Improving Online Readability in a Web 2.0 Context

Improving Online Readability in a Web 2.0 Context

John Paul Loucky (Seinan Jogakuin University, Japan)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-190-2.ch021
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This study describes a task-based assessment (TBA) approach to teaching reading and writing online. It then analyzes key factors emerging from the results of implementing this approach with graduate engineering students in Japan. It is argued that these factors should be considered when designing or assessing any online reading or writing course for ESL/EFL students. The findings of this study are especially relevant to task-based approaches and technical or pedagogical innovations which can help foster more effective and enjoyable learning for teachers and students in blended learning environments. It is hoped that this discussion can serve as a model of what can be done to enhance online EAP/ESP/ETP courses, as well as any other online reading or writing course being designed for speakers and readers of languages other than English. The goal in this chapter is to summarize research aimed at integrating some of the most useful Web sites for English language learning into a user-friendly system for optimal online vocabulary development — which could be self-monitored by students as well as tracked by teachers via a course management system.
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The emergence of new types of electronic media such as blogs, wikis, mobile phones and social networking sites is having a profound effect on the way people communicate. This is especially true of written communication and therefore as a consequence also greatly affects the way people read and consume information. The high levels of familiarity that today’s students exhibit vis-à-vis these technologies is set to have profound effects on the ways that foreign languages are taught in a Web 2.0 context. If students of English as a Foreign Language cannot comprehend the high level of vocabulary and technological jargon found online, messages will not be understood and learning will be impeded. Given the challenge presented by the new landscape of Web 2.0 communications, there are two main objectives in this chapter:

  • 1.

    To examine how best to assess and improve the readability of any website or application. Furthermore to indicate how a series of critical linkages can be formed to better integrate listening, glossing and translation so as to empower learners to better comprehend any Internet application or location.

  • 2.

    Using the Virtual Language Education Links Library, known as the World CALL Language Links Library (Loucky, 2008), this chapter aims to identify which kinds of language learning sites and Web 2.0 functions are most helpful to Japanese graduate students vis-à-vis improving their online English reading and vocabulary skills. This World CALL Directory (found at is a Free/Open Source Language Education Resource Repository. Its aim is to serve as a Virtual Encyclopedia of all major language learning links, Web dictionaries and Computer-Assisted Language Learning organizations in the world.

In an age where multi-literacy and foreign language literacy in multimedia environments are becoming increasingly more important, teachers need to be able to understand and use more CALL technologies for efficient reading and vocabulary assessment to produce effective and enjoyable language development. The need for quick, easy and reliable readability checking for English reading texts has recently become more pronounced. Whether assessing print, online fiction or nonfiction texts for either Extensive or Intensive Reading (ER or IR) use, language learners and teachers are in real need of helpful, user-friendly ways of assessing the reading levels of texts.

For over 50 years, readability formulas have been used to help guide students to books at their appropriate level of reading and interest. Briefly stated, it is very important for ESL/EFL teachers to be able to individually test their students to determine their actual reading instructional level. EFL teachers using extensive reading are still in a quandary about how to arrive at commonly understood reading levels for various publishers, who do not use a uniform system. Before deciding what reading methods or materials to use, English reading teachers need to realize that three different kinds of reading levels are most crucial to understand. These three categories of reading ability are 1) Frustration Level, to be avoided; 2) Instructional Level, which Intensive Reading and classwork may be done at; and 3) Independent Level, which is appropriate for Free or Extensive Reading. Table 1, adapted from Loucky (1996, p. 301) and (Ekwall, 1976, p. 267), illustrates what these different levels involve.

Table 1.
Reading level criteria
Reading LevelWord RecognitionComprehension %
Free or Independent98 - 99% or more90% or more
Instructional95% - 98/99%*75 Ideal (51 - 89%)
Frustration90% or lessUnder 50%

Note. The asterisk indicates not more than 1/20 unknown words.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Intensive Reading: This approach to reading is used when intentionally teaching and practicing reading skills in classes or doing assignments out of class that require reading at one’s Instructional Level, which may be from ½ to 2 years above free or Independent Level.

Degrees of Reading Power (DRP): Touchtone Applied Science Associates’ (TASA) Depth of Reading Power (DRP) program. TASA Literacy Online uses a scale of 0-100 in their measure of text and student reading level. They call these levels Degrees of Reading Power (DRP). Primary and Standard DRP tests assess learners’ ability to comprehend surface meaning of prose, whereas Advanced tests assess the inferential and global reading skills of more proficient readers. DRP technology relies on the close link between text difficulty or readability level and comprehension test results. As such, they can be interpreted as criterion-referenced tests, indicating what a particular student can actually do.

Frustration Level: Learner recognizes less than 90% of running text. Comprehends under 50% of text. Such texts should either be totally avoided, unless working online with bilingual glossing available. Ideally language learners should also have fully bilingualized lexicons, concordancer and listening support available for any texts at less than Independent Level.

Extensive Reading: This approach to reading is used when encouraging students to read widely, especially outside of class, at their Independent or Free Reading Level. Extensive reading is also known as pleasure reading, since its purpose is free, independent reading that is not overly dependent upon either teacher or dictionary.

Digital Rights Management (DDR): An umbrella term that refers to access control technologies used by publishers and copyright holders to limit usage of digital media or devices. It may also refer to restrictions associated with specific instances of digital works or devices. DRM overlaps with software copy protection to some extent, however the term DRM is usually applied to creative media (music, films, etc.) whereas the term “copy protection” tends to refer to copy protection mechanisms in computer software.

Instructional Reading Level: Learners recognize 95-97% of words in text. Comprehends ideally at least 75%.

rIndependent Reading Level: Learners recognize 98-100% of words in text. Comprehend at better than 90%, so they can read such texts freely on their own.

Degrees of Word Meaning (DWM): TASA has designed and used tests of vocabulary in context called Degrees of Word Meaning (DWM). This vocabulary level testing scheme provides a brief Conversion Table, which helps teachers convert these DWM vocabulary level scores into an estimated size of students’ reading vocabularies. Degrees of Word Meaning scores range from 850 (the equivalent to knowing over 157,000 words), to less than 300 (indicating that such a test taker knows 100 or fewer English words). Their products for educational assessment are include tests as well as online programs and steps for estimating both reading levels and readability of any text or book.

Online Language-Supported Manageable Text (OLSM Text): This refers to text not yet at a language learner’s Independent Level, but made manageable via online tools such as fully bilingualized lexicons, concordancer and listening support. Levels might range as follows: learners may recognize 90-95% of words in such texts and comprehend ideally at about 75-89%, although with harder texts comprehension levels may fall between 51-74%.

Readability: Readability is an assessment of how easy a text is to understand for a given population. Online text readability includes four distinct constructs: 1) the reading ability or level of the user, 2) the readability level of a text, 3) its vocabulary level, and finally 4) readability assessment tests, instrument scales or indices themselves.

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