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CALL vs. face-to-face interaction; synchronous vs. asynchronous CMC

Background:   CALL is still considered by most teachers (among those who consider it at all) to be ancillary to a conventional syllabus – perhaps a significant enhancement, but an extra.  Traditional “efficacy” studies correlating “grades” with technology use are pointless.  Because we know so little about how CALL use (of any kind) interacts with the many complexly related components of the language learning process, teachers are not ready to use it to replace other curricular elements (or to organize time allocation to them), so CALL is still an overload for both teachers and students – and not appropriately understood or valued by either.

Research question:   What parts of the language learning process (linguistic, sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic) are best (or necessarily) supported by face-to-face communicative interaction with teachers/ other speakers/ other learners?   What parts are equally well supported by technology-mediated communication?  Does it matter whether TMC is synchronous/asynchronous?  (How much, in what way?)   What parts of language learning can or must take place outside the act of communication?  (i.e., problem solving, practice, memorization).  Above all, how does the answer to this complex question of “in what environment does what part of language learning happen?” differ for learners of various individual cognitive and language learning styles? 

Suggested methodology/comments:  We need numerous studies that use these questions as a framework for comparing (a) completely online (“distance” or “independent study”) language courses, (b) conventional face-to-face language courses without any significant CALL support beyond perhaps some computer-based homework or ancillary materials, and (c) hybrids of (a) and (b).  Every study should include detailed data on individual learners – background, learning style, etc. --  and all online work should include detailed software-based tracking/logging of student-computer interactions.  Case-study-type interviews with learners and teachers also need to be included, focusing on the question of “in what environment does what part of language learning happen?”  Such studies will inevitably include small enough numbers of students and complex enough interrelationships of variables to preclude statistical significance, but they would develop richly detailed insights that could guide a great deal of CALL use as well as indicate more specific hypotheses to be subsequently tested. 

Contact: Nina Garrett   nina.garrett@yale.edu

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