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) .


Barbara (Bee) Dieu said...

Yes, José. The trouble with CALL is that is has remained mostly based on instructional applications of computer technology which dats back to the beginning of use of digital computers way back in the 60´s and 70´s.

Classrooms are still very much the same as they were twenty years ago and many teachers seem to consult the web either to get information only or tools to replicate the same top-down control practice you find in the classrooms.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Disapointing. What can be done?

José Luis Cabello said...

Good question.
Not many teachers are aware of the new possibilities with social tools; some even think you must be a computer guru to be able to use them with your students. Another wrong idea is that computers should do everything.
About theory, I think that new insights from interactionist theory, situated learning, activity theory, connectivism ... should be better known. However, we still need well developed methodologies.
Most teachers just want to have a good textbook with tapes and everything well explained and fixed.

Tessie said...

I'm pleased to read this blog entry
Thank you for raising this topic.

As an EFL teacher, I think that the way teachers use CALL in the language classroom has already formed the pedagogical framework itself- as we teachers know very well what suit our students and reckon all the supports from the policy makers and the limitations of the facilities and technical supports. The point is - teachers who use CALL should bear in mind how to use the available sources to their utmost potential to promote students' learning according to their local and future professional needs.

For me, following a theorethical framework might not fit to a situated context as nowadays different groups of language learners have divergent aims to study a foreign language.


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