LINGUISTICS DEPARTMENT - STANFORD UNIVERSITY
An Invitation to CALL
Foundations of Computer-Assisted Language
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An Invitation to CALL
Unit 4: CALL on the Web
We have been looking at CALL software and activities involving
it regardless of whether it is accessible through disk, the Internet in general
(like email) or the World Wide Web. This unit looks into the Web in more depth.
The reason is that the Web represents the largest collection (by far!) of
material that is accessible almost anytime and anywhere by almost anyone having
a browser equipped computer and an Internet connection. The Web is also
where you find the most common tool applications for CALL, in particular the
browsers and online video players that give access to a seemingly endless
collection of both dedicated and authentic English language material
Because of this, it is increasingly becoming the case that an expected
competency for language teachers is an
understanding of what the Web has to offer for language learning and how to use
it is . The Web has been featured in
many of the CALL articles and conference presentations since the mid 1990s, in particular practice-oriented
ones. This is because it is constantly evolving, and, unlike disk-based
tutorial software, often free and highly accessible to both students and teachers.
This unit is primarily about exploring, so follow up on links that look
interesting. Note that this is just a start. Some of these sites will be
discussed in greater detail in
DISADVANTAGES OF THE WEB
Because of the hype surrounding it for language learning, it is useful to begin with
some of the disadvantages of the Web over alternatives
- Text-based material on the Web is sometimes not as easy to read
as material in paper format because of font color and
- Sound and video sometimes take a noticeable time to transfer,
even on fast connections. Newer forms of streaming have improved this
dramatically, but the Web is still not as
responsive as a CD-ROM, DVD or the hard drive on a TiVo or other digital video
- Sound and video are typically compressed to speed up transfer:
depending on the degree of compression and other factors they can be of
noticeably lower quality than the original. This can affect their
suitability for supporting language learning. Also some of the free material
on sites like www.youtube.com were of
poor audio or video quality even in their original state (for example, if
taken with a mobile phone)
- Because of the way that HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol)
works, on most pages every click is a request that has to go back to the
original server. The equivalent of turning a page may result in a noticeable
delay if the server is busy.
- Because of this delay, interactivity is limited compared to
what is possible with disks or CD-ROMs.
However, increasingly Web applications (like Macromedia Flash) have interactivity
- Down servers or broken links may lead to frustration.
- The sheer amount of material can make it hard to find
what you want, though developing skill with a search engine like
is certainly a great help. If you haven't already done so, have a look at
Google's basic search help,
www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?answer=134479, and more
- The Web is dynamic and often as unpredictable as the humans
behind it. You may find an old site that has not been updated for years, or
you may find a great source of material only to have it be gone the next time
you look for it. You may still be able to locate old pages using the "cached"
feature of Google
or the Internet archive's Wayback Machine at www.archive.org.
Sites and applications that used to be free and only supported by text ads
that could be easily ignored are increasingly charging fees requiring
subscriptions (so that you don't get their ads), or requiring users to watch commercials before the desired
- As is widely known, the accuracy of Web sources is often questionable (the
present one excepted of course). See, for example,
ADVANTAGES OF THE WEB
Despite the disadvantages, there are many good reasons for using
the Web for certain language learning activities.
- There is anytime, anywhere access (for some people at
- There are enormous amounts of free material.
- Material can be found that is current.
- Language reference and other learning support materials can be
- Student and teacher publication opportunities exist.
- A cultural window is opened through the authentic material readily
- Meaning technologies, such as transcripts, dictionaries, and translators, exist to aid comprehension of material.
- Increasing amounts of audio and video allow building of
comprehension skills beyond reading.
- Previous disk-based activities (like tutorial exercises) and
Internet-based activities (like email) can often be handled through the Web.
In the remainder of this unit, I will provide an overview of
some of the uses the Web can be put to for language learning. Most of these are
broad categories, and I encourage you to explore the ones you find most
interesting in more detail.
Authentic Language Materials. There are many, many options for this--here are
just a few.
Lesson Plans & Projects
- Finding content for projects, both individual and group. Note
the importance of balancing seeking and production time with language learning
and practice time.
- Ideas and lesson plans for Internet, Web, and class
activities: Sources such as
still, do a Google search!
- Making resource pages for specific classes. You can use
FrontPage, Dreamweaver, or even MS_Word to produce Websites. See my Websites for
http://www.stanford.edu/~efs/693b (Advanced Listening) for example. You
can also make your own site easily, hosted by Google, at
- Sending your students out on
- Pages with annotated links for specific skills such as
Dedicated Language Materials & Exercises
The key to using the Web is to be prepared. Know what the objective of your lesson is and try to make sure students are trained in what
they need to know to accomplish that objective. Try to build some flexibility
into the assignment or activity so that if something isn't working as expected
it can still go on.
Here are a few tasks to help you connect the material here to your language
- The Web can be a resource for both classroom and online lessons: take a
look at two or three of the lesson plans on the Web (Use
Google (www.google.com) to find "ESL lesson plans"
if none of the sites above has what you're looking for). Do
you think they represent activities that are consistent with your language
teaching approach? Is there anything obvious you could do to improve
- Meaning technologies like Babylon (www.babylon.com) and online scripts for audio
and video can hinder as well as help, since they can interfere with normal language
processing. What are some ways to use them positively and to train learners in their
- Try three or four of the sites listed above that you haven't visited before.
Note ways you might use them in current or future classes.
- Increasingly, the term "Web 2.0" is appearing on the Web and elsewhere.
What is Web 2.0? There are examples of it here, such as
www.youtube.com If you don't know what it is, go to a manifestation of it
at www.wikipedia.org and look up the
term. How do you think Web 2.0 is changing language teaching?
Last modified: February 4, 2010, by Phil Hubbard