Using IT in the Language Classroom: A guide for teachers and students in Asia
Phillip A. Towndrow and Michael Vallance (2004)
Singapore: Longman Pearson Education
While reading UITitLC I had three very distinct feelings. First, I felt like kicking myself because I had not discovered this gem earlier. I have been reading, presenting and researching CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) for the last ten years. Now teacher trainees could simply read and study this book and get a feeling for the field in a very short time. Towndrow and Vallance have covered every major issue facing the technologically informed language teacher. Second, there was the feeling of envy. I have given workshops on using computers in the language classroom, but here is a solid framework, something that can be used as a textbook in a teacher training program. Depth accompanies breadth. The third and final feeling was one of gratitude. Here was a book that would go a long way to eliminating the misconceptions about CALL and help teachers understand the role of technology in the language classroom. More teachers will speak the CALL language. More colleagues will mean quicker progress.
A real clue to the quality of the book is the forward by John Higgins, one of the patriarchs of CALL. Towndrow and Vallance follow and extend the philosophy behind the teaching that Higgins advocates. The presentation of new ideas and concepts is simple and straightforward. The authors are able to deal with both practical and theoretical issues without letting them get in each other's way. Each chapter begins with a set of goals and ends with a summary and further readings.
The fourteen chapters cover the field in a well organized manner. The background is given in the first five chapters with an introduction, current perspectives, the history of CALL, and ending with a chapter on policymaking. The middle section has chapters on materials design and production. The final section covers topics such as the interaction of teachers, students and computers, literacy, digital rights management (DRM), testing, literature, and young learners before looking at the future.
The introduction and chapter on current perspectives admits to a weakness of not being able to keep pace with the rapid developments in the field through a printed publication. This is my prime concern about the book, as it seemed to lack references after the year 2001, even though this third edition was printed in 2004. Towndrow and Vallance seem to have a preoccupation with the book The Road Ahead written by Bill Gates in 1996, by far the most quoted source in the book. The section on the history of CALL rightly points out three different phases; Behaviorist, Communicative, and Integretive. The problem here, again, is that the last example is from the year 1997.
The Asia part of the subtitle, "A Guide for Teachers and Students in Asia" is applicable particularly in the chapter on policy making and IT. After a general introduction, case studies of Malaysia, Japan, People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Brunei, and Singapore were written by educators resident in each of those countries. The chapter on digital skepticism, oddly enough, contains some of the most up to date quotes.
Towndrow and Vallance shine in chapter six and seven, which I found the most useful in the book. Chapter six, The Design of Digital Language Learning Tasks, explains the difference between open (access to materials) and flexible (varied timing, pace, curriculum and place) digital learning. Linking any kind of online activity to its specific type of language testing is central. Chapter seven, Production of Digital Language Learning Materials, gives concrete examples for each skill and various other used of digital technology such as organization, presentation, integration of skills. This is the real nuts and bolts chapter. [-1-]
Digital literacy is discussed in the following chapters, with a focus on preparation and presentation, process and product. Skills such as evaluation of website content and citing electronic sources are given as examples. Chapter 9, on the role of teachers, students and computers, is taken up mostly by case studies and tasks to develop an understanding of the complex interrelationship between the three, making it the longest chapter in the book.
Testing is covered in far more detail with an interesting focus on computer assisted testing (CAT). Differences in test types such as low-stakes and high-stakes testing made this chapter well worth reading. The chapters on copyright management, studying literature and young learners are helpful for educators involved in those areas. The final chapter brings together both theory and practice and situated in an Asian setting with suggestions on how to improve and anticipate what is going to happen in the world of IT and CALL.
Because only two chapters actually deal with the situation in Asia, this book should have a worldwide audience. Given its broad coverage of the field and good balance between theory and practice, it should become a standard text in teacher training courses. I found it an exceptional refresher and would recommend it to anyone.
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