Conference paper - School Essay Example

Research statement

The purpose of the current longitudinal research will be to investigate the perceptions, attitudes, and aspirations of primary-school Kuwaiti teachers in regard to computer-assisted language learning (CALL) as its is utilised by the Kuwaiti educational system for the acquisition of and training in English language. First of all, I am interested in the types of training and professional development that the Kuwaiti teachers receive with respect to CALL and its application in the primary-school language classroom. I also intend to investigate the dynamics of CALL conceptualisation throughout the teacher professional pipeline. In other words, I believe that attitudes, aspirations, and expectations that student teachers have in regard to CALL during their studies will be challenged during their practical training and be furthermore transformed upon gaining the actual teaching experience in primary schools.

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The research will focus on both theoretical and practical issues related to how Kuwaiti teachers are prepared to assist primary students in learning English through CALL:

1.      How Kuwaiti perspective primary-school English-language teachers perceive CALL as a medium of language learning and instruction during their professional studies?

2.      What challenges do they face in regard to CALL for English teaching/learning during their teaching practice in real classroom settings? How do these challenges affect their conceptualisation of CALL as a medium of learning/teaching English?

3.      How does teaching experience affect novice teachers’ perceptions of CALL as a tool and medium for English learning/teaching?

When I formulated the topic of my future investigation, I was inspired and simultaneously intrigued by the following considerations. As a professional English teacher of Kuwaiti origin I am aware of all those contrarieties associated with teaching/learning English in the countries where it is not the mother tongue language. Kuwait is involved in international trade and socio-cultural interaction processes which are often conducted in English. Therefore, the state experiences a high demand in the citizens who are able to effectively communicate in this global language. The Kuwaiti educational system is responsible for preparing the national English-speaking teacher cohort using advanced instructional and technological media, of which CALL is the most important. These teachers would facilitate children’s acquisition of English for smoother interaction in both national and global contexts. How is the Kuwaiti educational system coping with the task? Who would tell about the current state of things better than Kuwaiti teachers themselves!

Kuwaiti background: English CALL

Does the Kuwaiti system of education function effectively enough to ensure that its teacher graduates assist primary-school children in their English-language immersion? Judging from the interviews of six Kuwaiti first and second grade English teachers from three districts and their supervisors (Al-Darwish, 2006), the situation is frustrating. The researcher and her interviewees acknowledged that the Kuwaiti primary-school students lacked motivation in their English studies. The trend could be partially explained by the negative attitudes towards English which students’ parents demonstrated. But it appeared that the school English-learning curriculum was also to blame. As Al-Darwish (2006) stated, it was “narrow and rigid in its rejection of most of the elements of foreign language teaching” (p. 232). The researcher’s respondents were unsatisfied with both the quantity and quality of the audio-visual resources provided by the National curriculum, and were highly critical of their own professional preparation. Al-Darwish (2006) recommended that the Kuwaiti educational policy makers introduced advanced technologies to promote better teaching/learning of English in schools. Although the researcher never mentioned CALL as a possible solution for the problem, it is assumed that CALL is really the remedy. But is the Kuwaiti educational community ready to enter the terrain of technological advancement?

Al-Najran (1998) stressed that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the Internet in particular used to be perceived by Arabs as “the medium of the elite, who can afford the access and speak its language [which is mostly English]” (p. 59). In the case of the Kuwaiti English teachers, the problem of using English-based ICT-resources is not so acute since people who teach English are supposed to have some level of proficiency in this language. The Kuwaiti teachers are discriminated in another way since, as Al-Najran (1998) lamented, “integration of the Internet in the classrooms for academic use is very limited” (p. 73).

All these issues create a challenging environment for introducing CALL for the goals of English learning in Kuwait. What are the theoretical considerations that form the background for CALL implementation in the Kuwaiti English-learning classrooms?

Definitional framework: English as language for learning

As a language to be learnt, English is conceptualised in six interchangeable ways: ‘English as a Foreign Language’ (EFL), ‘English as a Second Language’ (ESL), ‘L1’ (first language), ‘L2’ (second language), ‘English as an additional language’ (EAL), and ‘English for Speakers of Other Languages’ (ESOL). For Kuwaiti primary-school children the L1 curriculum framework is not the case (unless they are non-Arabic English-speaking children who study in Kuwaiti schools). The term ESOL is also irrelevant to the scope of the current research since it is mostly utilized by Ofsted “to describe the language situation of many children from ‘minority ethnic groups’” (Andrews, 2004, p. 93). As Andrews (2004) specified, EAL serves “as a cover term when it is unclear whether a situation/ community should be treated as … EFL or … ESL” (p. 93). So three terms: EFL, ESL, and L2 – are left to choose between when describing the process of English learning in the Kuwaiti context.

Garner (1990) defined EFL teaching as “the situation … in schools in most non-English-speaking countries around the world, where English is not the language of instruction” (p. 2). English is treated as ESL “in the education system of a largely English-speaking host culture, [where students], in theory, are immersed in that culture and environment” (Andrews, 2004, p. 93). Garner (1990) described English like L2 as the part of curriculum which is learnt by non-native English speakers in their native-language environment.

The nature of English in the Kuwaiti context should be treated flexibly since the national educational system hosts schools of various backgrounds (e.g., state, private Arabic, and private foreign).

CALL background: Searching for definition

At the dawn of its existence, CALL used to be broadly defined as a branch of science that described how “artificial intelligence [can be] applied to languages” (Galletly, Butcher, & Lim How, 1988, p. 85). During the behaviouristic phase (1950s – late 1970s), CALL consisted of drill and testing activities managed by linear-type computer programmes (e.g., the PLATO and TICCIT projects as listed by Levy, 1997).  Language was taught from the structural linguistics perspective by the audio-lingual method since language learning was believed to resemble habit formation.

By the early-1980s, however, due to advanced communicative approaches to language learning, on the one hand, and the invention of increasingly powerful microcomputers, on the other, such formalised linear lab-based CALL became “a white elephant and an embarrassment” (Meakin, 1990, p. 12). At the communicative stage (1980s-1990s), CALL software encouraged learners to focus on language as a communicative phenomenon rather than a collection of isolated forms (the Storyboard and the Athena Language Learning Project [ALLP] as listed by Levy, 1997).

At both the behaviouristic and communicative phases, CALL relied on the concept of “the teacher in the machine” (Levy, 1997, p. 182). This model failed to satisfy the proponents of ‘intelligent CALL.’ The term referred to “any exercise [utilising ICT resources] in which an attempt is made to get the system to process language in a way that … appears to approximate … to that used by human beings” (Farrington, 1988, p. 69). Increased freedom of communication in CALL condition was promoted through various technological advanced means, the higher forms of which became the World Wide Web (WWW), “a hypertext-based system for finding and accessing Internet resources” (Levy, 1997, p. 32), and an email connection. In result, as Stevens (1992) observed, CALL turned into a powerful “tool in language learning,” “a medium that allows students to experiment with concepts taught elsewhere” (p. 12).

Since the mid-1990s, the so-called integrative stage of CALL started (the International Email Tandem Network, the CAMILLE/ France InterActive Project, and the Oral Language Archive [OLA] as listed by Levy, 1997). Computer became “a stimulus for speaking” (Levy, 1997, p. 128). CALL software was created to suit the principles of a cognitive model of language learning, assuming that language learning was a student’s “quest for self-actualisation” based on three main principles. First, English-learning curriculum focused on learning rather than teaching. Second, students were encouraged to reinforce the effectiveness of their learning efforts. Third, teacher-student interaction was centred on the principles of “empathetic understanding or genuine listening” (Stevens, 1992, p. 13).

To summarize, an umbrella definition of CALL nowadays was provided by Levy (1997) who claimed it to be “the [interdisciplinary] search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning” (p. 1). Recently, as Fotos and Browne (2004) have stressed, CALL became “a highly interactive and individualized approach, with the main focus on content supported by modules instructing learners on specific skills” (p. 6). The author personally believes that CALL is an instructional condition in which English language-learning activity is facilitated by ICT-means which make the presentation of English language to students more vivid, deliver knowledge more systematically and accordingly to practical communicative needs, and enable more precise assessment of language skills.

Definitional framework: Literacy

The researcher is unsatisfied with the restrictively psychological definition of ‘literacy’ as the developmentally adjusted “ability to understand and create written language” (Andrews, 2004, p. 1). The framework of the current research calls for the deeper and broader conceptualisation of the phenomenon as “the ability to operate a series of social or cultural representations” (Andrews, 2004, p. 2). Warschauer (1999) directly stated that literacy could not be restricted to “context-free, value-neutral sets of skills” (Warschauer, 1999, p. 4) of reading and writing texts. The researcher agrees with Warschauer (1999) who conceptualised literacy as coding and transmission of context-oriented data. From this perspective, the two functions of language, interaction and reflection, are performed in the ICT-mediated environment which destroys the traditional oral-written speech dichotomy. According to Warschauer (1999), interaction of language in the technological context is “text-based”, “many-to-many”, and “time- and place-independent” (p. 4). However, those who rely only on interaction in their second language-learning activities “fossilize at a level far below that of native speakers” (Warschauer, 1999, p. 95). The interactive element of literacy should be combined with knowledge of formal language structure. CALL is a perfect environment to meet this challenge. First, dealing with computer-mediated texts, students can “notice [grammar and syntactic] structures in incoming messages” (Warschauer, 1999, p. 95). Second, a unique combination of individual and group work in the CALL classroom allows for a more flexible and effective scheduling of language-learning activities. Finally, teacher and students can collaboratively assess the quality of language learning to remove fallacies later on.

CALL systems for language learning

There are eight important features of a successful CALL programme that remained relevant since 1988, when Galletly, Butcher, and Lim How mentioned them the first time. In the researchers’ words, an effective CALL system should be “robust” reacting to “user errors or unexpected answers” (Galletly, Butcher, & Lim How, 1988, p. 93). Every effort should be made to avoid “idiosyncratic” CALL system which is not able to “use methods that are both transparent and reproducible” (ibid.). CALL systems are not “mere error-checkers” (Farrington, 1988, p. 72). As Farrington (1988) emphasised, an effective CALL system should combine “the achievement of correctness” with “fluency in language use” (ibid.).

The taxonomy of CALL programmes and tasks is really impressive (Gewehr & Catsimali, 2002; Naidu, 2003; Andrews, 2004; Fotos & Browne, 2004; etc.). CALL instructional approaches can vary depending on the type of school. The present research will be mostly interested in the models utilised by monolingual schools which are “those with one language of instruction, one national curriculum, and one pervasive cultural background” (Murphy, 1990, p. 47).

It is taken a priori that the mode of CALL in every context researched (e.g., teacher college, various types of Kuwaiti schools) would depend on the size of class (which in turn depends on the age of the children, the pupils’ level of English-language proficiency, the number of nationalities and first-language backgrounds represented in a group, and the size of the English-learning room), the pupil/teacher ratio, scheduling, integration of the English-learning department, and on the responsiveness of parents as a resource (Kalinowski & Carder, 1990).

Furthermore, judging on the list of ten dimensions of second language learning in the CALL classroom proposed by Baker (1996), I am prepared to encounter any of the three possible approaches: the Structural Approach, the Functional (Notional-Functional) Approach, and the Interactional (Social Communicative) Approach. It seems that CALL in its full potential can only be revealed under the interactional approach. Similar to the functional approach, it is superior to the structural approach in sense that a greater emphasis is placed on learner’s L2 developing abilities and scaffolded skills. The interactional approach is more advanced than the functional one in terms of stressing the communicative goal of language learning. Interactivity is achieved in “a classroom where real interpersonal communication regularly takes place and where social and personal transactions between people actively occur” (Baker, 1996, p. 287). Teacher is “a facilitator rather than [of] a drill sergeant” (ibid.). The interactive approach seems to serves a perfect environment that employs various CALL strategies in order to encourage non-native English learners to communicate in English freely and appropriately to the goals and settings of linguistic activity. However, the researcher is aware that the contexts of her investigation can employ less advanced approaches.

Overall, the research will be not so interested in listing all the identified tasks for English CALL in the Kuwaiti educational settings, but rather in analysing the encountered English CALL situations against the multiperspective framework that was appraised by Chapelle (2003). She called it “a balanced view” that emerged out of the perspectives

… offered by technically-minded people who base their vision on analysis of existing technologies and trends, by socially-minded analysts who consider the pragmatic human and social dimensions of technology use, and by the critically-minded who question the ethical implications of technology. (Chapelle, 2003, p. 2)

However, it is hoped that such multiple-lenses assessment method will not distract the researcher from analysing the specific cases of English CALL implementation in the Kuwaiti educational environment as appropriately structured at all the three stages of the learning process: pre-task activity, task implementation, and learning assessment.

Research design

The research will be designed as a multi-method qualitative study employing a wide yet authentic array of techniques (questionnaires, observations, and qualitative interviewing) under the interpretive, naturalistic approach. Hopefully one year will be enough to effectively use these methods to collect data from 9 to 15 Kuwaiti teachers on their conceptualisations of CALL experience at the initial stages of teacher professional pipeline. At this stage of mapping the future research it does not seem that the study should look for generalisations. Rather it should seek for penetrating into the everyday life of the selected Kuwaiti beginning teachers to understand their perceptions and attitudes towards CALL as a medium for English language learning/teaching. Therefore, a case study framework seems to suit the goals of the current investigation. Accordingly, it looks like the research sample should not be too large in order not to miss the individual flavour of each conceptual framework.

It is expected that the participants will be recruited from the Kuwaiti College of Basic Education (CBE) as volunteers. The total participant call list is planned not to exceed 15 people. Some of them will wash out so that the final sample will consist of 9-12 individuals. Every effort will be made to include student teachers of various backgrounds in terms of age, gender, nationality, mother tongue, social origin, and teaching experience. Questionnaires will be used to specify participants’ biographical data. Qualitative interviewing of the participants will be conducted at the three stages of their teaching professionalization:  before their school-practice placement, during their school internship, and soon after their school enrollment on a permanent basis. Since the second stage, a variable of the type of school will be added to the analytical framework. Interviewing will be combined with regular observations throughout the whole research process. In the end of each stage, a focus group will be conducted to get a creative and interactional construction of meaning in regard to the phenomena under research.

Although the case study approach does not imply reliability in the sense that an investigation is considered reliable when anyone can arrive at similar conclusions under similar conditions, the researcher hopes to address reliability and validity of research in the following ways.

The dissertation will include the research protocols to demonstrate that the researcher have not invented or misinterpreted data and that data recording is conducted accurately. Also, there will be two types of interviews (semi-structured and phenomenological) plus a focus group to ensure the maximum extent of agreement among participants of their experiences with English CALL learning/teaching. To make the research valid, the so-called member checks (a procedure when several participants are asked to review the transcripts of their interviews to check if their personality and ideas are represented accurately), assistance of external experienced consultants, and a focus group will be utilised.

In general, limitations of the planned investigation are expected to be those that emerge in studies of any naturally occurring phenomena where the researcher relies on the perceptions of study participants. Despite some inherent limitations of interviews (e.g., data are collected through the subjective views of interviewees, interviewees are not equally articulate and perceptive, etc.), the research is hoped to become valuable due to the first-person accounts of English CALL in Kuwait, the phenomenon which is still poorly investigated.   In addition, the sample size will be small, consisting of 9-12 participants. This means that the results will be not designed for generalization. Nevertheless, since all participants will experience similar procedural and socio-cultural conditions, their stories will be powerful enough to conceptualise the phenomenon of English CALL in the Kuwaiti settings in its depth.

Evaluation

Hubbard (2004) used to say that “CALL means different things to different people” (p. 46). I understood this quotation in depth when I started working on my presentation. First, I became aware of my personal bias that could influence my attitudes towards the researched items. I was raised in an English-speaking cultural environment and, therefore, my attitudes towards English language are highly positive. However, some people say that English language is the ancestry of “an empire on which the sun never sets” (Eoyang, 2003, p. 3). This post-colonial conceptualisation of English language and its culture is still traced in the countries outside Great Britain. I will attempt to structure my research so that to answer the question, if this is a case of Kuwait with its rich and deep Arabic-speaking culture.

Second, I got inspired and simultaneously intrigued by the idea formulated by Fotos and Brown (2004) who stated that, “Technology will not replace teachers; teachers who use technology will replace those who don’t!” (p. 7). I asked myself, whether it means that a teacher who is more advanced in computer science is better than the one who is not computer-friendly. I proceeded further in my logical thinking: how about the teacher who is not a PC-worm but is proficient in instruction, knowledge delivery, and who use country-specific cultural cues to immerse students in English language environment?

Preparing a presentation I researched two dissertations, five monographs, one scholarly article, and four edited collections of articles to understand that research on CALL in non-English speaking settings tolerate no straightforwardness. In my presentation I dared to construct the conceptual framework where the two cultural layers of English-speaking and Arabic-speaking layers collaborate so that an intercultural dialogue takes place. In regard to the concepts related to the teacher profession, I became aware that an educator using CALL approach should be both proficient in ICT and professional in regard to learning methods and attitudes.

I may confess now that while preparing a presentation and a conference paper I was almost seduced by the idea to restore the development of CALL as it proceeded from the developmental phase with its focus on computer as error-checker and ‘teacher in the machine” towards the integrative and humanistic CALL with its stress laid on human-machine and human-human interactions. I took into account Baker’s (1996) taxonomy of themes and issues contributing to the firmament of CALL initiative. The researcher outlined: (1) theory of second language, (2) theory of learning L2, (3) methodology of teaching L2 in the classroom, (4) structure of language syllabuses, (5) choice of classroom activities, (6) teacher’s role, (7) learner’s role, (8) learning resources outside the classroom, (9) assessment, and (10) contexts of L2 acquisition. I learnt many interesting facts about the integration of cognitive and methodological theories with the technological advancements in ICT. I left out many of the issues related to this integration out of the present paper for the sake of space but I intend to tackle upon these phenomena in my research. The idea is that one cannot investigate CALL exclusively in its technological or methodological manifestation. Then I returned once again to the umbrella definition of CALL as a multifaceted phenomenon.

While researching the literature on CALL, I almost succumbed to the idea of listing the relevant tasks which can be practiced in the CALL setting. I accept the definition of a ‘task’ provided by Chapelle (2003) who defined it as the activity that “must have goals, and that [is] carried out through participants’ engagement in goal-oriented behavior that relies at least in part on language” (p. 129). I almost started comparing the tasks described by the participants of Al-Darwish’s (2006) case-study research with the ones mentioned in the collections edited by Gewehr and Catsimali (2002), Naidu (2003) Andrews (2004), and Fotos and Browne (2004). Happily, I caught myself on the realisation that merely listing these interesting and methodologically approved tasks would not make my own research more significant and important. I thought that it would be great if my respondents listed those tasks which they utilised in their internship and full-time school practice. And I preferred to concentrate on socio-cultural aspects of English CALL in the Kuwaiti settings structuring my research so that to be able to focus on them at all stages of my three-phase investigation.

I have already delineated the research design of my future empirical testing of CALL as it is used in Kuwaiti primary schools and teacher colleges. Initially I supposed that the stage of data collection would take me approximately six months. But then I doubted if that time frame would be enough to have my respondents transiting from their theoretical studies towards school internships and finally to finding a full-time school placements. I still doubt about the number of participants to select. I was enthralled by the approach utilised by Al-Darwish (2006) who showed the Kuwaiti educational reality in regard to English language learning through the eyes of teacher practitioners within the case-study framework. I am sure that the case study approach would benefit my research as well as it would help me to describe real attitudes and perceptions of the Kuwaiti primary-school teachers who are moving through their professional pipeline. At the same time, my research will not just replicate the ones by Al-Darwish (2006) and Al- Najran (1998). Each of them described the phenomena important for my study. However, the research by Al- Najran (1998), where he described how the Kuwaitis and the Arab-speaking community in general perceive ICT and the Internet, seems to be outdated. Al-Darwish (2006) severely criticised the effectiveness of the Kuwaiti educational system in English language teaching and her findings covered the recent period of time; however, she never mentioned CALL as a probable solution for the problem. I hope to creatively utilise these previous research to penetrate deeper to the phenomenon of English CALL applied to the Kuwaiti cultural environment.

To conclude, I was happy to prepare the presentation on my future research because it was a chance for me to crystallise my throughts and ideas, and to include the very important variable of socio-cultural context in which CALL should be used. I attempted to make my presentation as creative as possible so that to provide some kind of conceptual mapping and not just to recite common-known facts. I hope that the experience of public presentation would help me in my future studies in terms of creativeness and academic accuracy.

Reference List

Al-Darwish, S. (2006). An investigation of teachers’ perceptions of the English language curriculum in Kuwaiti elementary schools. (Doctoral dissertation, The College of Education, University of Denver, 2001). Dissertations and Theses Database, 3218972.

Al-Najran, T. N. (1998). Internet adoption and use by Kuwaiti university students: New medium, same old gratifications. (Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1998). Dissertations and Theses Database, 9911158.

Andrews, R. (2004). The impact of ICT on literacy education. London: New York Taylor & Francis.

Baker, C. (1996). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. Clevedon: Philadelphia Multilingual Matters.

Chapelle, C. (2003). English language learning and technology: Lectures on applied linguistics in the age of information and communication technology. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.

Eoyang, E. C. (2003). Teaching English as culture: Paradigm shifts in postcolonial discourse. Diogenes 50(2), 3-16.

Farrington, B. (1988). AI: ‘Grandeur’ or ‘Servitude’? In K. Cameron (Ed.), Computer assisted language learning: Program structure and principles (pp. 67-80). Norwood, N.J.: Intellect Books.

Fotos, S., & Browne, C. (2004). The development of CALL and current options. In S. Fotos & C. Browne (Eds.), New perspectives on CALL for second language classrooms (pp. 3-14). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Galletly, J.E., Butcher, C.W., & Lim How, J. (1988). Towards an intelligent syntax checker. In K. Cameron (Ed.), Computer assisted language learning: Program structure and principles (pp. 81-100). Norwood, N.J.: Intellect Books.

Garner, D. (1990). The international school ESL challenge. In E. Murphy (Ed.), ESL: A handbook for teachers and administrators in international schools (pp. 1-10). Clevedon: Philadelphia Multilingual Matters.

Gewehr, W., & Catsimali, G. (Eds.). (2002). Aspects of modern language teaching in Europe. London: New York Routledge.

Hubbard, P. (2004). Learner training for effective use of CALL. In S. Fotos & C. Browne (Eds.), New perspectives on CALL for second language classrooms (pp. 45-67). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kalinowski, F., & Carder, M. (1990). Setting up the ESL department. In E. Murphy (Ed.), ESL: A handbook for teachers and administrators in international schools (pp. 18-46). Clevedon: Philadelphia Multilingual Matters.

Levy, M. (1997). Computer-assisted language learning: Context and conceptualization. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Meakin, S. (1990). Some theoretical considerations. In E. Murphy (Ed.), ESL: A handbook for teachers and administrators in international schools (pp. 11-17). Clevedon: Philadelphia Multilingual Matters.

Naidu, S. (Ed.). (2003). Learning and teaching with technology: Principles and practices. London: Kogan Page.

Stevens, V. (1992). Humanism and CALL: A Coming of age. In M. C. Pennington (Ed.), Computers in applied linguistics: An international perspective (pp. 11-38). Clevedon: Philadelphia Multilingual Matters.

Warschauer, M. (1999). Electronic literacies: Language, culture, and power in online education. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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