Computers in ESL: A Pedagogical Overview


Warschauer (2000) distinguishes between three types of CALL.  Structural CALL (1970’s-1980’s), Communicative CALL (1980’s-1990’s) and Integrative CALL (21st century) (See Table 1).  He argues that “Structural CALL” used what is considered today obsolete technology, as well as a Grammar-Translation and Audio Lingual teaching approach that emphasized drills and repetition in order to achieve accuracy.  “Communicative CALL”, he claims, used modern computers and focused on communicative tasks to achieve fluency, but within a narrow context that fails to address the value of content in communication.  The alternative, he believes, is 21st century “Integrative CALL”, which embraces all the positive qualities of Communicative CALL, but highlights the importance of content as an essential aspect of interaction.  In addition, Warschauer’s Integrative CALL stresses the importance of authentic discourse and learner agency as critical elements for successful application of technology.

Table 2.1: The Three Stages of CALL

Stage 1970s-1980s:
1980s-1990s: Communicative CALL 21st Century:
Integrative CALL
Technology Mainframe PCs Multimedia and Internet
English-Teaching Paradigm Grammar-Translation & Audio-Lingual Communicate Language Teaching Content-Based, ESP/EAP
View of Language Structural
(a formal structural system)
(a mentally-constructed system)
Socio-cognitive (developed in social interaction)
Principal Use of Computers Drill and Practice Communicative Exercises Authentic Discourse
Principal Objective Accuracy And Fluency And Agency

(Based on Kern & Warschauer 2000; Warschauer 1996)
Bax (2003) maintains that despite the popularity of Warschauer’s CALL construction, there are significant weaknesses within this framework that need to be taken into consideration.  He seems particularly concerned with Warschuer’s third category, “Integrative CALL”.  Bax believes this to be very confusing, especially to teachers who are currently adopting what they believe to be a good method, Communicative CALL.  At the heart of Bax’s concern is the fact that Warschauer’s model is inspired from Underwood’s 1989 framework for successful integration of CALL (see Table 2.2).  Bax claims that the framework inherently lacks the basic element of communication which is essential in Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).  Underwood‘s framework underlines various weaknesses of CALL that are likely to hinder language acquisition.   Underwood (1989) argues that in the 1980’s, CALL was limited to computer programs that language learners used as an instrument strictly for grammar practice.  This restricted the interaction between the learner and the computer to a mere “Wrong-Try-Again” model that left no room for meaningful communication.  As a result, he states that a major transformation needed to take place in order to turn the computer into a more practical instrument that focuses on meaning instead of just form.  To achieve that, he offers an alternative model consisting of a series of premises for “communicative CALL”.  This model is based on 13 communicative criteria he believes are essential for successful integration of CALL into the language classroom.  Table 2 is a summary of those criteria.

Table 2.2: Underwood’s criteria for successful integration of CALL

    Communicative CALL will:
    • Aim at acquisition practice rather than learning practice
    • Aim to grammar implicit rather than explicit
    • Allow and encourage the student to generate original utterances rather than merely manipulate prefabricated language
    • Not judge and evaluate everything the student does
    • Avoid telling students they are “Wrong”
    • Not reward students with congratulatory messages
    • Not try to be “cute” in an attempt to personalize interaction with the leaner
    • Use the target language exclusively
    • Be flexible
    • Allow the student to explore the subject matter
    • Create an environment in which using the target language feels natural
    • Will never try to do something a book could do just as well
    • Be fun

(Adapted from Underwood, 1984)

The essence of Underwood’s criteria for successful CALL is a communicative approach that supports relevance, meaningful interaction and authentic language.  Underwood’s model is a roadmap for a proper integration of CALL, rather than a step-by step guide for how CALL should be designed and implemented.  If a technology such as Podcasting can meet the criteria for successful communicative CALL as laid out by Underwood, it is also very likely to satisfy Warschuer’s model for Integrative CALL.

1 Comment

  1. mark
    Apr 15, 2009

    Very interesting site, Hope it will always be alive!

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