Review of English Language Learning and Technology
|Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004 21:51:00 -0400
From: Jonathon Reinhardt
Subject: English Language Learning and Technology
AUTHOR: Chapelle, Carol A.
TITLE: English Language Learning and Technology
SUBTITLE: Lectures on applied linguistics in the age of information and
SERIES: Language Learning & Language Teaching 7
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
Jonathon Reinhardt, Penn State University
Carol Chapelle's text provides in-depth discussion of current issues in
applied linguistics at the intersection of second language acquisition (SLA), foreign language pedagogy, and technology. While the title and some of the discussion addresses the TESOL community specifically, most of the topics would be of interest to any practitioner or researcher of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) for any language, and many of the issues Chapelle addresses concern the applied linguistics community at large. While the book is composed of material from a variety of lectures the author has given, covering a range of topics, it is neither an introduction to CALL nor a manual for designing CALL activities. Rather, it is a perspective on the epistemological and methodological debates surrounding the young field, as well as an expert guide for conducting CALL research, written by one of the field's most perspicacious scholars.
The first chapter, ''The changing world of English language teaching'', begins with three visions of technology, that of the technologist, who sees technology as a glorious inevitability; that of the social pragmatist, who sees the practical limits to technology; and that of the critical analyst, who sees in the debate a lack of attention to broader issues of cultural ideology. Chapelle argues that language practitioner s should be aware of all three, adopting not one vision at the expense of the others, but a ''critical, technologically-informed pragmatism'' (p. 9). She then discusses the influences of technology on English language learners in terms of motivation for peer interaction, new technology-shaped English language registers, and the resulting implication for how communicative competence is defined. Discussing the shifting nature of English language use in computer labs and online, the author shows that if language use is conceptualized as contextually appropriate use of registers, the notion of communicative competence can be understood to entail language use in situations involving technology. She briefly discusses how technology expands options for classroom tasks, for example, the possibility for computer-mediated communication (CMC) based discussion and telecollaboration, or web publishing. She also mentions the influence technology has on new forms of language assessment as well as research on learning, which leads to a brief discussion of the need for incorporating technology into all aspects of applied linguistics and teacher education, not as a separate subject but as a means of research and an object of critical analysis. As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, it ''risks
becoming invisible unless applied linguists attempt to expose it, and
subject it to study'' (p. 33).
In chapter 2, ''The potential of technology for language learning'', Chapelle explores the application of SLA and language pedagogy theory in CALL research, focusing on linguistic, particularly grammatical, development. While some early CALL studies did not make use of established SLA theoretical frameworks, the author explains that more recent studies have begun to make connections She provides a heuristic for understanding and a rationale for exploring these connections that shows the relationship among knowledge about classroom teaching, materials development, and CALL as connected by knowledge of cognitive and social processes of L2 learning. To illustrate these cognitive and social processes, Chapelle first discusses studies that address notions such as enhanced input, specifically input salience, modification, and elaboration. Next, the author briefly discusses CALL research with respect to the concept of interaction. In particular, she notes how interpersonal, learner-computer, and intrapersonal interaction are conceptualized within the interaction hypothesis, sociocultural theory and depth of processing theory (from Ellis 1999). To discuss linguistic production, Chapelle first introduces the notion of comprehensible output, and then considers CALL research on the notions of planning, correcting linguistic production, and help with production. After providing a useful summary of task characteristics considered conducive to the learning of vocabulary and syntax, the author concludes the chapter by noting the need for more CALL research on the development of aspects of proficiency like pragmatic and strategic competence.
In the third chapter, ''Evaluating language learning'', Chapelle notes that there is still uncertainty as to the kinds of research needed in CALL and the application of research to practice in the field. Using her own experience in the field, she explains why comparison studies pitting CALL against 'traditional' classroom language instruction may be unproductive, as language teachers, administrators, and publishers all have their own purposes for implementing or promoting CALL, often unrelated to 'effectiveness.' To make informed decisions regarding CALL, teachers need a better understanding of applied linguistics and SLA research in four specific areas: 1) the nature of research itself; 2) the applicability of specific research results to general CALL and SLA knowledge; 3) the role and nature of methodological approaches; and 4) theory-research links. Regarding the latter two points, the author believes that methodology should be driven by research questions and not necessarily theory, which should play an informative role, so that ''the focus is not a single theoretical orientation but a quality of the CALL task (e.g. language learning potential) for which the research seeks evidence'' (p. 80). In the next segment of the chapter, Chapelle describes a series of nine empirical studies from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, focusing on software, the learner, and the learning task. She explains the relationship between research question, method, and interpretation for each study, relating theory as a resource for evaluation, task design, or methodology. For example, in a study on looking up words (Plass et al. 1998), the
question asked if look-up behavior is related to improved comprehension, the method was to record that behavior and correlation using pretests and posttests, and the interpretation showed a positive correlation between behavior and acquisition. Theory of input modification through interaction informed the evaluation, acting as a resource for explanation of results.
The fourth chapter, ''Investigating learners' use of technology'', presents clear and useful guidelines on how to conduct process-based CALL research by employing the three analytic perspectives of description, interpretation, and evaluation. The author begins by discussing the nature of technology-related process data, which may be transcripts of learner-learner chat interaction or records of learner-computer interaction including click behavior and screen presentations. For the perspective of 'description', she explains the application of interaction analysis, discourse analysis, and conversation analysis, providing examples of research that utilizes these methods. While discourse analysis has often been used as a theory-neutral method for analysis of functional or grammatical development, some approaches like systemic-functional linguistics offer a built-in analytic perspective on register, which the author demonstrates with a sample text analysis of language reflecting experiential, interpersonal, and textual meanings (p. 110). Chapelle then presents a system of graphic notation to aid interpretation, which she relates to description through the concept of inference (p. 122). Using examples, she shows how these inferences can be about learner capacities, i.e. internal causes of the observed behavior related to competence, and about task characteristics, i.e. inferences about the influence of the task on the interaction -- balanced research should consider both. She moves on to discuss evaluation, which ''requires that learning goals be stated in terms of desired learning processes'' (p. 120). Using her notational system, the author then provides examples on how process goals were used for evaluation in three studies: the first on negotiation of meaning, the second on noticing gaps, and the third on strategic discourse management. In the first study, for example, negotiation of meaning (e.g. Pica, Kanagy, & Falodun, 1993) both infers learner
capacity and acts as an instructional goal, and is tied to the task type, in this case a jigsaw task designed to elicit the goal (p. 121-122). The process data, then, is the actual linguistic interaction categorized as trigger, indicator, response, and reaction.
In the fifth chapter, ''Advancing applied linguistics: L2 learning tasks'', Chapelle expounds on the view that technology is not only a means of solving practical problems in CALL, but also a means of posing theoretical problems that can inform SLA research. Not just for the critically pragmatic practitioner, technology can also provide SLA researchers tools ''for operationalizing current task theory, expanding the constructs that task theory needs to account for, and expanding the scope of task evaluation'' (p. 129). The author then builds on chapter four by introducing three approaches to task evaluation -- assessment of outcomes (e.g. Ellis 1999), negotiation of meaning (interactionist -- e.g. Pica, Kanagy, & Falodun, 1993), and task performance based on accuracy, complexity, and fluency (cognitivist -- e.g. Skehan & Foster, 2001). Each approach methodically describes task features and characteristics, thus allowing for theoretical consistency and expandability. However, recent CALL research on negotiation of meaning has implicated consideration of factors beyond traditional interactionist and cognitivist frameworks, such as range of topic, turn timing, and familiarity with genre features. In response, Chapelle presents a chart (pp. 138-139) in which task features from interactionist and cognitivist frameworks are combined with features implicated by technology and organized according to the four task aspects of topics and actions, participants, mode, and evaluation. This leads to a discussion of how CALL research may drive an expansion of task theory, perhaps incorporating a framework where task features might be analyzed in terms of their correspondence with register features; in fact, the first three of Chapelle's four task aspects can be seen to fit with systemic-functional linguistic notions of field (topic and actions), tenor (participants), and mode (Halliday & Hasan, 1985).
The sixth chapter is entitled ''Advancing applied linguistics: Assessment''. As an extension of her argument concerning the potential of CALL research to inform broader SLA and pedagogical theory, the author promotes computer-assisted language assessment as a means for a better understanding of assessment issues in general, especially construct definition and validation. Construct definition is challenged by the nuances of interface design and scoring, and the effect of the technology on the learner, on research methods, and on washback raise questions about validation. The author draws on her extensive expertise in assessment to discuss these issues in-depth, and she concludes by warning that these issues ''can be swept aside by the broom of efficiency'' (p. 171), if efficiency is the only goal of computer-assisted language testing. Paradoxically, while technology expands the number of constructs to be measured and may provide more efficient methods for doing so, it also may inadvertently promote reductionist tendencies in assessment.
In a short final chapter, ''The imperative for applied linguistics and technology'', Chapelle ties all the lectures together with a summary of the material covered, including several useful charts showing how research approach entails assumptions about technology use, research, or assessment, leading to certain results. For example, an approach that focuses on tasks assumes that the effects of task design choices need investigation, and might result in evidence showing how successful those choices are (p. 177). Technology can achieve a synergetic, fruitful relationship with applied linguistics only if current practice-focused CALL research is supplemented by theory-focused research that aims to inform SLA, not to prove effectiveness or efficiency in relation to traditional, face-to-face, or paper-based environments. An innovation approach to language assessment in particular, as opposed to an efficiency or comparison approach (p. 179), can guide CALL theory and research, as it offers the potential to connect practice and construct theory. In light of the ''confusing noise of popular discourse, common sense, and commercial interests'' (p. 181) regarding CALL, it is important to keep these issues in mind.
In general, Chapelle's writing is informative and thorough, with many
examples and references to current research as well as useful rubrics
and diagrams that provide visual representations of her discussions. On
one hand, a lack of an overall sense of progression sometimes results
because each chapter is composed of material from different lectures.
On the other hand, this also means that most of the chapters are
comprehensive enough to stand alone as supplementary material for a
graduate level SLA or CALL course, though Chapelle would probably
advocate the former, since a separate course on technology misses her
point about theoretical synergy. For those who cannot take such a
course with the author, reading the text is like sitting in on her lectures. The text is invaluable as a literature review, research guide, and source of discussion.
Chapelle's expertise in language assessment is apparent, but regarding
SLA, she sticks to the theories and methodologies with which she feels
most comfortable, namely task and interactionist theory; for example,
six of the nine studies in chapter 3 are analyzed in terms of interactionist theory and only two used non-experimental, qualitative methodologies. While she does acknowledge controversy over the notion of interaction (pp. 54-55), only in the final chapter does she mention other relevant theories that might consider ''social, historical, and identity concerns'' (p. 178). In fact, researchers using such approaches, for example sociocultural/activity theory, may even question the very notion of task, around which she constructs her approach, as well as object to being subjected to 'interpersonal' and 'intrapersonal' distinctions (p. 56) they do not recognize. Because of her standing in the field, her avoidance of these issues may send the message that these approaches are less worthy of consideration than task or interactionist theory. Then again, qualitative CALL studies using a socio-cognitive approach (Kern & Warschauer 2000) are infrequent and difficult to categorize. The author herself objects to
such categorizations and her reference on p. 116 to Kern & Warschauer's
'cognitive approach' as parallel to 'learner capacity' and 'socio-cognitive approach' to 'task characteristic' is slightly confusing --'socio-cognitive' has been interpreted as encompassing the 'social' (context of task) and the 'cognitive' (the learner), exactly the comprehensive, hybrid approach she seems to be advocating in chapter 4.
While Chapelle makes her perspectives on theory-research links and
methodologies clear, her own epistemological beliefs on the nature of
language and learning are sometimes unclear. Yet the author would agree
that for any researcher, these beliefs will inform what they see in the
classroom and how they formulate research questions, regardless of
whether they believe themselves to be theoretically driven or not. If
Chapelle is espousing a Hallidayan view of language (Halliday & Hasan,
1985), as implied by her several references to register theory and
systemic-functional research, her view of language would be as a social
semiotic, where meaning is discursively constructed and contextually
embedded, systemic but not relying on pre-existing structures. Input-
focused theories like the interactionist hypothesis, however, are rooted in Chomskyan structuralism, which is quite at odds with a Hallidayan perspective (see Belz, 2003 for an application of systemic-functional appraisal theory to CMC interaction). Thus, theoretical commensurability might become an issue if task theory and register theory are to come together, insofar as task theory is based on a structuralist paradigm. In calling for task theory to expand to consider register, perhaps Chapelle is offering mild, constructive criticism of task theory, though whether it can be restructured without losing its theoretical rigor remains to be seen. In any case, the author would likely agree that a constructive, synergistic relationship between technology and applied linguistics will bring these
epistemological issues to the fore, diversifying and strengthening
theory, research methodology, and ultimately practice. Her text offers
direction for the continued development of this diversity and strength.
Belz, J. (2003). Linguistic perspectives on the development of
intercultural competence in telecollaboration. LL&T, 7(2), 68-117.
Ellis, R. (1999). Learning a second language through interaction.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Halliday, M., & Hasan, R. (1985). Language, context, and text: aspects
of language in a social-semiotic perspective. Oxford, UK: Oxford
Kern, R., & Warschauer, M. (2000). Introduction: Theory and Practice of
Network-Based Language Teaching. In M. Warschauer & R. Kern (Eds.),
Network-based Language Teaching: Concepts and Practice (pp. 1-19). New
York: Cambridge University Press.
Pica, T., Kanagy, R., & Falodun, J. (1993). Choosing and using
communicative tasks for second language instruction. In G. Crookes & S.
Gass (Eds.), Tasks and language learning: Integrating theory and
practice. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Plass, J., Chun, D., Mayer, R., & Leutner, E. (1998). Supporting visual
and verbal learning preferences in a second-language multimedia
learning environment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(10), 25-36.
Skehan, P., & Foster, P. (2001). Cognition and tasks. In P. Robinson
(Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 3-32). Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge UP.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jonathon Reinhardt is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Linguistics at Penn State University. He has taught technology-enhanced ESOL in the U.S. and Japan, and his research interests include SLA, CMC, and L2