Computer-Assisted LanguageLearning Trends and Issues Revisited:Integrating InnovationNINA GARRETTYale University4 Seaview AvenueOld Saybrook, CT 06475Email: [email protected] update to Garrett (1991), “Technology in the Service of Language Learning: Trends andIssues,” explores current uses of technology to facilitate the teaching and assessment of second languages. In this article, I discuss the changes that have taken place over the last 18years regarding selected topics from the 1991 article, including the relationship between pedagogy, theory, and technology, physical infrastructure, efficacy, copyright concerns, categories ofsoftware (e.g., tutorial, authentic materials engagement, communication uses of technology),and evaluation. I then explore the most challenging issues facing computer-assisted languagelearning (CALL) scholarship and practice today, that is, new demands in language education(based on the conclusions of the 2007 report of the Modern Language Association and Jackson& Malone, 2009), the need to rethink grammar instruction, online learning, social computing,teacher training and professional development, and CALL research. Like the original 1991 article, this work contains an appendix with links to information resources for CALL research andpractice. I conclude by saying that new initiatives are needed to promote the use of technologyfor research on CALL and for facilitating second language acquisition, such as support for institutional language centers, streamlining of the work of professional organizations dedicatedto CALL, and the establishment of a national CALL center.EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO IT WAS POSSIBLE—just barely—for one person to write in just 22pages “an overview . . . of the kinds of technological resources currently available to supportlanguage learning and of various approaches tomaking use of them” (Garrett, 1991a, p. 74).Today we have not only computers of almostincomprehensibly greater power and sophistication but also a far greater range of consumertechnologies that can be harnessed for languageteaching and learning. An update to my 1991overview now takes up this entire volume, withcontributions from 18 experts in language technology pedagogy, theory, and research. Their contributions explore topics in computer-assisted language learning (CALL), some of which had notThe Modern Language Journal, 93, Focus Issue, (2009)0026-7902/09/719–740 1.50/0 C 2009 The Modern Language Journalyet been imagined in 1991, and the rest of whichhave changed out of all recognition.1The 1991 overview was aimed mostly at teacherswith little or no experience with CALL. Nowadays,there are perhaps not many postsecondary language teachers who make no use of technology,but there are still many—especially those whoseteaching preparation did not include mentionof technology—who use it only to a limited extent. They may use email, word processing, anddigital audio; they may find authentic materialson the Web to use in class or to make availableto students, and they may use their institutions’course management systems to post syllabi and assignments and to manage their grading. I wouldargue, though, that these uses of technology donot constitute CALL proper, that is, the full integration of technology into language learning. Weneed constantly to remind ourselves and thoseoutside the field that “CALL” is not shorthand for
720“the use of technology” but designates a dynamiccomplex in which technology, theory, and pedagogy are inseparably interwoven.1991 ISSUES RECONSIDEREDThe Relationship of Pedagogy, Theory,and TechnologyMy 1991 title stressed the primacy of pedagogyover technology; today, by contrast, I want to emphasize that none of the three major componentsof CALL—pedagogy, theory, or technology—should dominate the others. Early enthusiasm foreach technological advance in the capacities ofthose first limited microcomputers sometimes allowed gadgetry to drive pedagogy; then, reactingagainst experimentation with technology for itsown sake, teachers insisted that it should be exploited only to carry out activities that were already pedagogically accepted. This stance, however, implies that current pedagogical practicerepresents everything we need to know about instructed second language acquisition (SLA) sothat we need only “computerize” what we alreadydo, an implication refuted by SLA research.At every step in the development of CALL, technological innovations have encouraged us to engage learners in ways never before available, andresearch on that experimentation has changedour understanding of language learning. We usedto consider “the four skills” as requiring four different kinds of lesson plan, but even the earliest multimedia allowed us to represent languageholistically by integrating textual, aural, and visual input and by adding hitherto undreamt-of dimensions of cultural content. We used to feel thatstudent “conversations” typed on the computer—even in real-time interactions with others—were“inauthentic” by contrast with face-to-face spokenconversation, but we now understand that composing a conversational utterance demands similar mental processing whether it is expressed intyping or in speech (see Payne & Whitney, 2002)and that texting and chat are indeed authenticand frequently used modes of communication.It is clear, therefore, that accepted pedagogicalpractice should not be the primary determinerof technology use. Nor can SLA theory be privileged in shaping CALL, although it undeniablyplays a huge role in motivating and justifying it.SLA theory was developed first in the domain ofEnglish as a Second Language (ESL), and not allthe SLA research on ESL is applicable to the acquisition of other languages. To the extent thatSLA theorists and researchers have explored theThe Modern Language Journal 93 (2009)acquisition of other languages, the focus has beento a great extent on Spanish and French; this isunderstandable, given that a huge proportion oflanguage learners in the United States are enrolled in those languages. However, Spanish andFrench are closely related to English, with manycognates, basically similar syntax, and inflectionalmorphology systems almost as reduced as that ofEnglish. SLA theory has to a much smaller extent considered the acquisition of languages thatare very different from English, especially thosethat are highly inflected, and the development ofCALL for such languages, especially those that usea non-Roman script, has lagged far behind.Moreover, SLA theory has for several decadesnow focused heavily on sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and discourse analysis, that is, the “communicative” aspects of SLA, and during this periodwe have seen less research, in comparison, on theacquisition of grammar forms and grammar concepts except as these have been examined in thecontext of communicative theory and pedagogy.Today, therefore, we cannot assume that CALLdevelopment should ideally be driven either bycurrent pedagogy, by already-developed SLA theory, or by technology. Each of these evolves andchanges in its relationships with the others.Physical InfrastructureA fourth component must today be factoredinto the relationship of pedagogy, theory, andtechnology, namely infrastructure—the contextsor environments that strongly affect the way theother three components work. In fact, it is usefulto recognize three levels of infrastructure. One isthe physical/technological setup of our teachingand learning spaces, such as classrooms, computerlabs, faculty development spaces, and so on. A second is the institutional professional developmentsupport structure for technology use, and a thirdis the national structure of language educationand the national support structure for it.The growth of consumer technologies has encouraged a great deal of CALL development,especially in communication activities and instudent-generated projects. However, it has alsohad a negative impact: Administrators tend notto realize that technology use for the purpose oflanguage learning is radically different from general consumer use and even from that of teachers of other disciplines. On many campuses the“language media/technology/resource centers”have been taken over by information technology (IT) services and turned into general-purposecomputer labs, with support staff who may know
721Nina Garrettlittle about the specific ways in which languageteachers use technology. In many such labs, students do not have access to earphones and are notallowed to speak aloud, with the result that theycannot carry out audio or video assignments, andWeb access to foreign countries or to various interactive tools like chat may be severely restricted.In addition, increasing emphasis on assessmentand accountability in language education createsa demand for facilities allowing efficient testingof all proficiencies at multiple levels for placement, for fulfillment of a language requirement,for oral proficiency adequate to certify a major,and for applications for fellowships and internships abroad. In fact, computer centers designedfor language testing can be used by other disciplines as well, although the converse is usually nottrue; that is, spaces designed for other-disciplinepurposes may not be usable for language learningor testing. With the proliferation of new designsfor learning spaces, teachers need to think carefully about the kinds of technology-based activitiesin which they want students to participate (a) inthe everyday “smart” classroom, (b) in a computerlab during class time, and (c) outside class hoursin other settings or with their own technologies.Most campuses are equipping more smart classrooms every year with Internet connections andprojectors, sometimes with SMART Boards andso on, but these are not always well designed forlanguage teaching. For example, not infrequentlythe remote control for the projector can be usedonly from the front of the classroom, perhaps onlyfrom a fixed station, whereas language teacherstypically roam their classrooms and interact withstudents (and with the projector) from all sides.Lack of adequate window treatments to allow clearvideo projection is a common problem, as is lackof adequate sound systems for audio and video.Administrators at institutions who claim totake internationalization seriously would do wellto consider the special needs of language programs that integrate innovative CALL; the Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium(CALICO ) and the International Association forLanguage Learning Technology (IALLT ) maintain lists of consultants to advise on such matters(see Neville, 2009).2EfficacyIn 1991, the efficacy of computer use for enhancing language learning constituted an issueof major importance. I argued then that studiesattempting to answer the question were generallymisconceived because the use of the computeris not of itself a language teaching method; itsefficacy depends overwhelmingly on how it isused—that is, what language learning activitiesit supports—and how well its use is integratedinto the syllabus. After the 1991 paper was written, several excellent metalevel surveys of efficacystudies appeared in Dunkel (1990). The need toexplore the “interrelated and complex researchvariables” (p. 75) that I posited then is equally urgent now: What kind of software [I would now substitute “technology-based learning activities”], integratedhow, into what kind of syllabus, at what level of language learning, for what kind of language learners,is likely to be effective for what specific learning purposes? Each part of that question still deserves tobe explored in depth in research on SLA and,as several other contributors to this volume pointout (see especially Egbert, Huff, McNeil, Preuss, &Sellen, this issue), not enough attention has beendevoted to these variables (see also Allum, 2002;Felix, 2005).Efficacy concerns are often motivated by underlying anxiety about cost. It could be argued thatin the United States we no longer need to do efficacy research to justify CALL because computersare taken for granted in teaching virtually everydiscipline, while in developing countries efficacystudies are still seen as necessary to persuade administrators that the cost is worthwhile. Here, financial anxiety has translated into challengingthe costs of maintaining dedicated language technology facilities and especially the costs of hiringCALL specialists to support those facilities andthe teachers who use them, that is, maintainingthe infrastructure to support the substantive integration of innovation and new productivity inCALL.Copyright ConcernsIn 1991 copyright concerns focused chiefly onthe copying, or pirating, of software, but that is lessof an issue now; publishers have well-establishedlicensing procedures and password protectionis more sophisticated. Much more problematicnowadays is teachers’ uncertainty about using selections from texts, audio, images, and video thatthey find on the Web in creating materials for theirstudents. Students also need to be educated aboutcopyright when they create projects for their classwork. Many institutions offer workshops throughtheir libraries or teaching/learning centers.3Categories of SoftwareThe five-part categorization of pedagogical software that I posited in 1991—tutorials, drills,
722The Modern Language Journal 93 (2009)games, simulations, and problem solving—is irrelevant today, especially since so much CALLuses general consumer communication tools andapplications for which we would no longer usethe term “pedagogical software,” such as mobilecommunication devices and tools for texting, audioconferencing, videoconferencing, podcasting,and so on. I would instead see today’s CALL inthree categories: tutorial, engagement with authentic materials, and communication. Othershave proposed different categorizations (see EuroCALL for the link to Graham Davies’s Website, which summarizes several). Other contributions in this volume discuss communication usesof CALL (Levy; Thorne, Black, & Sykes; Blake, allin this issue), and student portfolios (Cummins &Davesne, this issue), so I shall focus here on thefirst two of my categories.coming into new prominence (see Heift &Schulze, 2007). However, the use of NLP/iCALLin language pedagogy still faces two great challenges: First, it is much harder to parse incorrect (i.e., learners’) language than correct (i.e.,standard) language, and second, it is often notenough to be able to identify a learner’s error inlinguistic terms. To be useful to learners, a diagnostic must provide some indication of why theymade that error. This requires detailed trackingof the contexts for the structure in which theindividual learner makes or does not make thatparticular error (Garrett, 1987). Such diagnosticsare probably not worth the trouble for straightforward surface-structure constructions, but where amisunderstanding of the grammar concept is involved, they may be the only way to provide feedback from which students can learn.Tutorial . In the earliest days of CALL, little software was available except for simple vocabularygames like “Hangman” and drills. Unfortunately,tutorial CALL is still often equated with the mostmechanical drills. In the past two decades, SLAtheory and language pedagogy have so stronglyprivileged communicative teaching methods andactivities that few developers have been interestedin innovative drill-and-practice CALL. Becausethe infrastructure support essential to tutorialCALL design and development is far harder formost institutions to maintain, few teachers can afford to attempt it.Tutorial CALL is not just for teaching grammar. Dictations, pronunciation work, listeningand reading comprehension activities, and writing assignments all make use of tutorial structures.The presentation of sophisticated cultural information often demands tutorial presentation, asdoes the development of students’ strategies forlearning from new tools and activities (see Hubbard & Bradin Siskin, 2004).Traditional grammar CALL generated corrective feedback by checking students’ answersagainst item-specific stored correct answers, or (inmore sophisticated tutorials) anticipated wronganswers. Current initiatives to develop error diagnostics and feedback are focused instead onnatural language processing (NLP) or intelligentCALL (iCALL), in which the actual grammar rulesof language are programmed into the computerand student input is matched against them usinga parser.Efforts along these lines have been brought tobear on language learning since the 1980s (seeHolland, Kaplan, & Sams, 1995) and are nowAuthentic Materials Engagement. The term authentic characterizes materials created by and fornative speakers, in contrast to those created forpedagogical purposes. For the vast majority of ourstudents—those in elementary/intermediate language classes—authentic materials are difficult byvirtue of their grammar, vocabulary, genre-specificstyle, and cultural references. Teachers prefer toadjust the difficulty of the tasks they assign, ratherthan the difficulty of the materials themselves:Instead of abridging or editing the texts, video,or audio they assign, they provide annotationsand other kinds of support to aid students’ comprehension, memory, and use of the materials.Long before the Web, templates like LIBRA (Farris & Fischer, 1994) and GALT (Lyman-Hager &Davis, 1993) allowed teachers to annotate (respectively) audio/video and written texts with, for example, an English gloss, target language synonym,picture/video, audio pronunciation of individualwords in a written text or continuous readingof whole passages, transcripts, grammar explanations, cultural explanations, and so on. Today’stemplates (see Otto & Pusack, this issue) allowfor glossing text, audio, and video material on theWeb as well, dramatically increasing the use ofauthentic materials at all pedagogical levels. However, the availability of tools and resources thatmake possible student use of such aids does notguarantee that students will, in fact, use them inthe way or to the extent that developers intend;only carefully structured assignments and followup work can effectively promote such use (see Fischer, 2007, for a discussion of research trackinghow students use CALL features; see also Abraham, 2008).
723Nina GarrettThe explosion of the Web, and the concomitant increase in power and sophistication of thetools used for finding material on it, has madethis kind of CALL increasingly valuable to language teachers—at least to those who have regular access to it in their classroom/lab—but simplyproviding students with Web links to authenticmaterials does not of itself constitute CALL. Thereal challenge is, as it always has been, developing the activities that will integrate the contentof authentic materials into the language learningprocess and engage students.Beyond that challenge, though, is a more daunting one: The annotations help students with thetask at hand, such as comprehending the particular text, audio, or video, but they do not teachstudents how to work with the next unannotatedmaterials they encounter, in other words how toread, how to listen, how to interpret visual culture better. To provide them with this ability—surely the basis for lifelong learning—authenticmaterials-engagement CALL needs to incorporatetutorial CALL, to help students understand andpractice how to skim and scan a text; how torecognize the vocabulary choices and discoursestyle of a certain register; what to listen for inthe first and subsequent hearings of an auralpassage; what devices of grammar, cadence, andword choice indicate emphasis (real, rhetorical,or ironic); how the clause structure of a complex sentence adds meaning to the content words,(topic–comment, foregrounding of information,the stylistic conventions of genre, authorial intention); how sentence melody indicates pragmaticmeaning in spoken language, and why it is as important as vowel or c
andlearningspaces,suchasclassrooms,computer labs, faculty development spaces, and so on. A sec-ond is the institutional professional development support structure for technology use, and a third is the national structure of language education and the national support stru