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Cost/benefit analysis of CALL training

Background:  As an ESL teacher I am faced by many individuals who face initial difficulty in computer literacy.  Basic keyboarding, mousing and document manipulation skills are often an initial requirement for these students.  These skills are obvious insofar as computer literacy or basics competency needs go, but once students move on to utilizing CALL Materials with a primary focus on language learning, they often face new and unique challenges. Such challenges may result from poorly designed interface, design limitations of authoring packages and languages or the inherent difficulty of managing, instructing, and assessing language skills in an automated manner. It seems there is a potential that more time is spent preparing some students to use computers for instructional purposes than is ultimately spent learning language via technology.

Further, it is obvious that some students have a propensity for interacting with computers that others do not.  While a CALL component is often central to the core of materials for a given course, or program,  should a traditional alternative be available for those students who request it?

Research question:  While basic computing skills are obviously important for students' continuing education and job skill development, are the skills they learn to interact with, navigate and understand typical CALL materials worth the investment? (does the language development justify the time spent learning to use the software?)

Related questions:

How much training time is necessary to get technology challenged students comfortable enough with a software package that they can be successful on their own?

Should CALL Material Design be reinvestigated to provide more transparent interface?

Should some students be allowed to follow a low-tech path?

Suggested methodology/comments:  Follow the development of three groups of students through a term interacting with a "typical" CALL package.  I imagine that an integrated skills package would be best to provide a range of data.  Group one will utilize ONLY a high-tech approach; group two will follow a hybrid approach of high-tech and comparable low tech materials (at their own discretion?) and group three will follow a low-tech only approach. 

The amount of time spent learning to use CALL materials would be carefully monitored, as would the amount of out of class, or self-access, time that each group spent with their respective materials.

Students' would be tested with a standardized instrument at the beginning and end of the term to evaluate their development.

Contact:  Greg Kessler   Kessler@ohio.edu

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