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Review of  Call Research Perspectives


Reviewer: Kara A. McBride
Book Title: Call Research Perspectives
Book Author: Joy L. Egbert Gina Mikel Petrie
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Book Announcement: 17.1037

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Review:
EDITORS: Egbert, Joy L.; Petrie, Gina Mikel
TITLE: Call Research Perspectives
SERIES: ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2005

Kara McBride, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, University
of Arizona

OVERVIEW

As stated in the preface, this book is ''not a how-to-do research book''
(p. ix). The book is meant to get people involved in computer-assisted
language learning (CALL) research reflecting on CALL research.
Thus, the first two chapters that comprise ''Part I: Introduction to CALL
research'' assume some familiarity with the topic, and they focus on
past misconceptions and flaws in the field's brief history. Both
chapters call for more rigorous work to be done, and for research to
be solidly grounded in second language acquisition (SLA) theory.

The next 12 chapters of the book each in turn present one
theoretically-based perspective on CALL research. Each chapter is
roughly 15 pages and follows the same outline, including sections on
previous research, methods, and issues. They all dedicate ample
space to presenting questions about CALL research that arise
naturally when the field is viewed from the theoretical perspective
under discussion. The reader is provided extensive bibliographical
references, and sometimes a list of recommended reading. For the
CALL researcher in search of his or her next project, this book is the
perfect stimulus for creative thinking.

Meskill's Chapter 3, ''Metaphors that shape and guide CALL research''
reminds us that the metaphors that we use to understand an
abstraction shape the way we about think it. The author describes
some dominant metaphors from CALL literature, and she discusses
these metaphors' strengths and weaknesses.

Chapter 4, ''Sociocultural perspectives on CALL'' by Warschauer,
reviews the concepts of mediation, social learning, and genetic
analysis from Vygotsky's sociocultural theory to illustrate, among other
things, how technology, being a tool, shapes the behaviors that it is
used to perform.

Chapter 5, by Chapelle, is called ''Interactionist SLA theory in CALL
research.'' Interactionist theory proposes that language acquisition is
most likely to result when the language learner interacts with others in
a way that requires negotiation of meaning, that pushes the learner to
communicate, and that also allows for focus on form. CALL activities
can be judged, then, by the extent to which they provide opportunities
for this kind of interaction. This kind of ''...evaluation can be conducted
without recourse to assessment of learning outcomes, which are
typically very difficult to identify and measure for brief sessions of task
work'' (p. 62).

Chapter 6, ''Metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive strategies, and
CALL'' is written by Hauck, who works at the Open University in the
UK, where the Department of Languages has shifted to having all
courses be at least in part online. Students learning on line have to be
more autonomous learners. Thus, the department has developed
activities to ''foster learner reflection on the following: self-knowledge,
beliefs about self, beliefs about learning in general, beliefs about
language learning in particular'' (pp. 79-80).

Mohan and Luo's Chapter 7 calls for the investigation of the roles that
computers and language play through systemic functional linguistics,
in which the ways language is used to make meaning are the focus of
study, as opposed to focusing on syntax. Discourse analysis is a
primary means of carrying this out. It is suggested that this would be a
particularly useful approach in the study of multimedia and
multiliteracy.

Petrie takes up the topic of ''Visuality and CALL research'' in Chapter
8. Petrie notes that the nonlinguistic, visual characteristics of
computer-presented material shape our experience of the material. As
a consequence, the nature of literacy is changing.

Lotherington's ''Authentic language in digital environments'' continues
the trend in this part of the book to talk about the changing nature of
literacy. She sketches out dramatic shifts in language use that have
become typical of online communication as used between adolescent
native English speaking chat partners.

Egbert's Chapter 10 discusses ''Flow as a model for CALL research.''
The term FLOW refers to the state in which things ''click'' and the
participant loses his or her sense of time. We should like to know what
is special about those activities, such as navigating around in a MOO,
that have resulted in an experience of flow for their participants.

In Chapter 11, Brander points out ways in which technology interacts
with culture. The opening example is of an online English as a foreign
language class. The differences that the students' diverse cultures
presented were in some ways minimized by the fact that the students
never interacted in the same physical space. However, because some
differences were thus obscured, cultural misunderstandings were
more likely to arise, and the participants, not fully aware of the other
participants' cultural perspectives, were in a worse position to resolve
such misunderstandings than they would be in a face-to-face situation.

Yang's ''Situated learning as a framework for CALL research''
describes learning as becoming a member of a community of practice.
Newcomers participate peripherally. The change in identity to full
member is one and the same as learning the ways of the community of
practice.

Chapter 13, ''Design-based research in CALL'' by Yutdhana describes
a way in which theory can grow out of practice. Theory should inform
the design of CALL activities. The assessment of those activities can
in turn further inform theory. If the two remain intertwined, theory shall
become more precise, and designs implemented in practice shall
continue to improve as well.

The last chapter that presents a new theoretical perspective is
Chapter 14, ''A user-centered ergonomic approach to CALL research.''
Ergonomic studies look at the way humans interact with machines.
The anecdote that opens the chapter is an example of how a user
may employ a computer application in a way that is different from the
way its designers intended it. Ergonomics seeks to explain when and
why this happens. This perspective, it is argued, could be particularly
useful in evaluating online practices.

DISCUSSION

Although the book presents many different perspectives, the
perspectives are for the most part more complementary than
contradictory. Even the one article, Chapter 7, that claimed to be
opposed to ''the dominant perspective in CALL, the interactionist SLA
approach'' (p. 88) did not, in fact, contradict what was said in
Chapelle's Chapter 5. Further, Mohan and Luo continue in the article
to use the acronym SLA to refer to a very restricted and I would say
out-dated version of second language acquisition in which social
issues are marginalized as being of little importance. In this volume
alone, one-third of the theory chapters (Chapters 4, 11, 12, and 14)
cite Vygotsky. Other common themes in the volume that match the
Zeitgeist of SLA include 1) a frequent call in several chapters (as well
as the preface) for collecting both qualitative and quantitative data
and using them together; 2) seeing both identities and contexts as
dynamic and changing; and 3) a move to more fully embrace
complexity by taking an ecological perspective on learning situations.

An ecological perspective requires taking the environment into
account when considering a learning activity. One factor that clearly
must not be ignored in language education is culture (Chapter 11).
Sociocultural theory (Chapter 4) reminds us that, just as context
shapes behavior, the tools that we use alter the behaviors that we use
them for. The research that Warschauer reviews in this chapter
concerns how computers shape students' communication. Future
CALL research will have to consider this relationship from the opposite
direction, as in-coming language students will already have their
concepts of language and communication altered by recent
revolutions in communication technology (cell phones, text messaging,
chat, e-mail, etc.).

These important realities about swift change in language are brought
home in Lotherington's Chapter 9. Her examples of chat language use
are authentic, whether or not they strike one as impoverished. The
extent to which and the ways in which these language shifts enter our
classrooms or CALL materials will have something to do with our
beliefs about the balance between prescriptive and descriptive
grammars, and it will have much to do with factors entirely out of our
control.

Probably not all linguistically-mediated interaction is pedagogically
useful. Interactionist theory (Chapter 5) offers to guide us as to what
kind of interaction we are looking to encourage in our learners. In this
chapter, Chapelle reminds us that the interactionist hypotheses are
subject to revision, as researchers encounter evidence for or against
their predictions. This is an important point to reiterate. Knowing what
something is NOT can be just as important as knowing what
something is, when attempting to come to grips with a complex
system. As Huh and Hu explain in Chapter 2, bias can only be
overcome when negative results are also reported in the literature. To
improve and to understand CALL, we need to know what does not
work well, in addition to hearing about successes.

We also need to know how CALL is actually used, especially when this
does not match expectations. Anyone who has designed and carried
out a CALL project can affirm this. For example, my dissertation work
involved creating an online course that took participants a total of
roughly four hours to get through. The mini-course was divided into 13
steps. I was quite surprised to find many participants doing the last
four-fifths of the project all in one sitting. Perhaps these participants
were experiencing flow as it is presented in Egbert's Chapter 10.

Flow is not unique to CALL situations (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997) but is
instead considered a goal to aim for in lesson design, because the
experience is very motivating and leads to increased interaction with
the content of the lesson. Interestingly, those ten participants of mine
who got carried away with the activity and kept at it for hours were
also the participants whose scores dramatically dropped from pretest
to posttest. One assumes that they were just tired and that in the long
run this kind of motivated activity will lead to greater language
acquisition, not less. However, we must not simply automatically
assume that more is always better. CALL phenomena must be studied
without such bias.

The research and design model described in Chapter 13 offers the
best chance of improvement for both CALL design and CALL research
by enforcing a cycle between the two. Yutdhana calls this ''an
emerging paradigm in educational inquiry'' (p. 176). To me, it just
sounds like good practice, and one certainly popular in the business
world. Perhaps because of the marketable quality of CALL products,
and/or because much of CALL's popularity is a result of it being more
attention-grabbing than traditional lessons, CALL research is
especially concerned with ''customer satisfaction.'' To the extent that
this will make research more rigorous, it is a welcome development.

Just as research can only advance when there is an opportunity to
evaluate outcomes, learning is also advanced by an ability on the part
of the learner to self-evaluate in order to self-regulate, as we are told
in Chapter 6. This same concept of self-regulation is what Dörnyei
(2005) says that the field of educational psychology has adopted and
what SLA should adopt, instead of pursuing the elusive subject of
learning strategies. Dörnyei argues that, because no clear line can be
drawn between strategy use and learning, it is better to talk of self-
regulation. Hauk's work suggests that successful strategy use (which
may be the same thing as successful learning) is likely when the
learner knows him- or herself very well.

Taking a critical look at one's own thinking is encouraged in Chapter 3
by identifying some dominant CALL metaphors and their implications
for research. One of the ways that metaphors work as tools is that
they allow us to mentally manipulate familiar objects and then carry
over that skill to manipulate the less well understood concept (the
referent of the metaphor). Meskill gives us many metaphors to
consider. Some, we are to understand, are limiting and misleading
metaphors, as with the conduit metaphor. Other metaphors are more
appropriate for CALL, such as the berry-bush metaphor. The
presentation of the metaphors sets up a number of dichotomies.
Dichotomous thinking is itself a limiting framework, and we the readers
might use our metaphorical understanding of the issues to imagine
what a compromise or a hybrid might be like, for example between the
two ends of the most famous metaphorical dichotomy in CALL, the tool
and the tutor (Levy, 1997).

The chapter that speaks the most about what kind of research should
be done, as opposed to what has already been done, is Chapter 8, on
visuality. Petrie predicts that the concept of literacy will need to be
redefined to capture the role of non-linguistic, visual factors. The kind
of analysis Petrie calls for has begun to be done in some areas. For
example, Boardman's (2004) description of the process of web page
reading includes visual cues, such as letter font and positioning,
instead of abstracting language out of the form of presentation and
dealing with it separately.

Perhaps some of the metaphors that are used to understand complex
processes are not, in fact, fully metaphorical. As explained in the
chapter on situated learning, it is not just that knowledge is created
through social interactions, but the social interactions ARE the
learning process. In CALL research, content, activity, and context are
all part of our object of study. It is not that one of these happens to be
accompanied by the others; and research is not the process of
abstracting truth out of reality. It is literally true that the medium is the
message: ''signs are not objects out there, nor thoughts in here, but
relationships between the person and the world, physical and social''
(van Lier, p. 151).

REFERENCES

Boardman, M. (2004). The language of websites. London: Routledge.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow in everyday life. New York:
Basic Books.

Levy, M. (1997). Computer-assisted language learning: Context and
conceptualization. New York: Oxford University Press.

van Lier, L. (2002). An ecological-semiotic perspective on language
and linguistics. In C. Kramsch (Ed.), Language acquisition and
language socialization: Ecological perspectives (pp. 140-164). New
York: Continuum.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER


Kara McBride is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Arizona
interdisciplinary program Second Language Acquisition and Teaching.
She is interested in how language pedagogy and psycholinguistics
can be used together to optimize educational and assessment
applications on the computer.


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