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Review of Contemporary Computer-Assisted Language Learning
This book, edited by Michael Thomas, Hayo Reinders, and Mark Warschauer, explores the parameters of contemporary Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL), focusing on different areas of CALL, how these different areas shape CALL, as well as how the latest research approaches help explore different areas. The book of composed of three parts and 19 chapters in total. Readers are provided the opportunity to read chapters independently of the other chapters as the structure of the book is organized thematically, with the parts entitled ‘The CALL Context’, ‘CALL Learning Environments’, and ‘CALL in Language Education’.
Chapter 1, by the editors, is entitled ‘Contemporary computer-assisted language learning: The role of digital media and incremental change’, and serves as the introduction to the book, touching briefly upon the main themes of CALL, aspects of contemporary CALL, and how digital media and social CALL have evolved. This chapter supplies the foundation for the next chapters by providing a brief and effective introduction to CALL.
In Chapter 2, ‘Historical perspectives on CALL’, the authors, Graham Davies, Sue E. K. Otto, and Bernd Rüschoff, provide a rich overview of developments in CALL and how these developments have shaped CALL during the last three decades. The authors also take into consideration the technologies available, second language acquisition, and theories of language education. In this perspective, the authors not only discuss the origin of the term ‘CALL’ with a detailed history from the 1980s to the present but also enable readers to reconsider technology and second language learning by portraying past and recent developments.
In Chapter 3, entitled ‘Researching language learning in the age of social media’, the authors, Carla Meskill and Joy Quah, highlight the varied perspectives and approaches in CALL research used in online and social environments, focusing on the online environment and its specifications, online social and affective dimensions, as well as pedagogical processes. While presenting this review of perspectives and approaches, the authors provide a solid discussion of the current methodological approaches and techniques.
Chapter 4, ‘Second language teacher education for CALL: An alignment of practice and theory’, deals with how teacher education for CALL can be aligned to sociocultural theory and argues that CALL training should be geared more towards an educational perspective. The authors, Gary Motteram, Diane Slaouti, and Zeynep Onat-Stelma, provide a concise review of the field of teacher education, and highlight how sociocultural theory can contribute to teacher education for CALL through a study that explores the practices of adult teachers of languages using technology in General English, TOEFL, and TOEIC exam classes.
In Chapter 5, ‘Research on computers in language testing: Past, present and future’, the author, James Dean Brown, focuses on the role of computers in language testing. He examines the developments in computer-based language testing, considering trends, developments and directions in both the past and the future, with particular emphasis on current practices such as testing vocabulary, speaking or oral skills, writing, listening and reading.
Chapter 6, entitled ‘Materials design in CALL: Social presence in online environments’, discusses how material design and the choice of tasks can affect social presence in online environments integrated into CALL, CMC-based teacher education, and learner participation in online interaction. The authors, Mirjam Hauck and Sylvia Warnecke, examine the findings of a study involving a tutor training class in teaching English for Academic Purposes, making use of the Community Indicators Framework by Galley et al. (2011), which includes four broad aspects related to participants’ online presence: participation, cohesion, identity, and creative capability.
In Part II, under the theme of ‘CALL Learning Environments’, Chapter 7, ‘Telecollaboration and CALL’, examines online communication tools that bring students of different countries together overcoming geographical restrictions. The author, Robert O’Dowd, provides a critical review of the models and configurations of online communication and exchange in foreign language classrooms. He suggests that we should reconsider the role of telecollaboration in formal education and current classroom practices with respect to several factors such as observable and assessable student activity, tasks that can be integrated into classroom interaction, as well as the advantages of telecollaborative activity.
In Chapter 8, ‘Distance CALL online’, Marie-Noëlle Lamy discusses the diverse nature of distance CALL and highlights the fact that it can be delivered in various forms such as online and in a blended approach. Taking the flexibility of distance CALL into consideration and building around a learning design approach, the author provides an integrated model of distance language learning.
In Chapter 9, ‘Language learning in virtual worlds: Research and practice’, Randall Sadler and Melinda Dooly bring a different perspective to social presence (cf. Chapter 6) and discuss the opportunities that virtual worlds provide to language learners. The authors provide an overview of the research on and development of virtual worlds followed by a discussion of language and content learning. They draw on their research projects on the use of virtual worlds that provide children the opportunity to observe, interact, and explore by using a virtual art gallery.
In Chapter 10, ‘Digital games and language learning’, Chun Lai, Ruhui Ni, and Yong Zhao move the discussion to a very interesting and attractive perspective in CALL: digital games. The authors review current developments in digital games, examine pedagogical issues in several commercial games, and discuss what the future holds for digital game-based language learning. They focus on the balance between playing games and maximizing learning through these games.
In Chapter 11, ‘Mobile-assisted language learning’, Glenn Stockwell discusses the role of mobile technologies in language learning. It is widely acknowledged that distance language learning and CALL have taken one step further with innovations such as mobile devices. In this chapter, the author reviews how mobile devices affect language learning, advantages of using mobile devices, and issues of concern that need to be taken into consideration while utilizing mobile devices such as MP3 players, PDAs, and mobile phones.
Dafne Gonzalez and Rubena St. Louis deal with an important issue in CALL in Chapter 12, ‘CALL in low-tech contexts’: technology-limited contexts and how to overcome these limitations. The authors enrich the discussion on low-tech environments through the findings of a survey conducted in several countries where technology is not widely available, reflecting their use of CALL in their own contexts. The findings indicate that slow internet access proves to be an obstacle that can be overcome by doing activities that do not require fast internet access such as creating blogs and sending emails, and by helping teachers in technology-limited contexts to gain experience through online communities and special interest groups.
Part III is ‘CALL in language education’. Chapter 13, ‘Intelligent CALL’, is engaged with the contribution of artificial intelligence to CALL, focusing on resources for both language learning and researchers. The authors, Mathias Schulze and Trude Heift, frame their discussion on Intelligent CALL within second language acquisition, taking interaction and noticing (that is, consciously registering the input) into consideration. The authors also enrich their discussion by providing resources for researchers, focusing on learner and reference corpora.
In Chapter 14, ‘Technology-enhanced reading environments’, Youngmin Park, Binbin Zheng, Joshua Lawrence, and Mark Warschauer present an overview of reading supported by digital media such as visual-syntactic text formatting and blogging. The first part of the discussion is allocated to major components of reading such as word decoding and language comprehension, leading to a summary of research on computer-assisted reading in each component, while the second part focuses on the use of digital materials/technologies that enrich second language reading.
Chapter 15, ‘The role of technology in teaching and researching writing’, deals with writing and the available technological tools. The authors, Volker Hegelheimer and Jooyoung Lee, summarize various technological developments and tools such as automated essay evaluation and online environments for collaborative writing that inform teaching second language writing, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these technological tools.
In Chapter 16, ‘CALL and less commonly taught languages’, Richard M. Robin examines the impact of the latest technologies, particularly web-based tools, on the less commonly taught languages. He considers specific features of these languages and the tools available in the Web 2.0 environment such as Google translator, Google as a corpus and concordance, as well as the courses available in distance and hybrid environments.
Chapter 17, entitled ‘CALL and digital feedback’, looks at the issue of providing feedback in the language classroom. The authors, Paige Ware and Greg Kessler, examine the feedback provided in synchronous and asynchronous environments and critically analyze the three dimensions of digital feedback, namely, modes of feedback delivery, focus of feedback provided, and strategies for delivering feedback on the skills of writing and speaking.
In Chapter 18, ‘Task-based language teaching and CALL’, Michael Thomas provides a brief overview of the relationship between CALL and task-based language teaching and how they inform each other, reporting on the results of a case study that was conducted with Japanese learners of English. The author questions previous research findings indicating that Asian English language learners are found to be resistant to interactive learning environments and draws attention to the importance of proficiency in activities within a task-based approach.
Chapter 19, ‘CALL and learner autonomy: Affordances and constraints’, is concerned with the importance of the role of learner autonomy in language learning and teaching. The authors, Hayo Reinders and Philip Hubbard, provide a quick but efficient review of their topic, analyze the potential limitations of technology on the development of learner autonomy, and discuss possible ways to overcome these limitations: providing appropriate training, selecting appropriate materials, encouraging peer interaction and collaborations, and enhancing learners’ cognitive, social, and affective strategies.
The major strength of the book lies in the state-of-the-art discussions on important issues in CALL. These discussions not only remind us of past developments but also link these developments to current practices in the CALL world, providing a good sense of the relationship of CALL to second language learning teaching and learning. The chapters introduce a literature review of previous studies as well as current trends, combining theory and practice, which will be beneficial as supplementary reading to graduate students as well as to scholars interested in any aspect of CALL research. The references provided at the end of each chapter also provide the readers with the opportunity to further their knowledge.
The chapters are organized thematically, starting by setting the context for CALL research and its history and then moving to more advanced issues such as telecollaboration and CALL, and CALL and learner autonomy. Almost all chapters consider current research practices in both low- and high-tech environments around the world, and will lead researchers in this field to reconsider their perspectives on issues such as providing digital feedback and learner autonomy. The only thing that might be suggested would be the inclusion of a chapter at the end of the book, outlining and combining what has been explored and suggested in previous chapters.
Overall, the book proves to be invaluable reading for anyone interested in keeping up with current developments in the field of CALL. Although the title of the volume does not include the word “handbook” or imply that it is a handbook, I would claim that the volume serves the role and aim of similar handbooks which are available. Thus, the book will be of utmost value for researchers and graduate students alike to figure out how technology and specific techniques and strategies should be employed to best serve students’ needs in language learning. The volume is surely one of the most important and useful books available on the market.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Ferit Kılıçkaya is currently working as an assistant professor at the department of English language teaching at Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, Burdur, Turkey. His main area of interest includes computer-assisted language learning and testing, language teacher education, and language teaching methodology. He has published several book chapters, articles, and reviews in journals such as British Journal of Educational Technology, Educational Technology & Society, Teaching English with Technology, and Educational Studies.