Chapter One:   Introduction


     
     1.1  The general problem

           The  importance  of computers to our society  and  to  
 
     education   in  particular  has  become  the   subject   of  
 
     widespread  speculation  since the advent of  powerful  and  
 
     inexpensive microcomputers a few years ago.  The  impact of  
 
     what  has  often been called the "computer revolution"  has  
 
     been keenly felt in the field of language teaching (Wright,  
 
     1980,  p.4; Davies, 1982, p.4; Gillespie, 1982).  The acute  
 
     interest  with which language teachers follow  developments  
 
     in  this  area can be seen from the  increasing  number  of  
 
     presentations on computers given at conventions of language  
 
     teachers. 



           The  role  and  future of the  computer  in  language  
 
     teaching  remains  far  from  certain.    Computer-assisted  
 
     language   learning   (CALL)   is  one  of   the   possible  
 
     applications.  CALL can be briefly described as  structured  
 
     and  interactive language practice where the performance of  
 
     the learner is mediated by the computer.   (This definition  
 
     is more fully developed in section 2.1).   In section  2.3,  
 
     the current state of CALL  and those factors prejudicial to  
 
.he     Chapter One:  Introduction
     its  widespread use by language teachers are examined,  and  
 
     the  production of an adequate supply of  quality  teaching  
 
     materials  for the medium is suggested as one of the  major  
 
     problems  to  be solved.    Authoring systems are  software  
 
     packages  that  allow  teachers to  create  CALL  materials  
 
     without  having to delve into computer programming or  seek  
 
     the  services  of  a computer  programmer  (The  nature  of  
 
     authoring  systems is more fully explored in section  2.2).   
 
     The  use  of authoring systems to allow teachers to  create  
 
     their own materials is proposed as a likely solution to the  
 
     problem mentioned above.    



     1.2  The specific problem

           Before  the  use of  authoring systems can  begin  to  
 
     have a significant impact on the shortage of computer-based  
 
     language  teaching  materials,  language teachers  must  be  
 
     provided with a means of selecting those authoring  systems  
 
     appropriate to their particular needs (Ashmore, 1983, p.5).    
 
     For such a selection to be possible, authoring systems must  
 
     be  evaluated  with  respect to those  features  which  are  
 
     important to the development of effective language learning  
 
     activities (Jensen,  1982,  p.50).   No such measure exists  
 
     at present (Kearsley, 1982, p.436).      



           Current  classifications of authoring systems  employ  
 
     criteria which, while important in themselves to the global  
 
     selection process,  are only peripheral to the requirements  
 
     of language learning materials (Raschias and Lange,  1984).       
 
     Indeed,   Dowsey  (1974,  p.402)  indicates  that  specific  
 
     reference  to particular subject matters should be  avoided  
 
     when doing a general survey of authoring systems because of  
 
     the diverse requirements of the different domains. A common  
 
     ground  for  comparison is established by concentrating  on  
 
     those  features which affect the nature of the  interaction  
 
     between the author and the computer (Dowsey,  1974, p.402).   
 
     Classifications  of  authoring  systems  have   thus   been  
 
     neutral  with  respect to language  learning  (Boyd,  1970;  
 
     Bagley, 1974; Dowsey, 1974; Barker & Singh, 1983).



           More  recent  evaluations of authoring  systems  have  
 
     continued  this trend.    Grabinger (1985) evaluates  three  
 
     authoring  systems  according to diverse criteria  such  as  
 
     cost,  copy  protection,  ease  of learning,  ease of  use,  
 
     graphics  and sound  capabilities,  peripheral  interfacing  
 
     capability,    support   documentation,    screen   design,  
 
     instructional  design features,  and management and testing  
 
     features.   Locatis and Carr (1985) list as their criteria:   
 
     hardware requirements,  cost and contract terms,  graphics,  
 
     sound,  external interfaces, management, documentation, and  
 
     the  time required to author a package.   As a practicioner  
 
     in  this  area,  the writer feels  that  Pattison's  (1985)  
 
     criteria:   answer-matching,  feedback, flexible branching,  
 
     record keeping, screen display, and timing, might be closer  
 
     to what is required.



           O'Neal  and  Fairweather (1984) set out to  establish  
 
     the important factors by which to measure authoring systems  
 
     as  to  their applicability to  computer-assisted  language  
 
     learning.   They  selected three dimensions of  evaluation:   
 
     Power,  ease of use,  and productivity.    In their scheme,  
 
     "Ease of use" was roughly equivalent to "How long it  takes  
 
     to  learn  the system" and "productivity" to "How  long  it  
 
     takes  to  create an hour of  instruction".    The  "power"  
 
     dimension was largely ignored.   Their analysis, therefore,  
 
     cannot be considered as specific to the subject at all, but  
 
     rather a general overview of the type described above.



           Recently,  authoring systems have been developed with  
 
     the  goal  of  directly reflecting the  needs  of  language  
 
     teachers.   One such example is Dasher (Pusack, 1982).  The  
 
     underlying  assumption  in Dasher is that  enhanced  answer  
 
     processing is the key to effective computer-based  language  
 
     activities.    Another  example  is Prompt  (Paramskas  and  
 
     Mydlarski,  1985),  where the underlying assumptions appear  
 
     to  be  that the ability to gloss vocabulary and provide  a  
 
     range of error-specific feedback messages is significant.


           Discussions  of  the  application  of  computers   to  
 
     language  learning tend to focus primarily on the powers of  
 
     the  computer  and then work backwards  in  applying  these  
 
     powers to actual language-learning activities.   Nowhere in  
 
     the  literature is to be  found an analysis which  isolates  
 
     features  inherent  to language activities in  general  and  
 
     then discusses the impact of these features on the possible  
 
     computerisation of the activities.



     1.3  Specific questions addressed in this thesis

           In  this  thesis,   I  will  attempt  to  answer  the  
 
     following  questions  relevant to the problem of  isolating  
 
     criteria  for  the  selection  of  authoring  systems   for  
 
     computer-assisted language learning activities:



     1.     Can a model of existing language learning activities  
 
     be constructed which will reveal those inherent features of  
 
     the activities which must be considered when planning their  
 
     computerisation?   (Such a formal feature model is proposed  
 
     in Chapter Three of this paper and a series of features and  
 
     their  requirements  for  realisation  using  an  authoring  
 
     system are listed.)




     2.    What is the range of computer-based language learning  
 
     activities  that can theoretically be created  through  the  
 
     use of an authoring system?    The application of the model  
 
     elaborated in Chapter Three delimits this range.



     3.      What  special  features inherent to meaningful  and  
 
     communicative  language  learning activities  affect  their  
 
     realisation through the use of an authoring  system?   This  
 
     writer's  hypothesis  is that the  meaningful/communicative  
 
     dimension  of  such activities is primarily a  function  of  
 
     their  content and therefore will not be reflected  in  any  
 
     specific way in the formal feature model.



     1.4  The purpose of the study

           The  purpose  of  this study is  to  establish  those  
 
     variable  features of authoring systems which are important  
 
     in  determining  the range and type  of  language  learning  
 
     activities  that can be realised.    Teachers may then  use  
 
     these  features   as  criteria  in selecting  a  particular  
 
     authoring system.



           Given  a  particular  authoring  system,  the  formal  
 
     feature  model permits teachers to determine what types  of  
 
     activities they can produce.   The model also make teachers  
 
     aware  of the practical limits of what can be  accomplished  
 
     on  the  computer when using an authoring system and  helps  
 
     them  to alter particular features of an activity so as  to  
 
     make its production  easier.



           Finally,  the  model is offered to as a guide to  the  
 
     developers   of  authoring  systems  for  computer-assisted  
 
     language  learning.   It  points to  those  features  which  
 
     should  be made more flexible if the authoring system is to  
 
     be applicable to the creation of a wide range of  language- 
 
     learning  activities.    It also illustrates those features  
 
     which  have  no direct effect on the applicability  of  the  
 
     authoring system to language practice.



     1.5  The limitations of the study

           The scope of the present study has certain  important  
 
     limitations.   The  wide range of possible applications  of  
 
     the  computer  to  language learning has  been  arbitrarily  
 
     restricted  by  the rigid definition  of  computer-assisted  
 
     language learning.   Only the more traditional applications  
 
     of the computer to language learning are considered.    The  
 
     almost  limitless range of what the computer may  ultmately  
 
     make  possible has been narrowed down to  consideration  of  
 
     what  authoring  systems  can  accomplish,  given  current,  
 
     generally affordable technologies.



           The  question of what particular types of  activities  
 
     should  or should not be presented via the  computer,  nor,  
 
     indeed,   the   larger   question  of  whether   particular  
 
     activities  should  or should not be done at  all,  is  not  
 
     considered.    Rather,  the  scope of the survey  has  been  
 
     limited  to the more neutral consideration of more or  less  
 
     traditional language learning activities, without reference  
 
     to their pedagogical effectiveness.



           Finally,   no   actual  authoring  systems  will   be  
 
     analyzed.   This  paper discusses authoring systems in  the  
 
     abstract  and,  where  necessary,   assumes a  theoretical,  
 
     general authoring system,  the characteristics of which are  
 
     elaborated in section 2.2. 


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