CALL Environments: Research, Practice, and Critical Issues
Joy Egbert and Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Editors (1999)
Alexandria, VA: TESOL
Pp. xi + 523
US $39.95 (members $35.95)
After more than thirty years, the field of computer assisted language learning (CALL) still lacked a text that provided a specific pedagogical framework. Up until now most CALL literature has been technology driven. Joy Egbert and Elizabeth Hanson-Smith's book fills this gap. The contributions they have compiled teach us ways to adapt computers for language learning instead of just showing the types of activities computers can do. The authors have taken eight major themes from the second language acquisition (SLA) literature and used them to organize their book. These conditions that support optimal classroom language learning form the book's theoretical framework for explaining the ways in which CALL can enhance and facilitate ESL learning. The book thus builds on a solid theoretical foundation to offer practical suggestions for a variety of learning situations, from an individual learner to a computer lab.
The first chapter of the book gives an overview of computer-enhanced learning environments and suggests that we approach CALL critically, always keeping in mind language learning and learning conditions. The rest of the book is divided into eight parts, each dealing with one of the eight conditions for optimal classroom language learning. Each part contains at least three chapters that provide a theoretical framework, its application in classroom practices, and related issues that affect the CALL environment. At the end of each part there are suggestions and ideas for further classroom-based exploration and academic research.
The eight parts the book correspond to the major themes from classroom-based SLA:
1. Learners have opportunities to interact and negotiate meaning. Part I of the book suggests many ways in which computers help teachers create opportunities for students to interact, and also offers some advice on how to create a computer lab and classroom or learning centres.
2. Learners interact in the target language with an authentic audience. Computer-based technologies have clearly altered the opportunities for interaction with an authentic audience. The very concept of authentic audience has to be reviewed. Computer-mediated communication, in local networks or through the ease of use of the Internet, facilitates new opportunities for interaction with different audiences. These interactions now mainly involve the use of written text, but as technology develops, it is becoming easier to interact orally. [-1-]
3. Learners are involved in authentic tasks. SLA research emphasizes the importance of authentic use of the target language as a condition for learning languages. Technology can be used to create authentic tasks in language teaching. Part 3 shows ways to do this by using a variety of resources, including computer programs and telecommunication tools that allow for interaction. It is in this aspect that technology is changing the idea of authentic tasks in the content-based classroom. At the end of this part, instructional-based criteria for the evaluation of software can be found.
4. Learners are exposed to and encouraged to produce varied and creative language. Opportunities for exposure and production are needed for acquiring a language. CALL can provide learners with opportunities to obtain and produce comprehensible input and output; it can facilitate interaction to negotiate meaning, and also provide a rich context. Examples of existing programs and their potentials are provided. The very clear and concrete instructions given as to how to use CALL programmes in the classroom can be very helpful in setting up a CALL environment. The information in chapter 14 about where and how to find resources will save interested teachers much time and effort.
5. Learners have enough time and feedback. A brief but clear explanation of recent ideas on assessment is provided in the first chapter of Part 5. This section helps us focus on the idea of appropriateness when assessing students. Suggestions for assessing the processes and the outcomes of CALL activities are given, as well as ideas for setting policy for CALL environments. This section of the book is fundamental when planning a CALL program, and when reflecting on and evaluating an existing program.
6. Learners are guided to attend mindfully to the learning process. Research shows that an effort to learn is necessary for learning to occur. Learning styles, strategies, and motivation also play a fundamental role in language learning. Part 6 shows how computers help teachers cater to differences among learners. Computers provide many possibilities for adapting activities to students' diverse learning styles. Chapter 20 deserves a special note as it addresses the topic of cultural sensitivity, suggesting a series of questions to pose in order to take into account this important issue in the CALL environment.
7. Learners work in an atmosphere with an ideal stress/anxiety level. After addressing the question of what good classroom atmosphere means and analyzing how the use of computers can cause stress and anxiety to learners, suggestions are given for to how to introduce students to a CALL environment in order to ease the transition. This section also includes an introduction to the use of virtual learning environments such as MOOs (multi-user dimension, object oriented; these are multi-user sites, often used for language practice, where people communicate in real time).
8. Learner autonomy is supported. CALL environments related to autonomy and their relationship with language learning are discussed in this section. Chapter 25, about authoring programs, and chapter 26, about open and distant learning, complete the picture of self-directed language learning and language learning autonomy and independence. Chapter 27 describes what to take into consideration when designing language software in order to enhance the autonomy of the learner. [-2-]
In chapter 28, Carla Meskill gives a last word on CALL from a critical point of view. She reminds us that using technology carries both a risk and a promise and that it is we as teachers who must drive its uses in the classroom.
There is a reference section at the end of the book, which includes an extensive bibliography, information about professional organisations, electronic forums for teachers and students, Internet resources including freeware and shareware archives on-line, and software publishers.CALL Environments is a well-balanced book. It provides a strong theoretical framework, examples of experiences, and useful suggestions for classroom practice and further investigations.
It is common to find a lack of unity in edited volumes. This is not the case here; Joy Egbert and Elizabeth Hanson-Smith have done an excellent editing job. One can only suggest that Part V, Time/Feedback, which deals with the evaluation of the CALL environment, should have dedicated some attention to assessment tools.
This book is well-suited for anyone interested in CALL. It can be used as a resource book for trainee teachers and for practitioners, as a text for a CALL methodology course, and as a professional resource for ESL/EFL teachers who are more experienced computer users.
Carmen Pinilla Padilla
Centro de Formación, Innovación y Recursos Educativos (CEFIRE) de Godella, Spain
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