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The Role and Relevance of CALL by D. David Wilson & Dr. V. Thayalan Department of Linguistics, Bharathiar University, Tamil Nadu, India.

Introduction The advancement in technology has produced effective tools for learning and communication. The computer is widely used in schools, colleges, universities, institutions, offices and homes. Its uses have dramatically expanded in the field of education. Computer knowledge is given to students even at elementary level. The Tamil Nadu government has already initiated steps to provide all state-run schools with computers. Hence, it is very clear that technological devices, especially the computer, have become inevitable in the process of learning. Today the same necessity is being felt in the language learning process. It is no longer a matter just for those with a special interest in that area. Language teachers and learners have already begau to think about the significance of computers for language learning, which is technically described as Computer Aided /Assisted Language Learning / Teaching (CALL / CALT). CALL is the acronym used for such a learning process. In a broad sense, it refers to any endeavor involving computers in some significant way in language teaching or learning. Michael Levy (1997) conceptualizes it as


the use of a computer according to the functional roles of tutor and tool. A vocabulary flashcard programme or online grammar exercises represent the role of tutor. A language learning activity involving a word processor, e-mail or web search engine like Google represent tool uses. Most of the early CALL applications were tutorial. Today the role of tool use is dominant. But effective language learning recognizes these two not as opposing philosophies but includes elements of both.

A Brief History of CALL CALL began in the 1960's with the introduction of the PLATO system, developed by the University of Illinois to drill and practice materials. It remained an insignificant alternative for language learning until the spread of the microcomputer into educational settings in the early 1980s. The programmes developed by IBM PC, Apple II and BBC computers were used in the systems. The commercial programmes were quite expensive and technically sophisticated. The interactive laser disks used during this time were the basis for this multimedia. Traditional labs began to be replaced by computers for language learning. And this trend continues till today. In the early 1990's, computer labs became popular in many educational settings because of their powerful and easy-to-use authoring programmes. With the arrival of Windows, the standardization of sound formats - the distinction between PC and Mac (which had built-in sound) - became less critical. The authoring programmes for PC's became available at a reasonable price.


During this period, the use of the computer as a tool became prominent. Teachers used innovative techniques for using e-mail and word processors, which were integrated into writing classes. Teachers and students developed their own projects such as "Tool Box" for the PC. Such projects on computers and using computer-mediated communication had a strong effect on some students. The assignments around student interactions in multi-user domains paved the way for today’s chat rooms. Two major changes have occurred since the mid-1990's. The first one was the dramatic increase in commercial multimedia for language learning. The other was the development of the World Wide Web. The increased access to the internet has seen a major shift toward tool uses. Today CALL is being integrated into language learning activities in and out of class.

The Role of CALL The escalating development in computer technology paved the way for the development of a number of CALL programmes. Rennet, Globarina, Hiclass, Aristocrat and Business English are some of the software programmes available on the market. But the question is how effective are these programmes? Most of the technical colleges in Tamil Nadu have invested in setting up language laboratories. Have they realized how worthwhile is it to spend time and money on CALL? Wilkins (1976) believes that CALL programmes have not kept up with innovations in language pedagogy. As mentioned above, a number of software programmes are available besides online programmes. How do we know which ones to choose? Have the promises of CALL been realized? Can the teacher and the students tap into the potentials of CALL fully? The


time has come to make a critical appraisal of the role and relevance of CALL in the language learning process.

CALL in Teaching The implication here is how CALL assists a teacher in teaching a language or a text to students. This process is also known as Computer Assisted Language Instruction, with its acronym being CALI. The term ‘instruction’ indicates its function as more teaching-oriented. CALL assists a teacher by assuming various roles as tutor, researcher, expert, director, manager, etc. •

As tutor, it helps the students to develop software, websites and general computer literacy, in addition to teaching the language.

As director, it helps students to find and use supplementary materials or web resources.

As

manager,

it

programmes

computer-mediated

communication among learners in and out of the class. As professionals, they can extend consultation on external projects, doing software reviews for journals, making conference presentations, writing papers, interpreting and applying CALL research to the field at large. Specifically, one can distinguish two types of roles for individuals engaged in CALL. They are:


1. Institutional - includes classroom teachers, specialists of various kinds, language lab managers, language skill area specialists, etc. - and professionals whose careers centre on CALL. 2. Functional - includes practitioners, developers, researchers and trainers. The use of computers in CALL for communication purpose is realized at three levels. 1. Computer as tutor: In CALL, there are a variety of programmes to provide skills practice in different formats that include courseware for paced reading, text construction, drills and language games. In these programmes, the computer remains the “knower-of-the-right-answer� (Taylor & Perez, 1989:3). This is considered as an extension of the computer as the tutor. 2. Computer as stimulus: The purpose of a CALL activity is not so much to have students discover the right answer, but rather to stimulate student

discussion, writing or critical thinking.

3. Computer as tool: In this role, the programmes do not necessarily provide any language material but rather empower the learner to use or

understand language. It includes the word processor, spelling

and grammar checkers, desktop publishing programmers and concordances. Authoring allows teachers to edit software programmes, either by inserting new texts, or by modifying the activities. It runs from set programmes that allow modification. Most of the software allows teachers to insert their


own texts. This helps the teacher to make programmes more relevant to their own lesson plans. Authoring systems allow teachers to design their own multimedia courseware. Time, determination to master the programmes and true enthusiasm are prerequisites for designing multimedia courseware. Authoring can help the teacher to design the programmes according to the participants, like language learners, educators and the general public.

CALL in Learning Conventional labs are mostly teacher-centered and make teachers feel good, (John de Szendeffy, 1997), whereas CALL is student-centered, and students are in control of their learning. The teacher ensures the students are on the right path or facilitates the students' learning. Students are given independent control over the material that allows them to tailor the amount of material delivered to their comprehensive ability and learning style without being intimidated. The goal of delivering English and engaging students with English is more effectively accomplished with the great variety of tools and opportunities for learning in a CALL lab CALL helps learners to experience authentic language and communication opportunities. It gives a basic comfort level on the computer and provokes one’s willingness to learn more on his or her own or the availability of the technical support. It enables the learner to take the ideas presented in the class and embed them effectively in the process of achieving the learning objectives for the language class.


Of the four skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing, the receptive skills of listening and reading are more commonly addressed by CALL programmes than the productive skills of speaking and writing. With receptive skills, the learner is on the receiving end and any response from the learner is restricted to computer - processing choice type comprehension questions. But with productive skills, the computer is on the receiving end; it cannot easily process and give feedback to learnerproduced language. The asymmetry between the receptive and productive skills is thus manifested in the ‘big head, small tail’ imbalance in the structure of the lesson. The most common areas of receptive skills addressed by CALL are pronunciation, vocabulary and characters. The computer is best-suited for these time-consuming and less creative tasks. Most of the CALL programmes are designed for general linguistic abilities and a few have been designed for specific purposes. CALL gives ample chance for the learners to be creative in any aspect of the language. The learner can make any number of changes or corrections on the material. They can modify the grammatical structures and even structural changes of the language by being creative. Students can see exactly where they are with a graphical progress bar and a precise elapsed-time indicator. In CALL, the learner can access material stored in computer files such as sound, video, text, structured lessons, web activities, etc. It is also possible to access any file or any point in a file. That is, there is no need for rewinding, fast forwarding or page turning.

CALL in Developing Material


The teachers can be free of the responsibility of collecting material or preparing notes for the class. Most CALL software programmes have inbuilt content and a possibility of adding new and additional information to the material. They need not worry about copying material for the class. Sound files are put on a server or distributed in advance and can be used by anyone at anytime. Also, the students can listen to different sound files at the same time. In conventional labs, teachers are at the mercy of the material brought to class. In a CALL lab, teachers can have as much material at their disposal as they wish, depending on what is owned by the site. Teachers can have the entire semester’s material ready for use at anytime, in any sequence. If anything goes wrong, students can switch over to other material, applications or activities. There are many programmes available for a CALL lab that allow students to compose and combine elements of an individual or group project in stimulating ways. Multimedia technology allows a variety of media (texts, graphics, sound, animation and video) to be accessed on a single machine. The hypermedia makes multimedia even more powerful. Hypermedia links the resources together in multimedia that learners can navigate simply by pointing and clicking a mouse. Hypermedia provides a number of advantages for learning. They are: 1. A more authentic learning environment is created just like in the real world. 2.

Skills are easily integrated by combining reading, writing, speaking and listening in a single activity.


3. Students have great control over their learning. 4. Hypermedia facilitates a principle focus on the content. 5.

Students can have access to a variety of background links, which will allow them rapid access to grammatical explanations or exercises, vocabulary glossaries, pronunciation information, or questions or prompts which encourage them to adopt an appropriate learning strategy.

Using the World Wide Web (www), students can search through millions of files around the world. They can access to authentic materials, like newspaper and magazine articles, radio broadcasts, short videos, movie review and book excerpts, within minutes. The web enables learners to publish their own texts or multimedia materials to share with partner classes or with the general public. CALL programmes have not kept up with innovations in language pedagogy. With respect to syllabus, most CALL courses are structuredriven rather than notional - functional. CALL programmes have been typically structure-based. The computer is being used for functional communicative teaching. The syllabus of CALL programmes is organized around functional rather than structural concepts. And there are very few programmes designed for specific purposes.

The Relevance of CALL Today Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) has become widespread in the recent years. This has hade a great impact on learning language. The


internet has made it possible for language learners to communicate directly, inexpensively and conveniently with other learners or speakers of the target language 24 hours per day. Students can share a message with a group or class, or can participate in an international discussion with hundreds or thousands of people. CALL provides an integrative approach to using technology in a course based on language learning. The computer can help a learner in many ways. The number of programmes on the computer helps the learner to have a holistic idea of the language. CALL is helpful to the teacher, learner and even in developing materials. The World Wide Web puts learners in touch with resources available on line around the world. Most of the technical colleges in Tamil Nadu have already set up CALL facilities on their premises. Language teachers in particular are very much benefiting from CALL to teach their students. As with conventional classroom teaching, they do need to give lectures to the learners. They do not need to worry about bringing large amounts of material into classroom. Many feel that “teaching is now a technical marvel of computer labs, projects, multimedia presentations, language labs, web search and the like. Teaching has become a joint venture of learning together between the teacher and the taught� (Valsa Balaji, 2006:16). CALL gives repeated exposure to the same material, which is beneficial or even essential to learning. The computer is ideal for such repeated drills that it provides with immediate non-judgemental feedback. The CALL lab can present such material on an individualized basis, allowing students to proceed at their own pace, freeing up class time for other activities.


Conclusion CALL offers significant benefits to both teacher and learners, and can be used in a variety of ways in the language learning classroom. However, some feel that CALL is still failing to live up to its potential, that is “the computer finds itself making a greater contribution to marginal rather than to central elements” (Kenning & Kenning.1990:90) of the language teaching process. It can act as a tutor, offering language drills or skill practice; a stimulus for discussion and interaction; or a tool for writing and research. The advent of the internet can help CALL become a medium of global communication and a source of limitless authentic materials. But, as Garrett points out, “the use of the computer does not constitute a method. It is a medium in which a variety of methods, approaches, and pedagogical philosophies may be implemented”(1991:75). The effectiveness of CALL cannot reside in the medium itself; but, how it is put to use. If a teacher puts computer technology to use in the service of good pedagogy, undoubtedly he or she will find ways to enrich his or her educational programme and the learning opportunities of the students.

The Role and Relevance of CALL  

and communication.  The computer is widely used in schools, colleges,  refers to any endeavor involving computers  in some significant way...