15-18 September 1999
EUROCALL 99 was held at the Université de Franche-Comté, Besançon, France from 15 to 18 September 1999. The main theme of the conference was "Information and Communication Technology in varied language learning environments", and there was a second special theme "Evaluation of language skills and language testing". The conference was attended by 365 participants from 29 countries: 119 came from France, 56 from the UK, 142 from other European countries, and 48 from other continents.
The participants enjoyed their stay in a lively and historical city surrounded by delightful countryside. French cuisine could be tasted in a multitude of restaurants, at the official social events and even in the Restau-U at the campus. The campus on which the department for "Sciences et techniques" is located was an ideal conference site. All the workshops, papers, posters and the high-quality exhibition were located in one building within a short walking distance from the auditorium for the opening and closing ceremonies and the keynotes. The hosts had prepared the conference very well, starting with an informative website in French, English and German. French and English were the conference languages, and some speakers managed to read in French while showing English transparencies. A group of friendly young helpers was always around so that problems which always occur at events like this could quickly be solved.
As in previous years, the day before the conference was used for seminars and workshops. The Seminar on Speech Technology applications in CALL, organised by Philippe Delcloque, was very well attended. The participants followed interesting presentations on speech recognition in general, a courseware for Breton using text-to-speech synthesis and a dictation module, the acquisition of mother tongue prosody in early childhood, and virtual talking heads as useful tools for pronunciation training.
What follows is, as usual, only a selection of the total conference contributions, and reflects the views and interests of the writers of this report.
The first keynote was given by Dr. Madanmohan Rao from the Web publishing firm Planetasia, Bangalore, India. He talked about "Multilingual Publishing on the Internet: Challenges and Opportunities for Language Educators". As the main forces driving multilingual publishing on the Internet he identified: globalisation; E-commerce; education; diaspora. The speaker gave many examples including useful web addresses for the use and the learning of a variety of languages through the Web. An interesting aspect was the use of the Web for news, information and business by diaspora populations, i.e. people with a common mother tongue who are spread all over the world for different reasons. Figures he has collected show that the share of net activities in countries other than the United States has grown significantly over recent years. With the selection of this first keynote the organisers gave the conference a global touch and showed that EUROCALL is going to continue its commitment in the worldwide process of language learning.
The main message from C. Depover's sober and highly informative keynote was to remind us that theory and practice in CALL design and implementation must feed off of each other through an iterative design and conceptualisation process. His caveat that there is life outside of the Internet in CALL practices was also timely and appropriate.
In his keynote address, Michel Laurier attempted to answer the question "Can computerised testing be authentic?" Authenticity has been a matter of concern to language testers for a long time, and it is particularly relevant in communicative approaches. Computerised testing has developed enormously over recent years, yet many of its advantages are attained at the expense of authenticity. Laurier discussed a number of approaches which can help overcome this problem: computerised direct testing, which is especially useful in those language oriented activities where the use of the computer is growing; the use of multimedia to provide an enhanced context (e.g. the use of virtual reality in tests for airline pilots); electronic portfolios, and the possibilities offered by new models from Item Response Theory.
Robert Fischer's paper on "Student Control and Student Learning" was a work in progress and a description of a tracking system to be used on students within the Gemini multimedia authoring tool as they acquired and practised listening comprehension skills in the French language. Early data results seem to suggest that students do not make optimum use of the multimedia materials offered to them. Fischer offered several hypotheses to explain this and we look forward to learning the confirmation or refutation of them in the near future when additional data has been collated.
In her paper, "The effects of the WWW on reading and writing skills in a Spanish cultural studies course", Carmen Cabot from the University of New South Wales offered a well structured and clear presentation supported by comprehensive data. She provided a summary of the objectives, methodology and results of a study into using the Web as a tool to develop students' awareness of the cultural variety of the Spanish-speaking world and to foster improvement of reading and writing skills. Using a wide range of statistical evidence, examples of students’ work and feedback extracts, she led us to the conclusion that the study had successfully proved that compared to the same course in previous years the students had emerged with richer vocabulary and personal expressiveness, greater cultural awareness and improved reading comprehension, but surprisingly not any better in accuracy. The Web was motivating and well received and she would encourage teachers of languages to make use of the Web in their classrooms to promote cultural awareness and develop reading and writing skills.
The UK Open University team offered a succession of related presentations, which came together very effectively in support of an emerging new technology which aims to deliver comprehensive courses (including oral skills) to learners who need the contact and companionship of their peers, from isolated locations, under the watchful eye of an OU tutor. The papers were on "Synchronous voice conferencing via the internet" by Lesley Shield, "Facilitating on-line interactive tasks for distance learning" by Sue Hewer and "Learner interaction using a real time audio environment" by Marcus Kötter. Using a progression of tools from the initial 1995 telephone conferencing based courses, adding e-mail and evolving through to an on-line voice over Internet programme, this was later developed as an audiographics environment with the addition of a whiteboard. All of these yielded very positive results according to the feedback revealed, but none as comprehensive as the existing integrated package "Lyceum" in use in 1999, an impressive tool which will hopefully fulfil its potential in such expert hands; the content and quality of the materials and activities presented via such an environment being as inspiring as the software itself.
Guy Arquembourg described an interesting case study showing the integration of a hypertext generator called "Polygraphe 4" with secondary school learners This followed a constructivist approach with teachers and students both authoring different materials in a collaborative context with a definite increase in learner motivation and language awareness being noted. The most salient point conveyed was the change in the traditional role of the teacher to language advisor and facilitator.
Nicole Tourigny presented two very interesting papers on explanatory modelling in ICT systems which are used to facilitate the learning of summary writing in a foreign language. Current general automatic summary generation programs are of limited use but the GARUCAS program is proving to be more effective because it utilises a generic approach in giving students explanations and advice from a knowledge base which is directly relevant to the subject of the original full text and a previous summary of the same text. This she has termed: "le raisonnement par cas" where the problem to be resolved is first interiorised, a replicable model is created then improved upon and then used to teach others. In this approach a study is made of the learner's needs when writing a summary and the identified and classified needs are used in giving other and future learners help and explanations which are directly pertinent to fulfilling the task of writing the summary. This is directed learning at its best. The first paper presented Tourigny's own research findings and the second paper based on her research student's work (L. Capus) described the incremental GARUCAS system in greater depth with several examples. Tourigny's future work on this model will be in having the system validated by summary writing experts, and we look forward to reading their comments and appraisals.
In her paper "Computer mediated communication: learning German on-line in Australia", Martina Möllering reported on a new project at Macquarie University (Sydney), in which a beginners' German course is being offered in 'flexible delivery mode', i.e. by distance learning as well as on campus. Alongside audiocassettes and printed material, distance learning students have access to online facilities such as e-mail and an electronic bulletin board. The paper reported on the use made by students of the online facilities, the effects the use of these facilities had on the type of assignments set and on the communication both between lecturer and students and among students.
Steve Cushion and Dominique Hémard presented a very informative and entertaining Show and Tell session on authoring and authorable highly interactive grammar and listening exercises on Web pages in order to exploit the plethora of materials already available on the Web and adapt them to CALL. A little bit of competition here for Hot Potatoes! They also discussed the possible extension and use of their applets in other courses such as politics, history and literature.
In her paper, Batia Laufer addressed the question "What lexical information do L2 learners select in a CALL dictionary and how does it affect word retention?" She reported on a study of the incidental vocabulary learning among groups of EFL students in Hong Kong and Israel using a CALL program which provides bilingual and monolingual electronic dictionaries and logs students' look-up behaviour. The results reveal striking differences in look-up preferences in Hong Kong and Israel, and suggest that conditions which cater for a variety of look-up preferences encourage incidental vocabulary learning.
Sally-Ann Kitts gave an excellent paper on integrating hypermedia learning tutorials (e.g. "Caminos a la expresividad") for Hispanic and Latin American studies through a constructivist approach which involved the creation of REALs or Rich Environments for Active Learning. The students are given generative tasks centred in authentic situations and become responsible for their own learning. The pedagogic principles behind the design are worth noting: complete integration; student partnerships of learning; authenticity of context, tasks and assessment; enablement of generative learning and a holistic approach to the course design.
In "The development of specialised web pages for use in business French and business Spanish" Todd Hughes provided another example of high quality content. At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the relevance of the study of the NAFTA agreement from a linguistic perspective has provided a great opportunity to develop the use of the Intranet for students of the three languages involved. These students are invited to take their respective roles, investigate the evidence provided on-line and participate in discussions as well as submit appropriate exercises to their tutors, with the climax being a debate at which they need to persuade their fellow US Americans (played by the foreign students) to stay within the treaty. This was another example of straightforward good design to deliver what still remains the most important element: useful content.
In an imaginary hitlist of witty titles the top position would probably be occupied by Majia Tammelin. In her paper "The Loneliness of the Long-distance Teacher" (following "The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner" by Alan Silitoe) she referred to the role of social presence in the online classroom. At first she introduced the concepts of telepresence and social presence. Then she described her experiences with online writing courses in which it was up to the teacher to encourage the exchange of ideas by frequently sending e-mails to the students. Finally she underlined how important the issue of social presence is in teacher education and ended with a quotation by Mason: "A good teacher has presence in any medium".
The Show and Tell session by Eleanor Avinor was a sound and practical example of using CALL techniques in performing a linguistic and grammatical analysis of a famous interview between an Italian journalist and a prominent political figure from the Middle East – Khomeini. It was indeed a complete sample lesson involving: a text preview with tutors' questions and additional vocabulary; comprehension questions with feedback; and a guided summary completion. The approach is easily adaptable, readily copiable and to be highly recommended.
Robert O’Dowd introduced a Spanish-American project on "Videoconferencing as a tool for intercultural learning", the aims of which were to give students opportunities to practise conversing in the target language and to develop their intercultural awareness. The project involved the use of various technologies, the most important of which was videoconferencing, in which the two classes on different sides of the Atlantic were connected for joint sessions in English and Spanish. The results show that in spite of some drawbacks this technology can be an effective tool for developing intercultural understanding and for peer-based language learning.
Another paper on computerised testing was that by Sarah Corcoran: "The future of European language assessment: computer based developments within ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe)". ALTE, founded in 1990, has developed a European framework with five levels of language proficiency, together with a set of 'Can Do' statements indicating what language users are able to do at each level. The main part of the presentation was devoted to two computer adaptive tests available in six languages, CommuniCAT and BULATS (Business Language Testing System) which offer a number of advantages: they are quick and efficient, a single test is suitable for all levels of ability, they are based on large item banks and are highly validated.
A very exciting presentation relating to on-line delivery of courses was that by Gerardo Arrarte and Inés Soría from the Instituto Cervantes, entitled "Spanish Distance Learning Courses". This is a global project, well funded by the Spanish government and supported by a small, highly professional and dedicated team, that has the brief of creating a series of tutor supported on-line courses to be used and managed by the dozens of Cervantes Institutes worldwide. This material will be supported by a long-distance teacher training course as well. We were treated to a superbly designed presentation laying out the background and theory behind the course development. We were taken, via the Web, to the first units of smoothly creative activities and materials, presented with superb ease of navigation and thoughtful design. The colours, the illustrations, the exercises, the special effects, the organisation of materials and variety of tasks were all so impressive that I am sure this project will make a significant impact in language learning environments worldwide before too long.
Aline Germain and Philippe Martin's paper may be excused the label of being a salespitch for their phonetics teaching software called WinPitch LTL due to the simple fact that this is an excellent piece of software. Based on deep pedagogical research and practical examples of integrative usage, Winpitch allows the analysis and visualisation of recorded speech in real time through a segmentation process which the learner can manipulate, listen to and learn from. It can lead to reflective learning in the student through autonomous use or with a tutor. It will hopefully do much to raise the profile (and teaching) of phonetics courses on language degree programmes.
Lis Kornum reported on experiences with TINO, a Socrates roject for teacher training in ICT with the target languages Danish, Greek and Dutch. After a needs analysis, a website for teachers in the corresponding countries, but also open to other countries, was set up. Lis Kornum took the opportunity to criticise the obstacles the project leaders had to face through the bureaucracy in Brussels - huge time delays, no responses to letters and e-mails, then sudden demands for documents with short deadlines, delays in providing money, just to mention a few. She did not want to discourage people from applying for project funding, but gave them the advice: "If you wouldn’t have done it anyway, don’t do it!"
Similar problems were reported by Andrew Way regarding VOCALL, a Leonardo project. Again, less widely used and taught languages are involved, namely Portuguese, Greek and Irish. The target group are vocationally-oriented language learners in the areas of computers, business administration, and electronics. The result of the project is a web-based multimedia CALL tool with the same features and contents in all the target languages plus English.
Roland Nyns presented another Leonardo project for vocationally-oriented language learners in the field of Technical Aviation English. Here a well-established program, Question Mark, is used to develop tests for the evaluation of airline technical personnel.
Sue Hewer and Fred Riley demonstrated the results of the LINGUA-funded REAL project which has produced a series of programs for the development of reading and listening strategies in Dutch, Greek, Swedish, and English. The Dutch, Greek, and Swedish programs provide texts and a variety of exercises for students who want to study in the target countries. They are freely downloadable from the Internet. The English programs concentrate on language for Business and Social Sciences and are available commercially. The listening exercises are a clever combination of spoken texts, written tasks and a drag-and-drop technique for providing answers.
While the previously described projects are more or less restricted to a small range of target languages including special languages, the following two projects could be of great value for learners and teachers of many languages at different levels all over the world.
Peppi Taalas and Fred Riley introduced the Socrates-funded ICT4LT project, which aims to produce an online training course in information and communication technology for language teachers by August 2000. The project involves institutions in the UK, Finland and Italy and is currently being piloted by 50 teachers in each of the three countries. In the long term the project may lead to an internationally recognised qualification, e.g. a Diploma or MA degree. Further information is available on the website, www.ict4lt.org, where the course material can be accessed free of charge until the end of the piloting period.
José Noijons and Peppi Taalas introduced the DIALANG project, a promising tool for diagnostic language testing through the Internet. The idea is to enable all European citizens to find out how well they master one of the official EU languages plus Icelandic, Irish and Norwegian. They will obtain information about their strengths and weaknesses and will be able to answer statements of the form "I can ..." according to the Council of Europe Common Framework. Access will be free of charge. The assessment procedure starts with a vocabulary size placement test in which the client must decide whether each item of a large vocabulary list belongs to the target language or not. Then s/he chooses the assessment section: reading, listening, speaking, structures/grammar, or vocabulary. After a number of self-assessment probes s/he can solve tasks according to their level. The DIALANG team is working on some attractive and innovative types of exercises, some of which were demonstrated. This project will run until 2001. However, it is hoped that the results will be accessible for many years.
The general question for the future of project results has been asked several times. It would be highly desirable if ways could be found to ensure that the resulting webpages, teaching materials, software products etc. remain accessible or can even be maintained after the project period.
There were a number of interesting poster presentations at the conference, for example:
Maija Tammelin et al. "Developing online environments for studying languages and business communication at the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration" with examples of courses in a number of languages.
Cornelia Tschichold "CALLocations: multi-word lexemes and their place in intelligent CALL", in which the presenter discussed the components needed in a CALL system in order to give learners feedback on their use of idioms and collocations.
Liam Murrray "Active Language Learning using Web-based student research", offered a very interesting and practical way of making use of current, authentic, on-line resources in the target language, with student motivation enhanced by publication on-line of the finished individual project.
Some participants expressed disappointment at thequality of the keynote presentations, some of which might have been better placed in the Show and Tell section. In accordance with the conference themes the emphasis of many contributions was on distance learning, the Web, teacher training, assessment and evaluation. Especially for those interested in the Web, delivery of both intranet and long distance courses the conference was a valuable source of insights and inspiration, with course delivery added to the now familiar theme of networked access to information and the target culture.