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CALL effectiveness; measurement of IT effects

Background:  As instructional technology becomes increasingly integrated into the foreign language curriculum, strong extrinsic and intrinsic factors combine to require us to demonstrate that results justify the considerable expenses in time, energy and money involved. Despite 40 years of trying, however,  on close inspection analysis of effectiveness studies consistently reveals “no significant difference”. The heart of the problem has much less to do with technology itself than with the research paradigms that are brought to bear in its assessment. More specifically, the treatment model underlying comparative evaluations of IT has historically suffered from two fundamental flaws: poor research design and technocentricity.

Research question:  How can we measure the effects of IT upon the foreign language curriculum? Firstly, in addressing this question, we need to be concerned with the overall educational environment. What effect does the introduction of technology into the curriculum have upon such factors as methodological approach, teachers’ roles, workloads, collaborative engagement, student learning styles/strategies, retention rates, pedagogical innovation, academic accountability, and IT-based research. Secondly,  in considering learning outcomes, it is important not to fall into the technocentric trap of narrow computer versus non-computer effectiveness comparisons. We need to know how IT contributes (or not) to the realization of our pedagogical aims.

Suggested methodology/comments:  When measuring the effects of IT upon the foreign language curriculum, three basic parameters need to be considered: input, process, and outcome. IT does not exist in a vacuum; it can only be evaluated within the context of the technological resources (equipment, infrastructure, human resources) that are available to support it. The processes involved, i.e. the pedagogical approaches, methodological procedures used, the manner in which staff and student feedback is sought, need to be clearly identified and carefully tracked. Above all, the assessment of the effects of IT upon the curriculum presupposes that the courses into which IT is being integrated have clear, measurable and systematically measured educational goals and objectives. If not, there is no way to determine whether or not our efforts, technologically based or otherwise, are having the desired effect or indeed whether they have any effect at all.

Contact: Jack Burston   jlburston@yahoo.com

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