This article was first presented
as a keynote paper at the
UCALL Conference, University of Ulster at Coleraine,14-15 June 2005,
and in then in revised format at the conference on
E-Learning and Japanese Language Education: Pedagogy and Practice,
Oxford Brookes University, 31 March to 1 April 2007.
It was presented again in revised format as a guest lecture at the University of Warwick, 3 October 2007.
An earlier article with the same
title but different content was published at the Futurelab website in 2003:
Links checked 10 February 2012
In this paper I begin by looking back at early developments in CALL, beginning with my first contact with computers in the 1970s, and moving forward to the present day, highlighting the key developments in Information and Communications Technologies and how they have related to contemporary approaches to language teaching. I refer to the various attempts to establish a CALL typology and to document the history of CALL, and I discuss in which ways the advent of the Web changed approaches to CALL and the lessons that should have or could have been learned from the past. I refer to the large amount of money the UK government has invested in promoting e-learning and question whether this has had the impact it should have had. The paper concludes with a speculative look at possible future developments.
See Section 2 of Module 1.4 at the ICT4LT website, History of CALL, especially the link to Delcloque (2000) History of CALL, which began as a poster exhibition that was produced to mark the beginning of the new millennium. It was then set up as a website (now closed) and is now available in PDF format.
Over the years the language teacher has been confronted with a bewildering array of technological devices. Here are the most important ones, more or less in chronological order:
The Web is a remarkable invention by Tim Berners-Lee (who happens to be British) and has transformed the nature of CALL, but in many respects the advent of the Web caused us to leap backwards in terms of some aspects of CALL pedagogy. Early CALL materials on the Web displayed a lack of interactivity and, in particular, poor feedback. Web-based materials are improving, especially those incorporating sound and video, but there are still far too many of the point-and-click-let's-move-on-quick variety, and the Web has not yet caught up with CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs in terms of video quality and interactivity. There are very few websites that offer the learner the possibility of recording and playing back his/her own voice, a popular key activity among both teachers and learners that has been possible since the widespread use of the tape recorder in the 1950s. A common criticism levelled at Web-based teaching and learning materials is that they are uninspiring ("boring" is another word that springs to mind) compared to established materials such as those on videocassette, audiocassette or broadcast TV. Many Web learning environments contain a collection of true/false or multiple-choice exercises that are much the same as those created on the BBC micro in the 1980s.
A veritable explosion! Presentations at the following conferences reflect the sudden impact of the Web on the language teaching profession:
We have a good deal to learn for our previous experience in using technological aids, but this is often ignored. See Davies (1997).
Three key lessons to be learned:
See Felix (2003).
2000-: E-learning becomes the buzzword, but it is widely misunderstood and often associated with a limited view of e-learning, i.e. e-learning at a distance or learning online. This is the definition given in a UK government consultation document Towards a unified e-learning strategy, July 2003:
If someone is learning in a way that uses information and communications technologies (ICTs), they are using e-learning. They could be a pre-school child playing an interactive game; they could be a group of pupils collaborating on a history project with pupils in another country via the Internet; they could be geography students watching an animated diagram of a volcanic eruption their lecturer has just downloaded; they could be a nurse taking her driving theory test online with a reading aid to help her dyslexia - it all counts as e-learning.
In other words, the government's definition of e-Learning is a catch-all term that includes all aspects of using a computer as an aid to learning, from producing a word-processed handout for one's students to following an online course in a virtual learning environment (VLE).
See Mark Pegrum's wiki on Myths of E-learning: http://e-language.wikispaces.com/myths
Training is the key to success in implementing technology, but this is the budget that is often cut first. If teachers are not properly trained to use the technology it will be underused and ineffective. The ICT for Language Teachers project, which was funded by the European Commission from 1999 to 2000, aims to address the problem of a lack of quality training materials for language teachers. The outcome of the ICT for Language Teachers project is a website consisting of 16 training modules, which are regularly updated: http://www.ict4lt.org
See Davies (2002).
An enormous amount of government money has been spent on promoting ICT in education - probably too much. Education Minister Stephen Twigg announced to MPs in May 2004 that the government was spending more than £9 million a year on education websites. This figure is steadily increasing.
Why has ICT been singled out as something special compared with more traditional media such as books and audio- and videocassettes? Is the taxpayer getting value for money from what has been spent on setting up and maintaining education websites? See the following websites and judge for yourself how useful they are.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) changed its name in May 2010 to the Department for Education (DfE). Prior to June 2007 it was known as the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). These are some of the the key government websites and documents that are of interest to language teachers:
Goverment publications relating to modern foreign languages and to e-learning have appeared at regular intervals in recent years:
Note: Following the change of government that took place in May 2010, some of the above documents may cease to be relevant.
National Curriculum for England: Seee the Department for Education website. There is separate provision for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Modern foreign languages are no longer a compulsory subject for children over the age of 14 studying in state secondary schools in England - a disastrous policy that has resulted in three quarters of state secondary schools no longer offering modern foreign languages beyond Key Stage 3 (Year 9, the third year of secondary education).
Curriculum Online: A UK government initiative that ran from 2003 to 2008 and which had the noble aim of providing ring-fenced funding, known as e-Learning Credits (eLCs), to schools to enable them to buy software and online services to support their teaching. Unfortunately, the initiative was surrounded with an atmosphere of controversy from the outset, resulting in court action against the BBC, accusations of high-level bungling and a very expensive and complex website - now closed.
The Council for Educational Technology (CET), a forerunner of the British Educational and Communications Technology Agency (BECTA), began to be active in the area of Modern Foreign Languages/ICT in the late 1970s. In 1981 the CET joined forces with CILT in the organisation of the first major conference focusing on Modern Foreign Languages/ICT. In the same year the Microelectronics Education Programme (MEP) was launched under the auspices of the CET, leading to the establishment of a network of support centres and teams of advisory teachers responsible for offering advice and training in a range of different subject areas, including Modern Foreign Languages, for primary and secondary education teachers. A number of Modern Foreign Languages software packages and Modern Foreign Languages/ICT printed publications were produced under the MEP initiative. A national centre, the Microelectronics Education Support Unit (MESU), was then set up as a successor to the CET. The MESU was renamed the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET), to be renamed yet again (in 2000) as BECTA. BECTA was finally closed down in January 2011.
CILT now refers to itself as The National Centre for Languages. CILT's website is a goldmine of information for language teachers: http://www.cilt.org.uk/
The European Commission has also spent a lot of money investigating ICT and languages. See the report by Fitzpatrick & Davies G. (2003). The report opens with an executive summary that includes the following statement:
One important fact that has emerged from this study is that Foreign Languages as a subject area is 'different' from most other subject areas in the curriculum, namely that it is skill-based as well as knowledge-based, and in this respect it has more in common with music than, say, history or geography.
One of the important issues lying behind this statement is that the media-rich environment required by CALL software (which it shares with hardware and software for teaching and learning music) places considerable demands upon the technicians who have to set it up and maintain it - a fact that is unfortunately often overlooked in most educational institutions.
Various attempts have been made since CALL became available to a wider audience to establish a CALL typology and to document the changing phases of CALL.
See Davies & Higgins (1982) and Davies & Higgins (1985).
Both the above described the different types of CALL packages that were available at the time, namely:
See also Jones & Fortescue (1987), Hardisty & Windeatt (1988) and Section 3 of Davies, Walker, Rendall & Hewer (2000), which contains an overview of CALL typology.
In spite of the technological advances since these early days we seem to have lost a certain amount of imagination. Most of the activities available on the Web, for example, appear to be tedious, multiple-choice point-and-click and drag-and-drop exercises. Whatever happened to adventures and simulations such as French on the Run and Granville? Is anyone writing action mazes these days? See Berer M. & Rinvolucri M. (1981) MAZES: a problem-solving reader, London: Heinemann.
Warschauer (1996) and Warschauer & Healey (1998) attempt to interpret and analyse trends and advances in the field - phases rather than a typology.
Warschauer (1996) distinguishes three phases of CALL:
The main advantage of multimedia packages is that they enable reading, writing, speaking and listening to be combined in a single activity, with the learner exercising a high degree of control over the path that he/she follows through the learning materials. The Internet builds on multimedia technology and in addition enables both asynchronous and synchronous communication between learners and teachers. The advent of the web has opened up a new range of tasks for MFL learners, e.g. webquests, web concordancing, and collaborative writing.
Warschauer claims that we are now well into the integrative phase. Certainly, the range of different types of CALL software currently available is impressive. As well as routine drill-and-practice programs, there are vocabulary games, action mazes, adventures and simulations, exploratory programs, and text reconstruction (total Cloze) packages.
One can take issue with Warschauer, however. The term behaviouristic certainly describes early CALL (late 70s, early 80s) but the communicative approach, spurred on by the Council of Europe's work on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages and its emphasis on functions, notions and communicative competence in the 1970s, predates the advent of the microcomputer in schools and universities. The integrative phase appears to be describing the technology more than the pedagogy and methodology. See the following articles, all of which describe how computer programs were used in the 1980s to foster communicative skills:
Levy (1997:118ff.) analysed the results of a comprehensive CALL Survey which he carried out among authors of CALL materials in order to determine what kinds of conceptual frameworks lay behind their work. The CALL Survey was concluded in early 1991, which follows the boom period in CALL in the 1980s and pre-dates the advent of the Web in 1993. There was strong support among Levy's respondents for the communicative approach to language teaching and task-based learning, but a substantial number also favoured formal grammar instruction. On the whole, however, most respondents declared their approach to be eclectic. As for the role of the computer in CALL, most respondents favoured a non-directive role, with very few supporting the idea of the computer replacing the teacher. There was a significant lack of references to innovative pedagogical approaches:
"Data Driven Learning was the only new approach to language teaching that was cited by survey respondents as a direct result of the attributes of the computer. In other words, this approach has been conceived with the computer in mind." (Levy 1997:123)
But Levy could also have mentioned total Cloze (text reconstruction) programs such as Storyboard, Fun with Texts, Eclipse, Rhubarb (and many other variants), offering activities that could not be carried out without using a computer.
Bax (2003) prefers to talk about approaches rather than phases.
Bax offers a critical examination and reassessment of the history of CALL, and argues for three new categories:
Bax offers definitions and descriptions of the three approaches and argues that they allow a more detailed analysis of institutions and classrooms than earlier analyses. It is suggested that we are currently using the second approach, Open CALL, but that our aim should be to attain a state of 'normalisation' in which the technology is invisible and truly integrated. This state is defined and discussed. In the final section Bax's article proposes some ways in which this normalisation can be achieved - using ethnographic assessments and action research, for example - thus setting an agenda for CALL practice in the future.
The key point about Integrated CALL - which sharply distinguishes it from Warschauer and Healey's formulation - is that it does not yet exist to any significant degree, but represents instead an aim towards which we should be working. (Bax 2003:22)
Integrated CALL implies normalisation:
This concept is relevant to any kind of technological innovation and refers to the stage when the technology becomes invisible, embedded in everyday practice and hence 'normalised'. To take some commonplace examples, a wristwatch, a pen, shoes, writing - these are all technologies which have become normalised to the extent that we hardly even recognise them as technologies. (Bax 2003:24)
There is still, as Bax points out, an element of fear and awe and exaggerated expectations surrounding ICT, and this has to be overcome in order to achieve a state of normalisation.
See also Bax & Chambers (2006).
A search on the Web using the Google search engine revealed that many people fail to make a distinction between pedagogy and methodology and use both terms as if they are interchangeable:
The term methodology is widely misunderstood and often confused with or used as an alternative to pedagogy. In some contexts the two terms may be interchangeable, but it is useful to make a distinction. Pedagogy is more concerned with the theory of teaching and learning, whereas methodology describes how something is or should be done or, in Sue Hewer's words, 'the way in which the teacher structures the learning environment'. Many teachers and researchers talk simply about methods or approaches. (Hewer & Davies 2000)
King (2003) argues the case for an agreed methodology for language teaching:
The development of a National Languages Strategy has raised a major issue about the quality of the language learning experience in our schools. In simple terms, can there be an agreed methodology for language teaching in order to raise standards and improve quality? A logical starting point for answering such a question would be the most comprehensive and well founded contemporary description of the language learning process - the Common European Framework of Reference (CEF). (King 2003)
Of course it is not such a straightforward matter. The CEF itself is 260 pages long and is in any case a 'framework' to aid practitioners of all kinds to reflect on what they are doing and to explain this to others. It is not a syllabus or a methodological guide. The issues raised in the CEF are themselves complex and often unresolved. In the words of one recent commentator, 'Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century and ending only recently, ... (the) aim had been to find a universal panacea method for the optimum teaching and learning of modern languages. It is now generally accepted that no one single such method exists.' [Whitehead M. (1996) Materials and methods 1966-1996 in 30 years of language teaching, London, CILT.] (King 2003)
Foreign languages, according to King, have spawned a huge range of different approaches, more so than any other subject area. The communicative approach, however, appears to have found favour among most language teachers:
It is these particularities - in many ways the difficulties - of language learning in schools, colleges and universities which have inspired a wealth of research and development in the pedagogy of language teaching and learning. Interestingly there are significantly more WWW entries for Language Teaching or Language Teaching Methodology than for any comparable area of the curriculum. As suggested above this has been a process which has gone on for over 250 years (actually even longer), but it has had a particular resonance since the Second World War and especially since the 1980s. For although Maurice Whitehead is right to conclude that no single method exists, it is also the case, as he goes on to say, that there is a broadly accepted 'approach' - a 'communicative approach, incorporating inter alia many of the best elements of a wide variety of methods'. This - slightly eclectic - communicative approach underpins the general consensus about language teaching and learning both here and abroad. It is associated particularly with the work of the Council of Europe in the 1970s but it has other influences and precursors and is based on both research into the processes of language learning and analysis of classroom practice. (King 2003)
Decoo (2001) documents the history of language teaching methodology as follows:
Decoo (2001) argues that a method lasts for around 20-30 years, i.e. the span of a typical teaching career. Publishers adapt their textbooks to whatever trends are current:
Another aspect of commercialisation is the ability of existing textbooks to adapt to new trends, for a publisher does not want to lose his piece of the market. For example, during the audio-revolution of the 1960s, eclectic textbooks were quick to add audio tapes, eliminate translation exercises and grammar overviews, keep all the rest, and call themselves audio-lingual. A similar movement happened with traditional methods of the 1970s that transformed themselves into communicative ones. The same is happening now with communicative textbooks of the 1990s. As the post-communicative movement is emerging with new keywords, 'revised' editions of the communicative textbooks are quick to integrate fashionable jargon in their introduction, even if the authors have only a fuzzy idea of what it means - terms such as process-oriented, holistic, higher-order, constructivism… The original method dies quietly, but the same content is reborn with some slight adaptations. Since we talk in terms of mortality, this procedure might be called the reincarnation of methods. (Decoo 2001)
Language teachers, especially in the secondary schools sector, tend to be somewhat negative towards theorising about language teaching pedagogy and methodology. ICT4LT Module 2.1, which focuses on methodology (Hewer & Davies 2000), has consistently been the least visited ICT4LT module ever since the website has been in existence, i.e. since December 2000.
Littlemore (2002) found some resistance to theorising about CALL pedagogy and methodology while running a course in ICT for language teachers. She argues the case for including theoretical elements in a CALL course, but feedback from participants showed that these were the least popular elements.
This course was designed to introduce participants to various ICT applications in the context of relevant pedagogical theory. As well as ICT, it focused heavily on concepts such as learner autonomy, learning to learn and language learning strategies. (Littlemore 2002)
The course organisers were seeking to avoid, at all costs, a course in which ICT applications were simply presented, without any consideration of their pedagogical worth. This is because research has shown that the introduction of technology into the language teaching curriculum is much more likely to be successful if full consideration is given to the pedagogical needs that the technology is actually fulfilling." (Littlemore 2002)
We see that the aspects of the course that were perceived as 'purely theoretical' were not popular. (Littlemore 2002)
Davies, Bangs, Frisby & Walton (2005 - regularly updated) have produced a document titled Setting up effective digital language laboratories and multimedia ICT suites for modern foreign languages, which has a strong focus on pedagogy and methodology as well as talking about essential hardware and software. The first drafts of the document work were criticised by a "plain English" editor for making too many references to pedagogy and methodology, which she felt was guaranteed to put off the average modern foreign languages teacher. In the first draft of the document, pedagogy was mentioned 53 times and methodology was mentioned 29 times in around 35 pages. After considerable redrafting and finding alternative ways to express the same ideas without using words ending in "-ogy", the authors managed to reduce these figures respectively to 6 and 13. It would be interesting to speculate why teachers are put off by the use of such terms.
Predicting the future may not be a good idea:
Sam Goldwyn (founder of
"I never prophesy - especially about the future."
"I always avoid prophesying beforehand, because it is a much better policy to prophesy after the event has already taken place."
Predicting the future of new technologies is especially problematical:
'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means
of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
Western Union internal memo, 1876.
Radio: "The wireless
music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent
to nobody in particular?"
Anonymous associates in response to David Sarnoff, Founder of RCA, urging for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
Computer: "I think
there is a world market for maybe five computers."
Thomas Watson, Founder of IBM, 1943.
should be enough memory for anybody."
Bill Gates, 1981 (attributed, but denied).
Undoubtedly, there will be an expansion of online learning,, but it is more likely to supplement conventional modes of learning rather than replace them. Language learners in particular cannot acquire certain skills, for example conversational skills, without face-to-face contact with an experienced teacher, but new software tools facilitate synchronous and asynchronous oral communication and are already being used in distance-learning CALL environments
There is already evidence of increased usage of Web 2.0 tools in teaching and learning foreign languages, for example discussion lists, blogs, wikis and podcasts, as well as dedicated social networking websites and virtual worlds that promote sharing, collaboration and interaction: see Section 2.1 of Module 1.5 at the ICT4LT site, What is Web 2.0?
Many universities, however, may be focusing on the wrong target group. The typical university student aged around 18-25 is the least likely person who would want to spend their time studying for a degree sitting in front of a computer screen. Such a student is more likely to want to get away from home and enjoy university life in all its aspects:
But do we really want to deliver whole courses via the Web? Do we really want to deprive young people of the valuable experience of leaving home, studying and socialising with their peers, joining societies, going to clubs and parties, travelling, and falling in love? Do we really want to breed a generation of screen-gazing zombies? (Davies 2002)
The spectacular crash of the e-University UKeU in 2004, which was set up at great expense and launched in 2000, is a clear indication that the target groups of online courses still need to be identified. The thousands of students who were expected to sign up for UKeU courses simply did not materialise. More market research on the demand for online courses clearly needs to be done, and the vast amounts of expenditure on the technological infrastructure of such courses need to be reduced. Established distance-teaching universities have tended to focus on older people (aged 30-plus) returning to education and lacking the time to spend studying in the traditional way. Perhaps this is the group that online courses need to focus on too. "Silver surfers" (aged 60-plus, like myself) are another possible target group.
The 2008 CIBER project report, Information behaviour of the researcher of the future, dispels a number of myths concerning the Google Generation. Research carried out by the CIBER project team claims that:
Regarding the information resources that young people prefer and value in a secondary school setting, the report also states that it is evident that young people consistently value teachers, relatives and textbooks above the Internet (which is comforting to hear). It also states that the impact of social networking is not as great as might be expected, at least when it comes to looking for information, and while younger users are keen consumers of user-generated content sites like Wikipedia and YouTube, there is a marked age difference between these younger consumers and the older people who actually create the content. The report also claims that over-65s in the UK spend around four hours longer online each week than the allegedly always-on 18-24s.
In a similar vein, an article by Gregor Kennedy et al. (2007) suggests that the new generation of students is less interested in Web 2.0 technologies than teachers imagine them to be. It reports on a research study conducted among a large number of students in Australian universities, which concludes that there is greater diversity in frequency of use of technology than many commentators have suggested and that the use of collaborative and self-publishing Web 2.0 technologies associated with this generation is quite low. See: "The Net generation are not big users of Web 2.0 technologies: Preliminary findings", ASCILITE 2007 Conference, Singapore: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/singapore07/procs/kennedy.pdf
See also Jones C. & Cross S. (2009) "Is there a Net generation coming to university?" In: ALT-C 2009, In dreams begins responsibility: Choice, evidence and change, 8-10 September 2009, Manchester, UK: http://oro.open.ac.uk/18468/
These are currently major growth areas in the teaching of modern foreign languages with the aid of ICT:
Discussion lists, blogs, wikis and social networking: see Section 12 of Module 1.5 at the ICT4LT website.
Computer Mediated Communication (CMC): see Section 14 of Module 1.5 at the ICT4LT website.
Virtual worlds, especially Second Life: see Section 14.2.1 of Module 1.5 at the ICT4LT website.
Podcasting, i.e. the delivery of audio broadcasts for downloading to a PC or iPod or similar device: see Section 3.5.2 of Module 2.3 at the ICT4LT website
Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL): see Section 5 of Module 2.3 at the ICT4LT website.
An area of research and development currently known as Human Language Technologies (HLT) is likely to make an increasing impact on CALL. Gupta, Schulze & Davies (2000) describe the main areas of HLT that have already had an influence on CALL and which are likely to have an influence in the not-too-distant future. These areas include Natural Language Processing, Machine Translation, Corpus Linguistics and Speech Technology. HLT was once regarded as a fringe area of CALL, but it is now attracting increasing attention, especially among researchers working in the area of Intelligent CALL (ICALL) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI-based CALL was the focus of considerable attention in the 1980s and early 1990s but it attracted vehement critics such as Last (1989) and fell into disfavour among many CALL practitioners for a while because it promised much more than it could deliver. ICALL is now making a major comeback: see Schulze, Hamel & Thompson (1999) and Heift & Schulze (2003).
Current methodology might be summarised as the "Three C's":
But see Decoo (2001), who speculates on the criticisms that a future generation of language teachers might level at current approaches, for example: students left to depend to a large extent on personal initiative could be left "drowning without buoys". According to Decoo, the Internet may result in a greater emphasis being placed on reading and writing skills and a return to grammatical analysis.
Bax's view (Bax 2003) of Integrated CALL implies a process of normalisation that has still not been achieved in language teaching and learning. Only when ICT is regarded by most teachers and learners in the same way as other technological aids that form part of our daily lives will it be considered normal and no longer regarded with fear and awe and expected to deliver more than it can realistically achieve. As far as my own family is concerned, ICT is a normal way of carrying out a number of tasks that previously we would have approached in a different way:
When we can draw up a list of similar tasks for the language teacher and learner a state of normalisation will have been achieved. But the current trend to place ICT on a pedestal, as if it is the cure for all ills in education, may work against this process.
See also Bax & Chambers (2006).
Bax S. (2003) "CALL - past, present and future", System 31, 1: 13-28.
Bax S. & Chambers A. (2006) "Making CALL work: towards normalisation", System 34, 4: 465-479.
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IALLT: International Association for Language Learning Technology, originally known as IALL (International Association for Learning Labs): http://www.iallt.org/
Graham Davies's "Favourite Websites". Over 300 language-related links. Updated every week: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/websites.htm
ICT4LT (ICT for Language Teachers). This is a comprehensive resources site, initiated with European Commission funding in 1999-2000. It consists of 16 discrete modules covering various aspects of CALL as well as a glossary of terminology and a resource centre containing a bibliography and useful links. The site is updated every week: http://www.ict4lt.org/
Davies 2012. This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.