Chapter 1. Introduction / Background

1.1 Introduction

Language learning and teaching invariably involves elements of cross-cultural exchange and communication. McCloskey (2003), president of TESOL Inc. recently highlighted this connection when defining the three distinct levels which exemplify what language teachers and learners are involved in as: firstly, teaching language skills; secondly, adapting what is taught and how it is taught for specific context; and thirdly participating in the: "…building of intercultural understanding as part of the human enterprise." Combining this with the implications and opportunities created by new technologies provides a range of challenges which are becoming central to modern language teaching as seen by research into areas such as telecollaboration explored in Language Learning & Technology Vol. 7 No. 2. where Warschauer, Shetzer and Meloni (2000: 1) go so far as to say that: "… we are in the midst of another revolution in human communication, based on the development and spread of computers and the Internet."

As the theory and practice of language learning and teaching evolves, it is difficult to ignore the increased pressure to communicate on a world-wide level and at the moment the English language provides one of the global standards for this interaction. This development has both political and pedagogical implications. Crystal (1997: 2) points out that many learners are under pressure to learn English in order to communicate on an international stage, and while this may be motivating on one level, on another, many people may also have mixed feelings with regard to the imposition of a foreign language on them. Increasing need for, and exposure to, English as a world language may thus combine both stimulation and resentment. This clearly has implications with regard to teaching approaches and procedures which are increasingly entwined with the questions and opportunities increased intercultural exchange brings.

As technology increasingly pervades all aspects of daily life and creates a need for standardised communication channels and languages, it also offers a wide range of material for educational purposes including the teaching of languages. In the 1970s the language laboratory was one application of technology to language teaching while over the past twenty years video has been increasingly used to the point that the most language schools will have some video facilities and the majority of course books include accompanying video material. Recent years have seen a new flood of computer-based material, primarily multimedia CD-ROMs, as computer power and technology has become increasingly accessible to households and schools. More recently, the WWW has become the ultimate technological innovation to reach a mass audience and in doing so profoundly alter concepts of communication, information transfer and as a direct and logical result, language needs and learning opportunities.

The World Wide Web (WWW) provides the key illustration of the modern world's reliance on communication on a world-wide level. Unlimited access to the WWW brings unlimited access to language on a scale never before held by a language learner; be it text, images, sound, the ability to communicate, the WWW provides a language student and by extension a language teacher, access to a range of resources which can only aid the process of language learning and teaching. Nevertheless, technology in itself is only that, a machine, a mechanical means to an end; the end itself will be defined by human needs and experiences as learned and developed over time. Maley (1988: 3) stresses that all new tools and inventions tend ".. to generate a wave of euphoria, rapidly followed by a trough of frustration and disillusionment." What is crucial is how technology is applied within specific areas in a way which maximises the benefits, while equally avoiding falling into the trap of ignoring established knowledge in favour of the allure of more recent developments. The WWW may thus change the world and ways of language teaching but, ultimately, effective and successful change is based on the bedrock of experience, experimentation and evaluation.

English language teaching has passed through a variety of different approaches all of which, ultimately, to be successful, have been adapted to specific contexts and the teacher and learner needs within these situations. The WWW provides an amazing leap forward in terms of a language learning or teaching resource but it remains only that: a source of information which can be exploited and what must be remembered is that resources become powerful only in the hands of experts. What follows is an analysis of what the WWW offers and how it can be best exploited within a specific language learning context by aiding both learners and teachers to recognise and use the WWW to its full potential within a sound pedagogical framework.

1.2. CALL An Introduction

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has taken various forms as the technology has developed, offering a range of alternatives from simple vocabulary games to full scale communicative environments in which learners all over the world can interact, exchange ideas, communicate in and practise a foreign language. Pennington (1996: 4) identifies seven phases in the evolution of computers in education. She identified the first four phases with a general move from computer usage by an elite only, to mass access and acceptance. Phase Five is seen as the point where educators develop the skills and become competent enough to take "possession of computers" as do students who will have increased access to computers both inside and outside of school. Phase Six is described as "Universal Computer Literacy" when access to computers and competence in their use has increased dramatically. Pennington identifies this as the phase which is currently developing as computers are becoming widely available and both learners and teachers have increasing experience using them and are becoming more and more connected on a global level. In the process, the infrastructure is being put in place for Phase Seven, "Networking the World". This final phase describes a world in which there is "virtual universal access" through hypermedia and networks, to information, people and a range of communication resources and possibilities.

Levy (1997) offers a detailed analysis of the evolution of CALL since the 1960s and how such a progression also links to the theory of language teaching and learning. An essentially behaviourist, audio lingual approach to language teaching in the 1950s and 60s highlighted the importance of repetition and habit formation which coincided with the development of computer programs which provided such drill and practice type tasks. One of the main benefits of doing such activities on the computer was that there was endless possibility of repetition without the computer ever losing patience or becoming tired.

The late 1970s and 80s saw a rapid change on both a technological and pedagogical level. Language teaching was gaining a more humanistic element and beginning to concentrate on the importance of communication and interaction rather than simple grammatical competence. Computer programmes have also developed to include the option of authoring, allowing teachers and even students to adapt programmes to their own context and more recently, the inclusion of multimedia features. Multimedia CD-ROMS, with their unique power to combine sound, images and text, and provide input from specifically designed language practice to exposure to complete encyclopaedias, have lent a whole new range of possibilities to the area of CALL. While drill and practice activities may have certain usefulness, the scope and range of multimedia materials has the potential to offer an incredibly rich source of input and material for exploitation by learners and teachers.

1.2.1 The advantages of CALL

Within the battery of material, techniques and resources a language teacher has to manipulate it is essential to explore why CALL material is worthwhile considering, particularly as any technological innovation frequently requires added patience and training before a teacher may feel comfortable enough to use it regularly and confidently. The benefits and advantages of CALL depend to a large extent on the nature of the programme or material itself and on its purpose and aim. As outlined above, CALL programmes may provide a language learner with a range of options, from simple grammar drilling to more comprehensive exposure to language in a multimedia package. The key question is that of matching the material with the needs of a given context, and then in providing the training necessary for successful implementation. This is a complex but worthwhile task.

Warschauer and Healey (1998) offer a list of the possible benefits of using a computer component in language teaching:

a) multimodal practice with feedback,

b) individualisation in large class

c) pair and group work on projects

d) fun factor

e) variety in resources available and learning styles used

f) exploratory learning with large amounts of data

g) real-life, skill. building in computer use.

Quite clearly, such a list of potential advantages implies that the area is worth exploring in depth. The variety of material and sources, the combination of text, image and sound working together and the student’s freedom to move through the material, make the experience highly stimulating.

Summarising the benefits of CALL material, Pennington (1996: 1) says: "The power of CALL in language learning and language teaching is to introduce new types of input, from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective. The added quantity of input leads to a richer language learning environment, while the unique quality of CALL input means different possibilities for accessing and developing information." Perhaps one of the key elements is that of novelty, the element of "magic" as expressed by Herrington and Oliver (1997: 3) "... the sense of wonder and excitement that is to be found in the use of a new technology." Felix (2001) in a study showed that students on the whole react very positively to CALL materials and are attracted to the perceived advantages of flexibility, reinforced learning, scope of information, while remaining wary of the possible disadvantages such as distraction, teacher absence and a lack of speaking practice. What is therefore clear is that while CALL has immense potential it also requires serious consideration in order to obtain maximum benefits.


1.2.2 Limitations ... what is needed to make CALL powerful

Higgins (1995: 3) makes the crucial point that: "Machines supply power. However, we will need to learn how to use it." Like any potential educational tool, the power of computers needs to be harnessed, analysed, understood and effectively applied within a context and within a pedagogically sound environment and a set of ground rules. Reid (1994), while providing an extensive list of the advantages of Computer based Education (CBE), also points out that there is a list of potential problems. Likewise, while stressing the motivational factors Thomas (1986) also highlights the following general criticisms of CALL: there are pedagogical limitations to much CALL software; there are practical and technical questions; there may be ideological implications in that the technology is imposed from outside or above and finally there is the financial question and concludes: "In my view the only justification for the wholesale introduction of computers into the language-teaching classroom is if they can be shown to do something which research into second language acquisition suggests is pedagogically well-motivated and that they can do something which either is not being done at present, or can do it more cheaply or efficiently than it is being done at present." Finally, Phillips (1986: 3) draws an equally assertive conclusion: "Much of current CALL software is trivial and apparently untouched by the advances in communicative methodology of the seventies. Its origins can be traced to programmed learning and the behaviourist psychology which gave rise to it." What is interesting is that much of the material still available almost twenty years later may fall into the same trap.

Quite clearly, as Knowles (1986: 133/4) points out: "If the computer is to be used effectively, there are two important principles to be observed. First, it should do something that a human teacher cannot do, or at least cannot do as efficiently. The second principle is that the computer should leave the user with interesting tasks to carry out." Maley (1998: 6) makes a similar point very forcibly: "The most important point is that computers are not very good at teaching by themselves. How effective computers are in the classroom will therefore depend on the way the teacher and students use them, and in this respect they are no different from any other medium." This is the crucial question: it is through empowering teachers and learners in terms of how best to select, use and generate effective computer-based material that maximum use of their potential will be achieved and this implies as Phillips (1986: 5) says, that it is not an impartial delivery system but brings into question curriculum, classroom control, materials and a whole series of other issues. Ehrmann (1999) summarises this argument succinctly:

"... showering technology on instructors and students without adequate training, support and reorganisation is almost always frustrating, wasteful, and demoralising. No matter which revolution we're talking about, the power of technology is released only through skilled use within an appropriate social or organisational structure."

Ehrmann continues to point out that if care is not taken to recognise, explore and develop solutions to these issues there is a temptation for technology merely to become a: "Friday afternoon diversion, a play session, a rest period for the teacher". This is not a serious, well-thought out use of technology, nor is it efficient use of the financial investment required to provide such light entertainment. In conclusion, Oxford, Rivera-Castillo, Feyten, and Nutta (1998) indicate that:

"Educational technology holds significant potential for language instruction. If used properly, technology can interest and motivate learners, expand access to a greater number of learners, provide flexibility of instruction, and develop learners' competence and expertise in certain aspects of language. Using certain applications, current technology can to some extent promote communicative and meaningful language learning, assist in tailoring instruction to learners' cognitive styles, offer a balance of guided practice and free expression, and provide corrective feedback."

The question is how this applies to the material available on the WWW and the context it may be used within.

1.3 The Context

Quite clearly, effective use of new technologies thus requires considerable effort and this in turn implies careful consideration of the specific context it is being applied to. The range of CALL material available provides for a variety of needs and indeed teaching and learning styles and it is the careful matching of the material to the context which will produce the most positive results while also taking into consideration the limitations and technical requirements demanded. Effective use of technology implies considering the technical skills required, the needs and attitudes of the people using the material, the appropriacy of the material for these people and how it can be accommodated to, or incorporated within a given language learning environment.

What follows is some background on English Language Institute (ELI), the teaching environment and experience with CALL up to the present.



1.3.1 The academy

ELI is a private language school in Seville, Southern Spain catering for students who wish to study English as a foreign language outside of normal class or work time. Students, in general, see English as being important for their future careers. Twenty-five years old, the school has continuously expanded and currently includes ten centres throughout the city with over forty teachers and nearly three thousand students. The academy provides a complete range of levels and ages: from beginner to Cambridge Proficiency, from four year-olds upwards. The academy has a reputation both in the city and nation-wide for quality, innovation and seriousness in terms of blending business with sound educational values. It continues to expand and adapt to new environments including the use of information technology.

1.3.2 Experience with CALL

Through the instigation of the director and then primarily through the enthusiasm and commitment of one particular teacher, the school began to investigate the possible advantages of using multimedia CD-ROMS in 1995. In the largest centre a small room with four multimedia computers was installed for initial research. The first CD-ROMs used were those which offered exposure to authentic language in an attractive multimedia package combining sound, images and text in a format which made the language more accessible to students. Encyclopaedias, CD-ROMs devoted to music, cinema and art were exploited as authentic sources of material, which combined to provide novelty along with exposure to genuine language, be it text, listening, video or a combination of all of these. Initial results indicated, and long term use has proved, that the material successfully motivates students, and also provides the opportunities for extensive skills practice, both through work with the material itself and with the combination of pre- and post-computer activities which generate a range of language practice in the standard classroom.

Initial training and familiarity with computers in this way, primarily with intermediate and upper-intermediate students, led to a wider exploration of the potential of CALL as multimedia rooms of up to ten computers became standard at all the five major ELI schools. For younger learners specific language practice CD-ROMs have been bought and thus what began as exposure to language and skills practice through multimedia capabilities developed into more traditional CALL and language learning, language practice etc. while, naturally, the potential of word processors and other such tools have also been explored.

Theoretically, many of these tools allow the student a great deal of flexibility in where, when and how they study. This may be positive for many but it also contains challenges as: "... language learners are more and more forced to rely on their own resources in an increasingly technological world" (Benson 1997 :11). The increasing range of self-study material available may even create a situation where: "Institutions could become total providers of self-access learning and the traditional classroom could disappear entirely in some institutions" (Sturtridge 1997: 68). The author continues, however, to make a crucial qualification: "What is critical is the recognition that alongside the organisational changes there must be an appropriate methodology which directs those changes and ensures their success." In other words technological advances and changing learning contexts do not free either the learner, educational institutions or teachers from examining, considering and researching the learning process. Indeed as Dickinson (1992: 1) points out: "A naive view of self-instruction is one in which the teacher is seen as redundant." The issue of learner autonomy will be dealt with in more depth in Chapter Two.

At ELI the multimedia rooms are available for self-study at fixed times but the prime use of the resource has been with a teacher, as a complement to standard classes. This contrasts graphically with recent developments outside of the academy on a broader level. Across Spain several nation-wide and in some instances international companies opened language academies throughout the 1990s centred around the use of multimedia courses. Highlighting the flexibility such approaches offered as compared to three-hour-a-week courses in a traditional language academy, combined with the novelty value of multimedia language courses and the promise of individual pacing, such companies were initially very successful.

These companies, like many self-study aids for languages, such as videos or CD-ROMs, frequently market themselves as an easy, quick "do-it-yourself" approach to language learning in which few demands are placed on the student and in which the teacher has been replaced by the package on offer. Nevertheless, as Sheerin (1997: 56) says: "None of the aids which are for sale, no matter how expensive and ‘good’ they are, can have the magical effect of turning non-proficient language users into proficient language users if the learners themselves are not engaged in and do not take responsibility for the learning process. Since money can buy most things nowadays, this realisation can come as something of a shock to some would-be language learners." The existence of material, no matter how advanced technologically, does not imply learning or teaching is automatic. What is crucial is the changed role of the language learner in this situation and of the teacher in helping the learner confront these challenges.

Over time, there was a growing realisation that without the discipline of a regular timetable and the persistence and attention of a "real" teacher, such multimedia courses also had their shortcomings. Ultimately, mainly for financial reasons, many of these computer-based academies have been forced to close leaving a large question mark and a degree of suspicion hanging over the whole area of CALL in Spain. In contrast, ELI has proved its experience and seriousness in implementing and adapting technology within a serious pedagogical framework. Without reducing any of the traditional values of its classrooms and methodology, ELI has managed to expand and incorporate CALL material effectively.

1.3.3 Lessons learned from ELI's experience:

One of the primary lessons learned from ELI's experience in CALL is that while it can be powerful, the teacher's role remains crucial; from organising what are very different classroom layout and dynamics, to understanding and gaining maximum benefit from a learning situation where input and feedback are no longer completely dependent on the teacher, the educator's active involvement and development has proved essential. Even with lower levels, who rely heavily on language instruction programmes which essentially are "automatic" in that once initiated a teacher does not necessarily have to participate, many teachers do continue to interact with their students. In that way, while the students work at an individual pace and level with the computer programme, the teacher remains actively involved, aiding, explaining and encouraging on an individual level. While occasionally such programmes do indeed provide an "easy" class for a teacher, it is far more frequent to find teachers who have learned to adapt to take full advantage of the new possibilities provided by the computer room and CALL material.

Hardisty and Windeatt (1988:118) point out that: "... lessons are not planned in isolation. They are closely linked to the syllabus for a language course and the aims of the general educational curriculum, and so should ideally be integrated into the series of tasks and activities which form the language course." It is when such integration occurs that CALL activities appear to function best and to produce the best results. This has clearly been the experience at ELI. Nevertheless, reaching this level is far from automatic. Initial euphoria of new technologies needs immediate tempering with the reality of consistent and continuous training, encouraging consideration and awareness of what the technology involves. Successful implementation of CALL material in ELI has relied heavily on an ongoing teacher training programme, focusing on technical skills initially, but increasingly on pedagogical issues. The provision of paper-based lesson plans and other support material has also proved invaluable in making the often threatening prospect of time in the multimedia room less daunting. Such support serves as a guideline as to how best to use the computer-based material while also freeing teachers from excessive preparation and, in return, allowing them more time to concentrate on the dynamics of a computer classroom and to reflect on how best to incorporate the computer element into the standard class and curriculum requirements.

1.3.4 Experiences with WWW at ELI

With the experience and facilities outlined above, it appeared entirely logical to explore the WWW when it became available and popular. Here was an even wider source of authentic materials, with multimedia potential, communication possibilities, which could only be of benefit for language learners and teachers. It was also assumed that ELI’s prior experience with computers and multimedia would aid the crossover and reduce the time required for learning new skills.

With dial-up connections initially and later cable ELI’s main centres have offered the opportunity of exploring the WWW for language learning purposes since the late 1990s. Interestingly, however, effective exploitation of the WWW has been very limited: having made a leap forward to incorporate the multimedia room and accompanying material into their teaching, teachers looked at, but rarely used the WWW consistently. ELI has a website with extensive links pages to sites which can be exploited in class and has also provided a large number of paper-based worksheets for some of these sites. Nevertheless, the material remained largely unused. Even with the move from the technical slowness and added complexity of dial-up connections to twenty-hour a day cable access, little progress was initially noted.

Initial experiences thus highlighted immediate problems. One of the major setbacks was that of scale and scope: unlike the limited material and static nature and surfing options offered by a multimedia CD-ROM, the WWW offers an infinity of options, all difficult to both control and predict. Also, in contrast to multimedia CD-ROMs, WWW sites are not always available and they can be "transient" compared to CD-ROM materials, a factor recognised by Tait (1997). Paper-based worksheets suffered from the same problem: worksheets developed for sites which either disappeared or changed their content proved frustrating for teachers. The alternative is to offer very general worksheets. This implies considerable teacher training to equip teachers with the skills necessary for their successful exploitation or even the design of more personalised tasks by teachers themselves. This, however, can be both time-consuming and unpopular: teachers, having gained certain IT abilities, including basic WWW skills, still resent having to spend time developing materials for use in the computer room.

Overall, initial experience with WWW at the ELI was very unrewarding. Teachers’ previous experience with computers and multimedia, students’ interest in using the WWW, the materials provided, did not combine to produce a situation in which teachers felt comfortably in control of the opportunities provided by the WWW. The range and scope of material and the implications for use in class remain daunting and beyond the scope of initial paper-based worksheets. Although students and teachers do have experience outside of the academy, it is observable that their overall WWW skills remain more limited than fluid: most teachers have email accounts but remain restrained in their skills when surfing the WWW requires searching or even manipulation of multiple windows, an array of hyperlinks etc. In other words, both students and teachers need support and training in developing the range of skills necessary for effective exploitation of WWW materials.

Despite these initial setbacks, the school remains committed to exploiting the WWW as a resource for a number of reasons. Working on preparing its courses to accommodate standards as defined by Council of Europe Framework and the demands of external exams such as those set by the University of Cambridge, the academy is increasingly aware of the necessity of providing students with ample access to and practice of all four core language skills, reading, writing, speaking and listening and the WWW appears a valuable tool in the provision of, and the motivation for, such skills practice. Equally important is the vision of the WWW as being the initial source of many of today's students’ first contact with English outside of the artificial classroom: preparing students for this appears to be the growing responsibility of the language academy and teacher. Morgan (1999) discusses the essential artificiality of language classrooms where: "In short, we found ourselves constructing, with the collusion of our students, an increasingly complex model or analogue of the Real World ..." and the WWW provides an obvious counter-balance to these limitations.

1.4 Challenges for the future at ELI

Effective exploitation of the WWW at ELI remains, therefore, a project in search of, not so much a goal, as a means of achieving that aim. A more complete integration of the WWW into school activities is still required and it is presumed that this will imply one which makes implementation as easy as possible for the teacher and learner, while continuing to respect, although possibly adapt, existing methodologies just as Brandl (2002) concludes: "... there is no doubt, the vast amount of authentic resources on the Internet provides learners an opportunity to immerse themselves in a plethora of cultural readings. Yet, to make the integration of WWW-based activities a successful learning experience, it requires effective organisation and presentation of that information..." and concludes: "The decision, whether and how to use it, must be based on a clear pedagogical rationale, while technological and developmental issues need to be carefully considered."

Singhal (1997) continues this argument: "While technology should not take over the language classroom, it must be embraced in order to allow educators to do those things which they are unable to do themselves, or those which will improve what is currently being done in the classroom." and this means that: "As we approach the next century, it is essential that we make informed decisions about how the Internet can be successfully integrated into the language classroom." Morgan (1999) identifies seven key questions in terms of effective integration of WWW materials into a curriculum: What are the objectives for the lesson? What are the teacher's expectations from the students? Will IT facilitate student's success in achieving objectives? What technologies are best suited to the objectives? Will technology hinder or help students? Does the teacher feel competent in using the technologies selected for use by students? Is it just an easy Friday lesson with no real aims? These are all crucial questions which need to be addressed for the effective exploitation of IT material in class. These are questions which at ELI have been effectively addressed in terms of CALL in general but which have not been appropriately dealt with in terms of the WWW: therein lies the challenge.

Wilson (2001) provides a further summary of what is necessary and what effectively needs to be addressed by ELI: "To take a meaningful role, on-line educational resources must become easy to use, effective, and contribute significantly to students’ learning. In addition, teachers need training and support to integrate technology into their daily routines." Warschauer and Whittaker (1997) point out some further areas to consider: consider your goals carefully, think integration, don't underestimate complexity, provide necessary support, involve student in decisions. Having invested in hardware and faster connections, ELI quite clearly needs a new pedagogical approach combined with extensive teacher and student involvement and training. The challenge as has been outlined can be summarised by the following questions:

- what has the WWW to offer within the teaching context at ELI?

- what activities / tasks would best exploit its potential?

- what support would teachers and students need?

- would the development and use of these materials aid consolidation of computer literacy as identified by Pennington in Phase Six and ultimately help pave the way towards Phase Seven and a networked world?

This thesis explores these themes, problems, doubts and possible solutions in depth. Chapter Two discusses in dept the issues implied in using the WWW. Taking these into account Chapter Three explores the theoretical implications and provides a framework for the design of material for the context described above. Chapter Four describes the design of the material and how it has been implemented. Chapter Five provides for an evaluation of the project and Chapter Six outlines the conclusions which can be drawn from the experience.