Online Textbooks in Language Learning

I was asked on a survey what could be done to improve my students’ “digital experience” in the language courses. My strong belief is that the best thing would be to get rid of the online portion of these courses altogether. I sometimes show videos where native speakers talk that accompany the textbook, and those are useful. Other than that, all of these electronic homework assignments, labs, online workbooks, precanned online tests, automatic grading, etc are a royal waste of time. And students agree.

I’m forced to use the online textbook, and it comes up to 25% of the final grade. This system rewards brainless drones who don’t mind investing a crazy number of hours doing utterly meaningless online exercises and punishes everybody else. Anybody who is curious about the language and really wants to learn loses under this system.

This is one of the main reasons I detest these lower-level language courses. I know how to make language learning fun. And I know for an absolute fact that it only works if you tailor the activities and the assessment to each particular group. I always make my activities and tests from scratch for each group, and I’ve successfully resisted all attempts to drive me into the collective model of using the pre-made tests that come with the online textbook. But I can’t ditch the online textbook altogether. These are 4-credit courses, and one of those credits goes entirely to the online textbook where students are required to rack up a certain number of hours dumbly doing the exercises.

Ideally, I’d go without any textbook altogether, saving the university a bunch of money. I almost never use it anyway. I do great activities that I invent myself. Board games, crossword puzzles, drawing, acting, tons of group activities. I’m eminently qualified to do this because I’ve had a very extensive training in the pedagogy of language learning. I just want to be left alone to do it.

10 thoughts on “Online Textbooks in Language Learning”

    1. We need it to keep the courses at 4 credits instead of 3. There is absolutely no other reason and nobody pretends there is. This is our contribution to pushing students out the doors faster.


      1. That doesn’t quite explain it. Couldn’t you just double the weight of some portion of the class to two credits instead of one? Or divide the remaining credit among the stuff that is actually effective?

        OT Cengage iLrn crankiness:
        What the fuck is that graphic of “cool kids” on their website? Also why the hell is the name of the language product not an actual word in English? Why are the graphics in the video stock images, word clouds from 10 years ago and computer graphics from 20 years ago? It’s not better with a stupid graph that comes out of Excel, marketing dipshits!

        I especially love the quotes on the website. What kind of Business English garbage is this quote, Ann? Inputs and outputs are for computers, not humans. Besides, haven’t you heard of GIGO?

        No wonder you want to fight everyone.


        1. The university doesn’t allow us to assign 4 credits to a course unless it has a lab component. So we have a lab and – ok, this will sound crazy but I swear it’s true – we force students to spend 3 hours a week there doing these online activities. Now imagine trying to explain to a bunch of 18-year-olds why they can’t do these activities from their phones and have to trudge to a lab instead. I break regulations and allow them to do online exercises wherever because it’s the 21st century, hello!

          And thank you for the observations on the stupid website. It’s the stupidest website in existence. God, I hate it. And the cloying idiotic languages they use.


            1. We had to disconnect our subscription to satellite TV because there was no money. And if they watch at home, how do you check if they actually do it?

              I try to offer alternatives to this online stuff. Like cultural events or conversation groups outside of the classroom. Movies in Spanish. The Spanish club. But it’s guerrilla warfare on my part. One year, I just cancelled the whole thing and gave everybody 100% on the lab component automatically because I was so fed up. But one student who liked the online activities complained.


    1. We use the stupid Cengage iLrn. It’s not my choice, obviously. The instructors get very testy whenever I try to give some input into the textbook choice and start threatening to lodge formal complaints of abuse.


      1. That’s not a book, it’s a commercial workbook program / LMS type thing that exercises are put into … corresponding to all sorts of different books. I do use a Cengage book in another course but not the iLRN exercises that go with it. SORRY about your instructor situation and the 25% requirement — that is horrible!


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