EESE 5/2001

Internet Teaching - Guest Editor: Thomas Kühn (Berlin)


Students Designing Web-Based Language Learning Materials:
Some Typical Obstacles and Prerequisites for Solutions

Stephan Schlickau (München)

In this article, I would like to give a short overview of my observations of university courses designed to train students to develop their own multimedia language teaching materials. The actual progress of their work may be observed at

At the Institut für Deutsch als Fremdsprache at Munich University, media competence is one of the central issues in our methodology section. At present - and presumably even more so in the future - the ability to choose the right language teaching tools is one of the key competencies a language teacher must have at his/her disposal. This is especially obvious in the concept of a 'facilitator', the role which constructivist approaches foresee as the primary one for teachers.

Realizing that designing one's own material is the way to increase the students' media competence most comprehensively, we introduced corresponding courses some years ago. In reference to the employment of New Media, especially the Internet, two trends have emerged which go well together: in modern methodology, it has become increasingly important to acknowledge that the mediation of culture and language are different sides of the same coin. This fortunately coincides with the development of the Internet, the most comprehensive tool and channel to gather information and to serve as a medium for communication. Thus, our students (as future mediators of German language and culture) are advised to use Internet standards as a basis for their work. Following this recommendation, they can both integrate classical on-line components (such as tutorials or virtual offices) into their work and make use of authentic resources and communication channels while developing their materials. During their work, they may enter into discussions of experiences with students from co-operating university departments (e.g. in the USA or Canada) in the context of the same or different target cultures and languages. In addition (thanks to a 'Germanistische Institutspartnerschaft'), our future mediators may also make contact with, for example, Kyrgyze students of German as concrete addressees of their materials who later may give their feedback concerning the learning materials. When discussing the development of media designing competencies, we generally observe quite dramatic improvements if we compare the results of basic and advanced courses. Whereas, from a general perspective, it is often said that younger people may be the more competent users, our findings are that competent evaluation and purposeful goal oriented use of new media largely depend on theoretical knowledge that has to be of quite a complex nature. So far, we have identified three central competencies and one specific organizational factor that seem to be crucial for designing multimedia learning materials.

1.     Linguistic and Hypermedia Competence

Most new media documents make use of hypertext or hypermedia structures. Since less advanced students have only very basic and partly implicit knowledge about hypertext structures, they equip their documents mainly with superficial characteristics of hypertexts, such as hyperlinks. Thus, the results they produce show two basic shortcomings, indicating a lack of reflection:

  1. There may be a rich structure of links between their individual documents. As a whole, however, each individual document is conceptualized as a linear text. Thus, the apparent choice of progression given to the recipient may suddenly leave him/her alone with an exercise that is based on information that has never been presented. Therefore, theoretical knowledge about (hyper-)text structures, text production, and orienting a recipient is crucial.
  2. Some students do sensibly use hyperlinking to combine their 'conserved' material with up-to-date Internet sources. Quite often, however, they fail to design a navigation system that is suitable for the specific demands of hypermedia resources. As a consequence, readers may suddenly find themselves either in the far expanses of cyberspace or in a dead-end street. The only way out, then, is the browser's linear (!) back button, which is not in any sense an adequate means of navigation.1

2.     Technical Competence

Traditionally, the training of technical competencies such as installing computer hard- and software, working with web design tools, etc., has not been widely accepted as a subject suitable for university courses in language and cultural studies. However, with the growing influence of computers, especially associated new methods of research, learning, and presentation, these technical competencies may very well become an indispensable part of a newly defined set of necessary skills. As a consequence, we do not find a general or systematic progression among our students. Thus, in this area, we find the fewest differences between basic and advanced students. Still, the average entry level of knowledge is low enough so that each semester a remarkable amount of time goes towards instruction in this field. That is another major reason why it is hardly possible to have results that are worth mentioning at the end of a beginners' course.

3.     Methodological Competence

This is the most complex knowledge, as it is comprised of the above-mentioned hypertext, linguistic, and technical competencies, as well as knowledge about learning theories and methodology in a narrower sense. Many students still seem to be predominantly influenced by the (their own?) behavioristically oriented learning history. Thus, they produce conceptually linear texts, although, with their hyperlinks, they may look like hypertexts on the surface. The students' selection of text structures goes hand in hand with the types of exercises many employ as beginners, namely exercises that are based on clearly foreseeable solutions. Furthermore, exactly this type of exercise seems to be reinforced by most computer programs which - if a test module is desired at all - hardly go above some kind of pattern matching. So, besides the awareness that there are other ways of learning than those based on programmed instruction, students must be able to determine whether or not to use computers in certain areas, especially in the area of evaluating a learner's input. It is crucial for them to know where new media do offer advantages and where they do not.

4.     Organization of Work

It has often been said that new media require an alternative organization of learning. According to our observations, an alternative organization will at least increase their efficiency. As using them requires different competencies (see above), our students are much more likely to work in groups. However, being able to choose an efficient form of work is a learning process as well. Despite our recommendations, it is usually not until the second of two subsequent courses that they finally form teams of work. In addition, it has proved advantageous to cut out some of the regular hours in favor of a few more intensive and longer meetings, e.g. on weekends. Especially if new media are used as a means of synchronic communication with people of foreign cultures,2 accepting 'strange' hours is a necessity.

5.     Conclusion

There should be absolutely no doubt that new media do offer new learning potential, but making adequate use of that potential in the context of instruction requires quite a variety of competencies. We are convinced that the competencies students acquire while designing learning material will considerably help them to evaluate third hand materials as well. Our students' progress and their results are presented at

Everyone is invited to use and evaluate them in courses for German as a foreign language. We appreciate any feedback.


Ehlich, Konrad; Redder, Angelika (eds.) (1997). Schnittstelle Didaktik: Empirische Untersuchungen zum DaF-Unterricht. [Materialien Deutsch als Fremdsprache, vol. 45]

Oxford, Rebecca L.; Rivera-Castillo, Yolanda; Feyten, Carine; Nutta, Joyce (1999) (eds.). Computers and More: Creative Uses of Technology for Learning a Second or Foreign Language. [Internet Publication:].

Roche, Jörg (2000) "Lerntechnologie und Spracherwerb - Grundrisse einer medienadäquaten, interkulturellen Sprachdidaktik." Deutsch als Fremdsprache 3, 136-143.

Sanders, Ruth H. (1997). "Distance Learning Transatlantic Style: How Videoconferencing Widened the Focus in a Culture Course." Die Unterrichtspraxis Teaching German 2, 135-140.

Schlickau, Stephan (2000). "Video und Videoconferencing zur Sprach- und Kulturvermittlung. Potenziale und Beobachtungen." Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht. Didaktik und Methodik im Bereich Deutsch als Fremdsprache 2.

Schlickau, Stephan (forthcoming). "Kommunikationsformen in Online-Diensten und ihr Potential zur Sprach- und Kulturvermittlung." In: Aguado, Karin; Hu, Adelheid (eds.). Dokumentation des Kongresses für Fremdsprachendidaktik der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Fremdsprachenforschung (DGFF) in Dortmund (4.-6. Oktober 1999). Berlin: Pädagogischer Zeitschriftenverlag.


1 A more anecdotal piece of information is that even professionally styled commercial web pages were reported to suffer from the perniciousnesses of hypertext by guiding people to other pages even before they read the basic information.

2 Schlickau (2000).