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Evaluating Computer-Assisted Language Learning

An Integrated Approach to Effectiveness Research in CALL

Jonathan Leakey

Schools, colleges and universities are investing a great deal in the purchase of computer resources for the teaching of modern languages, but whether these resources make a measurable difference to the learning of language students is still unclear. In this book the author outlines the existing evidence for the impact of computers on language learning and makes the case for an integrated approach to the evaluation of computer-assisted language learning (CALL). Drawing on current and past research linked to CALL and e-learning, the author builds a comprehensive model for evaluating not just the software used in language learning, but also the teaching and learning that takes place in computer-based environments, and the digital platforms themselves. This book will be of interest not only to language teachers and CALL researchers, but also to those interested in e-learning and general research methodology, as well as designers of educational software, digital labs, virtual learning environments (VLEs) and institutional budget holders.

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Chapter 3 - Has CALL made a dif ference: And how can we tell? 59

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Chapter 3 Has CALL made a dif ference: And how can we tell? Introduction The shifting parameters of CALL ef fectiveness research To judge by the conclusions of several CALL researchers there is much to learn from the mistakes and successes of the past. Levy, for example, talks of the ‘contemporary relevance of old projects and past experience’ (Levy 1997). Even the oft-maligned empiricist approach of 1950s and 1960s lan- guage teaching dubbed by Stern (1983: 169) as ‘pedagogically audiolingual- ism, psychologically behaviourism, linguistically structuralism’ can inform our post-communicative era (Levy 1997: 14), or contribute to the best practice of future eras. One can summarize the preoccupations of CALL ef fectiveness research in its relatively short history in the following four principal debates: 1. The improvement debate: Does CALL improve language learning? 2. The comparison debate: Can comparative evaluations be of any value in demonstrating learning gains? 3. The configuration debate: What combination of methods is best for measuring progress in CALL? 4. The outcome vs. processes debate: Do we only focus on measuring learning outcomes? What about learning processes? Can we measure the latter? If so, how? The history of ef fectiveness research in CALL shows a move away from a preoccupation with proving that CALL, of itself, improves students’ second language competence towards an interest in the variables involved in the 60 Chapter 3 language teaching and learning process within computer-based environ- ments. Nevertheless, we can glean useful lessons and methodology from each of the dif ferent debates,...

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