March 2003 -- Volume 6, Number 4

Oxford English for Information Technology
Eric H. Glendinning and John McEwan (2002)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Pp. 222
ISBN 019-457375-3 (paper)

Oxford English for Information Technology Teacher's Guide
Eric H. Glendinning and John McEwan (2002)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Pp. 133
ISBN 019-457376-1 (paper)

Oxford English for Information Technology Cassette
Eric H. Glendinning and John McEwan (2002)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
ISBN 019-457377X

Oxford English for Information Technology is designed for intermediate to advanced level adult English language learners in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and Latin America who are studying Information Technology or working in the IT sector and wish to develop their language skills within the context of IT.

This textbook covers most of the topics that are standard in introductory IT textbooks (computer architecture, operating systems, applications programs, networks, the Internet, the future of IT, etc.), but the content is more advanced and the presentation more steeply graded. For example, while the chapter on application programs in introductory texts usually introduces different application programs--word processing, spreadsheets, financial software, etc. -- one at a time in separate sections, the same chapter in Oxford English for Information Technology begins by asking students to identify several programs based on their screen displays, and then quickly moves on to an exercise in which students must analyze how various applications are used within a medical center local area network.

The book is organized into five main areas: Language Work, Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing; at least four of these five are covered in almost every unit. Unit 18 (on data security) is fairly representative. It begins with a "starter" exercise in which students discuss what they already know about data security issues. (Recent newspaper headlines such as "Love bug creates worldwide chaos" serve as springboards for discussion.) This exercise is followed by a 350-word reading passage on viruses (drawn from an issue of PC Plus) and a series of reading comprehension questions. Next comes a "language work" section in which students practice using a variety of sentence structures that express cause and effect relationships (e.g., "When the trigger routine runs, the payload routine activates.") Students then practice speaking and writing about the causes and effects of two computer crimes that are sketched in one of the textbook's appendices. The unit concludes with a 600-word "specialist reading" (drawn from PC Magazine) on the subject of safe data transfer. [-1-]

The cassette (also available as a CD) that accompanies the text is used in only 13 of the textbook's 25 units, making listening the least frequent of the textbook's five skill areas. This seems an appropriate choice on the authors' part, given the ongoing centrality of the written word in computer-based communication. Nevertheless, the recordings are an important and useful component of the course. They feature a variety of individuals, from everyday computer users to IT professionals, discussing their computing experiences at varying levels of formality and with varying speeds and accents. Most of these recordings have a natural quality, with speakers often pausing mid-sentence and hesitating with "ums" and "ers." (But note: speakers in a few of the recordings fail in their attempts to sound natural and end up sounding awkward and stilted instead.) Listening scripts are provided in one of the book's appendices.

For the majority of instructors who adopt this textbook, the teacher's manual will be an important guide and companion, as the student's text assumes a degree of IT knowledge that non-specialist instructors are unlikely to possess. Each unit guide in the teacher's manual therefore starts with an introductory section that briefly but accessibly explains the central concepts and terms of the unit. Each unit introduction is followed by a list of objectives, suggestions on how to most effectively use each of the unit activities, and answer keys for the practice exercises. In the back of the teacher's manual are five one-page "progress tests," each covering five of the textbook's twenty-five units. Fill-in-the-blank exercises cover IT content, and sentence manipulation and combining exercises cover the "language work" sections. (The authors have wisely avoided ineffective multiple-choice questions in these progress tests and in most of the exercises in the student's text.)

It may be necessary for instructors to supplement both the teacher's manual and the student's text with additional materials. For example, a well-indexed introductory IT text would serve as a helpful resource for instructors who have minimal IT knowledge and are likely to have trouble keeping track of all of the new terminology they encounter. Instructors who are more computer savvy may find the teacher's manual and the glossary of terms in the back of the student's text perfectly sufficient. Instructors may also want to bring in some of their own materials to supplement the "language work" sections in the student's text, as many of these sections are presented with very little explanatory framing. An exercise in Unit 4, for example, asks students to add phrasing to a selection of sentences about different storage devices in order to indicate similarities and differences between the devices; however, most of the phrasing needed in order to complete the exercise is not modeled in the brief introduction that precedes it.

Overall, Oxford English for Information Technology is a well-designed textbook that provides a good range of skills development. Given the increasing pervasiveness of Information Technology in today's society, there is likely to be in the years ahead a growing demand for English for Specific Purposes courses in the area of IT. Oxford English for Information Technology will be welcomed by instructors of these courses.

Christine Photinos
National University
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