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Review of  Computer-Assisted Language Learning


Reviewer: Nadia P. Economou
Book Title: Computer-Assisted Language Learning
Book Author: Jeong-Bae Son
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Computational Linguistics
Issue Number: 26.2030

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Review:
Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

As mentioned in the short preface, the book is a collection of papers on computer assisted language learning (CALL), exploring issues related to learners, teachers and tools. All case studies have to do with research conducted in the Asian-Pacific context; thus the book appears as the third volume of the Asia-Pacific Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning (APACALL) Book Series.

Chapter 1: “Low-achieving language learners in self-directed multimedia environments: transforming understanding,” by Pei-Lun Kao and Scott Windeatt.

It is widely believed that learners working with multimedia material can profit from making their way through the material at their own free time and space and receive immediate feedback, This can prove frustrating for low achieving learners who use this kind of material for remedial purposes or self study. Kao and Windeatt have conducted their research on the learning processes associated with such problems. More particularly, they have used data--including interviews, learning diaries, observation and questionnaires--from 12 learners working with CD-ROMS for a period of two semesters (one academic year) at a university in Taiwan.

In their literature review, the authors attempt to define low achieving language learners going beyond low performance in tests and examinations. Performance has to do, among other things, with “good” learning strategies, cognitive and affective factors, anxiety and apprehension, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Self-directed language learning is defined in terms of needs analysis, goals setting, independent choice of material, self assessment motivation, etc. In any case, it requires a lot of effort and training for self directed learning to lead to better language learning. The final part of the literature review deals with the contribution of CALL and multimedia learning material in language learning.

In designing their research, the authors have selected their participants among those that have scored low in the Taiwanese National Entrance Examination for English and high in the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale test. These 12 participants had similar educational backgrounds, shared similar low motivation in learning English and had really few opportunities to practice their listening and speaking skills. Data was collected on a weekly basis, after the students had their eighty minutes of self-study using various multimedia CD-ROMs. The researchers also conducted follow-up interviews with all the participants one year after the end of the study, to be able to pinpoint longer term effects of the study.

The results show that participants have positive attitudes towards working with multimedia material; they mention facts like choosing their own material and working on it at their own pace, getting non threatening feedback etc. Still, their attitude toward their speaking and listening skills and, consequently, performing speaking and listening tasks remained negative throughout the whole first semester. They also encountered problems with speech recognition technology in role play activities. They developed various strategies to cope with their difficulties and overcome their fears; for instance, they repeated listening activities.

Participants also reported a change of attitude towards their learning in both their conventional English class and in non-English contexts. To take listening as an example, some students made an effort to work out the meaning of the teachers’ words instead of waiting for them to translate into their native language. They also felt more willing to participate in speaking activities since they had managed to overcome the fear of saying “something stupid”. Attitudes have also changed for some participants concerning their professional life beyond the university, since they felt that they are ready to consider alternative careers that require a higher level of English.

Overall, the main conclusion from this longitudinal study is that low-performance students can benefit from participating in CALL activities in the long run although with considerable variations. In any case, linguistic, technical and emotional support is necessary for both students who work with the material and their teachers.

Chapter 2: Mobile natives: Japanese university students’ use of digital technology by Peter Gobel and Makimi Kano

The chapter reports the results of a survey conducted in a Japanese university on the relation formulated by “digital native” students with Information and Communication Technologies, namely, computers and mobile phones. This new generation of learners, born in the digital era (after 1980) has grown up with technology being an integral part of their life. Thus, they have developed new cognitive and social skills that need to be taken into account when adapting teaching and educational environments. The authors review the literature on ‘digital natives” and relevant research on the implications for university education. Cultural issues emerge as influencing learning styles together with individual preferences.

As far as Japan is concerned, mobile technologies have been widely adopted and mobile phones have been used not only for phone calls but for internet access and email. For various reasons, “ICT proficiency and confidence of Japanese school students is one of the lowest in the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] … “(p. 27). Thus, the researchers try to investigate the ways in which Japanese students adopt ICT in both academic and non academic settings as well as the effect that this practice has over their learning styles (as opposed to using paper based media).

Data has been collected using online distributed questionnaires, including questions on mobile phone and computer use, learning preferences etc. The vast majority of the respondents (97%) have access to computers at home and at the university and rate their computer skills as average. They also use their phones and computers for various activities. Still, they prefer to take paper-based tests/quizzes in class.

At the end of the chapter, the Gobel and Kano discuss the limitations of their study as well as some interesting findings, namely the fact that a large number of students still favor traditional methods of teaching and learning and face-to-face activities as opposed to out-of-class lectures and online presentations. The respondents, the authors conclude, are not digital natives who detest reading and traditional classroom activities.

Chapter 3: A task-based needs analysis for mobile-assisted language learning in college ESL contexts by Moonyoung Park

As stated in the abstract, the purpose of this chapter is to investigate “potential synergy between task-based language teaching (TBLT) and MALL [mobile-assisted language learning]” (p. 47) so as to contribute to future development of MALL tasks, lesson plans and curricula.

It is taken for granted that MALL can contribute new insights to language learning, although as Park points out, little research has been conducted on the tasks that students can undertake. Literature on MALL is reviewed on the basis of the distinction between review and experimental studies. Task-based needs analysis has the advantage of combining selection and description of goals with formulation of classroom activities. Based on the above, the author has conducted research (mainly semi-structured interviews and online questionnaires with administrators, teachers and students) to identify the potential of the use of mobile devices in language learning.
Results have shown that while students are highly motivated to use MALL tasks for all language skills, teachers are rather cautious. Still all groups have reported having used various mobile device features for different activities. Vocabulary learning and video watching seem to be the most popular among students. In both the open ended and the closed survey, the researcher has collected a variety of desired target tasks for the four basic skills, reading, listening, speaking and writing.

One of the issues that emerged was that of students’ lack of confidence in the use of technology that is attributed to various reasons; various other limitations in the implementation of MALL have been highlighted in other studies and replicated in this study. Still, Park concludes that despite some limitations, that the list of task types and target tasks that he has come up with is indicative of the ways MALL can be integrated into ESL classes and pedagogy.

Chapter 4: An analysis of EAP students’ use of Wikipedia as a resource for learning academic English by Reza Dashtestani

In this chapter, Dashtestani investigates the attitudes of students in Iran towards Wikipedia and the ways they are using it for learning academic English. The author acknowledges that various internet technologies, e.g. Web 2.0, blogs, wikis etc. form part of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes and that there is a plethora of research evaluating the impact these tools have on learning. What this literature review suggests is that English for Academic Purposes (EAP) students benefit from ICT use.

Wikipedia has played a significant role in educational settings; however, educators express their concerns about the credibility of the content. This is attributed not only to the fact that many non experts contribute information but also to the fact that many of the contributors have limited English language proficiency. Therefore, it should be used with caution. All relevant studies conclude that the use of Wikipedia has a positive effect upon students, especially in the development of their reading and writing skills. The author formulates his research questions around the use of Wikipedia by Iranian EAP students, their attitudes and their perceptions of their ability to use it efficiently for learning academic English.

Data collection was conducted with 275 undergraduate students of chemical engineering most of them with elementary or pre-intermediate knowledge of English. The language used in both the questionnaires and the interviews was the subjects’ native language, not English. An interesting issue that emerged is that some students pointed out that they cannot trust the grammaticality of Wikipedia, since it contains mistakes and some others mentioned the unreliability of the academic information. Despite that, the majority reports copying and pasting information from Wikipedia, and using it at least occasionally. Still, their English proficiency is not adequate for using information in English from the Encyclopedia. Overall, students tend to use the Persian version of Wikipedia more than the English one, although they point out that the Persian one is much more limited in information.

The chapter concludes with suggestions for further research on various aspects, but the most important is the teachers’ attitudes towards Wikipedia and other ICT tools and resources.

Chapter 5: Developing Malaysian ESL teachers’ technological, pedagogical content knowledge with digital materials by Kean Wah Lee and Choon Keong Tan

This chapter aims to investigate how teachers develop their Technological, Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCN); for this reason, the authors conducted research on teachers’ experiences in producing their own digital material for the Malaysian primary school curriculum.

In order to achieve a “developed” status by 2020 (Malaysia’s Vision 2020), stakeholders and curriculum planners need to enforce digital literacy for both teachers and students. Therefore, the government developed programs to support in-service school teachers seeking professional progression. Part of the TPCN program is enhancing the concept of digital storytelling as pedagogy. Digital storytelling is described as the process of designing and developing a digital story by using various technological tools available and making it public through digital channels. It has been acknowledged as a very effective language learning tool.

The authors move on the describe a TPCK model where Pedagogical Knowledge (PK), Content Knowledge (CK), Technological Knowledge (TK), Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK) and Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) are interrelated.

The participants of this study were 122 in-service English teachers with an average of 12 years of teaching experience following a 4-year degree course at the University of Malaysia. During the course, teachers were trained to design and produce their own digital stories, namely, choosing from potential topics, integrating different elements and peer reviewing evaluation results. Data collection included reflective journals, records and artifacts from the course and focus group interviews.

The results from the study showed that by developing their TPCK teachers improved their ICT skills, enhanced their collaboration and cultivated their pedagogical skills. They also recognized that by improving their technological skills, they could further help their students become technology literate. Additionally, they realized that they have to adapt their pedagogical beliefs to the current digital world. In the conclusions, the authors stress the importance of providing teachers with authentic contexts to facilitate meaningful learning.

Chapter 6: Moving beyond basics: from CALL coursework to classroom practice and professional development by Jeong-Bae Son

This chapter reports on a survey conducted at an Australian University on the impact that an optional computer-assisted language learning (CALL) course had on the teaching of language teachers and the ways in which the latter implemented the knowledge they gained in this course in their everyday classroom practice. The author reviews relevant research on the relationship between teacher-training in CALL and in-service use of CALL in classrooms.

The subjects participating in the study were language teachers who have had training in CALL at an Australian University; they completed questionnaires and were interviewed by email on how they use CALL in their classrooms. They were asked to provide examples of CALL activities they have learnt in the course and adopted, as well as their experience with CALL.

The results showed that the majority of teachers have been considerably influenced by the CALL course and that it has been relevant to their teaching careers. Among the reasons for not using CALL in the classroom, they mention lack of time, shortage of confidence in their ability to cope, and need for rigorous observance of the curriculum. The analysis of the interviews provides more insights on the above issues.

The study concludes by pointing out the importance of teacher training in CALL that should take the form of ongoing mentoring and discussion. Recommendations for further research include identification of effective methods of integrating CALL into the language classroom and activating teachers to be creative in the use of CALL.

Chaper 7: Connectivist learning: reaching strudents through teacher professional development by Vance Stevens

This paper aims at exploring the initiatives the contributor has taken towards incorporating connectivist models in teacher professional development. Connectivist learning is defined as searching for ‘why’ instead of ‘how’ to do particular things. The notion of connectivism was coined in 2004 by Siemens. According to him, connectivism allows us to better understand how we learn in an ever changing world in the digital age. The notion of ‘master learner’ has been coined by Warlick (2010) to portray the learner who is constantly learning in order to teach and teaching in order to learn. What is important is to understand that in order for “teachers to impart the heuristics for such learning to students, they have to have practiced connectivist learning themselves” (p. 154).

The widespread use of the internet, especially after the advent of Web.2.0. has important effects for teachers, especially teachers of English, allowing them to overcome both their isolation and the isolation of their students. Stevens mentions case studies where Web sites are created for students to display their writing and exchange multimedia material. In other cases, students construct communities to promote language learning and the target language is being used in authentic contexts. For Stevens, constructivist learning, like “learning via social media is ineffable; meaning it has to be experienced in order to be understood” (p. 160). Conferences dedicated to language educators worldwide have been organized, open to anyone and free of charge, where teachers were exchanging experiences of connectivist ways of sharing expertise. Massive open online course (MOOCs) are other attempts to share and make connectivist experiences work.

Chapter 8: Learning about Computer-Assisted Language Learning: online tools and professional development by Jeong Bae Son

In his second contribution to this volume, Son reports on a research study about CALL practitioners’ use of online tools and how this practice contributes to their overall professional development.

The author starts by pointing out that CALL training is important for teachers so as they can develop the necessary competencies and skills to implement CALL activities in their classrooms. In fact, this should be a continuous and autonomous process. Various CALL-focused journals have been studied to derive teachers’ experiences from CALL practices; what emerged for the literature review and has also been stressed by Stevens in the previous chapter, is that use of online tools helps practitioners avoid isolation.

The author distributed online questionnaires to CALL practitioners on the use of online tools for language teaching, which tools they use most, how frequently, and how they remain up-to-date in the field. From the responses, it emerges that they are using communication tools and web search engines almost daily whereas tools for web creation and virtual worlds are rarely used. The results also show that many participants consult journal articles or books, check email list messages and link into social networks on a regular basis. On the other hand, online conferences are rarely attended. Based upon these results, the author concludes that it is important for CALL courses to enhance teachers’ personal learning strategies and autonomous development. Still, the number of participants was very small to allow for generalizations.

EVALUATION

This collection contains insights into CALL, illustrating diverse viewpoints, attitudes, practices and issues related to learners, teachers and tools. Although all the papers derive from the Asian-Pacific context and are exclusively focused on English as a foreign language, similar conclusions can be drawn in educational contexts in other parts of the world. Therefore, the collection addresses an international audience. In fact, the results of the studies can be extrapolated to similar contexts apart from Asia and Australia.

All contributions adopt approximately the same structure, with abstract, introduction, literature review, research design and methodology (participants and sampling), data analysis, results, discussion and conclusions. Shortcomings of the research, limitations and prospects for future research are also included. Each paper is accompanied by its own bibliography. There are no cross-references to other articles whatsoever. In addition, there is no introduction to the volume, apart from a one-page preface; thus, readers may get the impression that they are reading a journal issue instead of a book on CALL. Since this is the third volume of the Asian-Pacific Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning Book Series, I could not help but wonder why they do not publish journals instead of books. The book lacks an introductory chapter that would have informed the lay reader about the aims and objectives of APACALL and the purpose of bringing together all those papers as book chapters.

Still, CALL communities can benefit from these papers. The volume achieved its purpose of drawing on experiences in CALL to highlight current issues in this field; and it can be of help to those seeking to expand their knowledge and explore new trends in the field of teaching and learning English as a foreign language. It can also be of help to Ph.D. students or educators who want to enhance their research in this field; the book can serve as a tool in the procedure of formulating research questions, conducting field work and collecting data, analyzing and presenting results.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Nadia Economou has been working with the Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP)/ R.C. “Athena” since 1994 and she currently holds the position of Principal Researcher in the area of Modern Greek language teaching with multimedia. She holds a B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Athens, an M.A. in Language Studies from the University of Lancaster U.K. and a Ph.D. from the same University with specialisation in Educational Linguistics. In the Department of Educational Technology in ILSP / R.C. 'Athena' she has been involved in the design and development of educational multimedia software. She has worked on various projects as a researcher and/or coordinator. She has published research papers in the areas of language teaching and learning, CALL and discourse analysis. Her current research interests include multimedia technologies in education, language teaching and learning and discourse analysis.