Introduction

When computers are used in education they are more than just another medium of teaching, such as a chalkboard. The integration of computers changes the whole ecology of a school/university, for example, funding, teaching methodology, evaluation, curricula and timetables. The integration of computer-assisted education is a development which influences all the stakeholders in education.

Today's technology is considered to have more powerful impact than in the past. Today's technology can enhance and promote instruction, increase student achievement, and better inform and promote society . Preparing today's teachers to meet this challenge and to be technologically literate puts more pressure on educational institutions to use and integrate technologies into their academic and training programs. Sophistication and rapid changes in technology have brought about another challenge for teachers in all areas to learn how to keep up with and integrate such technology into their classrooms. Barksdale (1996) emphasized the fact that teachers should make technology an integral part of their teaching and that colleges should prepare pre-service teachers to integrate technology into their work.

Defining the integration of computer-assisted education

Integrating the computer in education means using the power and ability of the computer to aid learning in every subject area within the school /university . The integration of computer-assisted education means using the computer as a tool to teach subject matter, and to promote problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. The power of the computer is applied to facilitate decision-making, to amplify concepts and to support synthesizing of information.

The integration of computer-assisted education is neither computer literacy nor computer awareness. It means using the computer where it is the best medium to support the learning goal. It involves changes in a school/university. The entire school/university community of students, parents, teachers and administrators has to accept that computers are a part of everyday school/university life.

Successful integration takes place when technology becomes invisible or transparent and both the teacher and students can concentrate on the content of the course, thus making it possible for students to use computers in the natural flow of classroom activities. The impact that computers make in the classroom depends on their availability and upon the ways in which they are used. In other words, the impact of the computer depends on the developmental level of the school/university in respect of computers.

Computer Assisted Instruction in Language Teaching

Most teachers, still rely on chalk and the blackboard. But over the years, more and more technical inventions have shaped the educational aids with which teachers surround themselves. Maybe it is high time for teachers to find a place for the computer to make our teaching more effective, emphasizing its ability to interact with the students.

Teachers can fulfill students' expectations by using computers as teaching aids and that this can be done even where computers are still relatively rare in the teaching process. The computer can be a partner for the learner to play educational games with, or it can be used to generate examples, to illustrate certain operations, or to stimulate conversation.

In computer labs, students tend to form groups of two or three around a single computer, even when there are enough computers available for each student to use one individually. One reason may be that students using computers do not feel that they are being watched or judged; perhaps as a result, they do not feel that the work they do on the computer is their own private property. They become relaxed about pooling information and seeking help from their friends. A computer can analyze the specific mistakes the student has made and can react in a different way from the usual teacher-this leads the student not only to self correction, but also to understanding the principles behind the correct solution. A computer gives individual attention to the learner and replies immediately to questions or commands. It acts as a tutor and guides the learner towards the correct answer while adapting the material to his/her performance. This flexibility is impossible to achieve with written handouts and worksheets.

In order to think about uses of the computer in the classroom, it is useful to keep two terms in mind. Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) is the term used to describe computer programs designed for teaching, whereas Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) is the term used for different forms of second language instruction accomplished with the use of computers.

Teachers from different subject areas are likely to have different perceptions of the use of computers in learning, as the knowledge, aims, and skills associated with different subjects vary quite widely. Teachers who subscribe to a view of education as an acquisition of knowledge in the form of information will find that many computer packages can be used. Teachers who value learning by discovery or by interaction with other students will find that there are various computer-based packages to support those approaches.

The following describes some of the advantages and limitations of using a computer in CAI or CALL.

Advantages

  • Both CAI and CALL systems allow the normal and even unusual errors that people are apt to make.
  • By creating friendly programs with both systems, any user can work independently at the console.
  • Besides teaching a foreign language, CALL programs will provide the learner with some sort of computer literacy, which is becoming essential in modern society and could be of great help in future training and career prospects.
  • Students are more relaxed; they are no longer afraid of being corrected, judged, or watched. In fact, they create their own environment around the computer, a sort of privacy where intruders are not welcome; only some colleagues have access as needed.
  • The computer has no "days off."
  • The computer is patient and will tirelessly go over and over again the same point for as long as necessary.
  • The computer is "the best" teacher in the world as it can provide information requested in a very short time.

Limitations

  • Learners who do not have prior experience in using a keyboard might waste quite a bit of valuable time identifying letters on the keyboard. However, with practice this can be worked out if one is not afraid of learning new things.
  • By creating friendly programs with both systems, any user can work independently at the console.
  • Working with computers normally means that the learners work in isolation. This obviously does not help in developing normal communication between learners, which is a crucial aim in any language lesson. In practice, learners tend to revert to their mother tongue in discussions. The teacher should not allow this if s/he wants to improve the students' language skills.
  • CALL and CAI programs deal mainly with reading and writing skills, and even though some listening programs have been developed recently, they are very limited (there are very few interactive games with outstanding graphics, colours, and spoken language capabilities).
  • The programs which develop communicative interaction normally present pre- determined uses of language based on the writer's imagination of what would take place rather than what people really say in real situations (so called "false conversations"). This sometimes creates confusion and frustration on the part of the learner. However, these problems tend to lessen as students become more familiar and comfortable with these programs.
  • The time and effort required to develop such programs can be considerable.
  • Computers cannot cope with the unexpected.
  • It is more tiring to read from a screen than from a printed text.
  • For teachers who develop their own material, the time spent on programming and typing in the lessons can be quite lengthy.

Using the computer

With the arrival of inexpensive computers, second language teaching is now gaining a new dimension. Second language teachers will have to learn how to work with and adapt to the new technology to maximize learning opportunities for their students.

Students enjoy programs which have many possible variations and combinations. The teaching points may be primarily morphological, syntactic, lexical, or stylistic; they may call upon integrative skills, or they may relate to background knowledge. The exercises may involve any of a large number of operations- substitution or transformation drills, gap-filling exercises, copying, writing down a dictation, putting words in the correct order, or answering certain types of comprehension questions.

Some software packages include printed, audio, video, or other materials to be used in conjunction with the software for reading, writing, and many other types of classroom activities and provide a focus for small group discussion, cooperation, planning, record keeping, and problem solving at the computer. Techniques designed to enhance the illusion of a tutor can be psychologically helpful in the initial stages of computer assisted instruction as a means of overcoming the barrier between person and machine. These are likely to succeed best with younger pupils. If the computer's comments are given in the language taught, the exchange will also have some demonstrative value as a simulation of conversation. Clearly, it will be up to each teacher to determine, by trial and error, the optimal degree of personification for materials and students in question.

Another way of shifting responsibility from the teacher to the learner is to allow the learner to exit from an exercise before the end. One of the greatest advantages of a "quit" facility is, indeed, that it allows the learner to try out exercises without being committed to what may be too easy or too difficult a task. Generally speaking, a "quit" facility gives the learner freedom of action, including the possibility of ignoring the existence of the facility altogether, and working through the lesson in a traditional manner from the beginning to the end.

Another innovation involving self assessment consists of giving the learner the option of working mentally. The learner decides on the answer before requesting the correct answer for mental comparison. The mental comparison option legalizes the practice of pressing the return button without typing an answer in order to get at the correct answer. If a student answered in his/her mind, s/he can get immediate feedback with most programs by pressing the return button for the correct answer without actually typing it in. Although it has certain dangers and will be appropriate only in certain circumstances, it solves the typing problem and is very useful to students who are revising.

The learner may be able to adjust the level of difficulty of the activity. In a gap-filling exercise, for instance, the learner can choose the frequency or the size of the gap. Or if the speed is important, s/he can be allowed to select the pace at which the items are to be displayed. In all this, it is most important to remain flexible. The aim is to remove as far as possible any element of force and create fluid, multi- purpose, multi-level packages to be used by the learner as he/she deems fit.

Computer assisted learning should be enjoyable so that the "ally" should from time to time turn into a playmate. A great deal can be achieved by exploiting the intrinsic appeal of riddles and puzzles. A potentially dull and boring exercise can often become very attractive simply by being turned into a guessing game. Many standard language games such as crossword puzzles, anagrams, word ladders, and charades lend themselves readily to computerization.

The range of topics with which the computer can help is vast, from the evaluation of methods and materials through measuring the realism of teachers' expectations or the reliability of self assessment to conducting experiments on pacing, sequencing, interference, etc.

Target audience

The main target audience of the CALL training program is EFL faculty members already in service at universities. With some modification, this training program can be suitable for new teachers in pre-service training programs and for EFL teachers in public and private schools/universities. The goal, however, is to use this program for EFL faculty members at government funded universities.