Do we need theory?

“For the CALL practitioner -who might be considered a consumer looking toward theory for guidance- the circumstances are not as straightforward as they once were… The theories have grown not only in number, but also in sophistication and complexity. Some, such as sociocultural theory, involve a considerable number of specialized concepts and levels of analysis. Thus, although using theory as a point of departure is generally to be recommended, there is no doubt that in opting to proceed in this way –in a principled led by theoretical insights- the scale and complexity of the challenge has been increased. What is now needed is not so much a single solution to guide CALL, but rather a careful weighing of the options so that strengths and limitations become evident." Levy & Stockwell (2006:5)

On deciding which is the best methodological approach to CALL there are many variables involved. The multidisciplinary nature of CALL, the ever-changing nature of the technology and the wide variety of applications available cause the need for criteria on how to implement a CALL environment and evaluate the different options. This is not new:

“A glance through the computer-assisted language learning (CALL) literature of the 1990s reveals the profession’s quest for principled means of designing and evaluating CALL. Like researchers in other facets of applied linguistics, CALL researchers look to cross-disciplinary sources for perspectives and research methods.” Chappelle (1997)

One of the problems in the CALL field is the lack of a clear and articulated theoretical base that is commonly shared. New insights and applications coexist with old ideas on technology and how a language is learnt.

“…in terms of pedagogy, the new and improved have not always replaced the old and tired. Instead, many programs being produced today feature little more than visually stimulating variations on the same gap-filling exercises used 40 years ago.” Beatty (2003:11)

Our methodological orientation requires a theoretical base providing pedagogical principles to guide our decisions. A better design and evaluation of CALL activities should be provided by the insights from theoretical developments in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theories, instructional models and theories on learning and knowing and Skill Acquisition Theory (SAT) .


Review of ZACHARIA, G. & ZAPHIRIS, P. (eds.) (2006), User-Centered Computer Aided Language Learning.

A few posts ago I promised to review Smith & Baber (2005) and Zacharia & Zaphiris (2006) . I have been told by Amazon that the first one is not available (if someone knows where I can get it, please tell me).

Zacharia & Zaphiris (2006) is a good overview of new strategies, methodologies and design approaches for building interfaces for a user-centered CALL environment, helping to understand the possibilities and challenges that can be found in the field according to different case studies. There are 14 articles grouped in 3 sections:

(1) Theory and Analysis

(2) Design

(3) Evaluation and Case Studies

In the preface we are told that the key objective of the book was to look at the topic of CALL in a new direction by focusing on the human-computer interaction elements of learning a language online. "Due to the increasing popularity of the Internet and the use of multimedia, there has been a recent move of CALL systems from CD-ROM to Web-based systems, making it possible to create systems that can facilitate the emergence of online communities of learners."

In the first section, we have 3 articles:

1. Ang, C.S. & Zaphiris, P., “Developing Enjoyable Second Language Learning Software Tools: A Computer Game Paradigm”.

It is suggested that ludology and narratology theories of computer games can be useful in designing language-learning software applications, providing a better framework and "making the experience of learning more immersive and engaging". Two case studies are compared: Slime Forest and Alien Language.

2. Lambropoulos, N., Christopoulu, M. & Vlachos, K., “Culture-Based Language Learning Objects: A CALL Approach for a Ubiquitous World”.

This article presents the theoretical basis of CLLOs' CALL design and its current practices in Greek learning as L2 in the UK. “Culture-based L2 teaching and learning could be implemented through CALL, as learners can be engaged in simulations with computer applications through role taking, working on meanings that have cultural associations and making inferences…. Additionally, CALL applications can offer learners the chance to use synchronous and asynchronous online communication with native as well as other speakers of the target language. Thus, they can retrieve cultural and social information directly from native speakers, discuss topics of common interest and expand their knowledge on cultural codes and tolerable and intolerable patterns of verbal behaviour in the contexts where the target language naturally occurs.”

3. Farmer, R. A., “Situated Task Analysis in Learner-Centred CALL”.

Farmer calls for the development and adoption of situated task analysis frameworks in CALL system design and evaluation leading to the development of more fit-for purpose and personalized CALL systems. Language learning is socially situated and settings vary widely. A learner-centred integrative approach is proposed, modelling the cognitive and sociological aspects of learner-computer interaction. “Situating the users’ actions within the context of social human praxis has the potential to reshape perceptions of Human-Computer Interaction. To this end, research in CALL is witnessing a transitional shift away from cognitivist ‘communicative’ CALL (involving drill-and-practice exercises that focus on accuracy and fluency) towards more sociocultural, ‘integrative’ CALL activities (that address the importance of agency).”

The 5 articles in the second section are:

4. De los Arcos, B. & Arnedillo Sánchez, I., “Ears before Eyes: Expanding Tutors’ Interaction Skills beyond Physical Presence in Audio-Graphic Collaborative Virtual Learning Environments”.

In audio-graphical learning environments interaction certain aspects of non-verbal behaviour are absent. We are introduced to strategies to deal with turn-taking, time lag and other incidences, while observing the difficulty in applying a communicative approach in these settings and the differences between face-to-face and virtual classrooms.

5. Coit, C., “A Student-Centered Online Writing Course”.

A student-centered online writing course, where peer corrections were the sole source of feedback.

6. Lonsdale, D., C. R. Graham & Madsen, R., “Learner-Centered Language Programs: Integrating Disparate Resources for Task-Based Interaction”.

Theoretical foundations and design of the GEDspeak application.

7. Veiga Marriott, R. C. & Lupion Torres, P., “LAPLI - The Language Learning Lab: A Methodological Proposal for a Hybrid Course in a Virtual Environment”.

An interesting virtual learning environment design for advanced students with 12 types of activities working with Internet materials and concept maps.

8. Gstrein, S. & Hug, T., “Integrated Micro Learning During Access Delays: A New Approach to Second-Language Learning”.

On micro learning materials designed for mobile devices.

In the third section 6 more different experiences are described:

9. Cantos Gómez, P. & García Iborra, J. , “EOI Online Inglés: A Fully Implemented and Operative Online English Language Course”

10. Chan, W. M., “Metacognition and Learners’ Interactions with a Web-Based CALL Grammar Exercise”.

11. Melton, J., “The Effect of a Native-Language Interface vs. a Target-Language Interface on Students’ Performance”.

12. Schcolnik, M. & Kol, S., “Reading and Learning from Screen”.

13. Hirata, Y., “Evaluating Students’ Perceptions of ‘Online Counselor’ for Independent Language Learning”.

14. Vrasidas, C., Landone, E., Christodoulou, N. & Zembylas, M., “Language Learning and User-Centered Design: The Development of the Electronic European Language Portfolio”.


ICT for Language Teachers

ICT for Language Teachers is a new blog started by Graham Davies. It aims to encourage feedback on the ICT4LT site in particular and the use of ICT in language learning and teaching in general. The first posts are about virtual learning environments, podcasting, interactive whiteboards, presentations, reports on the effectiveness of ICT and digital language labs, with lots of interesting information and references.