A web site for the developing language teacher

What website counters can tell us
- Operation MathLog revisited
by Rolf Palmberg
- 1

Two years ago I designed an internet-based EFL maze entitled ‘Operation MathLog’. It comprises language tasks of different types, e.g. anagrams, acronym tasks, enclosures, jumbled sequences of letters, word search grids, categorisation tasks, word chop exercises, cryptograms and problem-solving tasks (see Palmberg 2006a for more details). As the name implies, the maze is aimed particularly at logical-mathematical learners, i.e. learners who are fond of logical reasoning and numbers (as characterised in Howard Gardner’s theory of the multiple intelligences; 1993, 1999). The main purpose of the maze is to increase learners’ general knowledge and understanding of English vocabulary.

The rationale behind Operation MathLog is simple. Learners have to solve a series of language tasks, starting from the one presented on the opening web page of the maze. Each task occupies a web page of its own. Since the only website address (or URL) available is that of the opening web page, learners have to solve the task in order to proceed. When they have figured out the wanted keyword, they must replace the word ‘mathlog’ (which is included in the URL of the opening web page) with that keyword. The same principle applies throughout the maze: the word that constitutes the solution to a given task is the new keyword that allows visitors to change the current URL and find the next web page (and get the next task).

In 2006, various attempts were made to make the maze known to the general public, or rather, to as many logical-mathematical EFL learners as possible. Each web page was provided with a counter to keep track of the number of visitors. The information collected was hoped to give tentative answers to questions like: How many people visit the website? How far towards the closing web page do they proceed? What is the average dropout rate from task to task?

The counters used for the present purposes were provided by AddFreeStats, a website statistics service. Once a counter has been activated (i.e. a specific HTML code has been incorporated into the HTML code of the target web page), the system starts collecting information. A click on the AddFreeStats logo displays the following information for each visit (the information can be protected by a password if the website owner so decides): an image of a flag indicating the location of the host computer, the date and time of the visit, the hostname (or, if the cursor is placed on it, the visitor’s IP number), the entry page of the visit (i.e. the URL of the web page that the visitor came from), the number of page visits made within the website, and the number of days lapsed since the previous visit (or an indication that the visitor is “new”). An image of a magnifying glass, when clicked, opens a box which summarises the information about the visit and the visitor.

The most useful information concerns the number of visitors. Thus, during a randomly selected eleven-month period of time (July 1, 2006 - May 31, ç2007), the opening web page of the maze was accessed by 465 visitors (*) (as identified by their IP addresses). Of these, 414 represented the five continents in the following proportions: Europe (40.3%), America (36.0%), Asia (19.3%), Australia (3.9%), and Africa (0.5%). 49 different countries were represented, topped by the U.S.A. (102 visitors), Finland (74), South Korea (18), Canada (17), Spain (15), Australia (13), Israel (13), Japan (12), France (11), China (10) and the U.K. (10). The system failed to identify 51 visitors’ country of origin and registered them as “unknown”.

The above figures inevitably include visitors who just wanted to take a quick look at the web page or who did in fact search for entirely different types of websites. The information collected for the second web page of the maze was therefore assumed to be more informative for the present purposes. After all, its 190 visitors would not have found the second web page had they not demonstrated at least some interest in logical-mathematical language tasks (when solving the task presented on the opening web page). 175 of them represented 30 different countries, the continental distribution of which was similar to that for the opening web page: Europe (49.7%), America (29.1%), Asia (16.6%), Australia (4.0%), and Africa (0.6%). The top ten countries were Finland (57 visitors), the U.S.A. (32), Canada (10), Japan (9), Hungary (7), Spain (7), Australia (6), Israel (6), South Korea (5), and the U.K. (5). The 15 remaining visitors were of “unknown” origin.

(*) This figure does not include my personal visits or those made by colleagues and students at the Faculty of Education at Åbo Akademi University.

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