26 07 2010

The Advantages and Disadvantages
of
Computer Assisted Language Learning

1.  Introduction

We cannot deny the increase of computer and internet use around us. The technology has given impacts not only to the industry and economy but also to other field, such as, education.

The explosion of multimedia and Internet use has shown interest in using computers for foreign language teaching and learning. Many language Institution and teachers have tried to utilize this technology for the sake of teaching and learning. Thus, the role of computers and Internet in language instruction has now become an important issue. For example, the use of CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) is becoming popular in teaching and learning language. The purpose of CALL is to definitely help the process of teaching and learning, so the process can be more efficient and effective. Moreover, CALL can give more variation, avoid boredom, and motivate learner in process and achieving the goal of learning. However, CALL has advantages and disadvantages. To utilize it well, we need to know and anylize the advantages and disadvantages of CALL.

2.  Advantages of CALL

From the above discussion, it is quite clear that computer assisted language teaching and learning has come to a new step, especially with the development of microcomputer and Internet. Computers can facilitate a variety of learning tasks, and have enormous potency as teaching tools. They can help both the students and the teachers because of their special properties.

2. 1. Making the teaching more effective

Computers are good to motivate students. Language teaching in the past was conducted mainly in the classroom with teachers’ teaching and students’ passive learning, and with the aids of, first, blackboard, then, recorders and videos.  With computers, teachers can present pictures, videos and written texts with or without sound. Students feel things are more real and more understandable. Through simulation and other techniques, computers can present abstract things in a concrete and easily understood way. Many students who are tired of traditional  English  classes  become  more  and  more  interested  in  this  new  style  of  teaching  and  learning. Consequently, when using a computer, students may study more actively. They are not just listening to the teachers passively, as they do in the past and they do not get bored easily.

2. 2. Student’s learning becomes more autonomous

One major problem in English teaching and learning is that students, very often, have a variety of interests and levels of English proficiency. Their learning speeds and learning styles also vary greatly. Computers may help teachers to meet different students’ needs by providing students with different levels of learning materials, by offering students different studying methods, by making students work at their own paces. Hartoyo (2008: 27) emphasize that CALL offers freedom for learners to choose any topic of information within the package. This means that students become the center of learning, and teachers, instead, become the facilitators. It requires students to take more responsibility for their learning, to learn how to learn. Such individualized instruction can initiate students’ active learning, promote learning with comprehension, and allow students to see their own progress. As a result, slower learners can catch up, and advanced learners can do extra assignments.

2. 3. Teachers take role of an advisor and facilitator

In the past, teachers were the sole source of language information, and thus took the responsibility of transmitting information directly to the students. They control the classroom teaching and even students’ learning. Therefore, the teaching model is termed as teacher-centered. But as computers are being widely used in both the classroom teaching and students’ autonomous learning, teachers’ role has to be changed. The assumption from
constructivism is that teachers do not pour information from their store into the heads of waiting and willing students, but that students actively interpret and organize the information they are given, fitting it into prior knowledge or revising prior knowledge in the light of what they have learned. In this way, students construct their knowledge. As a result, the teacher has become a facilitator of learning rather than the font of wisdom. Teachers will find, select, and offer information in a variety of ways on the basis of what their students must learn in order to meet their diverse needs.

2. 4. The teaching resources can be stored for a longer time and shared by other teachers and students

Computers are very flexible and untiring. Computers will never get tired and can repeat the same thing again and again without complaining. Whatever it is programmed to do, it can do over and over as often as necessary, which is good, in particular, for slower students. Furthermore, computers can keep teaching resources for a longer time, which is almost impossible in the traditional classroom. The teaching resources can then, be shared by other teachers and students. Thus, computer provided a platform for the communication between teachers and students.

2.  5. The communication between students and teachers are strengthened with the help of Internet

The quick development of Internet is also very useful for both teachers and students. Network, first, allows teachers to quickly give all students certain information and to obtain information from students. Second, e-mail can encourage students to use computers in realistic, authentic situations in order to develop communicative and thinking skills. And even very shy students find it easy to communicate with their teachers via e-mail. Last but not least, the network, or the World Wide Web, is a virtual library at one’s fingertips; it is a readily available world of information for the language learners and teachers. Both students and teachers can download very good learning and teaching materials from the Internet.

2. 6. Computers can help overcome barriers of space and time

Traditionally, students must go to a lecture themselves at a fixed time and in a fixed classroom. However, nowadays, if a school has a satellite system of computer laboratories, students can study English at various places on campus at any time. If the school has a network of computer laboratories, students can use the same materials wherever they are working. Students can even study at home if their personal computers have a link to their school’s system or network. Hartoyo (2008: 30) mentions that CALL’s flexibility of time allows the student to decide what particular topic and how long he wants to learn.

In addition, the teachers and students can not only get materials and information from the websites of their own country, but also from those of foreign countries. Hartoyo (2008: 30) mentions that CALL’s flexibility of time allows the learner to decide what particular topic and how long he wants to learn.

3.   Disadvantages of CALL

Besides the advantages that computers bring to foreign language teaching and learning, computers are not free from weakness. There are still many doubts whether computers can serve well in teaching language and whether they can provide learners with efficient and effective practice.

3. 1.  Computers can only do what they are programmed to do

Computers, after all, are machines. Complicated and powerful as they are, they still cannot take the place of teachers. They cannot communicate meaningfully with the users because they don’t recognize natural language fully. They can only respond to certain commands that are already programmed in advance. Thus, many programs fail to meet users’ individual demands. In addition, most classroom teachers have neither the skills nor the time to make programs. This has left the field to commercial developers, who often fail to base their programs on sound pedagogical principles. The quality of the programs is, therefore, questioned quite often, especially, by the language teachers.

3. 2.  Computers may cut the students from the classroom environment

Classroom teaching, though with some weaknesses, is itself an art. In the classroom, teachers and students communicate with each other on both the knowledge they are learning and on their emotional feelings, which, in particular, makes the classroom teaching more attractive.  However, when computers are widely applied in classroom teaching, many tasks on computer lead to isolated work. Or, even worse, classroom teaching, in its extreme sense, is only a slide show. Students are just watching pictures and some written texts or listening to computers’ recordings. Students thus feel that they are cut from the traditional classroom environment and have less and less communication with the teachers and the people around them.

3. .3.  Computers are very expensive and developing very fast

Computers are expensive, though the price has become lower and lower now. Yet, they are still not so cheap that every one in China can afford. It is thus a big problem for schools and universities which cannot afford many computers. Even for schools that are rich enough, computer laboratories, once established, are not possible to be updated in time. It is, therefore, less likely for them to follow the development of computers, of new equipments,
and of new programs, which seem to come out every day. As a result, it is necessary for those people who are in charge of this to make good decisions about what the computers will be used for and to buy the most appropriate hardware and software for those purposes, which preferably can be upgraded easily with technology changes.

3. 4.  Computers can break down

Computers may have technical problems and then break down. It doesn’t happen frequently. However, a breakdown in the middle of classroom teaching may leave the teachers embarrassed, and waste a lot of time. A breakdown during students’ autonomous learning may result in a loss of data and works, and students have to do some exercises from the beginning again because everything is programmed in advance. This is really a big challenge for students who are not very skillful with computers.

3. 5.  Both teachers and students need training to learn to use computers

Language teachers need to learn the basic skills to use a computer, to understand the theory behind CAI, to learn how to use special programs effectively, and to learn the best methods for teaching classes with computers. This will, definitely, add the workload of teachers, who are already working under great pressure. And new programs and software are developing so fast that teachers may feel that they need to change programs sometimes, which involves learning a new program. As for students, it will take them a long time and a lot of energy to learn the basic skills for using a computer before they can even begin to use them to study a subject. Students need to learn to type fairly well before they can use some learning programs. And unfortunately, some students may never develop the skill.

3.  Conclusion

From the above discussion, it is quite clear that computers, after all, must be recognized as a teaching tool. No matter how powerful the computers are, they can never replace the teachers and the teachers cannot totally rely on computers in their language teaching. However, computers’ advantages seem to outweigh their disadvantages in foreign language teaching and learning. They are very good teaching aids for language teachers and give language learners more freedom by being more accessible and multipurpose.

References

1. Ayersman, D.J. & Minden, A. Individual Differences, Computers, and Instruction. Computers in Human Behavior. 1995. 11(3-4): 371-390.

2. Benefits and Shortcomings of Using Computers in Language Teaching. http://ettc.uwb.edu.pl/strony/students/prace/danroz2.html.

3. Computers and Language Learning: An Overview. http://w3.uniroma1.it/conti/computersandlanguagelearning.html.

4. Hartoyo. Individual differences: In computer assisted language learning (CALL). Semarang: Pelita Insani. 2008

6. Warschauer, M. & Meskill, C. Technology and Second Language Learning. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum. 2000.


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