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Computer-Assisted Language

Learning (CALL)
Assessment Issues: The Good and the Bad
by Hannah Foy, Said Hamideh, Demaris Kenwood, and Monica Niespodziany

What is CALL?
CALL is the future!
Includes a variety of different softwares and apps,
straying away from traditional teaching and shifting
into a technology-based approach
Different approaches to teaching and learning
language, heavily based in online connection

The basics
Why does CALL matter?
CALL has exploded with user friendly, gamified apps
that are sticky or addictive. Many can be used on
mobile phones, making them easily accessible
Apps that complement learning are pushing their way
into the classroom as the new norm

CALL in the classroom

So, how exactly does call fit into the language
classroom? We asked....

EdTech Bloggers



Curriculum Specialists

Policy Makers

School Administrators



CALL as an assessment tool

We asked several students, professionals and parents
Q1: What should be the role of CALL in the classroom
based on the benefits?
Q2: What are the limitations of CALL in language
Q3: What are the ethical issues surrounding the rapidly
increasing usage of CALL in language learning?

3 Main Approaches of CALL

Engagement with authentic materials
radio stations, tv programs, newspapers, etc.


CALL as a tutorial


CALL with authentic resources


CALL as a communication tool


Online Learning 2.0:

The mobile learning revolution at a glance
Most apps built to reduce/eliminate the need for teachers
Apps are more interactive
Apps tap into innate human motivations for learning
Improvements in audio/recording and interactive design
make these assessment tools increasingly multi-modal
able to assess your writing, reading, listening
comprehension, speaking, and conversational skills

Assessing listening
Brown and Abeywickrama ask:
Can you assess one skill in isolation, without the
participation of at least one other skill?
Can we directly observe the performance of all
four skills?

Duolingo sort of does it...

Duolingo can test two skills in the same exercise:
listening to the voice, and then having the user
speak the sentence.

Voice is monotone, sometimes distorted and

never varies.
This exercise is never a substitute for
Computer doesnt give feedback on test taker
s pronunciation. Its strictly pass/fail
Teacher must be present to observe the
student performing the skill when pass/fail
scores not sufficient

Busuu relies on humans


Feedback is not immediate

Assessors are members of
community/receive zero
compensation for their labor/
and no barter exchange
driving feedback
Lack of clear compensation
model casts doubts on
reliability and consistency of

Livemocha assesses listening without AI

Livemocha will assess listening/writing
and listening/ speaking without
artifical intelligence. Humans do the
assessing driven by a bartering system.

Feedback costs money or barter

Feedback is not immediate
User interface is not gamified like

Assessing speaking
Brown and Abeywickrama remind us there are five
different types of speaking (p.184):


All technology in question tested users on their

ability to perform imitative speaking

Brown and Abeywickrama (p. 184): Imitative speaking is the ability to

simply parrot back a word or phrase..this is purely phonetic level oral
production..no inferences are made about the test takers ability to
understand or convey meaning or to participate in an interactive

Assessing reading
Brown and Abeywickrama ask (p. 224):
Is reading so natural and normal that learners should
simply be exposed to written texts with no particular

One interviewee says
With Duolingo, there is no instruction on how to learn
anything whatsoever! None. I havent come across any
instruction on how to learn things quicker except of course in
the main forum and even there rather not too precise which
is easy to understand as those are not too wide spread which
in the end is to my advantage but to any learner's
disadvantage. In German such a behavior is called
'Unterlassene Hilfeleistung' and is punishable. -Denk Muskel

Bottom up vs. Top down

From Brown and Abeywickrama (p. 224):
Bottom up: strategies for processing separate letters,
words, and phrases
Top Down: conceptually driven strategies for
comprehension. Readers must develop appropriate
content and formal schemata to carry out correct

CALL on reading strategies

It is easy for CALL to offer reading assessments that
measure bottom up reading strategies.
Its more challenging to test top-down reading on a
massive self-service website like Duolingo.
But that doesnt mean they dont try..

Assessing reading
.through crowdsourced translations


How it affects reading assessment

(in Duolingo)

Crowdsourcing means that anyone with minimum of experience on

Duolingo is allowed to assess your translations

Assessors may only give you a reductive looks good or looks wrong

Detailed feedback on translation is no guarantee

While translation requires reading comprehension, feedback on written

translation is not a direct observation of reading comprehension. It is an
observation of writing.

Duolingo does not have a direct assessment on any type of reading skill.

Livemocha tackles bottom-up reading

assessments in a direct, but limited way
Livemocha uses a short-answer reading task.
The user reads questions that must be
answered in written form in a sentence or

Software provides zero automated

feedback. Not a simple
Human feedback has a cost and is not
No comprehension questions

So what did interviewees think? Two themes arise

from interviews

People liked to discuss learning technology

in terms of its:

the good,
the bad...

the good
Students enjoy the versatility, availability, flexibility,
authentic materials and convenience of CALL.
Teachers consider CALL another tool in their toolkit for
differentiation, variety, independent work, authentic upto-date materials and fun class activities.
Administrators, Districts and School Boards are eyeing
the cost-cutting benefits of CALL in an era of budget cuts.

the good
Parents see CALL as a supplement to school which
can help with additional practice to assist and
challenge their children.
School and community libraries provide CALL as a
way to engage children in learning and reading.
Politicians and policy makers are looking at ways to
innovate the schools of tomorrow-which may not
have walls.

the good
Student teachers of today have grown up with
technology and integrate CALL into lessons to engage
students and provide extended learning opportunities
such as Skype chats, epals, Facebook pages, video
exchanges and interactive games and activities.
Designers of CALL are constantly working to improve
their products to bring them to a wider audience.

the bad
Students get bored with the same CALL and move on
to new CALL without learning in depth or with live
human interaction.
Teachers have trouble monitoring the use and
learning done with CALL.
Administrators, Districts and School Boards cant
provide enough technology or the updates required to
provide all students access.

the bad
Parents worry about students becoming zombies
hiding behind a screen instead of engaging in human
Schools and community libraries have trouble
providing enough devices for all students and keeping
them current.
Politicians and policy makers focus on computerized
testing for accountability, diminishing the role of
teachers in instructing and assessing students.

the bad
Student teachers are frustrated with out of date or
insufficient technology to use new CALL in the
Designers recognize there are still many bugs to work
out to make CALL accurate and interactive.
Computers recognize only one correct answer vs.
different lexical variants.

the conclusions
All of the stakeholders agree that CALL
is a valuable supplement to language learning that is
convenient and self-paced
provides a wealth of authentic material and
opportunities for cultural and linguistic exchange


CALL cannot stand alone nor

replace the human
interaction of the live, in
person, language classroom.
... human interaction and communication is
key to language learning!

CALL-The conclusions