Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) may be defined as "the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning".
CALL is a term that came into favour in the early 1980s, replacing the older term CALI (Computer Assisted Language Instruction). The term CALI fell out of favour because it became associated with programmed learning, i.e. a teacher-centred rather than a learner-centred approach that drew heavily on behaviourism. Throughout the 1980s CALL widened its scope, embracing the communicative approach and a range of new technologies. CALL now includes highly interactive and communicative support for listening, speaking, reading and writing, including extensive use of multimedia CD-ROMs and the Internet. An alternative term to CALL emerged in the late 1980s, namely Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL), which was felt to provide a more accurate description of the activities which fall broadly within the range of CALL. Brown (1988:6) writes
Using computers in language learning is, contrary to popular opinion, not a very new phenomenon. It dates back to the early 1960s, although it was confined in those days mainly to universities with prestigious computer science departments. By the early 1980s, however, CALL was in evidence in a large number of schools in the UK and the rest of Europe - and, of course, in the USA and Canada. A potted history of CALL can be found in Levy (1997:13-46). Two more recent articles, Davies (2003) and Davies (2007a), take a look back at the history of CALL and attempt to predict where it is heading, and Davies (1997 - regularly revised) reminds us that there are many lessons that we can learn from the past that might help us avoid mistakes in the future.
CD-ROMs are ideally suited to the delivery of content, particularly where students are invited to interact with the materials presented. CD-ROMs can store text, images and audio and video resources and can also be used to store certain types of interactive programs that are currently difficult to provide via the Web, e.g. programs that enable the learner to respond orally to a stimulus, record his/her own voice and play it back: see Module 2.2, Introduction to multimedia CALL. CD-ROMs provide a very cost-effective way of delivering content. However, the cost of producing multimedia CD-ROMs is very high, given that a team approach is required involving graphic designers, audio and video technicians and animation specialists, as well as curriculum specialists and programmers: See Module 3.2, CALL software design and implementation. The delivery of course content on CD-ROM is therefore probably an option that is currently only open to large institutions that can effect economies of scale. On the other hand, it is less expensive in design and production terms to use CD-ROMs simply for storage of texts, images and audio and video files without interactive exercises. Texts can be stored in such a way that they can easily printed out by students if they prefer to read from paper rather than the screen - which is less of a strain on the eyes.
What are the advantages of using CALL in a self-access context?
Students have unlimited time to spend working with the available resources.
Students can tackle any work that particularly interests them.
Students can work at their own pace.
Students are able to revise work at frequent intervals.
Class time can be focused on activities that cannot be carried out independently, such as introducing students to a new topic, conversation practice etc.
There are, of course, some disadvantages, but these can be overcome:
Students need to be motivated to study on a regular basis.
If problems arise with the hardware or software, who is available to help?
Resources need to be used effectively.
There are many activities which can be extremely time-consuming to complete in class and which, to a certain extent, can be better achieved on an individual basis. For example, learning and revising vocabulary, intensive listening practice, practice of grammar structures. Using CALL packages to help students make the most of their own study time has been shown to enhance the productivity of study time alone.
How often does CALL have to be integrated into classroom teaching in order to be effective?
It became clear by 1999 that this research group outperformed all other students in the same cohort in free writing tasks with regard to the position and agreement of adjectives. Adjective agreements were not perfect but 70% of the research group used them in the correct position and the only student out of the whole year group to use adjectives freely and with 96% accuracy came from the CALL research group.
There were obviously some drawbacks in the course of the research study: I had to miss the odd week’s lesson because of commitments elsewhere. One student was absent for two terms, and another left the school. But most importantly, it was difficult to keep up with the amount of vocabulary and its range. The number of topics and breadth of vocabulary that these students had been introduced to, and supposedly had to learn, was astonishing. Occasionally there was not even enough time to establish passive recognition, before they had to move onto another totally unrelated subject.
It was, however, very easy to determine when they were not gaining mastery of the topic. Their results on Word Sequencing and the other programs just did not improve in the usual manner. Despite the help offered by CALL, it was occasionally clear that the language and the structures were remaining beyond them. This highlighted the fact that CALL is not a panacea; it is a learning support, an accelerator perhaps but if the introduction to the work is not sound, if the level of language is too far removed from their existing standard, if the choice of vocabulary or structures is too confusing, then any benefit CALL might bring is reduced. It was useful to report back to their teacher that, for example, in the Youth Hostel dialogues, they seemed unable to differentiate between C’est pour combien de nuits? and C’est combien pour une nuit? and that in Lost Property, they were completely unable to handle the pronouns which had suddenly appeared with the briefest of explanations:
Où l’avez-vous perdu?
Je l’ai perdu au cinéma.
Il les a laissés hier dans le café.
This is the briefest overview of work that spanned three years, but hopefully it has given enough data to whet the appetite and to suggest that CALL integrated on a regular basis with classroom lessons can support and enhance language learning to lasting effect.
-The computer: magister or pedagogue? Higgins (1985) makes a distinction between the role of the teacher as a magister or a pedagogue. He extends this distinction to different approaches to using computers in language learning and teaching:
Two possible models of what a teacher is might be called magister and pedagogue. The magister wears a gown to show that he is qualified. He is paid a salary every month. He carries a stick, real or metaphorical, with which to beat the children who give wrong answers. He makes assessments, right or wrong, good worker or lazy student. Most important of all, he chooses the order in which things happen, what is to be learned and what kind of activity the learners will carry out. However kind or humanistic he is, these are still his functions.
The pedagogue is the Greek slave. Originally just the slave who escorted the children to school, he is used by the patrician family to walk a few paces behind the young master. When the young master snaps his fingers, he comes forward to give information, answer questions, or perhaps, if that is what the young master wants, to conduct an argument or give a test. He may be expert, but his expertise only emerges on demand: he is a walking library. He doesn't earn very much, and knows that, once he fails to satisfy, he will starve.
-This module is essentially concerned with methodology. The term methodology is widely misunderstood and often confused with or used as an alternative to pedagogy. In some contexts the two terms may be interchangeable, but it is useful to make a distinction. Pedagogy is more concerned with the theory of teaching and learning, whereas methodology describes how something is or should be done or, in Sue Hewer's words, "the way in which the teacher structures the learning environment" (see Section 3.3). Many teachers and researchers talk simply about methods or approaches: see Wilfried Decoo's interesting paper titled On the mortality of language teaching methods (Decoo 2001).
Reference to a concrete example may make the meaning clearer. Let us take a CALL program that has been designed to teach vocabulary. Part of the program may include an activity in which the learner listens to a stimulus and has to click on a word or picture to indicate what he/she has heard. The underlying pedagogy is that this is a good way of teaching, learning, reinforcing or testing vocabulary. This may or may not be true. It may work for some people and not for others, but the designer of the program obviously thought it was a good idea. Methodology is more concerned with how the teacher uses such a program as an aid to teaching and in what kind of learning environment, e.g. on a network of stand-alone computers in the classroom where the learners work mainly on their own, on an interactive whiteboard for whole-class teaching, or as part of a series of integrated activities. Read on…
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