Research Policy Statement

EUROCALL Research Policy Statement 2010

Introduction

Our pioneering research policy statement was formulated in 1999. Given the growing strength and development of Computer Assisted Language Learning research, the Eurocall Executive Committee decided that it was an appropriate time to revise the policy statement in order to take account of the many changes there have been over the last eleven years.

1. The Digital World and CALL Research

Since our last research policy statement, digital technology has moved to the centre of modern life. The pace of its adoption has been rapid, expanding the means by which we can communicate with one another. It has also come to play an important role in education at all levels and has been adopted most fully in the teaching and learning of languages, where the interface between language and digital communication is clear. Given this context, the need for research into the relationship between the digital media and education in general has never been more acute. It is vital that we take full advantage of digital technology based on the findings of rigorous world-class research.

2. The Need for CALL Research

This relates in particular to the nature of languages and communication. Language learning and teaching have been considerably enhanced by what the digital world makes possible, not least because it provides many new communication tools. It is essential, however, that CALL research, rather than the availability of new technologies and functionalities, should guide language pedagogies.

3. The State of CALL Research

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is an established but rapidly evolving academic field that explores the role of information and communication technologies in language learning and teaching. It includes highly interactive and communicative support for listening, speaking, reading and writing, involving extensive use of the Internet, and a wide range of activities and initiatives in materials development, pedagogical practice, and research.

Research in CALL has been carried out for more than thirty years, and has now reached a significant level of volume and maturity. It is a truly international discipline and has led to notable improvements in the teaching and learning of languages in secondary and higher education institutions worldwide.

3.1 CALL Associations

During that time a number of national and international Associations for CALL have been established including EUROCALL, CALICO (Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium), IALLT (International Association for Language Learning Technology) ADALSIC (Association pour le développement de l’apprentissage des langues par les systèmes d’information et de communication) and JALT (Japan Association for Language Technology). These associations organise conferences and other activities, and, along with other organisations, periodically gather for WORLDCALL, a quinquennial conference. Further national associations have been founded and this trend looks set to continue.

3.2 CALL Journals and Publications

One key contribution of these associations has been to develop research in CALL. Research is a key focus of their conferences. Their journals (ReCALL, CALICO Journal, ALSIC (Apprentissage des langues et systèmes d’information et de communication), and the IALLT Journal, along with Computer Assisted Language Learning and other mainstream language learning journals, have contributed to the vigorous research culture of this area. These journals are peer-reviewed and publish research findings that have been subject to the rigorous application of international research standards.

4. The CALL Research Field

The CALL research field, an established and significant area, is both rich and diverse. It is in constant evolution, alongside the technologies that it exploits. These technologies continue to expand and develop and the opportunities they present become clearer through time. The field involves, primarily, research into and evaluation of pedagogical practice in relation to language learning, for instance how translation and interpreting, or the development of oral skills are affected by the use of distance or blended learning strategies, the exploitation of multimedia technologies, web-enhanced language learning (WELL), Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) and Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL), the use of corpora and of virtual worlds.

4.1 The Interdisciplinary Nature of CALL

It is important, however, to emphasise the interdisciplinary nature of CALL. CALL research can be said to belong to the field of Applied Language Studies and, in particular, to Second Language Acquisition (SLA), itself a rapidly evolving discipline. CALL and SLA are related to linguistics and its subdivisions: sociolinguistics, pragmatics, discourse analysis, psycholinguistics, semantics, phonetics, and corpus linguistics.

In addition, CALL is related to work in education, notably pedagogy, educational psychology, educational policy and management, the nature of learning processes, especially learning styles, classroom management and so on. There is also a clear link to computer science and informatics, natural language processing, cognitive science and psychology, socio-cultural theory, cultural studies, and media/ communication studies (including intercultural communication). In the humanities, there is an obvious interface with area studies and literary studies.

CALL is influenced by, and in turn influences, theory and research in all these related fields and others that have not been mentioned. In addition, key ethical issues are raised and need to be addressed.

4.2 The Classification of CALL Research

CALL work can be categorised as research, development, and practice and sits at the interface between them. Research may be separate from development, in that a researcher may explore the effects of using technology-based tools or materials developed by others, e.g. formative evaluations, or may focus entirely on theory development.

However, increasingly the term ‘development’ may refer to the creation of pedagogical materials (including the design, programming, and incorporation of actual lesson content), or the development of tools and applications into which others can insert language content which is driven by research activity. CALL development is often based on previous research and/or includes formative research, in which the materials are tried out on learners and feedback is sought as part of the developmental process. Reflective practice as part of this process then leads to the further development and refinement of CALL theory.

4.3 Research Methods

CALL research has a standardised terminology, has identified its points of reference, includes a significant number of sub-branches of activity and draws effectively from those areas of research with which it is in co-operation in creating its own theoretical and methodological paradigms as it moves into new areas. Given its interdisciplinary character, a range of different methods is employed in CALL research. Data collection and analysis may be qualitative and/or quantitative, empirical or phenomenological, practical or theoretical, experimental or ethnographic.

4.4 Criteria of Research Quality

The criteria that apply to CALL research are generic and are therefore similar to those that relate to other disciplines. The criteria outlined below are based on those that have recently been used for the Research Assessment Exercise in the UK.

Research is to be understood as original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. The qualitative criteria are:

Originality: an intellectual advance or an important and innovative contribution to understanding and knowledge. This may include substantive empirical findings, new interpretations or insights, development of new theoretical frameworks and conceptual models, and innovative methodologies.

Significance: imaginative scope; importance of the issues addressed; impact or implications for other researchers and users.

Rigour: intellectual coherence, methodological precision and analytical power; accuracy and depth of scholarship; evidence of awareness of and appropriate engagement with other work in the field or sub-field

All of these criteria may be applied to the wide range of CALL research that is being carried out throughout the world.

5. Research Targets

We wish to stress the importance of the work of the national and international CALL associations and urge them to continue to collaborate on research projects in CALL, to develop journal and publishing outlets for CALL research and to ensure that significant sections of their conferences have a research focus. Specifically we recommend the following targets to be achieved over the next 5 years:

  • The application of rigorous standards in CALL Journals and other research outputs.
  • The establishment of a book series on key areas of CALL research.
  • The development of collaborative international research projects in CALL.
  • The provision of research training workshops for PhD students in CALL.
  • The development of an international on-line database of research publications in CALL.
  • The encouragement of the creation of CALL research outlets in languages other than English.

6. The Way Forward

Given the maturity of CALL research and the breadth of the CALL research community, it is vital that we continue to build on our achievements thus far. We need to assert and maintain the high quality of CALL research throughout the world.