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CALL and the Teaching of Academic English

This essay will discuss the EAP classroom activities that CALL can support and the pedagogical benefits they might offer.

Introduction
Since the 1980s the use of computers in education has been increasing steadily. At various times they have been extolled as panaceas for all the problems within education and many Western parents may feel that children are disadvantaged without IT skills and access to a PC. This general belief in the power of technology has led to the incorporation of computer lab time into many ELICOS language courses. Victorian language centers, which often focus on academic English, may have from five to fifteen percent of their scheduled classes conducted in computer labs while students often have daily access to the Internet and language learning software in self- access centres. However, there can often be a disparity between the provision of this resource and the skills and theoretical knowledge that instructors require to utilize it fully. In addition, institutional culture towards the use of CALL can be vague, overly prescriptive or biased towards certain levels at the expense of others.

The boundaries of CALL are also difficult to define, especially on an EAP course where students may be taught how to format an essay using a word processor. A simple way of defining CALL would be to say that it is any computer activity where the acquisition of language or mode of communication takes precedence over the practical skills required to complete the task. Storyboard is an example of pure CALL (with debatable value depending on its use), while the use of Microsoft Word to format and write an academic essay is not strictly CALL as there is little functional difference between a type written essay and a word processed version. However, the use of a web page editor to create an Internet home page is CALL as it opens up whole new range of communicative and motivational issues. Powerpoint as a presentation tool sits between these as it does change the mode of communication to a certain extent. The use of any application for collaborative project work is CALL as the computer is subsidiary to the communication engendered.

This information leads us to the question of why CALL is perceived as being of sufficient importance to be an integral part of the language curriculum. Jordan (1997) notes that one of the primary reasons for encouraging a level of student autonomy in EAP is to cater for the fact that they will have to continue the development of their academic communication skills throughout the period of their university study. This leads to an understanding of the primary strength of CALL, its ability to deliver a wide variety of material which can cater for different learning styles and be accessible at any time. However, Warschauer (1996) asserts that CALL can only be effective if it is used appropriately, as the power comes from the message rather than the medium. Board (2000) suggests that students should be encouraged to be reflective about their learning style and therefore choose appropriate study activities. Students with this self-awareness and a reasonable level of IT competence can decide if they want to concentrate on specific macro-skills or content specific materials through the use of the web. This flexibility of delivery combined with the multimedia content allows students to take more control of their own pathways in language and academic disciplines. The use of computer moderated communication (CMC) through e-mail, discussion boards and guided chat allows all the members of language classes to participate in forums, regardless of their oral ability or confidence. A final benefit is the use of collaborative projects which involve students in synthesizing both the knowledge of colleagues and research sources to create a product which can contribute to the global web community, if it is planned and promoted effectively.

Macro-skills through E-Learning material
Many International students arrive in Australia with several years of English instruction behind them. Due to the style of teaching of EFL by non-native speakers these students often have relatively well developed reading skills combined with good meta-knowledge of grammar. Zenhui (2001) gives a comprehensive review of literature on this subject, finding that there is ample evidence to support the preconception that East Asian language education uses a teacher directed grammar translation format. For example, Storch (1997) discovered that most students on their course who had previously studied English were taught grammar in a very explicit and prescriptive manner. In addition to their previous studies students may also go through several courses of general English before their language is high enough for them to embark on academic preparation, usually at the Upper Intermediate level. Due to this expectation that students will already have the requisite grammar, writing and general reading skills, and the fact that EAP classes are extremely intensive in terms of study skills and content, there is often little class time for students to work on their linguistic skills.
It is here that CALL, through a behaviourist or communicative methodology, can provide an effective medium to allow students to pursue areas of study that are impossible within the time constraints of the pure face-to-face classes. The extensive nature of internet resources which are freely available means that it is possible for teachers to access material which will support both the students’ weaker macro-skills and their content needs. If institutions have specialist CALL practitioners and access to various exercise authoring tools they can also develop material which is specific to teachers’ perceptions of the weaker areas of students’ production. Combining freely available material with the institution’s own allows for tailored solutions to problems.
An example of an integrated approach to macro-skills across an EAP course would be where students were introduced to the scope and variety of language learning material on the web, and then to course specific material which may, or may not, be made freely available on the Internet for other institutions. The first stage can be achieved through the guided searching of the web as a whole, or more productively, by accessing professionally created portals. The second stage requires some access to easily accessible software which can be used to create computer based exercises. Although some CALL specialists suggest that there is so much material available that this stage is unnecessary, it is also possible to argue that web searching can be daunting. In this case it may well be quicker and more appropriate for new material to be made. Initially this poses an organizational problem, but as more educational institutions look into online delivery it becomes easier to find simple authoring software and it is even possible for software to be developed to particular specifications. Hilary Nesi from the University of Warwick (1998) gives an interesting account of the development of their online resources for pre-sessional and sessional courses from 1992 to 1998.
By sourcing high quality and reliable third party resources and then linking them through a web-page, a CALL coordinator can give students a level of guided autonomy, with the main benefit of reducing time wasted on ineffective web searching. This use of third party materials is strongly endorsed by Uschi Felix of Monash University (1998) as the amount of high quality material available often makes materials production a case of reinventing the wheel. From a relatively small core of material producers it is possible to find listening and reading texts that support many common topics and the associated vocabulary. General and academic skills are also supported on many pages, from traditional explicit grammar clozes to interactive academic writing courses which allow students to choose a learning style, discovery, or by accessing the related reference material.
Birch and Kemp (2000) make note of students becoming dependent on their teachers and it is possible that this dependency can be transferred onto the school as well. Providing a well stocked library and supportive ILC will equip students with autonomy in that situation, but these skills may not transfer so well to the real world. Nesi (1998) describes why Warwick University chose networked and then online materials over the provision of an ILC. If students are exposed to external sources first it lessens their dependency on the materials that the institution provides, and relates their study to the wider world. Once students know that there is material they can access from any Internet connection it is possible to utilize resources that the institution has created or purchased for specific purposes.
Within this framework it is possible for face-to-face CALL classes to start with the completion of a generic activity for all and then move on to targeted activities for specific skills. For example, a class could start with the text ordering of a survey report task, then move on to either an interactive cloze or proof reading task on the same text. This provides repetition to allow a greater recall of the subject matter and related vocabulary. The class could then create a chart in Microsoft Word from the text. All of these activities so far can be performed alone, in pairs and in small groups to allow for the discussion of discourse features and also sentence level grammatical points. However, it can be useful to make these structures optional rather than compulsory as some students may learn effectively on their own and often have to work in groups during non-CALL classes. During the remainder of the lesson it is possible for students to be given a choice of activities. For students that require more scaffolding it is possible to do a listening on survey data from the Virtual ILC, read a news story with vocabulary and comprehension questions from the Western Pacific Literacy Network or practice some survey specific vocabulary from Flo-Joe or Professor Charles Darling’s English grammar page. More self-directed or motivated students can access authentic materials which do not have exercises related to them. Archived news stories from the BBC, ABC, The Guardian newspaper are all searchable in terms of topic and can provide relevant audio, textual and visual material. In a more self-directed way than Thurstun and Candlin (1998) it is possible for students to access the online Cobuild Concordancer (which works from a database of general English) to find more examples of survey specific vocabulary in authentic contexts.
By raising students’ awareness of resources available to them, in any form, it is possible to provide them with the skills to maintain their language skills regardless of their prevailing situation. In the past there were accounts of motivated learners acquiring a command of the English language through listening to the BBC World Service, popular music or translating common books. By using the Internet, modern learners can investigate specific skills, find different varieties of language and also receive various types of feedback to enable the maintenance of their English in a much less demanding manner.

Guided and Unguided Web Searching
The Internet is a vast resource of ever changing and unregulated material. These two factors make it slightly daunting both for inexperienced web surfers and non-native speakers. However, the ease with which material can be published on it is such that all organizations in the developed world have professionally created web-sites, and most academic institutions are rapidly creating online resources. These authentic examples of the English language are often used in language classes, both as digital and hard copies. In addition, as they are in digital format they can be searched by a purpose made concordancer or by Microsoft Word’s search features to find specific vocabulary in context.
Many practitioners (Betadam, 1998, Gitsaki and Toyoda, 1999) note that a certain level of guidance is essential when students initially start using the Internet for research. They mention the problems that teachers face in selecting pages and then developing tasks to suit their students and suggest evaluation procedures to simplify the process.
The AMES Virtual ILC project is interesting to note as it is an Australian product which is designed for a range of situations, the main one obviously being self-access. It uses third party web pages as material for authentic, and semi-authentic reading comprehension tasks. Although it has an admirable aim it does not always take advantage of the Internet’s obvious advantages, the ability to use multiple sources. Many VILC tasks are related to a single page of a site, and then maybe have some subsidiary activities, which is in contrast to the Webquest program. This is an umbrella site which connects to third-party exercises where successful completion of tasks requires a whole range of pages to be accessed and the information to be synthesized. Tasks on Webquest are often designed to take place over periods of longer than a single lesson period and are therefore more closely related to real world academic tasks. Levina, Firenze and Reves (2000) conducted a qualitative and quantitative study on using the web to foster critical reading skills. They suggested that the decision making process and the autonomy involved enabled students to apply holistic knowledge and skills to the reading process and develop an evaluative approach to comprehension.
This process where students are automatically exposed to a range of sources by their use of hyperlinks makes them aware of contradictions and differences of opinion. The balance of opposing viewpoints allows students to start formulating their own opinions and introduces them to one of the principles of critical thinking. Jacobson and Shapiro (1995) found that there was a greater transfer of complex knowledge through the use of linked hypertext when compared to standard text. They suggested that the flexible nature of hypertext allowed for the construction of internalized knowledge which was also easily accessed. The same study showed a lower level of general recall with hypertext but this type of learning is outside the domain of EAP.


Computer Mediated Communication
Another facet of CALL is the possibility for students to join online forums, discussion boards and chat rooms. These technologies can be used in many ways to facilitate EAP studies, in particular by empowering less vocal or more thoughtful members of classes. Some proponents (Toyoda, 2002) argue that the lack of non-linguistic cues such as intonation and body language makes this type of communication important in language acquisition through the concepts of negotiation of meaning and comprehensible input . Regardless of whether or not you agree with the need for negotiation of meaning in language acquisition there can be little doubt that negotiation of meaning is an integral part of all communication except for the most mechanical transactions (Nunan, 1995). Solange (2001) suggests that CMC puts students into a position where they must negotiate, persuade, clarify and request. Essential practice in skills needed for academic study.
Chat rooms are synchronous communication, they occur in real time and participants receive instant responses to their messages. They also need to be scheduled so that participants are online at the same time. It is important here to make a distinction between how teachers often conceive of chat and how it should be used. A teachers’ frequent view of chat is through students furtively typing messages to friends when they should be engaged in productive work. Uschi Felix (1999) argues that this type of activity is beneficial if it is conducted with native speakers in authentic chat rooms; however, it is difficult to find chat rooms which support standard English, an essential component of academic communication. With this in mind, the effective use of chat requires guided communicative activities with a teacher monitoring and giving feedback, at least in the early stages. These can help students who do not have enough confidence in their oral skills to join discussions by adding a different dimension. It is also possible to log chat sessions and use the results as needs analysis or simply for giving students feedback on their performance. This is important because the “chat” disappears as soon as the participants log off, there is no copy kept on any computer afterwards.
Discussion boards are different in that they are asynchronous, you may post a message and it becomes a semi-permanent addition to a web page. Participants can reply the next day, the next week or even in several months time. Depending on the design of the discussion board it is also possible to start sub-topics and reply to other peoples postings individually. This type of situation benefits more thoughtful or more research-oriented students as there is no necessity for speed in a response. They can consider the situation carefully and even conduct some research before making their posting. The continuing discussion can also provide evidence for the development of critical thinking and also becomes a resource for students to use throughout the course.
Both of these uses described are fairly structured in that they would be used with a specific group of participants and with specific activities. In the case of EAP they are probably best used for the development of argumentative and discursive skills on topic based concerns. However, there are many free services on the Internet which provide chat rooms and discussion boards on the study of English. These can be used for self-study and the development of larger learning networks.

Project based tasks
Project work can be useful in EAP as the project can often be directly related to students’ areas of interest and helps students to understand the link between their language studies and their academic courses. It also allows for the teaching of study skills to postgraduate students who may feel patronized by teachers explicitly teaching study skills (Blue, 1993, cited in Jordan, 1997). Cadman and Grey (2000) conducted an ambitious project when students on an EAP course were involved in the organization of a near authentic academic conference. In this study the need for authentic communication and the perception that they were an integral and influential part of the academic community gave students high levels of satisfaction. The use of digital publication tools allows students to participate in similarly authentic tasks but in a far less onerous manner. It also allows for the project to be included as part of a more traditional program.
Nunan (1995) discusses the use of the community as a resource in learner-centred curriculums. The community is an area where students can relate their classroom activities with authentic communication. A situation which is often very difficult to achieve, especially outside of native speaker countries. However, an Internet connection allows access to the global community in a virtual manner, allowing a whole range of authentic communication tasks, e-mailing experts, connecting to news groups and joining subject specific discussions. Commonly available office software allows for the production of high quality digital documents for web publication. This extra level of perceived quality provides motivation and the possibility of an authentic audience, which in turn provides more motivation.
The Internet is an ideal forum for the publishing of surveys and reports which do not have the backing of a university. There could be a strong case made for the research of web-based material and the development of projects and research which would add to the body of knowledge already available. This also democratizes the process whereby knowledge is constructed and disseminated throughout the world.
Warschauer (1996) gives an example of a completely integrated technical writing course conducted online in this way. The study that he cites was conducted by Bowers (1995) in La Paz, Mexico and went through finding appropriate areas of study on the Internet, submitting them by e-mail for preliminary comments from their coordinator, redrafting them by accessing online references and then submitting them to scientific news groups. This section is the most powerful as there were e-mail forms on each report which allowed the global community to submit feedback and then the students were able to incorporate this into final drafts.


Conclusion
This essay has perhaps suggested a daunting array of technologies, computer assisted methodologies and ways in which they are useful in EAP. However, there is a clear progression in the level of technical skill required to utilize these different resources and methodologies, from the generic skill of web searching to the specialization of web authoring. Furthermore, it can also be argued that the easiest resource to access, third party EFL web activities, can also be the most useful for students when they leave the comfort zone of the language centre and enter their major courses.

Bibliography
Betadam, C. (1998) Internet and Email: The latest CALL fad? Proceedings of the ELICOS Association 11th Annual Education Conference, Melbourne, 1998.
Board, D. (2000) Information and Communication Technology – Implications in the classroom. DevelopingTeachers.com http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/ict1_darron.htm
Cadman, K. and Grey, M. (2000) The “Action Teaching” Model of Curriculum Design: EAP students managing their own learning in an academic conference course. EA Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2000.
Felix, U. (1998) Exploiting the Web for language teaching: selected approaches ReCALL, Vol. 11, No. 1, May 1999. pp. 30-38.
Felix, U. (1998) Virtual language learning: potential and practice. ReCALL, Vol. 10, No. 1, May 1998. pp. 53-58
Felix, U. (1998) Web-Based Language Learning: A Window on an Authentic World, from World CALL: Global Perspectives on Computer-Assisted Language Learning. Eds. Debski, R. and Levy, M. pp. 86-98
Jacobson, M., Spiro, R., (1995) Hypertext Learning Environments, Cognitive Flexibility, and the Transfer of Complex Knowledge: An Empirical Investigation. J. Educational Computing Research, Vol. 12(4) 301-333, 1995.
Jordan, R. R. (1997) English for Academic Purposes, Cambridge University Press.
Levine, A., Ferenz, O. & Reves, T. (1998) A computer mediated curriculum in EFL academic writing ReCALL, Vol. 11, No. 1, May 1998.
Levine, A., Ferenz, O. & Reves, T. (2000) EFL Academic Reading and Modern Technology: How Can We Turn Our Students into Independent Critical Readers? TESL EJ Vol. 4 No. 4, December 2000. http://www.kyoto-su.ac.jp/information/tesl-ej/ej16/a1.html
Nesi, H. (1998) Using the Internet to teach English for academic purposes ReCALL, Vol. 10, No. 1, May 1998. pp. 109-118.
Nunan, D. (1988) The Learner Centred Curriculum, Cambridge University Press.
Solange, M.(2001) Computer-Assisted Language Learning (Call) and the Internet. http://www3.telus.net/linguisticsissues/CALL.html
Storch, N. (1997) Students’ Reactions to Innovations in Grammar Instruction. Prospect. Vol. 12 No. 3, December 1997
Thurstun, J. and Candlin, C. (1998) Concordancing and the Teaching of the Vocabulary of Academic English. English for Specific Purposes, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 267-280, 1998.
Toyoda, E. (2002) Categorisation of Text Chat Communication between Learners and Native Speakers of Japanese. Langauage Learning and Technology. Vol. 6, No. 1, January 2002, pp.82-99
Warschauer, M. (1996). Computer-assisted language learning: An introduction. In S. Fotos (Ed.), Multimedia language teaching (pp. 3-20). Tokyo: Logos International.
Zhenhui, R. (2001) Matching Teaching Styles with Learning Styles in East Asian Contexts The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VII, No. 7, July 2001. http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Zhenhui-TeachingStyles.html

Appendix: Web-site URLS of sites mentioned.
Virtual ILC. www.virtualilc.com.au
Western Pacific Literacy Network. http://literacynet.org/cnnsf/archives.html
Flo-Joe. http://www.flo-joe.co.uk
The Guardian Audio. http://www.guardian.co.uk/audio
The BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk
Professor Charles Darling’s Grammar Page. http://ccc.commnet.edu/grammar
The COBUILD concordancer. http://titania.cobuild.collins.co.uk/form.html#democonc
The Concapp concordancer (Hong Kong). http://vlc.polyu.edu.hk/scripts/concordance/WWWConcapp.htm
The ABC. http://www.abc.com.au
Parapal. http://www.staff.vu.edu.au/elicos/web/parapal.html
Victoria University of Wellington. Academic Writing Module http://www.vuw.ac.nz/llc/academic-writing/index.html

 

 

 

This site created by
Charlie Williams M.A.
Claire Weetman M.Ed.

23rd June 2003