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Research into ICT and MFL

Graham Davies

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BECTA has produced a report called: "What the research says about using ICT in Modern Foreign Languages":


I am grateful to Ros Walker for drawing my attention to this document.

It's not bad, but it's very brief and only scratches the surface. Obviously BECTA is unaware of EUROCALL's work in this area: v. the many conference papers presented and published in recent years on action research into the use of ICT in the MFL classroom: http://www.eurocall-languages.org

Contrary to what the BECTA document says, Research into CALL is extensive. It enjoyed a boost following the Joint Policy Statement on Research that was produced by EUROCALL, CALICO and IALLT in 1999:


I am, however, pleased to see that the report edited by myself and Anthony Fitzpatrick and entitled "The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and on the Role of Teachers of Foreign Languages" is cited. This is a comprehensive report commissioned by the EC Directorate General of Education and Culture, which can be downloaded in PDF or Word format from the ICC website: http://www.icc-europe.com - click on "Report on ICT in FLL".

I am also pleased to see that one of my articles is cited, namely "ICT and modern foreign languages: learning opportunities and training needs", published in International Journal of English Studies 2, 1: Monograph Issue, New Trends in Computer Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, edited by Pascual Pérez Paredes & Pascual Cantos Gómez, Servicio de Publicaciones, Universidad de Murcia, Spain, but this is not the most recent and most accessible version, which can be found in Scottish Languages Review 8, June 2003, Scottish CILT: http://www.scilt.stir.ac.uk/SLR/index.htm

However - as usual - BECTA ignores the ICT4LT website, particularly Module 3.1, which presents three case studies of UK schools using ICT in MFL: http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_mod3-1.htm

An bibibliography by Ridwan Sedgwick, entitled “An annotated bibliography of the effectiveness of CALL”, can also be found at the ICT4LT site:


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The report doesn't mention the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research title edited by Terry Atkinson Reflections on ICT either. I contributed one of the "research studies" to this publication, which appeared in 2001. The contributors were all associated with ICT for MFL in secondary education, which is BECTa's natural constituency.

As readers of this forum will know, I maintain a bibliography of modern foreign languages and special educational needs. This work is a labour of love, but it also involves a lot of effort, online time and mindbending efforts to squeeze the last result out of Google. The outcome is a collection of references spanning several continents and many languages. I don't think that many researchers are prepared to spend more time on literature reviews than they deem absolutely necessary, which means that they end up with a partial image of what is going in their field. So American researchers (at least in MFL for SEN) largely ignore what is happening in Europe, and vice versa. Researching my MFL/SEN references, I've discovered lots of centres of excellence around the world, e.g. visual impairment and languages in Poland, dyslexia and languages in the States, autism and languages in Glasgow and Lancashire. All are doing great work, but largely unaware of each other's existence, so there's lots of wheel-reinventing going on.

There isn't a coordinating body disseminating information about what is happening worldwide in the field of MFL and SEN. There are national organisations, however, in the field of languages of technology and Graham mentions them: EUROCALL, CALICO, IAALT. They do a superb job, but their interests reflect the nature of the membership, mostly MFL teachers in higher education, so they are associated, at least in schoolteachers' imagination, with technology-using foreign language departments in universities rather than MFL and ICT in the primary and secondary sectors of education. CALICO has just started a Teacher Education special interest group in the hope of attracting elementary and high school teachers of foreign languages to the fold. Maybe the others will follow suit.

To return to the report and Graham's point about the lack of awareness among its authors about what is happening on the ground when it comes to ICT in MFL at school level, perhaps the central problem is the lack of a national organisation wholly dedicated to ICT in school MFL in the UK. Currently this role is spread among CILT, BECTa, the Association for Language Learning etc and each is contributing in its own way, but there's no overall coordination. Should there be? Would this reduce the irritation which Graham and I feel whenever we see official bodies ignoring significant research with which we are acquainted?

David Wilson


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I agree with David. Terry Atkinson's Reflections on ICT is one of the major omissions that I (and others) spotted. It's sitting on my bookshelf, and I immediately grabbed it when I read the BECTA report to remind myself that it was obviously an important omission - which indeed it is.

I agree too that BECTA, ALL and CILT are all doing the same kind of work in this area, with a high degree of overlaps and also significant oversights - as we see in the latest BECTA report. But there is some convergence taking place at present.

EUROCALL, CALICO and IALLT do tend to draw mainly on the HE constituency for membership, but this does not mean that their focus is entirely on HE. This year's EUROCALL conference, for example, included a paper entitled "CALL for MFL in Primary Schools - the Irish Model", and Norbert Pachler's keynote focused predominantly on the UK secondary school sector. Jim Coleman's paper focused on research in the HE sector and its implications for the next RAE, but remember that good deal of the research carried out in HE focuses on what is going on in the secondary school sector, e.g. I examined a PhD candidate earlier this year whose research focused predominantly on the use of ICT in MFL in secondary schools in the Manchester area.

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