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Pakize Uludag, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Scholarly debates on the pedagogical implications of using technology date back to the early 1980s. In 1984, Lindenau raised a concern that the interference of technology in education might pose major challenges and undermine “a blackboard-and-textbook system of education” in the long term (p. 119). A few other researchers disagreed and considered not using the advances of technology in education as ignorance and a waste of resources (e.g., Dunkel, 1987). Over time, technology has expanded in the field and gradually transformed the principles and practice of teaching in various academic disciplines. Language teaching, unequivocally, is one of the areas that has been influenced by the applications of technology. Initially conceptualized and practiced as drill-and-practice programs, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) has extended to a range of innovative technologies, such as language corpora, web-based distant learning, and mobile-assisted language learning to enable learners to achieve their goals (Shield & Kukulska-Hulme, 2008). However, the limitations of CALL, such as educational costs, lack of interpersonal communication and a constant need for training, have been discussed and acknowledged (Dina & Ciornei, 2013; Lai & Kritsonis, 2006). In light of these limitations, tools and applications of technology have been embraced in the field of language teaching with cautious optimism.

The use of technology in education has evolved from two approaches: directed approach and constructivist instructional approach. The theoretical foundations of these approaches are based on behaviorist and cognitive learning theories, respectively. When computer-assisted learning first emerged and was implemented as a behavioristic approach, the goal was to support language learning via programmed instruction (Warschauer & Healey, 1998). The behavioristic CALL has grown to be more communicative and integrative with the development of multimedia and internet technology. In its current mainstream use, CALL makes it possible to learn any language “in any context with, through, and around computer technologies” (Egbert, 2005, p. 4).

One of the reasons education researchers advocate the use of technology is to increase students’ motivation and to foster learner autonomy (Jarvis, 2012). Based on the theory of self-directed learning, designing technology-enriched materials that are of learners’ interests and adjusted to the linguistic and communicative needs of students would motivate learners to self-study (Egbert & Hanson-Smith, 1999). For example, Quizlet is one of the most widely used platforms that encourage learners to practice vocabulary outside the classroom. Teachers prepare the flashcards, but they do not necessarily monitor students’ activity or progress. Learners initiate the learning process and engage in the study materials independently.

Self-directed language learning, on the other hand, is susceptible to criticism because it presents a challenge to institutionalized education. CALL was initially considered a medium in which teachers use a variety of methods to facilitate the language learning process (Garrett, 1991). Yet, language instructors have, in some cases, been made redundant as language learning software advances to create an online interface between language learners and programs (Chapelle, 2008). Language learners gained full autonomy in designing a study plan based on the premises of self-monitoring and self-paced learning. Therefore, CALL could either help reinforce classroom teaching, or it could motivate people to seek opportunities in distance learning, which has implications for colleges, private language courses, and instructors.

Another advantage of CALL that researchers and practitioners underscore is the opportunity for extensive exposure to the target language (Jarvis & Achilleos, 2013). According to Krashen’s (1989) input hypothesis, language acquisition is only possible through meaningful interaction in the target language. For example, language instructors often resort to task-based and project-based language teaching methods. Using computer and internet technology, learners cocreate online content (e.g., Tumblr, WordPress) in the target language while negotiating with the instructor. On the other hand, for such exposure to happen, language classrooms must be equipped with computer technology, and teachers should have underlying skills to guide students through how to use the technology (Chapelle & Hegelheimer, 2004). Providing computer and internet access to students and training language teachers about the capabilities and limitations of CALL increase educational costs. Inevitably, technological resources will be limited to those from high-income families and to high-budget schools, disturbing the equity of education (Gips, DiMattia, & Gips, 2004).

Adding to the limitations, technology-oriented innovations have raised concerns about how to evaluate teaching practices. Drawing attention to the relationship between research and practice, Chapelle (2008) discussed that technology fundamentally changed how languages can be taught through electronic resources, interactive textbooks, and a range of online platforms, such as WebQuests and Google Docs. These tools help learners engage in classroom-based activities as well as interact with each other outside the classroom. Combining face-to-face classroom teaching and CALL (i.e., blended learning) has been promoted as an alternative way of language teaching (Pegrum, 2009). On the other hand, we do not know much about the impact of these technologies on language learners’ performance in the target language. Findings from technology studies for language learning suggest that there is a need for developing learners’ strategies for using language learning materials (Belz & Kinginger, 2002); however, we also need better assessment tools to evaluate students’ language development after using technology-based materials.

Overall, it is important for language teaching professionals to recognize both the merits and perils of technology in order to achieve maximum pedagogical benefits. While designing technology-enriched materials, language teachers must take into consideration the principles of language pedagogy and methodology driven from learning theories. Therefore, training language instructors about how to use instructional technology effectively must be considered as an investment for the future of the language teaching profession. Also, it must be acknowledged that effective and smooth integration of technological applications to classroom teaching is only possible through well-designed materials and simplified tools.


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Warschauer, M. & Healey, D. (1998). Computers and language learning: An overview. Language Teaching, 31(2), 57–71. doi:10.1017/S0261444800012970

Pakize Uludag is a PhD student in applied linguistics in the Education Department at Concordia University. Her research interests include L2 writing, language assessment, and corpus linguistics.
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