Moving Forward: Anecdotes and Evidence Guiding the Next Generation of CALL

Moving Forward: Anecdotes and Evidence Guiding the Next Generation of CALL

Joy Egbert (Washington State University, USA), Omran Akasha (Washington State University, USA), Leslie Huff (Hokkaido University, Japan) and HyunGyung Lee (Washington State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1855-8.ch001
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This paper is grounded in the concept that it is the use of the technology to support language learning, not the technology itself, which makes a difference in language learning contexts. From this foundation, this paper provides a brief overview of some of the issues in the field of CALL that currently hold import and may be even more central in the future. It addresses concerns in research, teacher education, classroom practice, independent CALL, and developing technologies. The purpose of this paper is to present one view of where the field is now and where it may go in the future in supporting the achievement of language learners with technology use.
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Is Call Effective?

The handout in Figure 1 that contains abstracts or conclusions of several published CALL studies has been used with novice CALL researchers to initiate discussion of what CALL research tells us -- and what more we need to know from it.

Figure 1.

Handout on “What can CALL research tell us?”

This brief look at some current research abstracts is quite revealing. It shows, in essence, that research that falls under the auspices of the field of CALL is extremely diverse, that its methods are varied, and that it covers a wide spectrum of questions, populations, and theoretical underpinnings (for more detail on research issues in CALL, see Modern Language Journal, 93, Focus Issue, 2009, and Egbert & Petrie, 2005). More complete analyses of the CALL research (see, for example, Egbert, Huff, McNeil, Preuss, & Sellen, 2009; Levy, 1999, 2000; Uschi, 2008) point out the myriad problems, which include a focus on the technology without the context and/or without reference to language learning, lack of reliability, poor descriptive data, and overreliance on student perceptions. These problems make the data difficult to analyze, summarize, and compare. In addition to the problems with CALL research, the wide diversity in all facets of CALL studies inhibits the search for CALL effectiveness.

That is not to say that we do not know some important things about CALL. A large body of research has been conducted in the last 20 years, and general statements that arise from it include that generally students perceive technology as a good thing; teachers are worried that it will take over their jobs or leave them behind, and the results of effectiveness for language learning are mixed. However, a question in need of asking is “effective for what?” Lack of specificity makes this question impossible to answer. If it means “effective for acquiring fluency” or “effective for engaging students” or “effective for teaching technical skills,” these are all quite different issues. Where one researcher may study CALL effectiveness for language remediation or practice, others might investigate the effectiveness of presenting content or acquiring a discrete grammar item. Even these foci are broad enough that they show the impossibility of claiming, from one or many studies, that CALL is “effective.”

The real issue for the future is whether we should try to make a blanket statement about CALL effectiveness. It would certainly be useful for educators to be able to point to research that makes the case that CALL is effective. Unfortunately, much of the research is currently used for just that, even though this conclusion is rarely warranted. Of great concern is the theoretical positioning that one size fits all, or that studies of technology use in one context readily transfer whole to another. As long ago as 1986, Chapelle and Jamieson, pioneers in CALL research, were telling us that effectiveness depends on a variety of issues. They noted:

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