient English would have on success in India. Whatever the cause, the participants were among the most consistently motivated students I have ever taught.



VI. A Webcrossing ESP Content Course


An ESP/EAP content approach was chosen. That is, content teaching was accompanied by assistance in learning language patterns and vocabulary appropriate for the field. Goals in ESP and EAP are aligned with student needs to such a degree that Hutchinson and Waters (1987) define ESP as “an approach to language teaching in which all decisions as to content and method are based on the learner's reason for learning" (p. 19). This is a recurring theme in the literature, as when Gatehouse (2001) maintains that the word “special” in ESP ought to focus on the purpose of the students rather than the jargon or registers of the material that they use in their learning. According to Dudley-Evans and St John (1998), an EAP content class should incorporate the underlying methodology, activities, and language of its discipline; that is, students should do in class what they do in their field, using the appropriate grammar, vocabulary, and skills, which allows the approach to be used even for beginners. This meshed with my students’ goals, for in India they would need listening and reading skills and higher vocabulary.

The students were IT majors, and they would need to be proficient in configuring and maintaining servers. Server software was therefore a natural subject. Webcrossing v.4 (now in version 5), a server that can be used without cost on a small scale, was chosen. Besides being free, it had evolved over four versions to be user friendly and was easily configured on a basic level. However, advertised as an “industrial strength” server, it is capable of becoming as complex as anyone might want to make it, as attested to by its manual, called the Webcrossing Non-Programming Guide, a PDF file 415 pages long. This flexibility of complexity would allow the material to be adjusted on the fly, so to speak, to fit the students and the time allotted. The Guide’s language is among the most easily comprehended authentic reading material available to EFL students. Further, the Guide was the kind of material the students would read and work through in their classes in India, and, more importantly, on their Microsoft certification exam. For its relevance and comprehensibility, as well as the authentic yet simple language of its documentation, Webcrossing became the centerpiece of this course.



VII. Goals in Listening, Reading and Vocabulary


Listening skills would be essential in India, because lectures and oral explanations were to be major conduits of information. Just as the stated goal of many conversation teachers is “to get the students talking,” a goal of this class was to “get the students hearing.” An IT content course would provide comprehensible oral input involving information that students have a desire and/or need to know, but some explicit language instruction would get the students started more quickly. Accordingly, the first hour of each day was designated for conversation instruction or the presentation of sentence patterns that would be used in that day’s two hours of IT instruction.

Every few days I recorded a few paragraphs of IT material and the students copied the tapes and used them for memorizing a short passage each day. Several students were chosen during each class to recite the target passage, a process requiring only about 15 seconds per student if they had prepared. Each reciting student received a simple grade of 3, 2, 1, or 0. The primary source of improvement in listening skills, however, was the large quantities of time students spent listening to lectures while struggling to comprehend.

Reading skills would also be essential, because for IT, as with most intellectual fields, written material is the primary source of information. Reading material came solely from the Webcrossing Non-Programming Guide. As covered below, an edited form of the Guide’s table of contents formed the course’s syllabus, and the best reading materials for each subject were chosen for each item in the syllabus, also covered below.

Vocabulary, of secondary importance in conversation classes, is crucial for intellectual activity. Vocabulary must be mastered in large quantities, for there is no effective substitute for knowing a word, at least not until a truly advance level has been reached. Readings for this program were chosen in part for their vocabulary, with the best readings repeating terms several times in a few short paragraphs, which provided built-in reinforcement.

Guessing vocabulary as a reading strategy has been shown to be ineffective at inferring meaning if a reader doesn’t understand at least 95% of the words in the text (Laufer, 1989; Nation, 1990; Parry, 1991). Such a high level of comprehension is out of reach for most foreign-language learners using authentic materials. Nassaji (2003) has concluded that for intermediate students, the guessing success rate is low even when strategies were used. It would seem that while guessing may be of some value in getting the gist of a newspaper editorial, a movie review, or a TOEFL question, even a moderately successful guessing rate might well be insufficient when the material is a recipe for baking a cake, an instruction sheet for deactivating a bomb, or a manual for configuring a server. Guessing was therefore not suggested as a reading strategy.



VIII. Producing the Course Outline


The major goal of this paper is to illustrate the relative simplicity with which a technical content course can be developed, given sufficient online content. Minimizing the time involved in developing a course means using a course outline already in existence, at least roughly. The Webcrossing Non-Programming Guide table of contents was ideal, in that it was tailor-made for the situation at hand. Given its considerable length, a few days could have been spent choosing subjects, but in reality, all that was required to produce a syllabus was about 30 minutes of scanning through sections of the guide, followed by copying and pasting the table of contents from the PDF file into a word processor, and then editing it. Because of time constraints, a number of topics, normally the more difficult ones, were deleted, and some minor topics were combined.

The general syllabus, shown below, includes many subjects familiar in a general way to a typical computer literate person. Nevertheless, these IT majors had completed their sophomore year without having configured a server, so students had a need to know. Server configuration turned out to be an ideal content course subject: Any particular topic was hardly taxing intellectually, but the sheer volume of the information assured that students processed a lot of English for its content. Of course, some topics were more complex than others. Chat room configuration consumed more than three hours, but sizing user pictures and formatting the text to accompany those pictures needed just 15 minutes.


Table 1.

General Syllabus, Based on the Manual’s Table of Contents



Conference organization

Access lists and user groups

Discussions: conversations and threaded messages

Tracking messages: subscription lists and bookmarks

Chat rooms


Spell Checking Services

Customizing how Webcrossing looks to users

Direct Web service (HTTP)

News service (NNTP)

E-mail (SMTP/POP3)

User pictures and font sizes

Login, greeting, and registration settings

Discussion settings

Custom buttons and icons

Backup and recovery


User access

Managing Users

Expiration of old discussions

Performance tuning

Data management



IX. Producing Reading Material and Vocabulary Lists


For an ESP content course to be effective, the language must be appropriate, with an analysis determining appropriateness (Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998; Strevens, 1988). However, for the purposes of this IT course, analysis was unnecessary, in that the English level of the class called for the simplest, clearest English available. Nevertheless, as stated, although the Guide consisted mainly of appropriate English, it was a massive 415 pages, so a full-time week could have been devoted to the selection of material. However, once the course outline was produced by editing the table of contents, the choice of material was often limited to an introduction of the subject, a set of specific instructions, and a FAQ. Instructions were usually covered from their beginning to a point where they either became too complex to cover or else the time allotted to them was reached. Introductions to technical writing normally strictly follow the outline of the material introduced, in the mold of “tell them what you are going to tell, and then tell them,” so it is simple to cut the introduction at the same point the set of specific instructions are cut. A teacher could put considerable effort into editing a FAQ, but the time saver here is to cut the FAQ at the same point the intro and instructions are cut, and then use the time-honored device of glancing over the material in class and then quickly telling students what they are responsible for.

Simple concordance software was used to make vocabulary lists from the handouts, and the handouts and lists were posted online. A merged list gave about 400 words, which were defined by students working in pairs, with each pair assigned 16 words to define, in Korean, giving only the IT meaning. These definitions were shared.

A benefit of teaching a technical course in Korea is that the vocabulary involved is often not as large a problem as it might seem, because many English technical terms, such as “hard drive” and “server,” have been incorporated into everyday Korean. Vocabulary in this course was therefore more concerned with such IT terms as “permission,” “access,” and “subscription.”


X. Detailed Teaching, with Email as an Example


The topic of email in presented here in some detail as an example of how a subject was covered. Handout 1 covers POP3 service, and Handout 3 covers SMTP service. Both are slightly edited sections from the Guide. The two handouts illustrate how the English used to cover two related topics can overlap for different configuration processes. This presents an opportunity for a language review that in fact does not feel like a language review, because the subject matter is new, and there is a “fresh” need to know. It is surely also good for student confidence to be able to cover SMTP more quickly because some of the ideas have already been covered in the lesson on POP3.


Table 2.

Detailed POP3 Email Service Syllabus


POP3 email service for all users, selected users, or nonusers

Require APOP authentication, or username/password login

TCP/IP Port for POP3 service

Maximum number of simultaneous POP3 connections

Inactive timeout (minutes) for POP3 connections

List of allowed/denied calling IPs



Table 3.

Detailed Simple Mail Transport (SMTP) Email Service Syllabus


Provision of SMTP email service according to user classification

Username/password login

TCP/IP Port for SMTP service

Maximum number of concurrent incoming SMTP connections

Inactive timeout (minutes) for SMTP connections:

Support VRFY command for SMTP connections

Support EXPN command for SMTP connections

Relay (forward) incoming SMTP messages

List of allowed/denied relaying IPs:

Outgoing SMTP mail IP address of domain name server

Maximum number of concurrent outgoing email sessions

Maximum number of hours to hold undeliverable email

Special routing for outgoing mail


Email, a central feature of servers, had four handouts. The handouts go from the general to specific, with Handout 1 being a description of Webcrossing’s email service. This is an example of reading that is not put to immediate use, but which is valuable because it is not primarily imperative sentences on how to configure software. It is also helpful in the first presentation on SMPT, POP3, and IMAP. Its syntax is more complex than other reading material, but then, as introductory material, it does not have to be mastered. Its function is to assist in the mastering of the detailed instructions that follow.


Handout 1: Webcrossing Email Features


Web Crossing 4.1's mail features include external mailing list archiving and a full fledged, industrial-strength email server and list server, providing all the following services, with no separate mail software required. All the following services are available with all versions of Web Crossing 4.1, on all platforms (Unix, Windows and Mac OS).

1. A full SMTP mail server providing private user mailboxes with access via a web mail interface, POP3 mail client or IMAP client.

2. A full mailing list server that provides notification of new message postings, mailing of new postings to subscribers, email digests for subscribed areas and participation in the web forums via email.

3. Full support for multi-domains (virtual domains), with multiple mail aliases allowed for each user.

4. Many anti-spam and security features, including relay prevention, relay only after authorized login and restricting services (allow and deny) to domains and IP addresses on a service-by-service basis.

5. Email validation messages can be sent to new users and email can be sent from your own customized macros directly (for forms processing and other tasks).

6. The ability to retrieve mail from external POP3 mailboxes, for receiving messages from external mailing lists, and for receiving confirmations of new user validations.


A list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is an important sub-genre of technological writing. Handout 2 gives a short FAQ for Webcrossing’s Webmail. In troubleshooting, the main skill is finding a question that matches the troubleshooter’s question. This can be carried out by a simple text search (Control-F) of the FAQ HTML page. However, FAQs also serve an introductory function, and often the quickest way to get software up and running is start with the basic FAQ. FAQs also assist in developing the skill of asking questions, and questions were to be the most likely form of English spoken by the students in the Indian classrooms. Of particular value here is the consistent use of “I” in the question and “you” in the answer, which Korean students need practice with. I taped this reading for student study outside of class.


Handout 2.

 Web Crossing Webmail FAQ


This FAQ (which is available online for your users) answers questions frequently asked by Webcrossing users.

Q. Do I have to use the new Webmail service?

A. Not unless you want to. If you like, you can just ignore it and continue using your current email client, such as Eudora, Outlook Express or Netscape Mail.

Q. Do I have to choose between Webmail and POP3 mail?

A. No. You can use both. In fact, it is often convenient to use both. For example, suppose you use more than one computer during the day. You can designate one computer as your "main" workstation and download mail to that computer using your favorite mail client. Yet you can still continue to check your mail from other computers via Webmail. Any computer running a Web browser gives you access to your Web Crossing email from anywhere.

Q. What are some benefits I gain by using Webmail?

A. (1) The ability to check your email from any computer with a browser without installing special software and without needing to set up your mail account; (2) Previewing your mail—you can check to see if you have mail and read and reply to individual messages without downloading all your mail; (3) Deleting mail without downloading—you can delete unneeded messages with big attachments without downloading them; (4) You can send email from anywhere, under your name, even if the computer you are using does not have your mail account registered.

Q. What are some other benefits of accessing Webmail?

A. (1) You can change your own mail password whenever you want; (2) You can edit your mail aliases (alternate names for sending and receiving mail—if the sysop allows users to do this); (3) You can set email forwarding to other email addresses.


Preparation for Microsoft certification involves the type of material shown in Handouts 3 and 4. They refer to certain checkboxes that “should be selected if….” and that “should not be selected if….” While it is possible to answer many questions on the certification exam even if general introductions and FAQs have not been thoroughly understood, this is not true for questions concerning which menu items control what and how dialog boxes should be handled.


Handout 3.

 General Settings for Handling Mail


1.The Use 8bit encoding for outgoing email checkbox should be selected if you are using extended Roman characters and various non-English Latin character sets in your outgoing email. You should not select this box if you are using Japanese in outgoing email because 7bit JIS codes are the standard for outgoing Japanese Internet email.

2. If you check the Log email activity checkbox then all mail sent and all retrievals of email from external POP3 mailboxes will be logged in the specified file, located in the Web Crossing server directory. This file is an ordinary text file and may be viewed and edited. You can also see the most recent email log activity via the Email Status Control Panel.

3.The maximum size settings allow you control over the maximum size of incoming messages.

Note: It is useful to examine the log from time to time to see if there are error messages present. You might find messages about invalid passwords when checking POP3 mailboxes, or an inability to send email to certain locations. This is important information that can help you solve problems if mail is not being correctly sent or received.


Handout 4.

Access (Permission) Issues


Each folder, discussion, or chat room can have an access list attached to it. Access lists specify who can use the resource, and how they are allowed to use it. If a location in the conference does not have an access list, then it uses the access list of its parent, and so on. There is no inheritance of access list settings: when you view an access list, you see the access settings in their entirety.

Hosts are allowed to add, delete, or edit any items in their area. They are also allowed to approve or reject all moderated messages in their area, and to edit the access list for all items.

Participants are allowed to add new messages, discussions, folders, and links as permitted by the folder structure controls established by the hosts. Participants’ posts are not moderated.

Moderated users are allowed to add new messages, discussions, folders and links as permitted by the folder structure controls established by the hosts. All messages and new items are subject to moderation rules, and will be checked by a host if they contain possibly objectionable words.

Read-only users can browse and read but are not allowed to add new messages, discussions, folders or links.

Users with no access cannot even see the area at all -- its link is not present in its parent folder for this user.

Access lists can include any number of users or groups and the access they are allowed. If a user is in multiple groups, then they have all the access rights permitted by any group. If a user is in the list explicitly, then they have exactly the specified access, regardless of any group-based access.


Handout 4, which is an unedited section of the Guide, is an example of the straightforward English that is common in the field of computers and other technology. One trait of the writing of such fields is the use of the passive. It is hard to imagine a better reading being produced by an ESL writer specifically to cover the function of server permissions while presenting the active can and the passive be allowed to, both positive and negative. But this is not “canned” English that students know is just for language study, not of the kind they know they can neglect in a conversation class with few if any consequences. This is the real stuff they will be working with in their futures, and they know it.

For a few handouts, including Handout 4, bold, italics, and bold italics were used to assist students in seeing patterns, as suggested by Reppen and Donley (2001). Such a marked text is an example of a “functional analysis” of the kind Mohan & Beckett (2001) refer to as crucial when a foreign language is being used as the medium of instruction.

The subject here is permission, and words relating to this theme are the most frequent content words as determined by simple word-frequency software (Table 4). Access and the occur 14 times each, with access depending on the level of permission of the user. Then come list/lists, and, to, and are (9 times each, with a user’s level of permission determined by which list that user is on. Then comes allowed (7 times). This is an extremely high ratio of target content words to grammar (function) words.

Other terms related to permission are read-only, rights, approve, rules, and controls.


Table 4.

Word Frequencies in Reading on Permissions

(Ranking; Frequency as %; No. of Occurrences; Word)


1      4.98     14    access                 51    0.71     2      you

2      4.98     14    the                       52    0.71     2      as

3      3.20     9      list/s                    53    0.71     2      edit

4      3.20     9      and                      54    0.71     2      specify-fied

5     3.20     9      to                         55    0.36     1      be

6      3.20     9      are                       56    0.36     1      number

7      2.49     7      allowed                57    0.36     1      objectionable

8      2.49     7      in                         58    0.36     1      browse

9      2.14     6      by                        59    0.36     1      exactly

10    2.14     6      they                     60    0.36     1      on

11    1.78     5      or                         61    0.36     1      even

12    1.78     5      messages             62    0.36     1      explicitly

13    1.78     5      all                        63    0.36     1      but

14    1.78     5      can                       64    0.36     1      possibly

15    1.78     5      not                       65    0.36     1      posts

16    1.42     4      a                          66    0.36     1      present

17    1.42     4      new                     67    0.36     1      read

18    1.42     4      any                      68    0.36     1      read-only

19    1.42     4      of                         69    0.36     1      reject

20    1.42     4      is                         70    0.36     1      group-based

21    1.42     4      if                          71    0.36     1      rights

22    1.42     4      folder                   72    0.36     1      chat

23    1.42     4      have                     73    0.36     1      room

24    1.42     4      users                    74    0.36     1      rules

25    1.42     4      add                      75    0.36     1      regardless

26    1.07     3      items                   76    0.36     1      group

27    1.07     3      it                          77    0.36     1      resource

28    1.07     3      permitted            78    0.36     1      approve

29    1.07     3      folders                 79    0.36     1      entirety

30    1.07     3      discussions          80    0.36     1      checked

31    1.07     3      their                     81    0.36     1      conference

32    1.07     3      then                     82    0.36     1      how

33    1.07     3      area                      83    0.36     1      subject

34    1.07     3      hosts                   84    0.36     1      so

35    1.07     3      user                     85    0.36     1      host

36    1.07     3      links                    86    0.36     1      there

37    1.07     3      its                        87    0.36     1      include

38    1.07     3      moderated           88    0.36     1      this

39    1.07     3      an                        89    0.36     1      inheritance

40    0.71     2      established          90    0.36     1      uses

41    0.71     2      no                        91    0.36     1      contain

42    0.71     2      for                       92    0.36     1      when

43    0.71     2      participants         93    0.36     1      who

44    0.71     2      settings                94    0.36     1      will

45    0.71     2      parent                  95    0.36     1      words

46    0.71     2      groups                 96    0.36     1      discussion

47    0.71     2      see                       97    0.36     1      link

48    0.71     2      structure              98    0.36     1      view

49    0.71     2      use                       99    0.36     1      delete

50    0.71     2      controls              



XI. Conclusions


While typical communicative-based language courses center around role-play and guided pair work, content courses provide an excellent framework for EFL/ESL learners to process written and spoken English solely for its content, based on a need or desire to know. Further, much of the world’s technical writing is in English with a content that dates too quickly or has an audience too small to warrant translation (advanced college textbooks in the technical fields are a major example). This results in a need for academic English that is poorly served by communicative-based courses, which deal in social language (“everyday English”).

Many students would therefore be served by a curriculum that included many content courses, especially ones with the content tailored to fit the specific needs of a small group of students. The best of these content courses sustain a single subject for a semester, which allows students to not only develop tolerance for the academic process, but to come to grips with the syntax and vocabulary necessary for communication in their field.

The possible subjects are vast in number and each subject can be taught at several language levels, so it becomes difficult to find a text that matches the specific needs of particular groups of students. Consequently, teachers must develop materials and even the syllabus, and few of them want to undertake this time consuming task, which can approximate the effort of writing a small textbook.

However, the time required can be dramatically reduced by incorporating written material from such readily available sources as online help files and manuals. Producing a syllabus can entail a simple editing of an appropriate table of contents, and reading material can be selected based on this TOC-based syllabus.

Although this paper describes the process as applied to a course so narrowly specific that it would be unlikely to ever appear again on the horizon of any EFL teacher, it is the process of development itself that is of value. The goal of this paper is not to provide a guide on how to teach a particular course, a sort of sparse syllabus-textbook framework. The goal is to provide an example of how any course concerning computers (or other technical subject with sufficient Web documentation) can be developed with minimal work. Possible subjects include visual design (Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator), layout (QuarkXPress, PageMaker), presentation (PowerPoint), audio (Audacity, SoundForge), video (Premier), Web page construction (DreamWeaver, CoffeeCup, HotDog), as well as word processing and database management.

And yet EFL/ESL technical content course are rare, so many students are denied their benefits. Any language teacher considering teaching technical content must, in order to avoid a hasty decision not to teach content, approach the subject with clarity of purpose and realism. ESL teachers with an opportunity to teach a technical content course may need to work to keep this teaching in perspective. We are primarily English teachers, although it is true that if a considerable quantity of content is not learned, the course loses its theoretical foundation for improving English skills. Continuing with the idea of keeping things in perspective, an IT major’s success in his or her field will not be determined by the content we English teachers cover in some class designed primarily to improve English. It is IT professors who are responsible for assuring their students grasp the field’s content. This lifting of responsibility from the shoulders of EFL content teachers should be freeing: Choices as to what exactly is covered may not be so important after all, as long as it is in general relevant and uses language that, while perhaps simpler than is normal in the field, approximates what the field actually uses. This, plus the choice of an appropriate level of material, should be enough to assure that English proficiency advances about as fast as it can in the time allotted for the course, which is our goal as English teachers.




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Applicable levels: Secondary, tertiary, and adult education

Key words: Content course, ESP/EAP, computers