SED TL 512 | Computer-assisted Language Learning | John de Szendeffy |

Information for Spring 2008 classes (3/19, 3/26)

Introduction to Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL)

SED TL 512  |  Boston University | Fall 2007/Spring 2008 | Tues 4:00–7:00 | EOP 257

John de Szendeffy
Director of Educational Technology
Center for English Language and Orientation Programs
890 Comm. Ave., Office 251 (Bldg: EOP)
Ph. 617.353.7957


Computers in Language Instruction

Computers are playing an increasingly important role in second and foreign language instruction as they are in nearly all fields of instruction. No longer a specialty among a clique of language teachers, computer use for instruction is widespread. Computers can serve as portals to limitless target language models and, more importantly for the classroom, as tools for activities that draw students together to cooperate on activities that interest them as much as stimulate their creative language production and comprehension, all the while challenging them to overcome obstacles in a complex environment in the target language.

The digital format of audio, video, images, and text (multimedia) enables a student to randomly access models of target language use, and, through the Internet, do so from any connected computer in the world. A student can individually adjust the pace of her work to accommodate different proficiencies, aptitudes, and learning styles while receiving the same relative challenge as another student working at a different pace. While the means of access become more efficient and modes of electronic communication among teachers and students increase interaction—in the target language—many students become more engaged in the learning process with computers, where they are in control, whether in a class working on a group project or individually in online communication or in a self-access lab.

What computers bring to language learning

  • delivery of a wide variety of multimedia content with pedantic and authentic language models, accessed with individual control;
  • another source of target language knowledge and examples—as opposed to the teacher being the sole font of target language knowledge in the classroom;
  • other channels of communication among class members and others;
  • supplemental practice exercises and tutorial feedback;
  • tools for creation of individual and group projects;
  • outlet to publish student writing and projects to a larger audience via web pages, wikis, etc.

Course Purpose and Goals

This course will survey current classroom practices in computer-assisted language learning (CALL), examine their pedagogical rationale, and give students hands-on practice creating and delivering computer-based lessons in accordance with their own teaching interests. This course seeks to help students gain

  • an understanding of what CALL is, what it isn't, and how it has evolved concomitantly with technology and approaches to language teaching as informed by second language acquisition research and empirical findings from practitioners;
  • an appreciation for the complexity and richness of the CALL environment;
  • an ability to integrate knowledge of the use of technology into a language learning environment;
  • an understanding of commonly practiced techniques for creating and orchestrating stimulating and relevant activities, particularly those generating authentic student interaction;
  • knowledge to create (simple) multimedia or web-based language lessons and quizzes;
  • a framework for evaluating pedantic learning material and authentic sources both local and web-based.

In the CALL classroom, students don't study language as much as use it to cooperate and solve problems not unique to the language classroom. If we recognize the value in the process more than product, for example, then we can appreciate that when a CALL class activity gets messy, and it does, it's realistic; it reflects real language use and life in general with unforeseen problems and the need for creative solutions using a tool central to modern life.

One of the greatest obstacles, however, to realizing the learning potential of CALL is a teacher not being adequately oriented to this challenging environment in terms of his own competence in personal computing, as well as familiarity with effective CALL pedagogy, practical activities, and use of relevant resources. General computer literacy, even advanced competency, does not confer on a teacher techniques to use a computer environment to teach language effectively. And a teacher who makes ineffective use of this technology in class stands to miss out on a rich learning opportunity and thereby yield a lower return on the school's investment in technology.


Computing experience. Students should be familiar with common computing environments in any platform, including use of a word processor, slideware, web browser, web-based e-mail, and media players.

Computer access. Students will need access to an Internet-connected computer outside of class for online reading assignments, writing and presentation assignments, review of online activities and materials, and class communication via e-mail and courseware. Students will also have use of the CELOP computer labs during CELOP operating hours and on class days until 7:30pm.

Participation. Participation in class and online forum discussions is central to a student's demonstrated understanding of concepts. Students will also design and present language activities to the class.


Assignments and Activities

While some of our work in this course will take traditional forms (lecture, discussion of readings, short papers), we will spend most of our time critiquing resources for their classroom value, and designing and teaching our own activities in mock classes.

Guidelines for certain activities will be posted to the class website, including criteria for Software Review, Website Review, Reaction to Reading, Listserve Posting, Discussion Board Posting, Language Lesson, Multimedia Lesson/Quiz, Skill/Resource Presentation, and others as needed. Some of these will be external links.

Readings. Required readings will be assigned from the text, handouts, and (free access) online scholarly journals, Nexis articles, and other sources.

Guest lectures. I will arrange one or more visits by CALL practitioners at CELOP or elsewhere to demonstrate and discuss their specific classroom activities.

Student teaching. Students working alone or in pairs will design and deliver language lessons in mock classes (in our class or an ESL class).

Student presentations. Students can, as an alternative to Student teaching above,  teach a computer skill or technology to the class.

Peer evaluation. Students will write or discuss critiques of their peers' teaching and presentations.

Primer. A primer is a concise guide. Students, working in pairs, will write one illustrated application or activity primer.

Create multimedia lessons. Students will be introduced to several authoring environments (e.g., HotPot, Moodle, HTML), which they will use to create original lessons or quizzes according to guidelines for sound multimedia use, interaction, and quiz formation.

Class web page. Students, working in pairs, will create a web page of resources for a language class real or imagined.

Class wiki. A wiki is a real-time collaborative authoring environment. We will learn how to set up a class wiki and post student contributions to it.

CALL class observation. Each student, time permitting, will sit in on or participate in an ESL class in the computer labs at CELOP (classes are 9:00–4:00).

Reflections. We will use the NiceNet Internet Classroom Assistant—a free, web-based collaborative learning tool—for announcements, schedules, link sharing, and threaded discussions. NiceNet is easier to use and set up than commercial, registrar-based courseware and represents a tool commonly used by educators not affiliated with large institutions with courseware subscriptions or IT support. Some reading assignments or resource reviews will be discussed exclusively in the NiceNet Conferencing forum. Students login to NiceNet and post to the appropriate topic.

Short papers. Some written reactions, peer evaluations, and software/resource reviews will be in the form of short papers. As students in this class will be writers of curricular material in the future, content as well as form will matter.

Although it should go without saying, I will repeat it: All student work must be original. Do not use the words of others without proper attribution. I'm good at figuring out if students have plagiarized. In the American educational system, unlike certain other parts of the world, plagiarism is seen as a grave offense, one that may result in a failing grade or suspension. See the SED Code of Academic and Professional Conduct.

 Time: 21:45 EDT


A student's grasp of concepts and practices will primarily be demonstrated through thoughtfully designed and carefully executed sample lessons, projects, presentations, writing in the form of critical reviews, reaction posts, and papers, as well the quality and quantity of participation in class and online discussions.

Component % of total grade
Interaction 25%
  Class discussion  
Online contributions  
Pair/group work  
Presentations 20%
  Student teaching  
Skill/resource instruction  
Writing assignments 20%
  Critical reviews (paper)  
Reactions (online post)  
Peer reviews (online post)  
Projects 25%
  Multimedia lesson/quiz  
Create class web page  
Evaluation 10%

Required Material


Call Dimensions: Options and Issues in Computer Assisted Language Learning (ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional) (Paperback), by Mike Levy and Glenn Stockwell, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006.

Listserve subscription (free)

LLTI.  Language Learning Technology International Information Forum
To subscribe, send a message to
In the message put only the following: SUB LLTI yourfirstname yourlastname

Join NiceNet class (free)  Class name: “SED TL CALL” / Class key: (see syllabus)

Electronic archives (as assigned):

LLT.  Language Learning and Technology Journal

ReCALL.  The journal of EuroCALL, published by Cambridge University Press

CALL-EJ Online.

techLEARNING. Technology & Learning: Resource for Education Technology Leaders

Campus Technology. News, reviews, opinions, case studies on technology in education


Suggested Supplementary Material

Texts (applied CALL)

A Practical Guide to Using Computers in Language Teaching, by John de Szendeffy, University of Michigan Press, 2005.

New Perspectives on CALL for Second Language Classrooms, Edited by Sandra Fotos and Charles Browne, Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

Technology and Teaching English Language Learners, by Mary Ellen Butler-Pascoe & Karin M. Wiburg, Allyn and Bacon / Pearson, 2002.


Texts (theory)

Call Research Perspectives (ESL and Applied Linguistics Professional Series), Edited by Joy L. Egbert, Gina Mikel Petrie, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005.

Calling on CALL: From Theory and Research to New Directions in Foreign Language Teaching, Edited by Lara Ducate and Nike Arnold, Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium (CALICO), 2006. 

CALL Environments: Research, Practice, and Critical Issues, Edited by Joy Egbert and Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, TESOL, 1999.

Handbook of Research on Computer-Enhanced Language Acquisition and Learning, Edited by Felicia Zhang and Beth Barber. Information Science Reference, 2008.

Teaching and Researching Computer-Assisted Language Learning, by Ken Beatty, Pearson, 2003.

Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Context and Conceptualization (Paperback), by Michael Levy. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Computer Applications in Second Language Acquisition, by Carol Chapelle, Cambridge University Press, 2001.


Other useful texts (information design)

Beautiful Evidence, by Edward R. Tufte, Graphics Press, 2006.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition, by Edward R. Tufte, Graphics Press, 2001.

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, by Edward R. Tufte, Graphics Press, 1997.

Envisioning Information, by Edward R. Tufte, Graphics Press, 1990.