A reflection on “Review of computer-assisted language learning: History, merits & barriers”

Earlier this semester, when Dr. Rozina lectured us on the introduction to the course i.e. introduction to Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), we were assigned to read a journal article titled “Review of computer-assisted language learning: History, merits & barriers” by Dara Tafazoli and Niloofar Golshan and reflect upon it in our blog. As the title suggests, the article is basically a review on CALL where the researchers looked into its history, merits and barriers. Last but not least, they also provided some suggestions in regards to the barriers mentioned.

Introduction to CALL

Tafazoli and Golshan (2014) first defined CALL by quoting from Levy (1997) which is “the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning”. One thing worth taking note in relation to this term is that CALL does not only apply to computer alone but to any forms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This includes the infamous smartphone to name a few.

A brief history of CALL was also included in the article. Historically, it was in 1983 annual TESOL convention in Canada that the term CALL was formally agreed upon. A suggestion was also made to establish a professional institution for CALL which was the Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO).

Next, the researchers briefed on the 3 major phases of CALL which are the behaviouristic CALL, the communicative CALL and the integrative CALL.

1. Behaviouristic CALL

This approach that was widely practiced between 1960s-1970s was based upon the psychological theory of behaviourism. The key term for this approach is “drill and practice”. The computer generally works as the tool to provide the learners with instructional materials. In other words, it works as the tutor for the learners. PLATO is one of the projects that applies this approach.

2. Communicative CALL

Communicative CALL was prominent between 1970s-1980s. The aim of this approach is to foster intrinsic motivation in learners and to promote interactivity not only between learner-computer interaction but most importantly learner-learner interaction. Here, the computer functions as the stimulus to the learners. The activities invite communication among the learners. The most common application applied under this approach is computer games.

3. Integrative CALL

This approach is also known as the sociocognitive CALL where the objective is to integrate different language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing skills) into language learning. The key term for this particular approach is “task-based” where the activities provided for the learners are mostly task-based. The emergence of multimedia-supported computers and the World Wide Web (WWW) in the mid-1990s was the platform for integrative CALL.

The merits and barriers of CALL

Based on the studies done by other researchers, Tafazoli and Golshan (2014) reviewed the pros and cons of CALL provided in those papers and listed them down. The researchers actually listed down quite a number of merits and barriers of CALL but we are going to focus on 3 merits and 3 barriers which we find most relatable to our experience.

1. CALL can be undeniably fun, attention-grabbing and interactive but the vast Internet may also give the learners access to unnecessary information

Based on our experience as students, learning through the computer can be more fun than the pedagogical one since it promotes interactivity. CALL can help the teachers greatly in grabbing the students’ attention for the lesson especially the little ones. The students will always feel excited when the lesson is conducted in the computer lab or when the teacher is going to project something on the screen. It is our nature to feel curious.

However, curiosity kills the cat. When unattended, the students may explore beyond what they are supposed to do due to their curiosity. Due to the vastness of the Internet, there are possibility for them to encounter inappropriate matters such as those found in spam messages and pop-up ads.

2. CALL is a great opportunity for real and natural communication yet it may also inhibit learners’ communication skills

The technology allows us to communicate with each other to the global level where a person in Kuala Lumpur can have a real-time communication with a person New York, for instance. This also promotes global and culture understanding on the target language which is helpful for the target language acquisition. This is because language and culture are solely related to each other.

Although CALL gives the learners an opportunity for global communication, its extended usage may also inhibit the learners’ communication skills. Excessive reliance on virtual communication may cause the users to become isolated from people in the real world that their communication skills become blunt. This is bad news because good communication skill is one of the important criteria employers are looking for among fresh graduates.

3. CALL allows the learners to access the learning materials anytime and anywhere but CALL itself requires skills as well as financial support

Smartphones especially, are very handy and aid us a lot in our daily life activities. Learning is not excluded. By applying technology in learning, both teachers and learners have easy access to the materials as well as to communicate with each other. A great example for this is the student e-learning system or in our university we call it iTaleem.

However, in order to be able to do that, learners and teachers first need to be able to have access to that particular technology as well as to obtain the skills in order to be able to use that particular technology. Schools and universities today are equipped with the computer and Internet facilities but consideration has to be made whether all students actually have access to this technology when they are at home. Skills to access this technology is another matter especially to those who do not have regular access to it.

Conclusion

After discussing the probable barriers CALL may bring, the researchers suggested that teachers should make proper plans and preparations in regards to using CALL in their lesson. In order to make CALL a success, the teachers themselves have to be equipped with the necessary skills. Then, they need to consider all the constraints that might occur such as those mentioned previously so that prior actions can be taken.

Last but not least, the researchers expressed their opinion on the issue whether CALL should substitute the teachers or not. They found this illogical. Instead, they considered technology as a great and fundamental aid in language learning and teaching. From our perspective, we agree with their opinion. Though technology can be very interactive, it shall not replace the teachers totally. When learning face to face with teachers, there is more interpersonal relationship bonded and as human beings, we really need that.

This reflection is based on the following journal article:

Tafazoli, D. & Golshan, N. (2014). Review of computer-assisted language learning: History, merits & barriers. International Journal of Language and Linguistics, 2 (5-1), 32-38. doi: 10.11648/j.ijll.s.2014020501.15

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