So, let me turn to an evaluation and comparison of these two very similar resources using the MERLOT evaluation criteria.
I. Quality of Content:
The criteria suggest that we should address the following questions regarding content:
- Does the software present valid (correct) concepts, models, and skills?
- Does the software present educationally significant concepts, models, and skills for the discipline?
II. Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching-Learning Tool:
Again, I believe both of these learning objects show the potential to be effective in supporting learning. Both of them set the pairs of words side by side and explain the differences in usage, and both of them provide exercises for learners to practice and check understanding. I believe that these can be used with upper elementary or higher level English language learners. Learners would need enough understanding of English to read the explanations and understand the example and practice sentences, yet still have some difficulty in using the words correctly. In the case of my first-year university students, this is often the case. I think these could be given as individual work for students who have shown difficulty with either of these distinctions or to a whole class when the distinctions seem difficult for many of them. Also, I believe that the game-like element of selecting words and putting them in a sentence with immediate correct/incorrect feedback would be both engaging and helpful to the students. Teachers often do this sort of thing orally with a whole class or with written exercises. The former allows for immediate feedback, but may not be attended to by all learners due to pacing, attention issues, etc. The latter allows all learners to do the exercises but feedback is delayed until a teacher can mark and return work, perhaps a couple of weeks later. In contrast, these learning resources allow all students to engage with the material at their own pace, for each to try the exercises individually, but to also get immediate feedback.
III. Ease of Use:
Both of these learning objects are basically easy to use, with linear progression through them, clear back and next buttons for most pages, immediate responses on each exercise, and a final score at the end. However, there are two potential problems that could be improved. First, for the exercises in both resources, learners must choose a word and click and drag it into a sentence or sentences on the page. If one is not familiar how to click, drag and drop, this could be a problem. Also, I am not sure if these will work properly on a touch-screen device or not. Second, when the wrong word is dragged and dropped into a sentence, it merely bounces back to the original position and “Incorrect” is displayed at the bottom. There are two distinct issues with this that could lead to learner confusion; the “Incorrect” at the bottom is not especially prominent so it might be easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it and the same thing happens even if you choose the correct word but you don’t quite get it to the proper spot in the blank before you drop it. In addition to these two issues, it might be nice if there were a home button on each page, but since both of these are fairly short as well as clearly linear, it isn’t a significant weakness. More importantly, if the feedback were more comprehensive, such as a pop-up explaining why the other word was more appropriate when a mistake was made, and a summary of which specific points were missed, it might be more helpful. It does allow a user to email it to a teacher at the end, and this more detailed information beyond points scored might also help inform further instruction. Additionally, both of these resources could be made more appealing with images, perhaps illustrations of the sentences, on the pages.
Finally, while these two resources were very similar in many respects, I would like to note a couple points of contrast. Ever and Never provides one static page of principles or rules and example sentences for each word. In contrast, ”Say” and “Tell” dedicates two or three dynamic pages to each of the words; on the first page for the word the principles appear one by one down the page and then on the second page the rules reappear with examples for each one; a list of special uses also appears in the case of the word tell. Because of this style, the latter resource is more attractive to students and also builds in immediate review of the principles by presenting them twice. Additionally, while students may wait as long as they like to move on to the next page, the pace of the appearance of the items may encourage them to read at a more fluent pace than just having the whole page appear at once. Another contrast is that while Ever and Never presents five items on each page and does not offer a back button on these pages, almost all of the pages on “Say” and “Tell” are kept to one item per page and allow backward movement as well. I find the latter style more attractive and more flexible for learners, and also think that with this style it would be easier to add the more comprehensive error feedback and visuals suggested above. That said, these do both seem to be useful resources for EFL and ESL teachers and learners.