Please cite as:
Son, J.-B. (1998). Trends and issues in CALL research: A glance. English Linguistic Science, 1, 7-11.

Trends and Issues in CALL Research: A Glance

Jeong-Bae Son

I. Introduction

A variety of approaches to the development and use of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) have been attempted since computers have been utilised for language learning and teaching. During the past ten years, in particular, there has been a large increase in the number of publications which discuss the potential of computers in second and foreign language learning and teaching. However, there is still considerable debate about the effectiveness of CALL while researchers and practitioners investigate specific ways that CALL provides better learning. This paper briefly surveys research on CALL, addressing general trends and issues which have appeared in CALL research.

II. Research in CALL

Under the influence of the use of educational technology in language instruction, CALL has been shaped and developed since the 1960s, and, by the 1980s, it had become a rapidly expanding field (Ahmad, Corbett, Rogers & Sussex, 1985; Higgins & Johns, 1984; Underwood, 1984). Early CALL researchers introduced a number of computer applications and practical ways in which computers could be used to improve language learning and teaching, and, as Pederson (1987), Chapelle and Jamieson (1989) and Dunkel (1991b) point out, the researchers attempted to demonstrate the effectiveness of CALL by comparing learning outcomes in computer-based instruction with those in traditional classrooms. In addition, as Chapelle (1996) notes, researchers examined cognitive and affective aspects of individual learners in CALL settings during the 1980s (Chapelle & Jamieson, 1986). At the same time, early drill-and-practice CALL software began to be produced in various

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types such as tutorial, game and holistic practice (Wyatt, 1987).

In the discussion of CALL effectiveness, since the middle of the 1980s, a significant shift in research focus has occurred away from simple comparison between computer-assisted and non-computer-assisted language instruction, which predominated in the early stage of CALL history (see, for example, Morrison & Adams, 1968; Barrutia, 1970), to more concrete and specific research questions. Conrad (1996) synthesises these alternative directions of CALL studies as follows:

  1. the investigation of a variety of specific conditions under which CALL might be effective (Robinson, 1989, 1991),

  2. the study of learners and the strategies they employ in working with CALL materials (Chapelle & Mizuno, 1989; Jamieson & Chapelle, 1987),

  3. the analysis (both quantitative and qualitative) of computer-elicited interaction between students (Abraham & Liou, 1991; Chang & Smith, 1991),

  4. the examination of purpose, criteria, and effects of error feedback options (cf. Nyns, 1989; Robinson, 1991; Swartz & Yazdani, 1992). (p. 159)

Along with this kind of movement, Pederson (1987) urges that "comparative research that attempts to illustrate the superiority of computers over some other medium for delivering language instruction should forever be abandoned" (p. 125). Such an increased argument initiated by researchers in educational technology (Clark, 1983; Salomon, 1979) has widely and deeply expanded the views of CALL research. For example, Chapelle and Jamieson (1989) suggest that researchers should ask difficult questions about "lesson features, learning processes, and learner characteristics" in order to understand "how particular CALL materials can be used effectively in the complex second language acquisition process" (p. 59). Focusing on discourse analysis, Chapelle (1990) and Esling (1991) discuss the discourse learners produce during CALL activities. With regard to classroom research, Johnson (1991) proposes to expand CALL research to social interactional environments of the classroom.

Recent research in CALL has reinforced the links between CALL and second language classroom research (Chapelle, 1996). However, empirical CALL studies in the classroom have not been extensively conducted as yet. Surveying academic journals, Conrad (1996) presents statistical information on the lack of empirical studies in the area of CALL. According to his calculation, only 20% of all articles in seven applied linguistic journals (i.e., Modern Language Journal, Foreign Language Annals, Unterrichtspraxis, French Review, Hispania, System, CALICO Journal)

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published from 1992 to 1995 have an empirical focus.

In her review of research into CALL effectiveness, Dunkel (1991b) concludes:

Systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of all aspects of CALL must continue; however, new focuses as well as methods of research inquiry will need to be developed if we are to gauge correctly the power of the computer to effect (sic) different aspects of second language acquisition. (pp. 23-24)

With a similar view, Biber (1992) notes:

Research on the success of CALL lags far behind the development and implementation of CALL materials in the classroom, and exaggerated claims for language learning with CALL, particularly of second language, have led to some disappointment and confusion. (p. 268)

Therefore, it is argued that much more empirical research on CALL needs to be produced, especially in the language classroom using CALL applications for second and foreign language instruction. This implies that there is still a great demand for research into CALL practice.

III. Concluding Remarks

CALL has evolved over a period of time in the area of language learning and teaching. A number of approaches to CALL research have been attempted to answer questions raised by CALL researchers and practitioners. The research directions have been considerably expanded since the middle of the 1980s. Regarding the development of research design and CALL software, Dunkel (1991a), Pennington (1989), Pennington and Stevens (1992), Smith (1987, 1989) and Swartz and Yazdani (1992) showed noticeable work done in the 1980s and provided directions of CALL theory and practice in the 1990s through useful collections of CALL research activities.

This paper has reviewed previous and current research on CALL and explored trends and issues in CALL research. It has provided a sketch of recent studies in the area of CALL and suggested that more CALL research needs to be connected with language classroom research. By conducting more empirical research on CALL, deeper insights into the use of CALL will be offered, and the potential and limitations of computer-assisted instruction for enhancing second and foreign language learning and teaching will be more clearly identified.

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Ahmad, K., Corbett, G., Rogers, M. & Sussex, R. (1985). Computers, language learning and language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barrutia, R. (1970). Two approaches to self-instructional language study: Computerized foreign language instruction. Hispania, 53, 361-371.

Biber, D. (1992). Applied linguistics and computer applications. In W. Grabe & R. B. Kaplan (Eds.), Introduction to applied linguistics (pp. 257-278). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Chapelle, C. A. (1990). The discourse of computer-assisted language learning: Toward a context for descriptive research. TESOL Quarterly, 24, 199-225.

Chapelle, C. A. (1996). CALL-English as a second language. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 16, 139-157.

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