Evaluating Multimedia Language Learning Software

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    Evaluating Multimedia

    Language Learning Software:

    Pedagogical viewpoint

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    If you give people tools, and

    they use their naturalability and their curiosity,they will develop things in

    ways that will surprise youvery much beyond what youmight have expected.

    - Bill Gates

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    The WOW factor

    Both extremely positive andnegative initial reactions

    Can influence the usersopinion of the program as

    a whole, even on a medium

    or long-term basis

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    The WOW factor Causes stem from designfeatures.

    Less evident causes fromteacher/ learner technophobia,a high-learning curve

    Positive first impressions mustbe controlled and extended tocounterbalance the negativeelements of the software

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    CALL evaluation

    It is imperative that anylanguage learning softwareembodies basic principles oflanguage teaching and learningand does not merely positionsome foreign words interestingly

    on the screen with somebackground music.

    (Murray & Barnes, 1998)

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    Framework

    The medium may change butteachers should still be able touse their professional

    judgement and experience in thesoftware evaluation.

    Checklist (set of questions) tohelp decide if the designer hasimplemented sound languageteaching and learning approaches

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    Does the software incorporatemanageable and meaningful

    input? FL learning improves when

    learners is exposed frequently tomanageable amounts of language-little and often.

    Multimedia learning softwaremust be flexible for Ss., leadingthem to confidence in using andmanipulating it.

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    How is new language introduced? Isthere sufficient practice before Ss

    produce language? Work out how much weight thesoftware allocate to various

    stages of language learning: Too much time on presentation?

    Production expected too quickly

    without sufficient support? Presentation stage work shouldbe interactive, not passive

    viewing.

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    How does the software use thewriting medium?

    Transition between receptivelanguage and languageproduction has to be handledextremely carefully. Aural modelling is provided bothbefore the written word.

    Introduction of written word mustnot be delayed too long.

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    Does the software try to createa target language context?

    Language items are not learntin isolation, but in context.

    If the context is meaninglessand monotonous, learningprocess will be disadvantaged.

    CALL contexts (Watts,1997) Formal (directed learning)

    Informal (incidental learning)

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    Does the software perpetuatecultural stereotype? Both multicultural and genderissues must be taken intoaccount.

    Learners should be broadeningtheir cultural horizons, makingextensive use of authentic

    video news items, or freedownloaded video extracts.

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    How authentic and accurateis the target language used?

    The language used in thesoftware should be as near

    authentic as possible. The software acts as anotherrole model for learners so

    language needs not only to beaccurate but also motivating(intonation and generalliveliness).

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    Does the software incorporatesuitable language learning

    activities? 4 levels of language learningactivities (Hawkins,1987)1. Activities where learners focus

    on manipulating sounds,vocabulary and grammar

    patternsmore receptively,picking out certain features ormatching up discrete items

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    2. Activities that involve

    mimicking and producingphrases

    3. Activities where learners

    convey their own meanings butstill with an element ofrehearsal

    4. Activities that are genuineacts of communication

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    Software must strive to

    provide suitable experiencesfor learners, as well as ensurethat users of differentabilities are set appropriate

    objectives. Reward or feeling ofachievement at each step is

    the key. Variety of activity is the key.

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    Activities should be active and

    interactivelearners must bedoing something andresponding.

    CALL software should allowlearners to apply what theyhave learnt in a differentcontext, not rely on a singleconversation throughout.

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    Activities should lead up to

    including a degree ofunpredictability andunfamiliarity, while starting atan achievable, straightforwardlevel.

    Activities should not overloadmemory, for example, activitywith long lists of instructions.

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    How practical is integration ofthe software into the class?

    Software should allow Ss to work ina variety of situations: individually,in pairs or in groups.

    Some Ss may respond better tothe opportunity the software

    offers to practice TL in privatewhere others may benefit fromworking in pairs/groups or fromformal class presentations.

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    How well does the software matchpupils expectations and the needs

    of the course?

    Ss are generally sophisticated intheir demands on technologysovideo clips and/or good graphicsmay be essential.

    However, Ss must be learning the

    languagewhen they are using thesoftware, not struggling with howto use the software.

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    Does the software cater forall learners? Differentiation = a challengefor language teachers.

    Ss should be able to accessthe software at appropriatelevel for them. Choice of activities after

    seeing/ hearing/ reading astimulus

    Activities must be demanding but

    achievable

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    What form of assessment, learnerfeedback or profiling is provided?

    Learner profile should beincluded and stored forteachers and learners.

    Assessment should be positive,flexible, motivating andachievable for Ss through

    optional support (clues,glossary, different activitiesbased on same stimulus).

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    Is the multimedia dimension exploited withregard to grammar and language patterns?

    The program should provide Sswith an aid towards internalisingand using structures accurately,not just recognising them. Present structures in context.

    Use the language depending on thelevel of the learners language.

    Options of language to explain andpresent grammar, as well as give Ssfeedback.

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    How are language itemspresented on screen to Ss?

    Use of appropriate and non-excessive colour coding (=

    visual memory). Glossary of instructions foractivities (incidental learning),

    praise and clues.

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    How clear are instructionsfor users?

    Activities must have clearinstructions and may need to

    be previewed or demonstratedbefore Ss start using theprogram.

    Directions and help on how touse the software done withthe use of on-screen buttons,icons and menus.

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    What support for teachersis provided? Curriculum grid or guidelines;

    Photocopiable worksheets orpreparatory handouts;

    Vocabulary and structurescovered, transcripts ofconversations, etc. wouldfacilitate the planning andintegration of software.

    Print option and extra activity