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Sunday, 9 September 2007

The "normalisation" of CALL: two sessions

The last two sessions that I attended focused on the “normalisation” (v. Bax 2003) of CALL. Monica Ward (Dublin City University) talked about normalising CALL in the primary school context” and Euline Cutrim Schmid (University of Education, Heidelberg) showed how the use of an interactive whiteboard could further the normalisation of CALL.

Monica Ward described a small-scale research study focusing on teaching Irish in primary schools. She said that in this context it is potentially easier to normalise CALL than in other educational environments (secondary and higher) as teachers have more control over their learners and the pedagogy is less exam-oriented. They can also assume that children in this age group already have some familiarity with technology, although they may lack keyboard skills. On the other hand there are a number of barriers to normalisation in the primary sector, namely:
- Lack of equipment
- Lack of software
- Teachers’ lack of ICT and CALL knowledge
- Teachers’ lack of confidence
- Teachers’ lack of interest

One of the problems in teaching Irish is that it is not needed for exam purposes and it is therefore not a main focus of teachers in the primary sector. Furthermore, Ireland is predominantly an English-speaking country and only children living in the Gaeltacht areas (where there are around 10,000 speakers of Irish) would need it for authentic communicative purposes. I reflected that in this respect teachers of Irish are probably experiencing similar problems to those experienced by teachers of Welsh and Scots Gaelic in the UK – and, of course, teachers of French, German and Spanish who always have difficulties convincing their students that learning foreign languages is worthwhile.

Euline Cutrim Schmid’s presentation focused on facilitating the normalisation of CALL through the use of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in the languages classroom. She showed a video demonstrating the main features of an IWB, which also included sequences in which trainee teachers of EAL were using some of these features in their training sessions. This was the only session of the conference focusing exclusively on the use of IWBs. I reflected that this would have been unusual in a language teachers’ conference in the UK, where most of the ICT sessions would probably have focused on IWBs. The main thrust of this session was that the presence of an interactive whiteboard in the classroom, as opposed to a computer lab, which most teachers would probably have to book in advance, was a major step towards the normalisation of CALL. I reflected that in this respect primary and secondary schools in the UK are probably ahead of most other countries in Europe, and indeed ahead of the HE sector in the UK too. I saw no interactive whiteboards in the lecture theatres in the University of Ulster, and Graham Chesters had pointed out in the morning’s panel discussion that there were more IWBs in a primary school near to the University of Hull than in the university itself. This is a factor that needs to be seriously considered, as students entering HE will expect such technology to be available. For them it is already “normal”.

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