CHWP A.7 Heimpel, "The Multimedia Network-based Language Learning Centre: An Historical Approach"

3. French CALL in Canadian Colleges And Universities

The relevance of the computer to language teaching and learning has been acknowledged since the early seventies. Four papers on Computer-Assisted Instruction were presented at the first conference on the role of computers in literary and linguistic research held at Cambridge in 1970 (Hockey 1987). Each of the four papers explained how mainframe computers were used to identify and isolate certain morphological and discursive elements of various texts and lexicons. However, due to the manifestly "unfriendly" mainframe user environment and the intimidating presence of these "Jurassic" computers, only a very few individuals opted for their use and, unfortunately, with very limited success. [6] There were also marked pedagogical weaknesses in these early experiments: With the arrival of micro-computers (personal computers) in the early eighties, many of the weaknesses, practical and pedagogical, were remedied. More user-friendly programming languages such as BASIC greatly simplified the development of software packages. Yet most language instructors were still not tempted to ascend the learning curve implied by any kind of computer programming. This prompted the development of authoring-systems and templates, the equivalent of "scripting languages" today. Still another alternative was the collaborative approach where language instructors teamed up with computer programmers, an approach which produced relatively sophisticated programmes such as CLEF (Computer-assisted Learning Exercises in French; Paramskas & Thomas 1985). [7]

These improvements in computing environments as well as a diversification of approaches led to a steady increase in the use of (micro-)computers. A survey of 602 language-teaching institutions in the United States in 1978-79 revealed that only 10% were using computers. A similar survey conducted in Canada with 173 institutions in 1985-86 indicated that 33% were using computers, half of which were IBM-type machines. Another survey of 41 Canadian institutions carried out in 1987 reported that 44% were using computers, 66% in Ontario (Thomas 1988).

Another pan-Canadian study was conducted in 1993 in which 100 respondents from 33 post-secondary language-teaching institutions answered 13 questions about their CALL activities (Bougaïeff 1994). Although readers of the information gathered were left to draw their own conclusions, it would perhaps be useful to identify the trends in CALL suggested.

Question 7: Types of Software Used 
Diagnostic testing 5
Authoring-systems 15
Self-learning 3
Multimedia 5
Tutorials 28
Dictionary 2
Drills 25
Writing-aids 1
Games 1
Word processing 3

Question 8: Linguistic Content 
Oral 5
Dictionary 1
Listening (Aural) 3
Writing 13
Grammar 28
Syntax 5
Vocabulary 20
Punctuation 2
Reading (Comprehension) 12 
Spelling 5
Dictation 1 
Discourse analysis 2
Culture 1 
Morphology 2 

Indeed, the trends were quite distinct. Nationally, there were over twice as many institutions using IBM-type machines as there were institutions using Macintosh systems. [8] Most instructors with CALL in their courses used drills, tutorials and some kind of authoring-system. The linguistic content reinforced by these applications included grammar (28%), vocabulary (20%), reading (12%) and writing (13%). In fact, almost all of the skills taught pertained to reading comprehension and writing while oral and aural practice accounted for only 8% of the linguistic content. Most personal computers in our language teaching institutions were not equipped with CD-ROM drives and sound-cards in 1993 when this survey was conducted. [9] As a result -- and shaped perhaps by earlier experiments using mainframes -- micro-computers, like LL, became tireless "machines à répéter". Yet micro-computers found no methodological allies or alibis as LL once had in the behaviourist models of the Audio-lingual Revolution.

Micro-computers did receive an ideological push though, insofar as their use was completely compatible with the philosophy behind the "new" LL, also of the early eighties:

Yet despite the incredible leaps made since the early seventies, compared to the abilities of a real teacher, these programs remained quite unsophisticated. The fact of the matter is that most of the applications were still essentially variations and improvements on the obsessive theme of drills. Accordingly, some students saw computer use as dehumanizing, monotonous and downright boring. Others simply did not get involved with CALL applications because they were not mandatory elements of their course(s). Inadequate support and training was another key problem which may have prevented a more satisfactory integration of CALL in language learning/teaching. In some labs, students eventually decided that the best use of the micros was simply word processing. For these reasons, in various combinations, the computer remained the mysterious "other" of language teaching until recently.

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[6] One exception is the success of PLATO (Program Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations). "PLATO used specialised terminals which had high quality graphics. This was ideally suited to two applications at the University of Minnesota, for teaching Sumerian and Ancient Egyptian" (Hockey 1987: 27).

[7] "CLEF is an ensemble of 62 lessons covering the basic points of French grammar. It includes a presentation of the grammar point to be drilled (using color, graphics, and movement), three to five execises in several different formats, and a complex error-checking system, which can signal typing errors and different types of grammatical errors, accept alternate answers, and anticipate a great number of typical student errors. Students proceed at their own pace, and can skip ahead or go back, repeating a given segment as often as they wish. They can stop at will and return to any part of the program. They can ask for help in the form of a one-screen (or page) message reminding them of the key point of the exercise; they can also ask for translations of unknown words" (Paramskas & Thomas 1985: 8).

[8] Virtually all Ontario institutions surveyed were using IBM compatibles. It is also worth noting that IBM compatibles outnumbered Macintosh systems by a ratio of 4:1. Also, PC labs were generally more elaborate, such as the networked 30-position lab at the University of Calgary (Bougaïeff 1994).

[9] Question 12 of the survey suggests some usage of earphones (4), speakers (2) and CD-ROM drives (7), but only very limited usage.