Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Entry 18 IDT14156 Blake 2008 Ch3 CALL and Its Evaluation & Ch4 CMC

There are several central ideas which capture my attention throughout Blake's Chapter 3 Call and Its Evaluation. These are related to feedback and how important it is in relation to machine generated input in response to the students' interaction with the computer. The ultimate goal being that of offering 'feedback customised to each learner' p52 and how the efforts in iCALL and CALL seem to be directed towards this idealistic goal and lead to CMC as part of Kern and Warschauer's (2000) third phase, integrative CALL with this objective apparently having been met via the power of agency. Another idea is that of the computer seen as a tutor or as a tool in Tutorial CALL (Leyvy 1997 and Hubbard and Bradin Siskin 2004 in Blake 2008), which for me could easily be both as considered by Blake p55 as whether it is one or the other would be determined by the level of guidance needed by the user, the student, rather than by the program itself. In my opinion, this in turn would be in line with a more pedagogically driven view of CALL as the determining factor would be the student and not the technology thus turning it into a means to an end.

The next idea was 'Authoring Tools' and more specifically Hot Potatoes as I used the program for a short period of time about 6 years ago. Unfortunately, I must agree with Blake p58 in that it is rather restrictive to the set of formats available as well as burdensome because of download requirements. Nowadays, that is 14 years after it was developed at the University of Victoria there are lots of hassle-free web-based (no-download-required) applications which offer a lot more flexibility than Hot Potatoes e.g. Quizlet, Mobile Study, SMILE, Classmarker, and Quia to name just a few which offer the same if not more possibilities and are definitely 'hotter'. Interactivity as a key concern and goal of CALL also called my attention as it is closely related to ASR which for me it represents artificial interactivity as opposed to the authentic interactivity LMS/CMS such as Moodle offer now and which personally as a learner myself make me think of the drill-and-kill concept (p50) and guarantee immediate withdrawal rather than sustained interaction. I believe we are still away from the type of idealised iCALL hypothesised in the article and that a focus on feedback (recurring idea) is more beneficial for all involved as argued by Heift (2004 in op.cit.). 

As far as CALL evaluation is concerned I feel I am biased as being an educator and teacher educator I feel the format for CALICO Journal reviews shown (p66) based on Burston and Hubbard's views should put the Learner Fit first, not third, rather than put the Technical preview first because of the implications and also because all technology should be integrated not because of what it is but because of how it enhances the learners' experience and curriculum. I also agree with Chapelle's concern with the teacher as a professional making informed decisions, however, I think that if the teacher knows their students then the focus would still be on them rather than on the teacher thus making them agents of their change.

Blake soundly suggests that CMC (synchronous or asynchronous) 'potential benefits of collaborative exchanges' (p70) are dependent on the decisions made by the teacher and the tasks assigned than the place where these take place. I found the labels first and second generation ACMC tools interesting and how much space is given to Voice Boards which are now (6 years later) a common feature in Moodle via the Poodl allowing for voice messages in a forum and are so useful for giving feedback as mentioned in (p.73). In terms of SCMC, my personal experience of synchronous text-chat has been very positive both with teachers and students as it has raised the level of methodological pros and cons awareness in the former and the importance of communication in the latter, especially with the introduction of netiquette protocols (p76) and behaviour in line with Payne's (2004:159 in Blake op.cit.) benefits of written SCMC. I particularly like Swain's forced input (p84) as on reflection this has been reported by students and teachers when on SCMC IRC-style chats.

I particularly like Warschauer's concept of 'telecollaboration' as a much simpler term for 'intercultural CMC', but find it confusing when said to be applicable to 'any language course at a distance or not' especially when the prefix does imply 'distance'. I would argue that telecollaboration nowadays has gone a long was in the form of 'pen pals' projects around the world so it could be said that MIT's 90s Cultura project (p94) has yielded fruit. Along the same lines and from my own experience of online moderation, I could not agree more with O'Dowd (2006:139 in op.cit.) rejection of the concept of the NBLT teacher as a 'guide on the side' as feedback from participants to my online courses have alluded to the fact that they have been given 'space' and this helped them try things out before asking for help only the tutor could provide.  Finally, Blake's closing paragraphs remind us the recurrent idea in the literature that the mere existence of the tool will not bring about the benefits; successful CMC happens  thanks to careful planning and these are the result of a teacher's labor. In my own words, this simply means that the only formula that works is P+i(t)=Pt where pedagogy + input on technology equals pedagogy-driven technology.


Blake, Robert J.. Brave New Digital Classroom: Technology and Foreign Language Learning. Washington, DC, USA: Georgetown University Press, 2008. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 27 October 2014.

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