LINGUIST List 28.469

Mon Jan 23 2017

Review: Chinese, Mandarin; English; Spanish; Applied Ling: González-Lloret (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <clarelinguistlist.org>


Date: 28-Sep-2016
From: Luciana Forti <Luciana.fortiunistrapg.it>
Subject: A Practical Guide to Integrating Technology into Task-Based Language Teaching
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/27/27-1881.html

AUTHOR: Marta González-Lloret
TITLE: A Practical Guide to Integrating Technology into Task-Based Language Teaching
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Luciana Forti, Università per Stranieri di Perugia

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

Research into the integration of technology in foreign/second language education has seen a steady surge in the past decades, focusing not only on its affordances, but also on the evaluation of its effectiveness. Non-academic language teaching contexts have also started exploring new avenues into the field, although the busy lives of teachers and teacher trainers make it difficult to delve into the endeavours of educational research.

This book aims to bridge the gap. It is a guide to the implementation of Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) in the context of task-based language teaching (TBLT). Primarily aimed at pre-service and in-service foreign language teachers, the volume is divided into four chapters, each related to a specific phase in the development of a technology mediated TBLT curriculum: defining the concept of “task”, conducting a needs analysis (NA), designing the tasks, and finally evaluating the curriculum through performance-based assessment tools. Each chapter is introduced by a brief overview, and consists of a series of short paragraphs; it ends with a summary, reflective questions and activities for the reader, as well as a list of recommended readings. The end of the book provides a longer list of references and the full set of tables and figures cited throughout the text.

The first chapter focuses on clarifying the notion of technology-mediated TBLT, starting from a review of the different ways in which the notion of “task” has been conceptualised in the literature. In performing a task, learners “use language to achieve a real outcome” (Willis 1996: 53, cited on p. 2), with “the intention to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form” (Nunan 2004: 4, ibid.), which requires them “to process language pragmatically” (Ellis 2003: 16, ibid.). More broadly, tasks are all the practical things people do in their everyday lives (Long 1985: 89, ibid.).

Once the concept of task is operationalised, there is the question of how to implement the approach. The author presents two methodological options as the two poles of a continuum of methodological possibilities. On one end of the continuum, we find the TBLT model developed by Jane and Dave Willis, consisting of three phases: in the pre-task phase, the teacher introduces and explains the task, along with all the relevant language that is required in order to perform it; in the subsequent task-cycle phase, the learners perform the task; finally, in the post-task phase, the teacher conducts consciousness-raising activities related to the task that was performed.

On the other end of the continuum, we find the TBLT model developed by Michael Long. This model starts from a needs analysis aimed at identifying which tasks should be targeted and which technology is required and available in order to perform them. It then makes an abstraction from target tasks to task types, aiming to identify the common structure of tasks pertaining to different thematic domains (eg. “making a reservation” is a task type comprising the target tasks “booking a tour” and “renting a car”). Task types then need to be transformed into a sequence of pedagogical activities. Long’s approach is divided into six phases, which can be broadly summarised into needs analysis, syllabus design and program evaluation. Because it has a more comprehensive take on technology-mediated TBLT, and a clearer focus on learner-centredness, the author favours Long’s approach, and structures the book according to the different steps involved in his model.

The chapter then provides examples of tools that can be used for technology-mediated tasks, such as virtual environments (eg. Second Life, Active Worlds, etc.), games (eg. World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, etc.) and Web 2.0 writing tools (eg. Blogs, wikis, etc.). All the tools that are mentioned are described and followed by practical examples of how they have been used to perform tasks within specially designed technology-mediated TBLT syllabi.

The second chapter deals with the importance of conducting a NA as a prerequisite in designing a language learning syllabus in general, and clarifies the specifics of a NA conducted for a TBLT curriculum. In this case, in fact, it needs to target not only the students’ needs and desires, but also the tasks that the learners need and wish to perform, along with the technology that is needed to perform them. The author underlines the importance of using a triangulation of methods and sources, which can validate each other in providing a reliable framework to work with. Sources may include students, teachers, administrators, alumni employers, job descriptions, IT experts, manuals, CALL experts etc.; methods may include questionnaires, interviews and text analyses.

Defining the technological tools to be integrated in a TBLT syllabus implies also an assessment of the learners’ digital literacy level. For example, the task of making a hotel reservation online implies being able to switch on a computer, search the web for a hotel booking site, look through a digital calendar, use an interactive map, and so on. It also implies the skill of being able to critically select a website from the list provided by a search engine.

The final paragraphs of the chapter present some practical guidelines for teachers wanting to conduct an NA, and show some examples of questionnaire items aimed at teachers, administrators and students. When addressing teachers and administrators, the focus is on assessing whether students have the necessary digital skills to perform a task, and whether the education context is equipped accordingly. When targeting students, the focus is on motivation, learning preferences and learning desires related to real-world tasks. For example, p. 31 provides a sample questionnaire in which learners need to decide, on a scale from 0 to 3, how important a given task is to them.

Chapter 3 focuses on the creation, organisation and sequencing of tasks. Drawing on the work by Carol Chapelle and Cathy Doughty and Michael Long both cited on p. 35, it opens with the description of the five pedagogical principles that must guide the creation of a TBLT curriculum: (1) provide rich input, (2) focus on form, (3) provide negative/corrective feedback, (4) promote collaborative learning, (5) promote language output. In introducing these principles, the author points out one of the aspects that differentiates TBLT from communicative language teaching: the latter is mainly concerned with achieving fluency, whereas the former aims also at achieving language complexity and accuracy.

The organisation of tasks requires a preliminary identification of target tasks, followed by a classification of target tasks into target types, as mentioned in the first chapter, with a final phase devoted to the development of pedagogical tasks from the task types. Here, the author makes a distinction between pedagogic language tasks (PLTs) and pedagogic technology tasks (PTTs).

The definition of the tasks is then followed by task sequencing. As the author points out, the principles guiding task sequencing in textbooks or lesson plans are often based on notions of “grammatical difficulty”, which rely more on principles of linguistic analysis than on acquisitional research and issues relating to task complexity. For this reason, the two main theories of task complexity are discussed, namely Peter Robinson’s Cognition Hypothesis and Peter Skehan’s Limited Capacity Model.

According to Skehan’s model, our attentional capacity is limited. This means that tasks should be sequenced in order to achieve a balance between complexity and accuracy. Since tasks requiring a higher level of cognitive complexity are likely to affect accuracy, in order to avoid this, Shekan advises to sequence tasks according to a gradual increase in cognitive complexity. This way, accuracy can be focused upon and practiced in the earlier, less demanding tasks, while not representing an issue in the later, more demanding tasks. which is why an increasingly demanding series of tasks may result in either better complexity or better accuracy. Therefore, the sequencing of tasks should be done by manipulating three factors: code complexity (with reference to acquisitional research on development sequences), cognitive complexity (including both the familiarity with the task and with the technology needed to perform it), communicative stress (in relation to time constraints imposed by the task, or the number and type of participants).

Robinson’s model, on the other hand, emphasises the influence of the context in which a task is performed, which can in turn influence the learner's perception of difficulty for that task. His model is particularly relevant to technology-mediated TBLT. For example, the use of a map application on a smartphone may lower the difficulty of a task in comparison to using a paper map, because nowadays learners are used to using digital maps rathers than paper ones.

The author shows how Robinson’s model integrates a technology-mediated TBLT curriculum by comparing a diagram representing traditional TBLT against another diagram representing tech-mediated TBLT, both in figure 3.1. She then provides a summary of criteria that can be used as a guide for determining the sequence of a series of tasks based on their complexity, with reference to Robinson’s original chart to determine task complexity, which can be found in table 3.1. Finally, the chapter provides three examples of units from three different task-based language courses, showing how the different kinds of task can be sequenced in practice.

The last chapter of the book is devoted to the assessment of students’ learning outcome and the evaluation of the curriculum. In the case of students, the assessment needs to be performance-based and summative. In a tech-mediated task-based curriculum the achievement of a goal is strictly connected to the ability to perform a task, given that thebeing the task is as close as possible to real-life dynamics. The author provides an overview of the tools that can be used to conduct the assessment, including the observation of the learner in an authentic or simulated context, but also a range of technologies such as text-based or audio-based CMC systems, virtual environments, and interactive maps , and so on.

In relation to the evaluation of the program, and of the material developed within the program, the author provides a rich list of questions that the teacher or syllabus author can use to assess the program. Just as for NAs, here too there is a need for triangulation of resources and methods. The guiding questions pertain to whether the materials are truly task-based, whether they fit the specific context and needs, whether technology is truly integrated and whether it actually enhances language learning. Curriculum assessment is only rarely present in research, and by citing a few examples of existing frameworks that can aid the design of a TBLT curriculumcurriculm assessment, the author advocates the need to make this practice more frequent.

EVALUATION

Author Marta Gonzáles-Lloret is a highly experienced research professional in the field of technology-mediated TBLT. This is clearly reflected in the ability to combine a step-by-step practical guide to the implementation of the approach with a theoretical account of each of the phases involved. The high accessibility of the book is evident in its structure, based on short paragraphs, in it is language, plain with little use of references and citations, and in its content, divided into four chapters mirroring the four main stagesd involved in the development of a technology-mediated TBLT curriculum. The accessibility of the book is also achieved by its size, just over 60 pages, in which the author effectively condenses , within each chapter, explanations, references to theory and previous research, practical examples, summaries, reflective questions, activities for the reader and a section devoted to recommended reading. The schematic nature of the book makes it fit perfectly within the category of books aimed at teachers.

In relation to the potential audience of the book, the author states that “both pre-service and in-service instructors of foreign and second languages may find sources of inspiration to consider […] and developersdevolopers of language curricula and materials may benefit from seeing how theoretical concepts can become real tasks in the classroom through examples of materials that have been used effectively” (p. x). However, I would think that most of the readers of this book will be either in-service teachers who have already gained a grasp over basic teaching principles, teacher trainers, interested in infusing new ideas into their teacher training programs, or curriculum developers, directly involved in matching students’ needs and learning styles with the best materials and activities, and with an effective integration of technology. Pre-service teachers usually have a lot on their plate, and depending on the type of teacher training course they choose, may have more or less time and space for reading a book such as this one.

One of the many strengthsstreghts of the book is certainly its clarity, one instanceistance of which can be seen in the way the author summarises and clarifies Robinson’s criteria for determiningto determine task complexity. A quick comparison between Robinson’s account (table 3.1) and Gonzáles-Lloret’s summary (p. 43) will show how the latter is better suited tofor a quicker implementation.

Only a few shortcomings are perhaps worth mentioning. The one standing out the most relates to the editorial treatment of the text. The book is a printed version of an e-book, and unfortunately, some of the steps required to effectively adapt the hypertext format to a paper format were not taken. We read things like “too see an extract of this task, click here” (p. 9), or “click to see this” (p. 49), and find the titles of websites in bold, presumably indicating the presence of a hyperlink in the original e-book version. Unfortunately, there is no sitography that allows the reader to follow up on the web linksweblinks that are implicitly mentioned in this paper version. Another possible indication of there being a lack of adaptation between the original hypertext and this paper version is the fact that all references to tables and figures are made in bold, and they are all placed at the end of the book, which slightlyslighlty hinders an otherwise smooth reading of the book.

Moving on to the content of the book, in discussing aspects of the integration of technology in a TBLT curriculum, the author advocates the non neutrality of technology. The meaning of the statement may appear opaque until examples are provided. What the author means is that asking a learner to perform a task with a technological tool requires a prior assessment of his or her digital literacy in relation to that tool. In this sense, the integration of technology is not neutral because it determines a potential knowledge gap which needs to be filled in order to perform the task, but it remains neutral in the sense that it does not entirely predetermine the way we may use it.

In listing the main tools that can be used as a basis for designing technology-mediated TBLT lessons, there is no mention of augmented reality and mobile assisted language learning: both fields, however, are rapidly developing and have created a considerable body of research in the space of just a few years (Burston, 2013; Godwin-Jones, 2016), so they could perhaps be considered as additional avenues in the development of a technology-mediated TBLT curriculum.

Last but not least, Chapter 2 seems to be a simplified and revised version of a previous publication by the same author (González-Lloret, in González-Lloret & Ortega, 2014: 23-50), which could have perhaps been integrated in the recommended reading for that chapter. The earlier publication is however listed in the references at the end of the book.

In conclusion, I think that it is safe to say that the accessibility of the volume will undoubtedly ensure a wide readership. Despite the few shortcomings, to the best of my knowledge, this publication is unique in its field: all the other ones are either partially research-based edited volumes (Gonzáles-Lloret & Ortega, 2014; Thomas & Reinders, 2010), or deal exclusively with task-based methodology with little or no discussion of the potential integration of technology (Branden, 2006; Byrnes & Manchón, 2014). This makes the volume a particularly desirable addition to any university or school library specialised in teaching methods; the reader wanting to gain a deeper and better understanding of some of the concepts presented, will be able to look up the bibliographical references provided.

REFERENCES

Branden, Kris van den (ed.). 2006. Task-based language education: from theory to practice. Cambridge, [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Burston, Jack. 2013. Mobile-assisted language learning: A selected annotated bibliography of implementation studies 1994–2012. Language Learning & Technology, 17(3), 157–224.

Byrnes, Heidi, & Manchón, Rosa. (Eds.). 2014. Task-based language learning: insights from and for L2 writing. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Godwin-Jones, Robert. 2016. Emerging technologies looking back and ahead: 20 years of technologes for language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 20(2), 5-12.

González-Lloret, Marta, & Ortega, Lourdes (eds.). 2014. Technology-mediated TBLT: researching technology and tasks. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Thomas, Michael, & Reinders, Hayo (eds.). 2010. Task-based language learning and teaching with technology. London; New York: Continuum.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

I am a PhD candidate at the University for Foreigners of Perugia, Italy. My research project deals with the use of corpora in Italian as a second language learning and teaching, with a focus on the acquisition of collocations by Chinese native speakers. It involves the creation of a corpus informed syllabus, followed by an experimental evaluation of its effectiveness. I am interested in the corpus-based analysis of Italian and English learner language, and in the design of corpus-based pedagogical materials and activities that are able to aid second language acquisition. I am also a CELTA qualified EFL teacher.

Page Updated: 23-Jan-2017