Editorial

Jo Mynard, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan

Mynard, J. (2011). Editorial. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 2(3), 100-106.

Paginated PDF version

CALL and Self-Access

Welcome to the September 2011 issue of SiSAL Journal, a special issue on CALL, e-learning and m-learning. Technology has, in one form of another, been a part of self-access learning since the very first self-access centres (SACs) of the 1980s. Some of the better-funded centres featured elaborate listening and recording machinery and (occasionally) early personal computers. Early software programmes and language-learning websites available for self-access use tended to be aimed at individual study, initially following the language lab model, and were often designed to teach or test discrete language points. Of course, in 2011 programmes aimed at individual study do still exist and certainly have a place in self-access learning, particularly if a learner has identified a target language area that the software or website covers. However, in this special issue we go beyond language learning software and look at tools and technologies currently available to the learner as self-access resources.

CALL and Learner Autonomy

SACs are spaces (physical or virtual) offering opportunities and resources for outside-class learning. In addition to this pragmatic goal of providing access to such resources and opportunities, the other, ideological, goal of SACs is usually the promotion of learner autonomy (Sheerin, 1997). The question is, do current CALL resources available to learners support this philosophy? The perceived role of the computer by learners can have an impact on the way they approach a learning opportunity. For example, when a computer is assumed to have the role of a substitute teacher or tutor, “[c]ontrol is delegated to the computer to manage the learning, and in consequence, students will rely on its judgments” (Levy, 1997, p 199). Despite being designed for self-study, software which presents units of work in a structured way can serve to make the learners less autonomous rather than more autonomous unless there is some mechanism in place to help the learners to critically evaluate their language learning needs before choosing the material (Mynard, 2009). Learning advisors or teachers may be available to assist with this, or there may be activities that encourage this critical reflection (Mynard, 2009).

In this special issue the contributors consider powerful ways in which CALL can be used for supporting learner autonomy when learners take more responsibility for their learning by using computers as a tool rather than relying on computers to direct their learning. In particular, contributors explore ways in which CALL is currently being used for meaningful communication, collaboration, problem-solving, personalized language learning opportunities, and supporting learners.

Social Dimensions of Learning

Some of the contributors draw on the social element associated with effective language learning and consider tools that enable communication, collaboration and negotiation with others. For example, in the first article by Mark Warschauer and Meei-Ling Liaw, the authors discuss how new technologies can meet the diverse needs of adult language learners. They describe a range of emerging technologies that provide opportunities for learners to learn languages while interacting and collaborating with others.

Kirsten Mashinter describes how a photography contest project at a university in Japan managed to engage learners in an English activity during the summer break by taking and sharing photos with others. The author provides some tips and considerations for educators thinking of establishing something similar at their institutions.

Personalisation of Learning Experiences

As educators, we recognized the importance of providing motivating texts and activities in order to sustain self-directed learning. CALL is one way to tap into a large pool of potentially motivating resources. It is also useful to consider students’ interests outside the learning environment. For example, one pastime that appeals to many people is gaming, and researchers have begun to discover how various kinds of computer-based games can be used by language learners. Charatdao Intratat surveyed one hundred students at her university in Thailand to understand more about the kinds of games they liked best. The author was then able to analyse the characteristics of the games in order to see what made them so popular. The article may help readers understand why some language learning games are never used, and consider whether alternative games could be provided in SACs.

Training and Planning

Careful consideration is necessary when purchasing software or providing CALL resources and this includes planning and training. Randall Davis is well known by students and educators alike as the person who established one of the earliest self-access listening practice sites, Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (http://www.esl-lab.com). In this special issue, the author shares his thoughts on the role of technology in language education. He considers learners’ and teachers’ needs and expectations and comments on the importance of investing in training for CALL.

Continuing on the theme of teacher training for CALL, Richard S. Pinner shares results of a large-scale, two-year study in language schools in the UK and Ireland. The author shows how teacher education of an e-learning programme resulted in increased usage of the programme by students. He suggests that educators need to also investigate how learners are engaging in eLearning in addition to how many learners are doing so.

One factor that SAC managers might take into consideration when purchasing and offering CALL resources in a SAC is the extent to which learners will be ready and willing to use those resources. Thomas Lockley shares research he did in Japan that identified the extent to which learners had become familiar with technology use before starting university. Whereas students are taught various computer skills in high school, they are unlikely to use them and may even forget them. However, the author points out that these students are using technology as part of their daily lives and SAC managers should not shy away from promoting CALL in a self-access centre because of their perceived views of the students technological competence.

Support for Learners

Two of the contributions specifically cover ways in which learners can be supported by teachers and learning advisors in accessing precisely the kinds of CALL materials that they need. Hebe Wong describes how learners in Hong Kong are given support with their writing by tutors making use of a bank of common mistakes and comments stored on a course management system (Blackboard). Learners are given feedback on their problematic writing areas and support in seeking relevant activities in order to address their writing problems. The results of a research project at the author’s institution suggest that learners provided with the feedback and self-access materials are able to reduce the number of errors in their writing effectively and also develop learner autonomy.

Craig D. Howard notes how difficult it is for learners to locate collaborative language learning websites by themselves using search engines and makes the point the learners will need help from teachers and learning advisors in finding suitable websites. In his article he presents the results of a study which surveyed Web 2.0 sites and ranked their interactivity features. The author recommends a strategic shortcut for identifying sites that are highly interactive and can be recommended to learners who are interested in using CALL resources to interact and collaborate with others.

Julie Watson also makes the point in her article that learners are not always able to find the resources they need. The author describes the features of a free online resource called Prepare for Success, which offers resources and support for international students preparing to study in the UK.

Future Directions

We have seen a shift in the nature of CALL in self-access over the last three decades from opportunities for individual study in a designated place, to anytime, anywhere access freely available from portable devices owned by the learners themselves. Keith Barrs has noticed the increase in the number of students with smartphones in his language classes in Japan. In his “work in progress” article, the author shares some preliminary findings related to how students are currently using smartphones for language study and practice and also makes some predictions about the normalisation of mobile technology use for language learning.

Another future focus of CALL for self-access learning should be to investigate the ways in which learners are currently using technology (see, for example, Casellano, Mynard & Rubesch, 2011) and also the ways in which learners’ experience CALL tasks. In their article, Carlos Montoro and Regine Hampel take an activity-theoretical approach to studying how learners in a self-access centre in Mexico interact with CALL tools. The authors highlight the potential value of using activity theory to analyse various elements of a language learning activity.

Implications for Learning Advisors

The contributors cover a wide range of CALL resources offering students exciting possibilities for self-access learning. Even before the advent of such resources, challenges existed for self-directed learners in relation to identifying their language learning needs and also finding appropriate resources to address those needs. Perhaps increasing the choice has made things more difficult for learners. Language textbooks, software and websites usually contain a series of language points deemed the most useful and appropriate to learners at particular levels. In a language classroom, a teacher can decide the extent to which the language points should be covered and supplement the activities where necessary in order to meet the needs of his or her students. When learners are working independently without a teacher, the tendency might be for them to follow the materials in the textbook or piece of software in the order they are presented, regardless of whether the language points are necessary for them. With the amount of resources and tools available increasing, the role of the learning advisor may become increasingly more crucial in order to help the learners access appropriate materials in ways which target their specific language learning needs and goals.

Notes on the editor

Jo Mynard is the Director of the Self-Access Learning Centre and Assistant Director of the English Language Institute at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan. She holds an Ed.D. in TEFL from the University of Exeter, UK and an M.Phil. in applied linguistics from Trinity College, Dublin. She has taught EFL in Ireland, Spain, England, the UAE and Japan, and has been involved in facilitating self-access learning since 1996. She is the convener of the upcoming conference “Advising for language learner autonomy” to be held at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan on November 12th, 2011. http://learnerautonomy.org/advising2011

References

Castellano, J., Mynard, J., & Rubesch, T. (2011). Technology use in a self-access center. Language Learning and Technology, 15(3), 12-27.

Levy, M. (1997). Computer-Assisted Language Learning context and conceptualization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mynard, J. (2009). Benefits and challenges of computer-based resources for self-access. Paper given at the Independent Learning Association conference in Hong Kong.

Sheerin, S. (1997). An exploration of the relationship between self-access in independent learning. In P. Benson and P. Voller (Eds.), Autonomy and independence in language learning (pp. 54-65). London: Longman.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the contributors for submitting their work to SiSAL Journal, to the reviewers for their feedback and to the editorial team once again for their input, support and editing skills. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Elton LaClare as a new member of the SiSAL Journal editorial team. I particularly appreciated all the help this time with what turned into a bumper special issue.

Upcoming Issues

We are still receiving submissions for the December 2011 issue on self-access success stories. Following that, we will be publishing the proceedings of the Advising 2011 conference as our March 2012 issue. We will then publish general issues rather than themed special issue for the remainder of the year. For submission details and deadlines, please check the website.

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