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This study aimed to explore the effect of computer assisted language learning (CALL) on the undergraduate studentsâ€Ÿ achievement on the TOEFL exam. The study was designed as quasi-experimental research. The participants in the study were 34 sophomore students in the Department of Foreign Language Education in Middle East Technical University. The experimental group was taught using computer-assisted instruction in a language laboratory whilst the other class was taught using a traditional method of instruction in a traditional classroom setting. The training lasted for 8 weeks and the same instructor met the groups three hours each week. During the first week a pre-test was given to both groups. Then, a post-test was given at the end of the study. The experimental group participants were also interviewed in regard to CALL. The results showed that there was no statistically significant difference between the control and experimental group in overall scores and in the structure section. However, statistically significant differences were found in the reading and listening sections. The interviews showed that the participants in the experimental group valued CALL. It was suggested by the participants that computer-assisted language learning should be incorporated into the regular classes, rather than scheduling them separately.
Key words: Computer assisted language learning, TOEFL, Listening, Reading, and Structure
Language teaching is rather a difficult and complicated process that requires careful and diligent work. Educators in the field of language teaching always try hard to find ways to make language learning enjoyable and attractive for the learners. Different activities, games, and interesting stories helped language teachers to achieve this aim through many years and they still do. However, at the beginning of 1980s, technology came into use in the language classrooms with films, television, and language labs having video tapes and audio cassettes. Also, some computer-assisted language (CALL) software applications were introduced in the form of drill-and-practice (Cunningham, 1998). As technology developed, new programs came into use to create a more interactive and interesting environment for language learners and teachers than what was previously available in the traditional language classrooms. Many researchers, in search of the best way to acquire a foreign/second language, now use CALL in language classrooms to find out its effects on language learning. The enrichment of language teaching and learning process through CALL can be achieved through empirical research including learnersâ€Ÿ attitudes and opinions. Therefore, one of the aims of this study is to give language learners an opportunity to reflect on whether CALL has a helpful role in learnersâ€Ÿ success on the TOEFL exam. These reflections may provide insights for both language teachers and learners studying English.
Background of the study
Research efforts which are relative to CALL have focused on five broad areas, including efficacy, studentsâ€Ÿ and teachersâ€Ÿ attitudes, and advantages and limitations of CALL in the classroom. In the existing literature, there are quite a few studies regarding the use of CALL and its implications for the language researchers and teachers.
Studies on efficacy of CALL
Most studies have based their findings on case, qualitative and research-based studies while discussing the efficacy of CALL. One of the studies discussing the use of CALL is Pawlingâ€Ÿs study, which was conducted in 1999. In her study, she aimed to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of a CD-ROM as a tool for research-based language learning and focused on two case studies. She carried out her study with eleven sixth grade children learning English vocabulary through an application called Directions 2000 (a multimedia dictionary) and found that learners assimilated vocabulary through playing the modal sentences as many times as required. According to Pawling:
CD-ROM is potentially a liberating instrument for teachers and learners alike in that it has the special facility of incorporating practice in all four language skills mentioned above in a multimedia package using video, text, photograph and sound. There is much evidence; not least teachersâ€Ÿ own experience, to suggest that computer-based learning is very motivating for children (p. 164).
In another study conducted by Gillespie and McKee (1999), learners from undergraduate and graduate studies were exposed to CALL software. The findings of this study showed that CALL enhanced student performance and skills considerably in their studies with undergraduate and graduate learners.
Lambacher (1999) used software designed for pronunciation training in teaching English to forty primary school Japanese learners, which resulted in the improved perception and production of English consonants which they were able to review as many times as they wished, getting immediate feedback. Kulik and Kulik (1991) surveyed more than 500 studies which compared learners who received computer-assisted instruction with the learners who received traditional instruction. They found that learners tend to learn more and in less time with computer-assisted learning. Dunkel (1987) stated that "Many of the researches conducting literature reviews and meta-analyses in the 1960s and 70s were forced to conclude that there was no discernible cause-and-effect relationship between pupil learning" (p. 252). He also added that the results were questionable in terms of the other fields such as social sciences since these studies were mostly related to mathematics.
Nagataâ€Ÿs study in 1996 included participants from two first-semester Japanese classes at the University of San Francisco. Twenty-six students participated in the study. These results show that given the same grammar notes and exercises, ongoing intelligent computer feedback is more effective than simple workbook answer sheets for developing learnerâ€Ÿs grammatical skill in producing Japanese particles and sentences. Nuttaâ€Ÿs study in 1998 consisted of 53 students enrolled in an intensive academic ESL institute at a major university in Florida. It compared the method of grammar instruction, teacher-directed or computer-based. The results showed that computer-based students scored significantly higher on open-ended tests than the teacher-directed students. No significant differences were found between the computer-based and teacher-directed studentsâ€Ÿ scores on multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank tests.
In the study of Hauck, Mclain, & Youngs (1999), thirty-three French II students were the participants. Findings indicated that the students in the CALL group performed equally well as the control group in listening and speaking and better on reading and writing. Murray (1999) studied the effect of interactive video program. Participants (Twenty-three French second-language learners) were mostly students from the Faculty of Arts of a large Canadian university. The study benefited from personal language learning histories, journals, video observation, interviews, and pre/post language proficiency tests. Murray (1999) stressed the importance of being a member of a community and engaging in activities by saying that:
We learn a language by becoming members of a community of practice. Being a member of a community means getting to know people, engaging in activities, and having a physical space as well as an identity within that community (p. 192).
Russel (1999) compared the paper and the computer versions of reading tests. He found out that paper versus computer administration did not significantly affect the test takerâ€Ÿs performance. Dewhurst, Macleod and Norris (2000) compared the difference between the computer-assisted instruction and traditional instruction. The results revealed that Sixty-two students of undergraduate Physiotherapy studying on Human Physiology did equally well. Similarly, Garcia and Arias (2000) compared the performance of sixty students of Land Surveying at the Extremadura University in Spain. They found out that students made use of the references provided by the computer more extensively than they did of the printed references. Also, the results showed that studentsâ€Ÿ motivation to access computer-supported information was higher than accessing similar information in print-oriented references.
Yang (2001), in his study of fifty-five participants, second-year students in an applied linguistics program, discussed that students benefited from maximizing the language and learning link in computer-mediated environments, particularly web-based instruction. Sawaki (2001) listed the studies carried out on computer-based and paper-based reading. The studies done by Heppner, Anderson, Farstrup, and Weiderman (1985) (as cited in Sawaki ) showed that students outperform in the paper-based version of the reading tests, whereas some studies showed that they are equal (Fish & Feldmann, 1987; McGoldrick, Martin, Bergering and Symons, 1992; McKnight, Richardson & Dillon, 1990; Zulk, 1986 (as cited in Sawaki, 2001).
In Yingâ€Ÿs study (2002), the participants were thirty-two junior students majoring in Foreign Trade English at the school of Foreign Languages of Suzhou University. The results indicated that network-assisted environments provided learners with autonomous training and learning. On the other hand, Allum (2002) stated that "â€¦CALL does indeed deliver as effectively as conventional means in a range of language learning tasks" (p. 147). Clark (1985c) (as cited in
Allum, 2002) proposed that when methodology is kept consistent, there is no difference in results between computer-based instruction and teacher-led instruction. Muir-Herzig (2004) studied the technology use of teachers from a Northwest Ohio high school. Results of the study indicated that teachersâ€Ÿ technology use, studentsâ€Ÿ technology use, overall technology use had no significant positive effect on the grades and attendance of at-risk students. Also, the results supported that technology use was low among the teachers in the sample.
Students' Attitudes towards CALL
Several studies have reported studentsâ€Ÿ attitudes towards CALL. These studies regarding the learnersâ€Ÿ attitudes towards CALL lead to promising findings for the use of CALL in language classrooms (Finkbeiner, 2001; Ayres, 2002; Allum, 2002; Mitra, 1997; Dewhurst, et all., 2000; Stricker and Rock 2004; Shaw and Marlow, 1999; Holmes, 1998; Debski, 2000).
Finkbeiner (2001) administered a questionnaire to 100 undergraduate EFL learners and collected data from 82 learners to learn about the learnersâ€Ÿ attitude and interest in CALL and cooperative learning. His results showed that ESL (English as a Second Language) undergraduate learners had positive attitudes towards CALL and suggested that a successful implementation of CALL required it to be put into everyday study life. In a similar study conducted by Ayres (2002), 157 non-native undergraduates from certificate and diploma courses at the school of English and Applied Linguistics were studied in a CALL environment to gather some empirical data to assess how much learners valued the use of CALL in their course. It was found that university learners appreciated and valued learning through CALL. Also in another study carried by Mitra (1997), learnersâ€Ÿ attitudes towards computers were discovered to be very important since it would affect the learnersâ€Ÿ view of CALL. Allum (2002) argued that students had positive feelings about CALL and suggested that CALL should be mixed with the regular classes. Similarly, Dewhurst et al. (2000) discussed that students became more positive after they had experienced using CALL.
Ayres (2002) had participants of 157 non-native speaker undergraduates who were enrolled in various certificate and diploma courses at the School of English and Applied Linguistics. The results indicated that learners favoured classroom-based teaching over using a computer. They did not see it as a worthwhile replacement for classroom-based learning but, it had high face validity with learners. Stricker and Rock (2004) studied the attitudes of the test takers who took the computer-based TOEFL in the spring and summer of 1999; a total of 689 test takers. Results revealed that positive attitudes towards computer-based testing but
negative towards admission tests. Shaw and Marlow (1999) stated that in their study, the participants of 99 sports science and nutrition undergraduates were uncomfortable with computers, were unhappy about the lack of personal contact and preferred to learn in a more traditional way. Holmes (1998) studied the influence of CALL in 100 Japanese first-year studentsâ€Ÿ language classroom. Agreement as regards the benefits of CALL in language education was stated, but the studentsâ€Ÿ real reason was to communicate internationally.
Debski (2000) discussed project-oriented CALL innovation at the University of Melbourne, based on the principles of socio-collaborative language learning with computers. Language teachers and students participated in his study. The results indicated that the participants appreciated learning situations which were not available in traditional classes.
Teachers and CALL
Most of the studies focusing on teachers and CALL discussed the training and the attitudes of teachers towards CALL. (Egbert, Paulis, & Nakamichi, 2002; Warschauer, 2002; Ridgway & Passey, 1991; Jones, 2002). Egbert, Paulis, & Nakamichi (2002) had participants of twenty English as a second language and foreign language teachers in their sample. They used surveys and follow-up interviews on technology use in class. They concluded that lack of time, support and resources prohibited the use of CALL by the teachers.
Warschauer (2002) discussed the training of instructors in Egypt about the use and applications of CALL. An interesting anecdote was given in his discussion of CALL. He said that an Egyptian university lecturer expressed his view as: "we have the hardware, we have the software, but we lack the humanware", which is really the same case in Turkey.
Ridgway and Passey (1991) stressed out the importance of training teachers and exploiting the use of computers more than as a word processor in the classroom. Similarly, Jones (2002) argued that teachers need to become informed users of technology and stressed the importance of technology training.
Advantages of CALL
Chavez (1990) determined that technology together with meaningful tasks and interactional purposes promoted a positive second language learning environment, stressing the importance of learner autonomy (as cited in Liu, Moore, Graham and Lee, 2003). Similarly, an analysis by Ying (2002) indicated that network-assisted environments provide learners with autonomous training and learning. These studies contributed to learner
autonomy, which means that learners can learn according to their own pace and review what they have learned easily. This is the most widely benefit of CALL in educational settings.
According to Ikeda (1999), drill-type CALL materials are suitable for repetitive practice, which enables students to learn concepts and key elements in a subject area.
Brown (1997) listed the advantages of CALL as giving immediate feedback, allowing students to work at their own pace, and causing less frustration among students.
Winter (2002) stressed the importance of flexible learning, learning anywhere, anytime, anyhow, and anything you want, which is very true for the web-based instruction and CALL. Learners are given an opportunity to study and review the materials as many times they want without limited time.
According to Garcia and Arias (2000), using CALL in a classroom has the following advantages: Increased motivation of the students, individualization of learning process, immediate feedback, non-linear access to the information, and the introduction of new exercise types in the classroom. Stokes (1997) stated that students can get detailed feedback and hints which led the students to think, and added that:
The computer is tireless and non-judgmental. Students can play with the language and deliberately get things wrong and nobody will know. (This is especially important in those places where the concept of â€žfaceâ€Ÿ means that students worry unduly about making mistakes) (p. 20).
Considering the suggestions made by the authors discussed, the following list can be outlined to indicate the advantages of CALL in the classroom:
â€¢ Learner autonomy
â€¢ Repetitive practice
â€¢ Immediate and detailed feedback to learners as regards their progress, mistakes etc.)
â€¢ Flexible learning (anytime, anywhere, anything learners want)
â€¢ Non-linear learning
â€¢ Increased motivation
â€¢ Less frustration
â€¢ New types of exercises
Limitations of CALL
Blyth (1999) and Bradley and Lomicka (2000) examined college learnersâ€Ÿ perceptions and experiences with technology in a computer-assisted language learning environment.
Through learnersâ€Ÿ written feedback, Blyth concluded that successful implementation of new pedagogical approaches in software design and learning activities requires careful considerations. (as cited in Liu, Moore, Graham and Lee, 2003).
According to Chapelle (1997), a CALL activity should offer the opportunity for comprehensible output. He also added that activities must require the learner to produce linguistic output, not just "mouse clicks". Ross and Schulz (1999) investigated the differences in learning styles among participants, who received LL. Seventy University of Calgary undergraduate students participated in the study. Results showed that CALL, as an instructional tool may not be suitable for all learners, differences such as cognitive learning styles. Some learners may have difficulty adapting to certain forms of computer-mediated learning. Brown (1997) listed the disadvantages of calls as computer equipment (not always available or in working order), screen capacity (reading passages), Studentsâ€Ÿ familiarity and negative attitudes towards computers and computer anxiety.
Alatis (1983) stated that technology can be destructive if it fails to function in response to the humanistic objective of the educational classrooms. According to Jones and Fortescue (1991), computers are seen as quizmasters and CALL implies the substitution of computer for teachers. Kenning and Kenning (1984) found reading from a screen rather than from a printed text tiring and considered it as a limitation of CALL. Bax (2003) discussed the implementation of CALL in different schools and teachers. He analyzed two case studies involving different university teachers and concluded that teachers should be trained and provided with pedagogical support. This leads to the fact that technology cannot solve a problem alone. Implementation of CALL requires close attention, critically selected software, and teachersâ€Ÿ and learnersâ€Ÿ positive attitudes. Using CALL requires a lot of time and money for all the necessary arrangements.
Considering the suggestions made by the researchers discussed, the following list can be designed to indicate the disadvantages of CALL in the classroom:
â€¢ High cost of equipment and software
â€¢ Low capacity of the equipments
â€¢ Lack of CALL software of high quality
â€¢ Lack of trained teachers
â€¢ Computer anxiety among students and teachers
â€¢ Not suitable for all learners (different learning styles)
This study aimed to answer the following questions as regards the effect of computer-assisted language learning on the learnersâ€Ÿ TOEFL scores. The main problems of this study are stated as follows:
1. Which instruction method is more effective as measured by the learnersâ€Ÿ pre and post test results on the TOEFL: CALL or traditional instruction?
1.1. Is there a statistically significant difference in regard to the gain scores on the structure section of TOEFL between learners instructed by CALL and the learners instructed by traditional instruction?
1.2. Is there a statistically significant difference in regard to the gain scores on the reading section of TOEFL between learners instructed by CALL and the learners instructed by traditional instruction?
1.3. Is there a statistically significant difference in regard to the gain scores on the listening section of TOEFL between learners instructed by CALL and the learners instructed by traditional instruction?
2. What are the learnersâ€Ÿ perceptions as regards the use of CALL?
The study was designed as a quasi-experimental study since it did not include the use of random assignment. It focused on using computer-assisted language learning and traditional instruction to prepare the participants for the TOEFL exam. One class was taught using computer-assisted instruction in a language laboratory (the teacher was in the class just to make sure that participants were working with the computers and to help if anything went wrong with the computers), while the other class was taught using a traditional method of instruction in a traditional classroom setting. The training lasted for 8 weeks and the same instructor met the two groups three hours every week.
The participants in the study were 34 sophomore students in the Department of Foreign Language Education in Middle East Technical University. The students were assigned to the three sections of the school experience course alphabetically at the beginning of the semester by the department. Participants were chosen from the third section, which were available for the study (convenience sampling). They were aged between 18 and 20 and they were mostly graduates of Anatolian Teacher Traineesâ€Ÿ High School where a year of
English preparation program was required. Of the participants, twenty-nine were females and five were males. The participants were randomly assigned to the experimental and control groups using a table of random numbers. Experimental and control groups consisted of 17 participants each (three males and fourteen females and two males and fifteen females respectively) since the language laboratory for experimental group accommodated that number.
Data Collection Instruments
Pre- and post-tests were used in the study. The questions were taken from the book, TOEFL Test Preparation Kit Workbook (TOEFL test materials selected from TOEFL Test Preparation Kit Workbook, Educational Testing Service, 1995, reprinted with the permission of Educational Testing Service, the copyright owner.) The same test consisting of 140 items in a multiple choice format was used as the pre-test and post-test. Scores for both the pre and post test were defined looking at the number of correct items. A correct answer was rated 1 and an incorrect answer 0. A semi-structured interview guide was used to collect data to answer the second research question. The participants in the experimental group were interviewed one by one with regard to their opinions about CALL. The interview took place in the office of the researcher without a time limit, but took approximately, 7-10 minutes. The interviews with the learners were tape recorded and the researcher took notes. The participants were interviewed in English.
Variables in the study
Computer assisted language learning, as defined for this study, was provided in a language laboratory where learners worked alone on a computer using the provided programs and learnt at their own pace. The instructor did not participate in the learning process, but he made sure that learners were working alone on their computers. Traditional instruction was given in lecture format and as information going from the instructor to the learners. Participants had to follow the instructorâ€Ÿs schedule and they could not learn at their own pace. All the materials used in the groups were identical.
Data Collection procedures
With the consent of the participants, the study was conducted after the regular classes in the department are over (after 4 p.m.). On the first day of classes, an informed consent form was presented (see Appendix A), which was adapted from the sample consent forms given in
How to Design and Evaluate Research in Education by Jack R. Fraenkel and Norman E. Wallen (2003). After participants signed the form, the instructor administered the pre-test (paper version) to the control and experimental groups in the same class. Then, both groups received instruction through different media for eight weeks and three hours each week by the same instructor. During the eight weeks, for classroom practice, English Grammar in Use and Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary were used. The CD versions of these materials were used by the learners instructed by CALL. In addition, Powerpreb: Preparation for the TOEFL Test Software by ETS was used by the participants. For participants instructed by traditional instruction, practice tests on this CD were converted to paper tests. The participants in the experimental group worked alone on a computer and learned at their own pace. They studied any section as much as they liked. The instructor did not participate in the teaching/learning process, but he made sure that that the participants were working alone on their computers. The participants in the control group met the instructor three hours each week during eight weeks. The same materials (printed and paper versions of the practice tests) were used according to the schedule set by the instructor. Participants studied structure, reading and listening (one hour was devoted to each) during three hours. On the last day of classes, the instructor administered the same test as post test. The scores obtained by pre-test and post test were statistically analyzed. In addition, after two days following the post-test the participants in the experimental group were interviewed one by one as regards their opinions about CALL (see Appendix B). The interview took place in the office of the researcher without a time limit, but took approximately, 7-10 minutes. The interviews with the learners were tape recorded and the researcher took notes. The participants were interviewed in English.
An independent samples t-test appeared to be an appropriate tool for data analysis in this study since there were two groups who were evaluated twice through pre and post tests. The interview data were subjected to content analysis.
Results and Discussion
Research question 1
Is there a statistically significant difference in regard to the total gain scores on the structure, reading, and the listening sections of TOEFL between learners instructed by CALL and the learners instructed by traditional instruction?
The reported difference between the control and experiment groupsâ€Ÿ gain scores was not statistically significant, t (26, 545) =1.445, p=.160, r=0.27. Results of the t-test analysis indicate that the researcher must fail to reject the null hypothesis, which stated that there is no statistically significant difference between the scores obtained by the control and experimental groups (See Table 1).
Table 1: Independent samples t-test analysis of gain score difference Group