EUROCALL 98 Conference Report

Reseña EUROCALL 98

K.U. Leuven, Belgium

9-12 September 1998

Report by Carmen Castro-Mortara , King's College London

Keynotes | Video-conference | Papers | Posters | Pre-Conference Workshop 

1. Introduction

This year's EUROCALL conference was held at the Catholic University in Leuven, 25 km east of Brussels. Leuven is a lively and historic town in which participants could reflect over a stimulating day's papers, supping a characteristic Belgium beer in one of the many bars or restaurants.

The Conference Executive were very pleased with the 470 participants, many more than expected. The organisation was very good, with any problems dealt with promptly by the Conference President, Michaël Goethals and Conference Manager, Luc Pauwels, assisted by students from the university.

This year's conference theme was "From Classroom Teaching to World-Wide Learning" with attention given to the two following categories and sub-headings:

Methodology:

Assessment and Evaluation:

With the help of two colleagues, Cecilia Tafur Shahin, from Oswego State University of New York (SUNY) and Tricia Jones, from the University of Humberside I have been able to compile the following report on a few of the 100 or so papers, 'show and tell' sessions, posters and workshops included in the conference.

2. Keynote Speeches

(a) Mr. José Luis Pardos, Ambassador of Spain to Denmark, opened the conference with an animated presentation on his first hand experience of the power of the Internet 'World Wide Web' (WWW), promoting Spanish current affairs, history, and its linguistic and cultural development. The WWW project 'Ciez@net' was given as an example of how experience in the classroom can be transformed into world-wide learning. Based in Cieza a small town in Murcia, 'Ciez@net' started as a small student project and is growing with the involvement of local institutions into an important informational resource encompassing the whole Murcia region.

(b) Professor G. Chesters' lecture "On the Politics of CALL" is both timely and relevant to advocates of CALL in higher education.

The speaker outlined the three fundamental 'themes' of CALL, ICT, Teaching and Learning, and Language, expressed in the EUROCALL policy document. He pointed out the immense strategic significance the EU and G7 give to developing education, in tackling the great economic and cultural challenges of our time. This suggests that initiatives promoting CALL should be a high institutional priority.

Paradoxically, the promotion and funding of the fundamental themes of CALL in universities is very poor. ICT in learning is seen as expensive and over-hyped. Teaching and Learning are far less well resourced, compared to Research. Language learning is seen as functional rather than academic, lacking the kudos attached to history or philosophy, the professional power of medicine or law, or the political engagement of social sciences.

Professor Chesters reflected on EUROCALL's policy document, concluding that whilst the fundamental themes of CALL carry political weight, they do not confer influence at an institutional level. Therefore, advocates of CALL need to seek strategic alliances and an understanding of the issues involved in lobbying the case for ICT in language learning at an institutional level.

Referring to the document 'Restructuring the Universities: new technologies for teaching and learning', published by the Association of European Universities (April 1998), the speaker highlighted the threefold solution offered:

Professor Chesters presented illustrative anecdotes of problems he has encountered in his own university (Hull) and suggested means that EUROCALL members could employ to influence CALL policy making in their institutions.

3. Video-conference

Via a live video link, a trans-Atlantic panel of 6 experts, Drs. C. Feyten, G. Van der Perre, M. Goethals, A. Libotton, W. Decoo, and Mr. V. Meus, shared their expertise on the use of ICT in the classroom in the conference "Breaking Through the Boundaries of Space and Time: ICT in language education."

Firstly, the issue of whether computers or learners should be the centre of control in CALL was raised.

Taylor's Learner Centred Model was introduced. Then a broader discussion ensued considering the context in which CALL is used, whether in a classroom setting or an individual setting.

Rather than issues of control, the panel thought it more valid to question whether CALL is adding value to the role of the tutor, taking into consideration pedagogic and social issues as well as technological ones. It was felt that the fast pace of technical innovation in ICT and CALL was not being matched by innovations in classroom practice and approaches to learning. The classroom paradigm is shifting from teaching to learning. The challenge is how to use CALL in ways that empower learners.

Secondly, there was a debate on the issues of tutors writing their own CALL software.

It was noted that tutors are embracing the Internet in adding value to classroom practice, designing activities for students, such as using E-mail to communicate with pen-pals, the WWW for on-line projects or field trips and CD-ROM encyclopaedias for researching foreign topics. However these are largely information gathering and not language learning activities.

A lack of programming skills and the complexity of authoring tools are obstacles to tutors creating their own CALL materials. However, the panel felt non-technical issues were a greater deterrent, such as a lack of time, questions of mediocre material quality, insufficient investment in tutor training and poor supporting frameworks for materials creation.

Unfortunately, with many institutions investing little in encouraging tutors, the creation of non-commercial CALL materials remains solely down to the initiative of tutors willing to find their own time to train themselves.

Bearing this in mind, some tutors have taken the time to integrate commercial CALL software with their own needs. This is rather more a case of matching materials with topics in the classroom than customisation of the software itself.

The panel agreed that much needs to be done to address this situation.

Lastly, the panel considered what levels of hardware sophistication, whether simple or advanced, were desirable for CALL.

The panel felt that given the shortening periods of time it takes for new technology to become obsolete, levels of sophistication are relative and dynamic. Therefore it is more meaningful to consider other issues such as the quantity of hardware and whether the value that CALL adds to language learning justifies expenditure on such systems over and above other teaching materials and resources, such as books.

The obvious cost 'trade off' between numbers of computers and levels of sophistication were highlighted. Spending a budget on a single more sophisticated computer would in all likelihood provide insufficient returns, in terms of adding learner value, over spending a similar amount on several less sophisticated machines.

In a classroom setting, having one computer for each individual student was not found to be the most appropriate solution in all but the smallest of classes, as this often spread the tutor too thinly to be effective as a learning mediator. In practice, a handful of computers (i.e. 5 or 6) was judged to offer the tutor scope in providing a variety of tasks for students whilst allowing the tutor to remain effective.

4. Methodology: ICT in the classroom

Dr. Philippe Delclocque's lecture "Authoring Utopia... Why DISSEMINATE?" began by presenting the development of CALL over the last 30 years, arriving at the keyboard and screen based metaphor of computing and the technologies of delivery which dominate CALL today.

The 'toolbox' approach to creating CALL materials, requiring visual programming skills which most tutors and linguists do not have the time or inclination to acquire, results in CALL materials that are technology driven rather than pedagogically driven.

Jean Gagnepain's Mediation Theory was introduced, suggesting that human behaviour and human learning is mediated at four 'levels': linguistic; technological; sociological; and ethical.

To be successful the speaker stated that CALL materials must:

The speaker then talked about his involvement in the recent CALLIFaT project, using 'paradigmatic' tools to create a system of CALL modules.

Reflecting on the experience of CALLIFaT the speaker outlined DISSEMINATE, a visionary conceptual framework offering a multiplicity of approaches for the future production of CALL systems.

One approach suggested by the speaker was 'top-down', building a system of WWW based CALL modules with intuitive WWW page building tools such as Microsoft's 'Homepage'. Another approach was 'bottom-up', building CALL modules using authoring tools and then giving them an interactive WWW implementation. The speaker preferred 'bottom up' as it could accommodate much current work on CALL.

Dr. Delcloque presented the successful case of LINUX, a cross-platform 'operating system' (OS) as a 'distributed' model for DISSEMINATE. LINUX had been Site designed by the 'not for profit' contribution of hundreds of programmers, all using the WWW as the network through which to openly share their creative effort. In the same way DISSEMINATE would avoid duplicity of effort and the possibility of a truly universal framework for CALL development.

5. Methodology: language learning strategies and ICT

(a) Johan Vanparys' interesting paper "How to Offer Real Help to Grammar Learners" is based on the latest research findings in cognitive sciences, learning styles and autonomy. The speaker discussed six strategies for creating a supportive environment in which grammar learning can take place under optimum conditions. These are:

These strategies have been implemented in 3 programs for learning Dutch: 'StepIn', 'Interactief Nederlands' and 'EuroGram Dutch'.

In summing up, the speaker stated that many designers of CALL software do not apply the latest research findings on learning styles and strategies. He also highlighted the need for more flexible courseware that enables learners to become autonomous, regarding both content and learning strategy.

(b) Gitta Torfs' interesting paper "Cognitive and Meta-Cognitive Learning Strategies: implications for the development of software for language learning." presented the findings of two empirical studies into a theoretical justification around which to design software programs for the instruction of grammar.

The speaker found that:

Citing further studies, particularly Vermunt's (1992) work on learning styles, the speaker classifies 17 strategies with fairly positive effects on grammar learning, which grammar teaching software should reflect. However it is necessary to take into account the individual learning style of each student and, at the same time, create the necessary 'frictions' to allow the student to pass from one learning style to a more suitable one for higher education.

Language program design should provide for:

The speaker concluded that it is more straightforward to incorporate meta-cognitive than cognitive strategies into the design of language learning software.

(c) Licia Calvi's well structured paper "Non-linear Learning in the 'Open' Way: language acquisition on the WWW" presented an example framework for enhancing business language courses, using the WWW. The framework is based on the concept of Open Learning integrated with a constructivist view of Language Acquisition, that is the learner activates and reorganises knowledge through contextual investigation of authentic business materials (such as reports, news articles and journal extracts) sourced on the WWW.

This material is accessible to all users regardless of proficiency level. Links are provided to grammar tools, an on-line dictionary, exercises and tests. Links to E-mail and discussion groups are also provided.

The speaker concluded that this framework offers learners choice and control over their learning strategy, whilst giving teachers greater scope for facilitating the learning process. However, as learners have much of the responsibility for language level 'goal setting' and assessment, the framework suits 'mature' learners with high motivation.

(d) Christine Maingard's paper on "Evolutionary Epistemology in Language Learning and its Possible Implications for CALL" presented the view that all knowledge acquisition can be explained by evolutionary epistemology. The essence of evolutionary epistemology is that all human knowledge, and that includes second language acquisition, is a product of evolution and that successful acquisition of such knowledge depends on evolutionary learning mechanisms such as trial-and-error elimination and reinforcement, in the presence of control and constraints.

Central to this thesis is the notion that language learning should be seen as similar to general skill learning, where automaticity is critical. To achieve automaticity requires fequency, recency, and regularity. Maingard argues that an evolutionary epistemological approach should be applied to CALL design and implementation, particularly for beginning foreign language learners. It is only during the more advanced stages that the language learner can benefit from theories of constructivism and social computing which seem to be today's trend of CALL.

6. Methodology: open and distance learning

(a) "Immersion in Virtual Reality: using MOO for teaching Italian" by Stella Peyronel presented a project involving 2nd Year students of the Department of Italian of Glasgow University. The project uses a text-based virtual environment (a 'MOO') called "Little Italy" designed so Italians can communicate entirely in Italian with proficient non-native speakers. Although not specifically created to teach the language "Little Italy" intends to prepare foreign students for their Italian experience in their 3rd Year abroad.

(b) Ana Gimeno-Sanz presented "New Developments in Multimedia: Español en Marcha", a multimedia course for both autonomous and tutor-guided learners exploiting full motion video, audio, text and illustrations The program provides several resources such as a sound-enhanced bilingual dictionary, hypertext reference on Spanish culture, and a grammar reference.

Innovative features of this course are the high level of individualised feedback given to learners through a detailed 'assessment report' and the provision of a notepad that allows the learner to take notes, save them and print them out if required.

7. Assessment and Evaluation: tools online/offline

Willy Weijdema presented a 'show and tell' session "Facts and Fiction. A Multimedia System for Interpreting Fiction" detailing the creation of a multi-media authoring system by the Amsterdam Faculty of Education to help students learn to interpret works of fiction.

Students are required to choose a fictional text, such as a poem. They then have to collect information on the poem, the poem's author, the genre, style and some literary background. They then have to produce a multi-media CD-ROM which integrates all this material using the software 'Mediator 4' running on a multi-media laptop. A digital camera and flatbed scanner is used for the capture and input of visual material.

As an example of the system's scope, a multimedia presentation was demonstrated based on the work of students on the Dutch sonnet "De Dapperstraat" by J. C. Bloem (1946). The CD-ROM contained information on street names (the subject of the sonnet), biographical notes on, and an interview with, its author, as well as a songs of the day, including one by Ginsberg.

The students had managed to 'hyperlink' all the material together, requiring them to develop the skill of "writing in 3 dimensions".

8. Assessment and Evaluation: resources online/offline

(a) The paper delivered by Uschi Felix, entitled "Stop Reinventing the Wheel, Its All Out There!" makes the case that there is already a volume of on-line language learning resources on the WWW, such as interactive grammar tools, stand alone courses, chat sites, 'MOO's' (multi-correspondent virtual environments), interactive task based exercises (using HTML <FORM> tags), etc...

The speaker had surveyed these on-line resources to determine just how many there are and pin-point examples of 'best practice' regarding their design and pedagogic value.

The speaker found that some categories of language learning resources on the WWW are very plentiful, concluding that the challenges currently facing tutors designing CALL modules are:

(b) William Haworth's insightful presentation "The WELL Project: promoting good practice in WWW enhanced language learning", described the 'WELL' project, supported by the UK Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (HEFCE), researching the use of the WWW for language learning in the UK. The speaker discussed the findings of a recent survey among universities and colleges. It was interesting to note that staff who use the WWW are mainly self taught 'enthusiasts' and that the main application of the WWW is as a source for authentic materials, to be printed out and used in off-line situations.

(c) Sandra S. Rincón and Petra Heck of the Katholicke Universität Talencentrum, Netherlands outlined their work on the project Tilburg University Multimedia Listening Training or "TUMULT". The output of this project are two CD-ROM's for advanced language students, in Spanish and English. Each CD-ROM is composed of six different video modules, each containing three parts and designed to improve the student's listening skills. Each part engages the learner in increasing levels of listening intensity:

Learners then complete exercises based on 'true or false', 'question and answer', transcription and 'gap-filling' templates.

Particularly noteworthy is the care the two presenters had taken in ensuring the authenticity of the video footage used to create the CD-ROM's. Excerpts from the Spanish CD-ROM were shown and these presented themes that could challenge students with a variety of rich cultural contexts. Software tools accompany the material, such as a Spanish thesaurus, score, and context sensitive help.

In summary, the presenters concluded that these CD-ROM's could be used in both self-study and tutor/learner situations to improve a student's ability in , detailed and intensive listening.

9. Posters

(a) Lawrie Hunter's poster "Text Nouveau: visible structure in text presentation", illustrated the problem posed to Second Language readers of English wishing to access the information contained in WWW texts, the majority of which are in English and contain huge volumes of information.

Using the example of Japanese university students, who could be characterised as "English weak", but "information demanding", the speaker illustrated how Second Language readers are vulnerable to language richness obstacles.

If the information in WWW pages is to be accessible to these readers as an extensive interactive reading resource, as well as to native English readers too, WWW pages must be designed with care to be meaningful, graphical, spacious, free of English idioms and should contain line breaks.

(b) Another interesting poster was presented by Marie-Thérèse Claes on "The Effect of Multimedia on Language Education in Business Schools". The example of language learning in The Brussels Business School was used to illustrate the juxtaposition of political and pedagogical issues surrounding the adoption of CALL in higher education.

On one hand there is an irresistible political drive to cut costs in higher education institutions, through supplanting the traditional role of the tutor and classroom scenario with more autonomous CALL based language learning. On the other hand, research findings in the field point to a holistic, rather than atomistic, approach to language learning as providing more effective language acquisition.

The speaker concludes the above forces are driving a context of change in language teaching in higher education. In the face of this change, teachers and learners are required to adopt a new 'mindset' towards the process of language teaching and learning. Language teachers need to adopt an 'open' attitude to new approaches, training in technology and didactics and must be prepared for an eventual conversion to a content-based language class. Likewise, learners must be prepared for increasing autonomy in language learning and to take greater responsibility for managing this process for themselves.

10. Pre-Conference Workshop

Members of the CAPITAL 'Special Interest Group' (SIG), Philippe Delclocque, Kathleen Egan, John Maidment, Roberto Delmonte and Pedro Gómez hosted a stimulating pre-conference workshop focusing on "Applications of Speech Technology for Language Learning". This introduced participants to the different technical issues of integrating speech into CALL systems.

A following round table discussion emphasised certain points, such as the need for systems of speech recognition delivering speaker-independent real-time feedback, rather than one hundred per cent technical perfection. This was a useful workshop which addressed the audience's mixed levels of background knowledge in this area.

11. Summary

Two issues are recurrent through many of this year's conference papers, 'show and tell' sessions and posters, represented by the small selection reported above, they are:

Vanparys, Torfs and Maingard remind us that there is still work to be done to make CALL compliant with the latest findings on the process of language learning. Designers of CALL materials need to be informed as much about the results of such research, as they are of the latest technologies and tools for CALL production, to ensure that new CALL materials attain the highest pedagogic value. Likewise strategies are required, encouraging more language specialists to become involved with CALL, so bringing greater linguistic knowledge to the field.

The numerous references to the WWW indicate the profound influence that it is having on the development of CALL.

Delclocque and Felix point to how the relationship between CALL and the WWW might evolve further, suggesting a shared collaborative approach to CALL development facilitated through the WWW. Haworth, Calvi, Peyronel and the trans-Atlantic panel of experts all supply practical data on how the WWW can be, and is being used to enhance language learning.

Claes and Chesters illustrate the political forces that are driving the CALL environment in higher education. Positively, they conclude that CALL and the WWW offer a tremendous opportunity for helping improve the status of language in higher education and the role of language and linguistic specialists. The challenge for all advocates of CALL is to make that opportunity a reality!

It will be interesting to see how far events have developed by the time of the next EUROCALL conference in 1999...


Nota: Las Actas del congreso EUROCALL 98 han sido publicadas en una edición doble de la revista ReCALL, en Mayo de 1999.