Current Issue: Vol. 41, No. 3, Fall 2011:Conversations
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Cara Tuzzolino-Werben
Idiom Editor

Elisabeth Gareis
Column Editor,
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Nanette Dougherty
Column Editor,
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Column Editor,
Promising Practices


Featured Article


Creating an Online Classroom for Beginners
Christopher Murphy

The science fiction writer William Gibson said, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” Technology today is radically altering the landscape of traditional boundaries and communities. However, global access to new technologies is not always equal. A free online Web site, Nicenet ( requiring no elaborate setup or installation, called enables teachers anywhere with Internet access to create a “wired” community of learning outside the classroom. Founded in 1995, Nicenet was designed as “. . . a volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to providing free services to the Internet community. Nicenet’s primary offering, the Internet Classroom Assistant (ICA) is designed to address the pedagogical needs and limited resources of teachers and their students.” According to the creators of Nicenet, the aim of the Web site was not to replace the traditional classroom, but rather to foster opportunities for learning and communication among students and between students and the teacher outside of the classroom.

Creating an online classroom with Nicenet’s user-friendly features is extremely easy. By simply clicking on Create a Classroom, teachers can begin creating their ICA. Teachers will receive a Class Key, which can later be given to students. Each Class Key is unique so nobody outside of the class can access student information. After students are given the Class Key, they can access the ICA and create their profile. A teacher need not create a new account for multiple classes; instead, the teacher can manage all of his or her ICAs using the same user ID and password.

The ICA offers teachers several useful features. First, teachers can create conferencing sessions with students under Conferences. Here, teachers can post discussion questions and students can respond to the questions while communicating with other students. Nicenet’s ICA allows teachers to choose whether to give students the ability to create their own conferencing topics. This preference can be made by clicking on the prompt Class Administration.

Nicenet’s ICA allows for Link Sharing, where the teacher can post a list of useful links for the students. For example, Hyland (2003) provides a list of useful links that could be included in an ICA for students in an academic English writing class. These links provide students with additional support outside of the classroom. Just as teachers can choose to allow students to post their own conference topics, teachers can choose whether to give students the ability to post student links to the ICA.

In the ICA, teachers can post homework assignments by clicking on Assignments. They can choose to send an automatic e-mail reminder to students and can choose the number of days before the due date to send this reminder. Students can then submit their homework by clicking on the Assignments prompt. Another useful feature of the Nicenet ICA is that teachers can post additional notes or readings by clicking on the prompt Documents. By clicking on the prompt Class Schedule, students can see the class calendar and upcoming events. By clicking on Class Members, participants can access a list of names and contact e-mails for the member in their ICA.

One potential criticism of Nicenet’s ICA is that its features have not been updated in some time. The pages are not visually exciting and cannot be custom tailored to themes that might be interesting for younger students. Another weakness of the site is that although Nicenet’s ICA allows students to “cut and paste” documents into Nicenet, the ICA cannot support visual or audio file uploads, another feature of other online creative applications such as Moodle that younger students find engaging. Another weakness of the Nicenet ICA is that the prompts Documents and Assignments do not allow for the creation of a folder, which would allow for better organization of student homework submissions. One of the more urgent matters related to the ICA is the inability of instructors/administrators to monitor Personal Messages sent between students.

Finally, despite the fact that Nicenet offers contact information for possible glitches in its system, it offers no warranty for information loss or glitches with its ICA.

Despite these minor shortcomings, Nicenet’s ICA satisfies the essential requirements of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) applications outlined in Chapelle (2001), such as language learning potential, learner fit, authenticity, positive impact on the classroom environment and students, and practicality.

In conclusion, Nicenet’s ICA is perfect for teachers who have little experience with online learning tools or teachers who have little time to develop these tools. The future is here, and non-profit organizations such as Nicenet can offer these excellent online learning tools for free to anybody with an Internet connection.


Chapelle , C.A. (2001). Computer applications in second language acquisition: Foundations for teaching, testing and Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (2003). Second language writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


About the Author

Christopher Murphy teaches at the International University of Japan in Niigata. His interests are in critical pedagogies and language learning.