What is Wolfram Alpha?
Basically speaking, Wolfram Alpha is a revolutionary search engine. Unlike Google or other search engines just showing you the web pages including your input, Wolfram Alpha insert a brand-new idea of giving “dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods”. Once you enter what you want to know, Wolfram Alpha will analyze the data and show you the direct result of the question, and many aspects may related to your question with statistics, tables, graphs, and so on. It omits the process of collecting information from every websites by ourselves, and very easy to use. As is said on the website, the goal of Wolfram Alpha is “to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.” The following video is a tutorial instruction of the website by Wolfram.
Relevance to Language Teaching and Learning
As a powerful and practical search engine, Wolfram Alpha can be very useful in Language classroom, such as task-based language teaching, group work, communicative classroom, and so on. Integrated skills can be arranged to the tasks based on this website. So far, Wolfram Alpha is only accessible in English, therefore, students need to type and find answers in English. The website can be used in ELT both for teachers and for students as well.
Possible Usages in/outside Class
1. In classroom, teachers can use task-based methodology. For example, the teacher could make a list of different questions, and asks students to find answers individually or in groups. Questions should adapt students’ interests and motivation, and also the topic of lesson. It can be the little task of warm-up activity or before/after-reading/listening activity.
2. Teachers could give a list of questions to students as homework, and ask them to use Wolfram Alpha to learn the answers. Make sure that the teacher checks every answer previously. Next class, the teacher could ask students to answer.
3. After once or twice, when students fancy the new search engine, the teacher could ask them to think of questions that they think Wolfram Alpha would not know. This can arouse another round of interests and motivation of students. Let them try, and speak out the question. However, the aim of the activity is also practice English, so students should also be required to read the answers carefully and give reasons why this is not the correct answer or what other information it gives.
4. Use Wolfram Alpha to learn vocabulary. When typing in a word, it has interesting data for all aspects related to it, such as explanations, history of the word, possible answers related to its meaning, etc. Teachers could ask students to learn vocabulary in this way. Maybe it takes more time, but I believe students can learn more and get more fun through it.
1. In my opinion, the biggest disadvantage of this website is not very perfect to integrate information. It has great ideas and goals, but so far, many questions cannot get correct logical answers from it. Unfortunately, many people have no patience to paraphrase the question several times and it cannot even give a web page like Google. This may also greatly demotivate learners in using it.
2. It contains much information from all subjects, so that it may more suitable for science subjects or task-based language teaching, rather than simply language teaching and learning.
Anyway, it is a great unconventional and revolutionary search engine, which may bring the whole searching industry to a new era!